I’d been meaning to go to the 9/11 museum in New York for quite some time. My first ever visit to New York was in 2005, and then, Ground Zero was still nothing more than a large excavation among a million skyscrapers.
I think what most fascinated me was the notion of the thing. Take for example the job description laid out for the architects and builders; they would have had to create a space that maintained the footprint of the two towers, made the site available for commercial and office space development and — above all else — honour the tragic memory of what happened that day. The World Trade Centre Site Memorial was an international competition that ran from April 2003, with the winner being announced on January 14, 2004. The contract went to New York and San Francisco-based firm ‘Handel Architects’, run by Israeli Architect Michael Arad. Arad partnered with the landscape architecture firm ‘Peter Walker’ and partners, to create the overall design.
The architectural design was titled ‘reflecting absence’ and it is a fitting name, indeed. The first thing that hits you is the sheer size of the footprint of the two towers. The cascading waterfalls into the seemingly bottomless 1-acre (4,000 m2) pools is a fitting and poignant reminder of the void left behind. While the soothing sound of the falling water adds a sense of calm and tranquillity, the names of each person who lost their lives are etched into the pillars surrounding each pool; a haunting reminder of those who died at this very spot. The waterfalls are surrounded by a grove of almost 400 sweet gum and swamp white oak trees that fill the remaining 6 acres (24,000 m2) of the Memorial Plaza.
The Memorial Museum is the only building that stands in the plaza. The exterior of the building doesn’t reveal the sheer scale of the museum underneath. Once you descend the stairs, you begin to see the colossal capacity dedicated to the memory of the towers.
Underground you still see the outline of foundations of the twin towers jutting into the open space of the museum. The structure of the pavilion is an intricate web which is something quite unique. In an interview with The Guardian, Craig Dykers — Principal Architect at Snøhetta, one of the partner firms of ‘Peter Walker’ — said that it was their initial plan to build a more vertical structure, but they found that the pillars competed with the ones recovered from the site.
I would prefer not to sit and describe every exhibit as I think is something that needs to be lived to be understood, but I can guarantee that there will be at least one display that will stop you in your tracks. I think everyone has an emotional connection to what happened to the Twin Towers. Now lives an entire generation of Americans with all two vivid memories of where they were when they heard the news. I found myself particularly looking at the stories of people my age, only to feel a catch in my throat.
The entire exterior of the museum is reflective, in the same interview with The Guardian Dykers spoke about how it would catch people off-guard to see themselves. I think that description is fitting for the entirety of the place. If nothing else, September 11, 2001, holds up a mirror to us all. Once the news broke, millions of people called their loved ones and cried; either with relief or dread. That date will stand forever in American and indeed, world history, as one that showed us the fragile nature of our humanity. In a blink of an eye, all that we have can be taken away. A lot of controversy surrounds 9/11 and this isn’t the place to discuss it, but I think it is important in all of it that we not forget; the people who lost their lives, the people who gave their lives and all those left behind.
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