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Nine years after 9/11, the World Trade Center site is still a powerful draw for newcomers to New York. But until now, visiting has largely been an exercise in empathic imagination. The gaping hole in lower Manhattan has been fenced off since the tragedy, and although plans for its redevelopment were announced in 2003, there hasn't been much evidence of progress. That finally changed last summer with the opening of the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site, located in a building near the construction zone. Now, you can see a model of the new WTC site, and live webcam images of construction are displayed on interactive kiosks. You can also voice your own experiences of the day in an on-site recording booth; the resulting three-minute stories will form a multilingual soundscape exhibit in the planned museum, slated for completion in 2012.
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The National September 11 Memorial & Museum will occupy half of the WTC site's 16 acres. Rather than fill in the chasm, the plans incorporate the cavity as an awe-inspiring reminder of the devastation. The memorial itself, Reflecting Absence, designed by architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker and scheduled for a tenth-anniversary opening date, consists of two one-acre "footprints" of the destroyed towers, with 30-foot waterfalls cascading down their sides. Bronze parapets around the edges will be inscribed with the names of the victims.
"When people approach these pools and see the names of the 2,982 victims arrayed around them, they're going to get a sense of what was here and what is no longer with us, that they're standing at a spot where ten years ago these buildings stood and now all there is is a void and sky," says Joe Daniels, president of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
The plaza will be planted with 400 swamp white oak and sweetgum trees, and the pavilion of the museum, designed by Oslo-based firm Snhetta, will rise between the waterfalls. Its weblike glass atrium will house two steel trident-shaped columns salvaged from the base of the Twin Towers. Inside, visitors can descend to the vast spaces of the original foundations alongside a remnant of the Vesey Street staircase known as the "Survivors' Stairs."
"We're basically building an eight-acre green roof that will introduce this area of lower Manhattan back into lower Manhattan," explains Daniels. "It's going to be an open plaza that will serve not only a memorial function but as a green space for those that live and work down here. Yet beneath it will be the heart of the Memorial Museum. When you go down to bedrock, you'll be able to walk on the very space where the Twin Towers stood and view the actual slurry wall that held back the Hudson. We didn't want to change these spaces; we wanted to have the roof and the pools define the spaces beneath, then fit the exhibition into those spaces."
Exhibits will include a photographic memorial to the victims, monumental artifacts such as the "Last Column"—the last piece of steel removed from the site—and personal ones. The purview is threefold, says Daniels, "preserving what happened on the day; exploring the history that led up to the attacks; and finally looking at what it means to live in a post-9/11 world—the effects continue to unfold today."
9/11 Memorial Preview Site, 20 Vesey St at Church St (212-267-2047, national911memorial.org)