The oddly angled, vaguely deconstructivist entry pavilion, by the Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta, gives no hint of what’s to come: a series of ramps leading down to vast underground spaces, the largest of which, called the Foundation Hall, is so big that massive artifacts from 9/11 – a mangled fire truck, a pair of “trident” columns from the destroyed Twin Towers – seem tiny.
But it’s not just the size of the subterranean spaces in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum that makes them powerful. Davis Brody Bond, the architects of the museum, labored to keep the everyday at bay. Mundane elements – lights, vents, and speakers – were carefully hidden so the rooms would be quietly majestic, the slurry wall presiding like New York’s Wailing Wall, the Survivors’ Staircase a stairway to heaven. In this museum, the outside world feels very far away. The ground is hallowed, and we’re in it.