Like all museums, the 9/11 Memorial Museum will tell visitors a story. Unlike most places, however, rooms in this building will also listen to memories.
Jake Barton, principal and founder of media-design firm Local Projects, is wrapping up an eight-year project as the exhibit designer for the 9/11 Memorial Museum, opening to the public next week.
Inside, visitors will be able to view and interact with 90 different exhibits that incorporate first-person experiences, oral histories, artifacts, and interactive pieces. They'll also be able to add their own stories to some of the exhibits. A recording booth let's anyone go in and record their own remembrances or reflections on 9/11. An interactive guestbook lets visitors sign a digital map that is projected all day at the museum.
"Because 9/11 is such recent history, it's really not history yet," says Barton. "It is one of the most documented events in human history. A third of the world watched it live or saw it repeated that day."
Barton's goal was to create opportunities to hear back from people who felt connected to the events, no matter where they were that day.
"We always knew we would have the challenge to make the museum something other than a static place, and to do that we created a level of participation for all visitors," Barton says, one that would allow them to reflect on the meaning of 9/11 and try to untangle the ongoing changes of the post-9/11 world we live in. Because so many survivors, stakeholders, and family members of the people who died that day will make their way through the museum, Barton said his team took an "incredible amount of care" regarding how visitors move through the space, allowing them to "opt into" some of the more challenging areas.
Building a museum that listens to the people who pass through it "allows for visitors who are survivors, people who literally ran out of the burning buildings for their lives, to be able to see their own stories reflected and to add their own stories to the exhibitions so they can educate people who know nothing about the event," Barton says. "It builds up the authenticity for people who make their way to the museum, but it also creates a level of pilgrimage, that people feel when they come to the site, that when they come here they can see the authentic steel, they can see and feel bedrock which they're standing on top of, and they can hear the real stories of people who lived and survived on that day."
The museum, he says, remains "unfinished" on purpose—it's up to visitors to complete the story.