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Filling the Void
Officials detail Davis Brody Bond Aedas' underground memorial museum
The museum will be largely below-grade, with a ramp leading down seven stories with overlooks dramatically revealing the site, such as remnants of the slurry wall and the "Last Column."
Squared Design Lab/Courtesy National September

It seems every September 11 brings with it a new chapter in the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, and this year is no exception, as officials from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum released new renderings and information about the design and programming of the below-ground museum. Designed by Davis Brody Bond Aedas, the museum creates a dramatic procession from the memorial plaza and the Snohetta-designed pavilion down to bedrock, where two main exhibition halls will be located on the footprints of the original Twin Towers.

The volumes of the original towers will be recreated in aluminum cladding while the original pillars that held up the towers will be exposed.
A plan of the museum. (Click to enlarge)
COURTESY Davis Brody Bond Aedas

"It's an organic form embedded in the site, and it can serve as a mediator between the harsh realities of the site and those visiting it." Steven Davis, a partner at the firm, said at a presentation this morning at the new memorial visitor center on Vesey Street. The physical museum and its contents are indeed designed around the tension created by its competing missions. "It is necessary to balance what is essentially an archeological site with a powerful memorial and an informative museum that tells the story of the site," Alice Greenwald, director of the museum, said.

As has been the case since Daniel Liebeskind presented his master plan for Ground Zero in 2003, the museum is very much about the remnants of the original World Trade Center. A suspended walkway slopes gently through the site "drawing visitors in as if by gravity," Davis said, with overlooks cut throughout to present the vastness of the site while also bringing visitors down some seven stories to the base of the museum. These vistas expose views of the slurry wall.

At a point halfway between the tower volumes, the ribbon turns to align with the "Survivor's Stair," the original World Trade Center egress that survived the towers collapse and has been reinstalled as a connection those escaping the destruction of September 11 and those returning to bear witness to it. Finally, visitors will reach bedrock 71 feet below the memorial plaza. There they will find remnants of the original tower, such as the original column bases and concrete footings, another marker joining the past and the present.

On this level permanent and temporary exhibitions will be staged, including a number of in situ artifacts recovered from Ground Zero. Among them them is the "Last Column," the final piece of steel removed from the site that accumulated remembrances and mementos during the rescue and recovery effort. It will stand at the base of the ribbon, one of the first things visitors see upon arrival to this sacred spot.

As for the exhibitions, they will strive to tell the story of the events of the day as well as those that led up to it and have occurred since as a result. "We will not shy away from a difficult subject matter," Greenwald said. But Joe Daniels, president of the memorial, stressed that those exhibits will also not be political in nature, striving for original sources. "We will stick to the authentic history, stick to the facts and letting people interpret for themselves," he said.

A model of the ramp shows the tight site in which Davis Brody Bond Aedas had to work, but also the ample views this plan creates.
The final piece of the ramp parallels the "survivor's stair."
COURTESY Davis Brody Bond Aedas

To help gather source material, the museum launched, a new website today that allows people to upload their own images relating to their personal experiences on September 11. Once uploaded, the images can be tagged with a time and location and then placed onto custom Google Maps. Visitors to the site can then search images by time, location, or theme and create their own tour of the events and experiences of others from that tragic day.

Due to ongoing construction at the museum and the surrounding World Trade Center site, the memorial will be completed by the tenth anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2011. But as Chris Ward, executive direct of the Port Authority, recently testified to City Council, the museum will not be open until the following year, and the memorial will have to close at times to accommodate construction activity.

An aerial photograph from earlier this month shows progress on the site. See Additional photos here.
Courtesy Port Authority

Still, Daniels used the event to also tout progress on the memorial and museum, which he said has 80 percent of its structural steel in place with 90 percent of it fabricated, as well as 25 percent of its concrete poured. "With hundreds of workers on the site, it's truly inspiring to see the designs for the museum coming to life," he said.

Matt Chaban