The National September 11 Memorial is an eight acre plaza set within the dense urban fabric of Lower Manhattan, where the former World Trade Center Twin Towers once stood. The Memorial Plaza is an integral part of the sixteen acre redeveloped World Trade Center Complex, and it reaches and connects the site to the city beyond. It is an open and welcoming design that is meant to foster the democratic values of public assembly that played such a pivotal role in New York City’s collective response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The Memorial Plaza forms an eight acre clearing in the middle of the city and is vaulted by a permeable canopy of close to four hundred swamp white oak trees. As visitors to the memorial make their way towards the center of this space, they encounter the two reflecting pools that deeply puncture the vast flat expanse of the plaza, and form empty vessels. They are recessed thirty feet into the ground and are lined by waterfalls, delineating the location of the former towers. The voids are absence made present and visible.
Surrounding each acre-sized void is an eight-foot wide and two-foot high water table that serves as the source and springing point of these waterfalls. The water table and the voids are clad in a dark gray granite that was quarried in Virginia. The serrated metal edge of the weir channels the water into separate streams and evokes the haunting loss of thousands of individual lives and the collective loss suffered by all with its billowing curtain of water composed of thousands of individual strands of water.
The names of the victims are incised into darkly patinated bronze panels and appear as shadows during the day, marked by the absence of material. At night, the hovering wing-like profile of the panels is illuminated from within, lighting each name with a soft glow. The panels are simple in appearance but are complex in every other aspect, with precisely engineered and completely concealed heating, cooling, lighting and thermal expansion mechanisms. The names that appear to be in no discernible order are in fact carefully composed in an arrangement that emerged when every family of a victim was asked to participate in the design process by suggesting what other victims’ names should be placed adjacent to the name of the person that they lost. Over twelve hundred individual requests were made and close to year of intense design work was required to resolve what seemed like an impossible task. The final arrangement that emerged met each and every request and placed each name in a physical location in the memorial that is unique and personal.
One of the core guiding principles that served as a foundation to this design was the belief in the resiliency of public space and its important civic function as a vessel for assembly by a people in a democracy. This design sprang from the first hand and searing experience of witnessing individuals in a city coming together as a community in its public spaces to support one another and look savagery in the eye with courage, compassion and stoicism. That experience led us to firmly believe that this site should be reconnected to the life of the city and made part of its everyday existence. It is a place where solemn contemplation can and should rub shoulders with office workers and residents who are at work and play. It is a place where the past and the present come together.