Architecture of Loss at Dwell on Design New York

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By William Lamb / Published by Dwell
At Dwell on Design NY, architects explain the delicate nature of designing spaces synonymous with tragedy.

All architects have to strike a careful balance, juggling aesthetic, utility, and budgetary considerations, but the designers of the National September 11 Memorial Museum and the new Sandy Hook Elementary School had to shoulder the added challenge of designing spaces that have become synonymous with indellible scenes of national tragedy.

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Column No. 1,001B, the last section of World Trade Center steel to be removed from Ground Zero, stands 37 feet tall next to the slurry wall inside the National September 11 Memorial Museum, designed by Davis Brody Bond. The museum opened in May.

At Dwell on Design New York, we are honored to welcome Barry Svigals, whose firm, Svigals + Partners, was commissioned to design the new Sandy Hook school, and Mark Wagner of Davis Brody Bond, which designed and executed the 9/11 museum space. The museum opened in May.

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The Survivors' Stairs inside the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

Svigals and Wagner joined a discussion on the main stage of Dwell on Design NY for a discussion on the Architecture of Loss. Wagner and Svigals explained how their teams worked to create spaces that were welcoming and respectful. Each team had to balance security concerns with the need to create a functional, inviting space—for the general public in the case of the museum; for students, faculty, parents, and authorized visitors in the case of the school. The discussion also touched on how they worked with active communities of victims’ relatives, incorporating their suggestions where practical and appropriate to execute successful designs that would come as close as possible to pleasing everyone—an impossible goal, perhaps, but a worthy one.

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A section of "impact steel" from the World Trade Center is on display outside the footprint of the South Tower inside the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

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Svigals + Partners' design for the new Sandy Hook Elementary School includes subtle nods to enhanced security. The school is situated farther back from the street and parking lots than the previous building, putting more distance between cars and classrooms.

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Barry Svigals has likened the school's curving entrance to a pair of arms reaching out "in a welcoming gesture" to greet students inthe morning.

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Natural vistas can be seen through expansive windows in the central lobby.