In the middle of the
"It's proving a popular place for selfies," says the architect
Almost 13 years since the atrocities of 9/11, when nearly 3,000 people were killed in a horrific moment of televised terrorism, the hallowed site of Ground Zero remains as much a place of spectacle as ever. More than 12 million people have visited since the memorial plaza opened in
Surrounded by a grove of 400 oak trees, interspersed with little slivers of lawn, these cubic waterfalls are breathtaking in their vastness, compressing the power of
Finally opening to the public on 21 May, the museum completes the
With its angular form looming imposingly into view, it is one of the few remnants of the visual language conjured by
Since then, commercial realities have seen Libeskind's crystalline rock formation, which looked like something from the planet Krypton, translated into a more corporate affair of office blocks by a handful of Pritzker-prize winning architects, including Lords Foster and Rogers. Now half-finished, it might have been designed as a vertical exhibition of different curtain wall cladding systems.
Libeskind's own jagged spear of a tower, meanwhile, has become a stumpy obelisk by the global giant SOM.
As if to make up for these generic, if well-detailed, slabs of commerce, the terrain below has been given over to a competing frenzy of form-making, with a series of enthusiastically sculpted structures scattered across the site, all trying to embody hope and anguish, optimism and loss, hurt and healing. There are the soaring vertebrae of
In the hands of Snhetta, the museum building has become Libeskind-lite, his trademark aesthetic of trauma and tragedy filtered though a benign Scandinavian lens. "We wanted to stay true to the feeling of the masterplan," says Dykers, "but the building shouldn't feel too shocking." Within, it is all blond wood and warm, natural tones "to engender a sense of calm, a moment of relaxation before you have to be challenged". Housing an auditorium and a small room for families of the victims, it is well crafted, but has the neutral, rather placid feeling of an airport lounge.
A victim of the legal and political wranglings that have plagued this 16-acre swath of lower
With a clearly defined space beneath the plaza, hemmed in by rail lines, services and the exposed concrete slurry wall of the original
Walking along this dark timber route - which is designed to recall the 200 metre construction ramp by which debris was removed from the site - we pass further steel columns, twisted into monstrous claws by the impact of the planes, and a vast chunk of the transmission mast, spilling out its twisted entrails. Everywhere you look there are steel plates of immense thickness, effortlessly curled like pencil shavings, peeled back like the discarded skin of a banana. Raised on plinths or mounted on the walls and dramatically spotli t, these gut-wrenching fragments are treated like
It is a form of fetishised architectural salvage that makes more sense when it is cleverly stitched into the visitor s' route - where, for example, a set of eroded concrete stairs, down which many of the survivors fled to safety, is placed alongside the staircase down which you must walk. At the bedrock level there are also some powerfully understated moves, such as exposing the column foundations that march in a mute line around the perimeter where the towers once stood, marking the threshold between the cavernous, looser lobby area and the sanctified space of the exhibition within.
The exhibition halls were not complete at the time of visiting, but appear to be densely packed warrens of ephemera, taken from the 10,000-strong collection of objects salvaged from the site: the charred remains of a fire fighter's axe alongside scorched car doors, salvaged uniforms, shoes and hats, flags and toys, posters and banners of encouragement from the nine-month site clearance - all towered over by the hallowed "last column" to be removed from the site, a tattooed totem pole of hopes and memorials. Audio and video of personal recollections is mixed with contemporary reporting, building what the exhibition designers describe as "a multiplicity of subjectivities" through which the visitor is encouraged to navigate - it being deemed too soon for a definitive narrative of events to be appropriate.
It is, in many ways, an apt metaphor for the situation above ground. Every building bears the scars of not only the emotional trauma that is so engraved into these few city blocks, but of the battles that have been fought since
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