Designing at ground zero is a messy business. Given all of the considerations— grieving families, the site’s tangled infrastructure, twelve collaborating architects, and thousands of outspoken New Yorkers—it’s almost a miracle that the September 11 Memorial & Museum is currently in the nascent phases of construction.
On July 1st a panel of four architects who worked on the project gathered at the Center for Architecture in Greenwich Village to discuss their design process and their (somewhat) final plans for the most prominent site in America. The discussion was held in conjunction with A Space Within: The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, the center’s newest exhibition, which runs through September 14th.
As currently planned, the memorial site will serve as a green oasis of 400 white oaks and sweet gum trees within the jumbled street scene of the Financial District. Nestled into the greenery, Snøhetta’s crystalline museum pavilion will house the original steel tridents of the towers and siphon visitors down into Davis Brody Bond’s below-grade Memorial Hall. The main attraction however, is likely to be Michael Arad’s 200 foot waterfalls cascading into the footprints of the twin towers to mark the absence of the two iconic structures and the lives of those lost during the attacks. As shown in renderings at the exhibition, the victims’ names will be inscribed in bronze parapets surrounding the perimeter of the twin memorial pools.
During the panel discussion, Arad explained that the victims’ names will be grouped into nine categories based on where they worked or were located on September 11th. In these groupings, the names are positioned based on “meaningful adjacencies.” Here’s where it gets fuzzy. Family members submit the names of those who the victim had a relationship with and these names are clustered together within the overall grouping (i.e. Joe worked with Jane and now their names appear close to one another). However, families present at the event voiced their concern that it will be nearly impossible to efficiently find the names of their loved ones and the simple inscriptions will be devoid of the character of the people that they represent. Arad responded that visitors can access personal descriptions of the victims in the museum through podcasts and other media.
While most visitors may not be able to readily perceive the organizational structure, the overall effect of all of the names has the potential to be quite moving. The stark imprinting without age, gender, or occupation reminds the viewer that these people died because of where they were, not because of who they were. In this sense, Arad’s design conveys how this tragedy created new connections in a city that is usually rife with anonymity. But, this overarching vision may come at the expense of the memory of the individual victims. For now we’ll just have to wait until the opening—now scheduled for September 11th 2012—to make the final judgment.