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Posted at: Sep 9, 2018, 1:45 AM; last updated: Sep 9, 2018, 1:45 AM (IST)

A life-lesson in concrete

The 9/11 Museum and Memorial depicting the tragedy at Ground Zero offers many insights — some wounds can’t be healed, and some hopes can’t be quashed

Rajnish Wattas

Seventeen years ago, the terrorist attack that shook America’s core has a befitting museum to keep alive the memory of the victims and the events of the day. A repository documents the holocaust, honours and commemorates innocent victims and the supreme sacrifices of the brave rescuers.  Yet, amidst all the poignancy and grimness of the event, it evokes hope and renewal.

The calamitous happenings of September 11, 2001, saw the iconic World Trade Center’s famous Twin Towers — that would loom large over New York skyline — tumbling down.  Reduced to debris, these buried under it nearly 3,000 persons, including fire service and police personnel, who sacrificed their lives while rescuing the trapped. To commemorate the memory of the victims, record the holocaust event for posterity and embed it in the national psyche of America, it was decided to build a memorial and museum on the empty space. 

The 9/11 Museum has been designed by architects Davis Brody Bond and Snohetta. Located in the midst of the two water pools, it has been conceptualised as a 1,10,000 square feet space completely beneath the ground. The only exception being the structure of the entrance pavilion. 

The pavilion is a luminescent glass and steel structure, whose parametric geometrical play of surfaces creates myriad shades of light. This, in turn, reflects surrounding landscape, clouds in the sky, abutting skyscrapers and the white bird-like structure of the newly opened transport hub, Oculus.

Inside the entrance pavilion are displayed two giant steel tridents that were used on the façade of the original Twin Towers. The journey to the museum begins through a subtly lit vestibule, with snatches of sounds and tickers of recordings of victims, survivors and others from the fateful day. A huge ramp and staircase lead to the three main galleries: The History Gallery, The Memoriam and The Foundation Hall.

Past must not be forgotten

Moving through the displays of the historical exhibition, September 11, 2001, put up at The History Gallery, is a very poignant and traumatic experience. The audio-visual effects transport you back in time. A beautiful day turns into a bloody nightmare as the planes crash into the Twin Towers and explode into huge balls of fire. The towers, like Lego sets, begin to crumble. Dazed and panic-stricken people move frantically to save themselves from the raging fire. The culminating part is the depiction of the immediate aftermath of 9/11 to the present moment.

Rewind and reminiscence

The next gallery is In Memoriam. This memorial exhibition is a legitimate tribute to the victims of the tragedy. The gallery introduces the audience to 2,983 victims through their portraits put up on all four walls. Rotating selections and touchscreen tables help gain additional information about each life lost. An inner chamber records profiles of individuals through photographs, biographical information and audio remembrances provided by family members and friends. 

The culmination & a new beginning

In The Foundation Hall, a huge space with double height, is the preserved  slurry wall. Restored from the original basements of the Twin Towers, it was built to hold back moisture and water seeping in from the adjacent Hudson River. Its sheer scale tells about the enormity of the site and makes one increasingly aware of the absence of what was once there.

In this gigantic contemplative space, one tends to reflect on the cataclysmic event  and how the free world changed forever. The social aftershocks of  9/11 can still be felt. There is also a 36-feet high Last Column, displaying mementos, memorial inscriptions, and missing posters, all of these affixed by ironworkers, rescue personnel and others. This was formally excavated from the site on May 30, 2002, and flagged the official ending of the nine-month long Ground Zero recovery efforts.

Scars and patches

As one reaches back the Pavilion, the words from Virgil’s Aeneid inscribed  at the entrance on a bare concrete wall remind you: 

“No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

Stepping out from the dark subterranean chambers of the museum to the sunlit world, you see hope sprout in the form of tender, lush green leaves of white oak trees, profoundly denoting renewal, continuity and optimism for tomorrow. 

Resilience as a survival tool

On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack in 2011, the memorial pools and plaza were dedicated to the victims’ families by the then US President Barack Obama. 

Designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, the memorial, Reflecting Absence, was selected after an international design competition that attracted more than 5,000 entries from 63 nations. 

The entire ensemble of the  Ground Zero Memorial comprises two enormous pools right where once stood the Twin Towers. Each pool is about an acre in size and is marked by a 30-feet waterfall, cascading with a mighty roar and vanishing into a great void. The rims of each pool has 2,983 names of the lost lives embedded in bronze. Hundreds of white-oak trees line the surrounding  green plaza on an eight-acre green rooftop, above the seven stories deep basement, all irrigated by water harvesting. 

Among these, stands the lone callery pear tree,  known as the Survivor Tree, which survived the 9/11 devastation. The charred tree was removed from the rubble and was placed in special care for restoration. Once restored, it was returned to the site in 2010. It stands as a reminder of resilience and survival. 

The tree symbolises the official memorial mission: “May the lives remembered, the deeds recognised, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.” 


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