Originally published on Sept 11, 2011, republished on September 11, 2015.
The World Trade Center may still be a construction site, but on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the site where the Twin Towers used to stand became a New York City landmark with the official opening of the National 9/11 Memorial. Designed by architect Michael Arad, the memorial transforms the space from an empty void into an elegant and dignified place of repose. Two reflecting pools, vast expanses in the footprints of the towers, dominate the site, and their cascading waters drown out the surrounding sounds, creating an ideal place to pause and reflect. Take a look through our photo gallery to see the memorial for yourself.
Arad’s design was selected from a global competition that received more than 5,200 submissions from 63 nations. The reflecting pools, which sit in the exact footprints of the Twin Towers, are the center of the memorial. The pools as are large voids, a visible reminder of the absence of the towers that resonates with the loss that came from the destruction of the World Trade Center. The pools are each nearly an acre in size, and they feature the largest man made waterfalls in North America. The moment you enter the memorial, you hear the sound of falling water, a sound that gets louder and more prominent as you go deeper into the site. Standing on the edge of a pool, the waterfalls drown out all other sounds, even the clatter from the surrounding construction sites, letting you quietly reflect on your thoughts.
“We wanted to create a place that remarked on absence but also did so in a way that connected the site back into the life of the city,” said Arad, explaining that they did not want the memorial to be something set apart from the city that people visited once then forgot about. “It’s something that is set very much in the life of New York City. People will be here every day whether there’s visitors to the memorial, or office workers coming down here, or whether it’s neighborhood residents with their kids. It’s bringing the past into the present and saying that the legacy of that day is with us every day.”
Bronze panels edging the pools are inscribed with the name of every single person who died on September 11, as well as the terror attacks in 1993. Family members have already placed flowers and other tokens of love on the placards. Arranging the names was one of the more complicated components of the design. First, the names are arranged into nine major groups: the North Tower, the South Tower, the Pentagon, Flight 11, Flight 93, Flight 175, Flight 77, First Responders, and February 26, 1993. Then the names are arranged into smaller, more meaningful groups. For example, all of the employees from a company are inscribed together, as well as the firefighters from the same Engine.
But what is truly special about how the names are arranged is that the next-of-kin were all asked if they would like their relative’s name to be next to another victim’s name. Twelve-hundred adjacency requests were made, and every single one of them was fulfilled. “It allows for such special meaning,” said memorial President Joe Daniels. He added that special mobile apps show the public which connections they made for each name. “It starts to begin to tell that story of the lives behind the people that were lost.” Visitors can also use kiosks located around the site to find specific names and learn about the memorial.
The street-level plaza surrounding the pools is an eco-friendly plaza that’s aiming for LEED Gold certification. The 8-acre plaza has irrigation, stormwater and pest management systems that conserve energy and water, and it is planted with 442 swamp white oak trees, as they are natural reminders of life and rebirth. The plaza has a suspended paving system that supports the trees and allows their roots to expand in the nutrient-rich soil below the cement. The system allows for stable pavement that does not apply pressure to the soil or trees’ roots.
The trees were all trimmed to exactly 11-feet high, creating rows of solid tree trunks that march in east-west lines through the plaza, drawing your eye to the pools. Stone benches are placed throughout the trees, creating shaded resting places for visitors to gather. “These trees, like memory itself, demand the care and nurturing of those who visit and tend them,” Arad said in his proposal. “They remember life with living forms, and serve as living representations of the destruction and renewal of life in their own annual cycles.”
The memorial is free to the public, but visitors must reserve passes online.
“I think what I wanted to do here is really encourage that moment of introspection and to bring people to the very edge of these enormous voids and reflect on what happened here that day,” says Arad. “I think that these reflections are going to be very personal in nature. People will react very differently to these memorials. There’s not a single, universal and correct way to understand what happened that day. But what we’ve tried to build here, I’ve compared it in the past to a moment of silence. And how you use that moment of silence is very much a personal matter.”
All images © Amanda Silvana Coen and Jill Fehrenbacher for Inhabitat