Museum Makes History, Below Ground Zero

Event: Preserving the Past While Building for the Future: Creating the National September 11 Memorial Museum
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.13.09
Speakers: Alice M. Greenwald — Director, National September 11 Memorial & Museum; Mark Wagner, AIA — Senior Associate, Davis Brody Bond Aedas; Michael Shulan — Creative Director, National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Moderator: Lance Jay Brown, FAIA
Organizers: AIANY; National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Sponsors: Lead Sponsors: Digital Plus; Faithful+Gould; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Sponsors: Associated Fabrication

Sept11Museum

National September 11 Memorial Museum.

Rendering by Thinc Design with Local Projects, courtesy national911memorial.org

Construction of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum has made significant progress over the last year, despite public criticism that not enough development has happened. It is difficult to see the extent of that progress since it is being built below ground. According to Mark Wagner, AIA, senior associate at Davis Brody Bond Aedas, “typically you don’t register progress at a construction site until the structural framing is above ground, casting shadows and changing the way you visually experience the streetscape. The memorial, an open street level plaza, and museum constructed below the plaza will never cast a shadow.”

Wagner has been actively involved with the development of the museum since shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While working at Voorsanger Architects, he was asked by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to go down to the “pit” and see what might make sense to save. As project architect for the World Trade Center Archive, he was given no agenda, but due to his efforts more than 1,000 artifacts exist and will find a home in the museum.

The mission of the museum is to tell the story, document responses, and memorialize the attacks in 2001, 1993, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, PA. For some, visiting the museum will be a pilgrimage. “The 9/11 site is somewhat unique in its juxtaposition of sacred space to profane space,” said panel moderator Lance Jay Brown, FAIA. Added Alice Greenwald, director of the museum, “The museum must be about the people. Nearly everyone has a 9/11 story — and we live in a post-9/11 world… We must remember, and remember well.”

Ground Zero is both an archaeological and a battlefield site. It stands alone, yet is a part of the city’s fabric. Taking up eight acres of the 16-acre site, the museum and memorial are stitched together underground with other projects — and every project is on a different schedule. When visitors descend a ramp that echoes the one used by workers during deconstruction and reconstruction, they will experience the 70-foot-high slurry wall and seven stories totaling 150,000 square feet of space below grade at bedrock that make up the footprints of the Twin Towers. Wagner explained that “the architecture is intentionally minimal” to maximize the visceral experience.

“The site will be used as a vehicle for storytelling,” said Michael Shulan, creative director for the museum and memorial. The organization has an unprecedented amount of original material, with portions of the Towers’ building envelope being the largest. He claimed that there will be no need for dioramas or recreations with artifacts such as the Survivors Staircase (concrete remnants of the stair leading to Vesey Street that was an escape route for hundreds of people fleeing the North Tower) and the 36-foot-tall steel column removed at the end of the recovery efforts. In addition to objects, there are real-time phone conversations, e-mails, cockpit recordings, voice recordings, and videos to share with the public. The museum has launched a new web initiative called “Make History,” calling for first-hand images or stories about the events and the aftermath.

To those who doubt that physical progress is being made, Wagner offered: “I encourage them to take ride on the PATH train, which passes through the site. These below-ground spaces are quickly taking form and it is exciting to see the progress in this raw state.”

To listen to excerpts of their conversation, go to the Podcasts website.