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This week, ten years to the day after the September 11 attacks, the 9/11 Memorial will open as a permanent monument to what happened that day. "It's an important moment in time," says architect Michael Arad, whose design "Reflecting Absence" was chosen for the site by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in 2004. While the memorial is the focal point of the 16-acre plaza, Arad also envisions the space as a place for New Yorkers and visitors to congregate. "There's a strong, resilient quality to public spaces," he explains. "Seeing historic spots and gathering [for] activities can and should happen side by side."
RECOMMENDED: See all September 11 memorial events
The centerpiece of Arad's design is two massive reflecting pools that are placed in the footprint of each of the Twin Towers. He first conceived of this design in 2001. "I [had] this idea of two voids in the Hudson, [with] water rushing in and the voids filling up," he explains. The concept was realized with the basins, each measuring about an acre in size, which are ringed by a cascading waterfall that spills into a hole at the center. The pools are illuminated at night by 140 lights.
The water features are just one facet of the larger space: The 9/11 Memorial Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2012, will also be located on-site. Visitors will enter the institution through a glass atrium built above ground (which will feature two of the steel beams that held up the Twin Towers), while the majority of its collection will be located underneath the memorial itself.
The names of those killed on 9/11, as well as in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, are inscribed in bronze panels that surround each reflecting pool. "The materials had to have a toughness that would weather [the elements]," Arad says. Many of the names were cut into the bronze, giving them a tactile, permanent quality.
Names are grouped according to which tower each person was in when he or she died; additionally, those who were on planes or at the Pentagon, as well as first responders, are grouped together. Arad and his team also sought out personal stories from victims' families, which led to friends and family members being placed near one another. "They are arranged by meaningfulness," says Arad. "Over time, we began to hear the stories behind the stories, and started to understand the impact."
Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker also added a veritable forest of more than 400 swamp white oak trees around the plaza. Some are located where steel supports once stood, while others are placed in staggered lines throughout the space. Regarding the placement of each oak, Arad notes, "[The trees have] an almost naturalistic appearance. But there is an order. It complements the notion of flat planes and two voids."
WHERE TO GO: The 9/11 Memorial, enter at Albany and Greenwich Sts (212-312-8800, 911memorial.org). Sept 12--Jan 8: Mon--Fri 10am--8pm; Sat, Sun 9am--8pm. Beginning Jan 9: Daily 10am--6pm. Free; advance reservations required.