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Rebuilding Ground Zero: The Architects Behind the 9/11 Memorial and Museum – 9/11 Ground Zero Guided Tours Skip to content

Rebuilding Ground Zero: The Architects Behind the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

The 16-acre 9/11 Memorial occupies the site where the former World Trade Center complex once stood. It commemorates the September 11, 2001 attacks, the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, and the thousands of lives lost.

Restoring Ground Zero presented an opportunity to not just rebuild, but also to create a narrative about the tragedy and heroism of New Yorkers and Americans on 9/11.

Design Competition

Plans for a memorial were conceived soon after 9/11.  In 2003, an international design competition was held, and it received 5,201 submissions from 63 countries.


Landscape architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker were named the winners. The following, provided by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, is an excerpt from their design statement:

This memorial proposes a space that resonates with the feelings of loss and absence that were generated by the destruction of the World Trade Center and the taking of thousands of lives on September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. It is located in a field of trees that is interrupted by two large voids containing recessed pools. The pools are set within the footprints of the Twin Towers. A cascade of water that describes the perimeter of each square feeds the pools with a continuous stream. They are large voids, open and visible reminders of the absence.

The surface of the memorial plaza is punctuated by the linear rhythms of rows of deciduous trees, forming informal clusters, clearings and groves. This surface consists of a composition of stone pavers, plantings and low ground cover. Through its annual cycle of rebirth, the living park extends and deepens the experience of the memorial.


Members of the Memorial Jury, which included family members of 9/11 victims, NYC officials, and noted artists, issued a statement in 2004 about the winning design. The following is an excerpt:

Of all the designs submitted, we have found that “Reflecting Absence” by Michael Arad, in concert with landscape architect Peter Walker, fulfills most eloquently the daunting but absolutely necessary demands of this memorial. In its powerful, yet simple articulation of the footprints of the Twin Towers, “Reflecting Absence” has made the voids left by the destruction the primary symbols of our loss. By allowing absence to speak for itself, the designers have made the power of these empty footprints the memorial. At its core, this memorial is anchored deeply in the actual events it commemorates-connecting us to the towers’ destruction, and more important, to all the lives lost on that day….

While the footprints remain empty, however, the surrounding plaza’s design has evolved to include beautiful groves of trees, traditional affirmations of life and rebirth. These trees, like memory itself, demand the care and nurturing of those who visit and tend them. They remember life with living forms, and serve as living representations of the destruction and renewal of life in their own annual cycles. The result is a memorial that expresses both the incalculable loss of life and its consoling regeneration.


The National September 11 Memorial Museum’s 110,000 square feet of exhibition space houses artifacts that commemorate the events and victims of 9/11.


In conjunction with Michael Arad and Peter Walker, lead architect David Brody Bond (a.k.a. DDB) designed the museum. Based in lower Manhattan, DDB has worked on numerous projects throughout the city, including Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Apollo Theater Foundation, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum.


SNØHETTA, an award-winning international architecture and landscape firm, designed the Museum’s pavilion.  In addition to the 9/11 Museum, the firm has worked on the Alexandria Library in Egypt and the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo, Norway.

Learn more about the Memorial on one of our tours, led by expert guides with personal connections to 9/11.