An Early Peek At The 9/11 Museum At Ground Zero

The museum seems destined to become one of the most remarkable memorial structures in America.


[In remembrance of 9/11, we’re reposting a tour we did last year of the 9/11 memorial and museum at Ground Zero. ? Ed.]

“In 100 years, there won’t be anyone alive that experienced 9/11,” says Steven Davis, whose architecture firm, Davis Brody Bond Aedas, is designing the 9/11 Museum. “What will you tell them? And how will you tell them, to make them understand what happened?”

Davis spoke to Co.Design during a tour recently of the unfinished site, which is slated for completion on September 11, 2012–a scant two years from now, and eleven years after the Twin Towers fell.

Despite the museum’s unfinished form, a profound sense of what it will be emerges, because this isn’t your typical sort of building. Rather, it’s a processional decent into the gaping hole left by the towers–marked by reminders, both gargantuan and intimate, of what happened on the ground you step across. “Almost no memorial museum is sited where the tragedy actually happened,” says Davis. “And this museum is the reverse of most. Usually, the museum houses the exhibit. Here, the exhibit houses the museum.”

[Above and top: The above-ground museum pavilion, designed by Snøhetta, which will cap the below-ground work being done by Davis Brody Bond Aedas]

Design wise, the architecture firm’s chief goal was not to muddle the site with new architecture–but rather, to let the immensity of the site serve as a dramatic, natural testament to the events. “The first thing I heard from the Port Authority’s chief architect was, ‘You have to remember, this place is big,'” says Davis. “This space is really on the scale of urban design.”


The entire museum will be a total of seven stories, all below ground; inside, still dwarfed by the space, there will a fire truck preserved from Ground Zero; a “trident” column from the exterior of one of the Twin Towers; the 58-ton, 36-foot-tall “Last Column,” which was the final beam removed during the site cleanup; and the “Survivor’s Staircase,” which was used by everyone who escaped the towers on 9/11.

Here, a virtual tour of the museum, supplemented by our own pictures taken during yesterday’s tour.

A view of the memorial pools, designed by Michael Arad, which mark the exact footprints of the fallen towers, and will open next year, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Upon entering the museum, visitors will rise in the shadows of two tridents taken from the Twin Towers’ facade–at about 1/20th of the original height of the towers, they’re the museum’s first stark reminder of the mind-boggling scale of the tragedy.

Visitors will then pass a number of impressionistic exhibits designed by Thinc design with multi-media by Local Projects, which evoke the experience of 9/11 around the world–which more than 2 billion people saw on TV.

[A test of the projections to come, via Local Projects]


After those initial galleries, visitors then walk down a 5% slope that’s so gentle it’s hardly noticeable. Walking through a darkened hall, they get glimpse of the enormity of the space–until finally coming to an overlook at the main gallery, which is dominated by the Last Column.

[The overlook, seen from below; the video above was shot walking down the ramp and towards that ledge you see at the top of the image]

[The Last Column, seen from the floor of the gallery]

[The column is currently encased in a huge, air-conditioned container, which keeps it cool so that the memorials famously inscribed by the original Ground Zero crews don’t degrade in the heat.]

Visitors will then descend into the main gallery via a stair right next to the remains of the Survivor’s Staircase, which was just recently put into place:

Looming above the galleries will be the recessed footprints of the 9/11 memorial pools. As reminders of the tower footprints, they’ll be clad in crushed, recycled aluminum and brightly lit, so that inside the space, they become ghostly and almost diaphanous:


[The Survivor’s Staircase is visible in the top left]

[At the top right of the picture, you can see what the suspended footprints of the towers look like now]

[Another indicator of the scale of the Twin Towers: That rusted behemoth you see is one small section of the TV antenna that once topped them]

[An indicator of the immense height of the gallery, which is six stories tall at some points. The hole you see above is temporary, and has been used to haul in the massive artifacts and construction materials contained inside]

[At one end of the main gallery, visitors will be able to see a preserved excavation of the original columns that bolted the Twin Towers to bedrock]


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.