9/11 Memorial Museum:
The events of 9/11 occupy a unique place in our collective memory, existing somewhere between history and current events. As the lead media designer for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, it was our job to help tell that unfinished story.
We made a radical decision to craft an experience that transcended a singular narrative. Instead, it weaves the experiences of real people with a timeline of events. Throughout the exhibitions, we made it our mission to collect, categorize, and visualize 13 years of memories. These stories and their metadata are at the core of museum’s collaborative storytelling philosophy.
We designed the museum so that every visitor can leave a story. This makes it a museum unlike any other: one that evolves with its visitors over time.
The events of 9/11 are broadly considered the largest media occurrence in history. Local Projects was challenged to represent the reality of 9/11 as more than a static piece of history.
Throughout the exhibitions, the 9/11 Memorial Museum and our team made it their joint mission to share as many personal and journalistic accounts as possible. The result extends the museum experience into a platform enabling anyone to tell his or her story.
Everyone has a 9/11 story. An estimated 2 billion people—some just blocks away from the catastrophe, others halfway around the world—experienced the attacks in some form that day. The world responded via phone messages, emails, and texts, leaving behind a uniquely personalized record of the horrific events.
The only way to tell 2 billion stories is to use data from the very beginning, from articles to audio interviews.
This project is: An in-house, ongoing relationship
Source of funding: Client
Local Projects was part of the original team that developed the master plan for the 9/11 Memorial Museum. The project unfolded over a seven-year period, resulting in 96 individual media experiences, including the arrangement of names around the imprints of the original towers.
Gathering, interpreting, and exhibiting the massive quantity of data for the 9/11 Memorial Museum exhibition was a seven-year odyssey, the longest engagement our studio has undertaken.
The effort began in collaboration with the museum’s curatorial staff in 2007, when we erected a recording booth at the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s preview site. We obtained nearly 8,000 recordings of the personal experiences of those directly affected by the attacks, and ultimately used 425 unique speakers from 49 countries speaking in more than 25 languages to create “We Remember,” the museum’s introductory exhibition.
In 2011, we launched “Make History,” which leveraged the museum’s growing online database of images, videos, and stories submitted from the period of unified mourning that occurred in the wake of the attacks to encourage individuals to leave their own stories.
Our design centered on the creative use of data. That focus didn’t just enhance the 9/11 Memorial Museum, it became the central nervous system of the museum. Each exhibition houses layered stories that visitors can explore at their own pace, in their own way.
The exhibition “In Memoriam” includes a wall of faces of the almost 3,000 people who perished on 9/11. The photos by themselves make for a powerful visual. But thanks to the exhibition’s vast archive, visitors can dive even deeper into the lives of each victim, and understand how victims’ lives intersected, whether they were firefighters, office workers, siblings, or spouses. In “We Remember,” a visualization of auditory and written accounts of 9/11 are transposed onto a map of the world, referencing where each speaker was on the day of the attacks.
One of the most significant data-driven exhibitions is “Timescape,” which visualizes millions of articles written in and about the post-9/11 era. Using an algorithm based on research from Columbia University and designed specifically for the installation, we found the similarity among articles by measuring how often key words appear. The resulting piece shows how the relationships of certain words, topics, and articles reveal deeper truths and shifting trends in the post-9/11 world, such as the long-term negative impact of 9/11 on the airline industry, which lost roughly $55 billion and eliminated 160,000 jobs in the decade that followed.
In the wake of 9/11 and the geopolitical turmoil, the actions of the U.S. and other world powers divided many. A traditional museum approach with a singular historical narrative couldn't possibly encompass the many interpretations of the events that followed.
So, with the 9/11 Memorial Museum team and our co-designers, we made a profound decision to create an experience that layers the chronology of events with personal history as told by a wide sampling of those who experienced it, thereby telling several stories simultaneously, from various angles. Together with this rich team of collaborators, we created a museum for everyone, using algorithms and visualization techniques to make the story of each exhibition clear and engaging for all.
More than 5.5 million people from all 50 states and 150 nations have visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum since opening day, May 21, 2014. Of those visitors, 200,000 have felt compelled to leave behind their own stories at one of the interactive exhibitions. This includes the 5,000 who recorded their thoughts and memories in the “Reflecting on 9/11” recording booth, and the 11,000 visitors who have shown their commitment to the museum through memberships.
Local Projects was honored as the winner of the gold lion in the category of Creative Data Enhancement at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in 2015.
“I appreciate highly interactive the exhibition is. The solutions are appropriate, well-executed, and when evaluated altogether make for a memorable, immersive experience and an excellent example of the ‘people’ and ‘culture’ streams of sustainability within the Living Principles for Design framework.”—Alia Hassan
“Truth be told, when the story to be shared is strong, there is usually no wrong to be found. But in this case, the attention to detail, to typography, to levels of sharing and comfort for the viewers are carefully considered really make it stand out.”—Bryony Gomez-Palacio
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