Historic Preservation

Posted April 3, 2015
  • Names around the Memorial Fountain in New York.
  • Fountain in the building footprint of the south tower.
  • 9/11 Memorial Museum exhibition panels.
  • Survivor's Stair in the 9/11 Museum.

Studying Modern Memorials

The Memorials and Memorialization class travels to NY to see the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Making memorials to remember and commemorate tragedies is a common practice of our society.  In the Memorials and Memorialization course, taught by Randy Mason of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation and Ken Lum of the Undergraduate Fine Arts Department, we have been learning about traditional memorials, contemporary designs, and the role of the memorial in society.  On Saturday, March 28, 2015 we traveled with Professor Mason to New York to experience the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.  Seeing a memorial is a very different experience than studying one in a classroom, and with the fieldtrip to New York, we felt the atmosphere and saw where the design succeeded or fell short.

The museum had a lot of material exhibits and was very informative.  Technology and personal stories are combined to create a vivid sense of the tragedy.  After walking through a large lobby with a few chosen artifacts, including a staircase some survivors were able to escape on, you enter the exhibits, located under the towers.  I spent the most time in the north tower, which has a timeline of the morning of September 11th, media and personal reactions, phone conversations, and many other didactic exhibits, which combine to make an overwhelming, but important, understanding of the terrorist attacks.  Above the museum is the memorial, reintegrated in the city after years of being fenced off.  The memorial was powerful, with large fountains marking the location of the two towers, and names of the victims from the World Trade Center, Flight 93, the Pentagon, First Responders, and the 1993 bombing of the WTC.  Some names had roses with them, adding a personal layer of memorialization to the site.

The design and context of the memorial has unique conditions.  In a city as active as New York, any public space becomes a draw for recreation and tourism.  Memorial space, especially one for such a devastating event, indicates something more sacred, more contemplative.  When you're close to the fountains, the sound of the water isolates you and provides a place for reflection.  The names of the victims are engraved into black metal.  Away from the fountains, however, the city interrupts the space: people walk through on their way somewhere else, tourists use selfie sticks, children have no place to play except the benches, and trash is sometimes left on the ground, after a frustrating and unfruitful search for waste bins.  We discussed these design components in class after our trip, but what I remember most is the emotional effect that the memorial and the museum had on me.

Andrea Haley is a first year student in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at PennDesign.  She moved from Pittsburgh, PA to attend Temple University for undergrad and has stayed in  Philadelphia since.  She is interested in vibrant, mixed-use communities and the combination of contemporary and historic design.