Steven M. Davis, FAIA, a partner at Aedas (formerly Davis Brody Bond Aedas), is the designer of the National September 11 Memorial Museum (see coverage on page 32) at the World Trade Center in New York, and directs the firm’s role as the associate architect of the Memorial site. Contract Editor in Chief John Czarnecki toured the construction site in August, and asked Davis about the design of the museum, which is scheduled to open September 11, 2012.
Describe Aedas’s role at the World Trade Center site.
Aedas has two commissions at the site. Aedas is the associate architect for the Memorial, so we’re responsible for developing and executing the design of Peter Walker and Michael Arad. Aedas is also the lead design architect of the Memorial Museum.
How complicated is the museum design?
This is among the most complicated projects our firm has undertaken, and we’ve had numerous complicated projects. We’ve had to consider the logistics of building this museum beneath the ongoing construction of the National September 11 Memorial; we have no exterior facade. This project is in many ways the inverse of a typical museum—normally a museum is an iconic building that houses exhibits. Here the icon is the exhibit.
Describe the challenges of this project.
We understood the boundaries of our space very early on. Our roof is the National September 11 Memorial Plaza. The project includes ventilation for the PATH station and tracks, as well as a chiller plant to provide cooling for the entire World Trade Center site redevelopment. During the 9/11 recovery, there was a lot of water entering the site, so a sophisticated system to remediate that water was developed.
Explain the key drivers of the design concept.
Four principles inform the design concept: Memory (cultural memory in particular), Authenticity, Scale, and Emotion. We are continuously mindful of these principles and they are the armature around which we designed this museum. The cultural memory is so powerful at the site that we let the site tell its own story. This is a memorial to the people who died because of where they were at a particular time and place, and the site will always be associated with September 11.
What museums or other spaces did you look to as precedents or inspiration for this design?
We looked to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located thousands of miles away from Vietnam, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. These precedents are both intentionally removed from the location of the atrocities with which they are associated. The fact that this project is located at the authentic site of the event makes it quite different from many other memorials.
Years from now, when generations who had not personally experienced 9/11 visit, what impact will this museum to have on them?
The memorial will memorialize, and the museum will provide information and interpretation about the events of that awful day. The story of 9/11 will be presented in a museum which can add authenticity to its telling and provide an accurate and truthful representation of the scale and impact of this attack.
How important is this project for you personally?
This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience as an architect and as a citizen. I’m a native New Yorker and I have memories of the construction of the World Trade Center in the 1960s and early 1970s. On 9/11, I was at home in my Tribeca apartment. I had many friends and colleagues who were at the World Trade Center that morning, some of whom did not survive. For me, this is personal.