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Architects of Healing:

Honoring Architects Who Helped Heal the Nation

A special AIA Convention ceremony provided the platform to share stories of how architecture confronted the horrors of 9/11.

By Mike Singer

“We were aware that the nexus of urban civilization had been shaken and we would all be changed,” wrote Robert Ivy, FAIA, in his journal on Sept. 11, 2001. The AIA’s CEO, who watched the attack unfold from Lower Manhattan that day, reread those dramatic words last week to a silent audience of more than 1,000 in Washington, D.C.

Ivy’s powerful memories opened a remarkable event at the AIA National Convention honoring the architects involved in post-9/11 memorials and rebuilding in New York City, the Pentagon, and the Shanksville, Pa., site of the United Flight 93 crash.

More than 130 architects, many of whom took part in the ceremony, have received AIA Presidential Citations for their post-9/11 work. AIA President Jeff Potter, FAIA, and Ivy awarded specially commissioned commemorative gold medallions to the 15 architects with primary responsibilities in those projects. The seven involved in New York City also shared their personal stories:

Daniel Libeskind, AIA, who designed the master plan for the World Trade Center site, was in Berlin on 9/11, celebrating the opening of the Jewish Museum Berlin, his first major cultural commission. The museum was a kind of foreshadowing for his work on Ground Zero, another project meant to heal the wounds of historical aggression.

“[Ground Zero] should be the site of memory—a site left to remember those who perished and those who were there as heroes,” said Libeskind. “I wanted to leave as much of the space as possible as open space to be a memorial. We dug down to bedrock—to the slurry wall of the original towers—to see how New York raises up. It’s designed as a space to see the resilience of New York—the city of freedom, of tolerance. That’s the best of America and that is what Ground Zero is all about.’’

Like Robert Ivy, David Childs, FAIA, of SOM, the architect of 1 WTC, was just blocks away when the Twin Towers fell: “You watch it and know your life will never be the same.

“I feel blessed for having had the opportunity to work on the World Trade Center,” he told the audience. “Architecture is all about collaboration. This was a collaborative effort in the fullest sense.”

Designed by AIA Gold Medalist Santiago Calatrava, the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub had to ensure that passengers arriving at this station feel remembrance as part of their journey. Calatrava has described his design as resembling a bird released from a child’s hand. “Railroad stations have great symbolic value as gateways. They are the first and last place we experience when entering and leaving a city,” said Calatrava.

“The sorrow and destitution perpetuated by a few will be overcome by the work of many,” he said. “We are marking a turning point, taking the ruins and making something positive.”

Calatrava was in Athens the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He recounted how the walls of the Greek Acropolis reveal an earlier destroyed Parthenon whose original columns now buttress the new Acropolis. “Twenty-five hundred years later, these structures remain at the pinnacle of Greek civilization, and the reconstruction marked the beginning of the golden age of Greek democracy. It testifies to man’s innate capacity to overcome.”

Robert I. Davidson, FAIA, chief architect of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey when the towers toppled, was key in restoring transit service to Lower Manhattan after the attacks, which claimed the lives of 84 Port Authority employees.

“We needed to get transportation working again,” said Davidson. At midnight on the night of the attack, he quickly assembled a team of architects, engineers, and support staff. “They all recognized this work would be the most important of their career,” he said. His team designed a temporary PATH [railway] station with viewing walls, where tens of thousands of visitors left their remembrances and photos of the missing and dead. “By the end of the week, we began working on the return of public rail back to the World Trade Center site,” he said.

Snøhetta’s Craig Dykers, AIA, key architect for the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum, praised the spirit of New York: “New Yorkers had the courage to place a memorial building right on the ground of the tower that had collapsed. We saw the choice as a bold one—that everyday life and culture, and a fixed memory, could exist in the same place. “

Dykers’ design went through five major conceptual shifts and 30 redesigns before arriving at the current plan for an entry pavilion through which visitors will enter the museum, located 70 feet below ground. He sees the pavilion as a link between two worlds—connecting the past, as represented by the memorial and its names, and the future, as represented by the new towers. “Our role was to serve the present,” he said. “Our past and our future have added meaning when we celebrate the present.”

“This project is about people who aren’t here and who aren’t seen,” said Steven M. Davis, FAIA, whose firm David Brody Bond designed the belowground 9/11 museum. Hidden and nestled into the bedrock of Manhattan, the museum will house 9/11 artifacts, including massive steel spans from the two towers. One wall of the underground museum will be an exposed slurry wall that holds back the Hudson River.

“In a way, I’ve been working on this site for 20 years—two-thirds of my career,” said Davis, who was involved as far back as 1992 with the development of a master plan to reintegrate the public spaces of the original World Trade Center Towers, which had become estranged from their surroundings.

Michael Arad, AIA, lead architect for the National September 11 Memorial, recalled the initial inspiration for his composition, titled “Reflecting Absence,” which features two large voids with recessed square pools 30 feet beneath sea level in the footprints of the twin towers, each etched with the names of the perished.

“One day after the towers fell, I went to Washington Square on my bike,” he remembered. “Dozens of people were around the fountains, [and] there with a sense of quiet defiance. My design grew from my experience of New York in the aftermath of the attacks as a community united, determined, and stoic. As seen in Union Square and Washington Square, public spaces give shape to, and inform, our shared responses. Ours are based on freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”


More than 130 architects have received special AIA Presidential Citations for their role in post-9/11 rebuilding and memorials in New York City, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pa. More than 50 were able to participate in the May 19th ceremony and were recognized on stage. Photo by


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“Reflecting Absence” Memorializes 9/11 with Voids that Give Shape to Memory


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