National September 11 Museum

National September 11 Museum in Manhattan, New York by Snøhetta

The eve of the seven-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks saw the unveiling of the latest designs for a museum for the site. Officially called the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center, the Memorial by Michael Arad and Peter Walker is basically in its initial form, but the Museum component has changed considerably from its 2004 design by the Norweigan firm Snøhetta. The tying together of these two elements in the name of the complex can be attributed to the Museum's subsidiary role to the Memorial, the need for an above-ground beyond the Memorial's sunken footprints, and the need for a secure, formal entry to the latter's primarily subterranean spaces.

What's been generically called the cultural component of the site, since Daniel Libeskind won the competition for the rebuildinng of the World Trade Center site, has undergone transformation and controversey. At one time it was called the International Freedom Center and included SoHo's Drawing Center, but uproar over the latter's exhibitions squashed those fairly specific plans. Completely eliminating a cultural component from the plans has not occurred, as those involved have followed this aspect of Libeskind's masterplan, and the government and developers need this piece to truly called the site mixed-use, not just a replacement for the WTC's office space.

The Museum's current incarnation, whose future contents are not really known, is a 48,000 sf (4,500 sm) volume that tapers in plan and is inclined in section. The three-story glass and metal building culminates in a full-height atrium on its western end, overlooking the plaza. Situated within this space are two of the steel tridents from the original Twin Towers. The fork-like twins "symbolize emergence from catastrophe" among other things, but in the case of the building design they were artifacts that gave Snøhetta something to design around, important given the vagueness over what the rest of the museum will contain.

What approximately 1/4 of the building will contain is mechanical and ventilation equipment for the underground spaces of the Memorial, the WTC's Transportation Hub and the No. 1 subway line. Combined with an auditorium and a need for spaces with little to no natural light, the architects face the same problems as Freedom Tower or 7WTC, with their impenetrable bases: how to clad a solid volume? The stainless steel cladding is raised from the plaza level, revealing access points to the building and wrapping the building's roof to create a "fifth facade". In form and its prevalence of diagonals in cladding and structure, the design is the most true to Libeskind's original plan. What that means in a sea of corporate sheen and adjacent to a somber memorial will be one of the interesting things to see unfold in the coming years.