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The Story of the Incredible Design Behind NYC’s 9/11 Memorial
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The Story of the Incredible Design Behind NYC’s 9/11 Memorial

Picture of Julia Goicochea
Updated: 28 March 2018
Built as a tribute to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the World Trade Center attacks, New York City’s 9/11 Memorial comes with a significant backstory befitting the events. For architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker, and for New Yorkers in general, the 9/11 Memorial represents the complex duty of remembering the past while embracing the future, a feat which might have proved impossible for any group other than New Yorkers.

After six people were killed in the World Trade Center bombing of February 1993 and nearly 3,000 more perished in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, a broken, but not beaten, New York City rallied for some type of memorial in their honor. A sensitive project such as this required much deliberation, especially after 5,200 entries from 63 different nations were submitted to the city’s global design competition. And making the matter all the more delicate, the memorial was to be located at the former site of the World Trade Center Complex. Ultimately, a design created by New York architect Michael Arad would be selected for the most important piece of New York City architecture in recent history.

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Aerial view the memorial | © Jin Lee / Courtesy of 9/11 Memorial

When taking in the finished product, it’s easy to see why Arad’s design stood out amongst thousands of others. For starters, principal features of the memorial include the twin reflecting pools, which feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America, sitting in the spaces once occupied by the Twin Towers, at one time considered the tallest buildings in the world. Another standout detail of Arad’s design is the foliage: in light of the devastating effects that the attacks of September 11th had on the environment, the memorial’s 400-plus trees are a thoughtful, healing touch. The most striking aspect of the memorial, however, is the inscription of some 3,000 names—one for every person who died in the 1993 and 2001 attacks—into its bronze panels.

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A view of the 9/11 Memorial | © Joe Woolhead / Courtesy of 9/11 Memorial

Speaking to Inhabitat, Arad identified the chief challenge in creating this design as seeing “how you can make a memorial plaza that’s actually part of the city.” While the memorial’s inscriptions were underway, letters were sent to the family members of each victim asking whether they’d prefer their loved one’s name to be next to any other name. One year and 1,200 requests later, the 2,983 names were finally carefully arranged, grouped together with coworkers, fellow airline passengers, and family in death as they were in life. Enhancements such as printed brochures, audio guides, and even an app further illuminate the stories behind the memorial’s names. Thus, not only does the 9/11 Memorial help New Yorkers to never forget, but it also gives us something, or someone, to remember.

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A rose at the memorial | © Ben Hider / Courtesy of 9/11 Memorial