"For the museum’s designers and curators, that tension led to a tangle of quandaries: How can you present a lasting memorial to an event whose impact is still unspooling through developments such as the Edward Snowden leaks and the Senate’s torture report? How can you speak to 9/11’s polarizing effects, such as the bungled search for WMD, without alienating some significant portion of your audience? How can you create a meaningful tribute that will resonate with every visitor: the schoolchildren who know almost nothing of what happened, survivors who ran from the buildings covered in ash, and all those—more than a billion worldwide—who experienced the attack live on TV? “Conventional narrative wouldn’t cut it,” says Alice Greenwald, director of the museum, which opens in May.
Perhaps the most vexing problem of the project’s design, which incorporates thousands of artifacts, is that it risked becoming one massive trigger for victims and a trauma in its own right for everyone else. “This is not the Disney World of 9/11,” says Greenwald, a petite, dark-haired woman whose room-filling good cheer belies the material she has absorbed and calibrated. “We weren’t going to immerse people in the experience.” As Jake Barton, founder of Local Projects, which helped design the space, says, “That was the first, panicking challenge: How do you rise to the event itself for the people who lived it without overwhelming everyone else?” The fear of seeming hasty or naive was almost paralyzing. “Usually, as designers, you try to create meaning. Here there was almost too much of it,” Barton says.
The museum’s creative team tackled these emotional and psychological challenges through a combination of sophisticated design and artfully deployed technologies: a data-mining algorithm, onsite digital recording booths, a web-based platform for gathering crowdsourced testimony, touchscreens that let you access remembrances of the dead. The result isn’t so much a record of an event as a testament to how much we’ve all witnessed—no one more so than the survivors and family members, whose experiences are almost impossible to imagine until you hear from them yourself."