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The 9/11 memorial - Interview and footage of the WTC site

Clifford Chanin, 9/11 museum director of education and programs,
interviewed by Clifford Armion
15th October 2012, 1 Liberty Plazza, New York

My name is Clifford Chanin and I am the director of education and public programs at the 9/11 museum in New York. We opened the memorial in Septembre 2011. We’re speaking now in the middle of October 2012 and we’ve had more than five million people come to the memorial. Our strategy has been, in anticipation of this great demand, to try and create an education program on our online website that gives teachers resources of all kinds for what we call K through 12, from kindergarten through the end of high school here in the United States. The website, which is really our first museum presence in the world, provides material on 9/11, that is to say access to our collections, timelines of the events of 9/11, web interviews with experts on questions related to 9/11 and finally lesson plans that give teachers hands on material that they can use in teaching their classes about different aspects of 9/11.

The original World Trade Centre site was 16 acres which if my calculations are correct is about 10 hectares in French geographical terms. So it was a very large space in the centre of the downtown Wall Street business district in New York. Those two buildings were each 110 stories tall. Each floor was an acre square. So you had 10 million square feet of floor space in those buildings. It really was an attempt to build the largest buildings in the world and bring companies from around the world to do business in those buildings. Once the attacks came and the buildings collapsed, it emerged very quickly in the planning process that the actual footprints of the buildings, those places were the buildings stood, were considered sacred ground. The commitment was made very early on that there would be no building in those footprints, that they would be preserved in whatever memorial would ultimately emerge. The actual memorial on the site of the WTC campus places the two memorial pools in the footprints of the two towers, with the names of the 2983 victims inscribed on the parapets around the two pools. That number of 2983 includes all the victims of 9/11 on all the planes and all the attack sites and also the six victims of the first attempt to bring down the WTC, the bombing by truck bomb on 26 February 1993. Six people were killed there and their names are included in the names on the memorial. The plan that emerged came through an international competition. There were 5201 entries and the winner was an entry by the name of ‘reflecting absence’. That was the theme of what became the memorial. Michael Arad who was a young architect living in New York, actually working for the city of New York at the time, later joined by Peter Walker, a landscape architect, had the idea of using these empty footprints of the buildings and essentially using these pools, which we think are the largest manmade waterfall pools in North America, to essentially create a frame around the empty space where the buildings once stood. That’s the key concept of the memorial. What was once 110 stories into the sky is now preserved as an empty space in the skyline.

We have got so many visitors to the site. It really does reflect a global interest in being here and participating in some kind of act of commemoration and bearing witness in some way to what happened on the grounds of the WTC complex. For the moment, because the original 16 acres of the WTC site have essentially been divided in half for the redevelopment, 8 acres for the memorial and 8 acres for commercial reconstruction, there’s a lot of commercial reconstruction still under way. Therefore the plaza of the memorial itself has been fenced off to protect the visitors and that does create a bit more density on the plaza because people cannot walk on and off from all sides the way they ultimately will. When all the construction surrounding the memorial is complete it will be a public park, so people will be moving in and out freely on all sides.

I think one of the reasons why the 9/11 memorial has received so much attention is because there are genuinely unprecedented aspects of the 9/11 attacks that have penetrated into people’s consciousness around the world. The first one is that it was witnessed live on television, not just here in New York or in the United States but pretty much everywhere. We have visitors who come from everywhere who tell us their stories of watching this on television. For this to have happened live in front of a global audience of tens or hundreds of millions of people, if not more, is an unprecedented event in global history and global awareness. That is a shaping element in driving people to come to the memorial. The other element is that the attack itself, which was the result of obviously very close planning and of a plot to attack and injure the United States is something that has created a whole series of events around the world that have implicated all kinds of people in all kinds of places and brought this issue to the front page of newspapers around the world. When people come to New York now, they do apparently want to make a pilgrimage to the place where this all started and to be part of the process of commemorating that and remembering that. I think 9/11 is still in many ways an open question. The consequences of it have not all been concluded or resolved. We live in a world that has been very much shaped by the events of 9/11. Young people, even younger children who don’t have a direct memory of that event, are recognising that their world has now been transformed in some way by the reality of what happened, whether they remember it or not. All of these factors combine to create this vast interest in 9/11. What happened here? Why did it happen? What were the consequences of it happening? Who was involved? What was the logic of the people who made the attack? What was the logic of the response? How did people in the immediate vicinity respond to this terrible catastrophe in their midst? There are so many questions that begin as questions that are specific to the events of 9/11 and then expand outward very rapidly and pose general questions about coexistence in the world, on the nature of what it is to live in a society where we rely on one another and trust one another on some very basic level and what happens when that trust is betrayed.

Pour citer ces ressources :

Clifford Chanin, Clifford Armion. 10/2012. "The 9/11 memorial - Interview and footage of the WTC site".
La Clé des Langues (Lyon: ENS LYON/DGESCO). ISSN 2107-7029. Mis à jour le 12 septembre 2016.
Consulté le 20 janvier 2018.
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Mise à jour le 12 septembre 2016
Créé le 30 octobre 2012
ISSN 2107-7029
DGESCO Clé des Langues