This editorial appeared in the April 2014 issue of Contract. To read the digital edition, click here.
Our world has changed—in some ways dramatically—in this young century.
Futurist Edie Weiner would correct me, though. At a recent Contract Design Forum, she noted that change is always happening, and we are always in a time of change. I remember that line, and I vow not to use the phrase “a time of change” in Contract. Still, it is worthwhile to pause and reflect on how our world and lives have changed, especially in reference to September 11, 2001, and advances in technology. And it is also worthwhile to ponder, What’s next?
In this issue, we are focused on this new world, previewing the new offerings at NeoCon® and featuring interiors that are all workplaces for a new economy. Each of the four are offices for companies that are no more than seven years old, and three of the four are companies that began during the Obama presidency. They are young, agile companies utilizing technology to enable us to create and to accomplish tasks easier, or fusing technology with entertainment. Unencumbered by 20th-century notions of work and workplace, all are located in cities that are hubs for new ideas driving the new economy—Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.
As we produced this issue from our office in Lower Manhattan, we were also observing the activity just a few blocks away: the opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, also known as the 9/11 Memorial Museum. We’re pleased to present 10 pages of coverage of the museum, which I believe is the most architecturally significant cultural space of the 21st century in this country. I say space, rather than building, because approximately 90 percent of the museum is underground, designed by Davis Brody Bond. Only the Snøhetta-designed entrance pavilion, which includes an auditorium, is visible above grade on the Memorial Plaza.
Contract is focused on interiors, and the 9/11 Memorial Museum is, in essence, all about interior space. And it’s remarkable. Think about how Ground Zero appeared in fall 2001, and as an open 16-acre hole for years thereafter. Now imagine a surprisingly cathedral-like interior that references the original Twin Tower footprints and the stark reality of that site six stories below ground. The scale and magnitude can only be experienced in person, as photographs do not do it justice.
The exhibition designers—Thinc Design, Local Projects, and Layman Design—did an extraordinary, exhaustive job in presenting the story of 9/11 and memorializing the victims. It is not an easy exhibition to walk through and absorb. Frankly, it’s tough, especially for New Yorkers, as it brings one back to that day and the days thereafter. On Memorial Day weekend, I was visiting at the same time as a number of military men and women, and it made me pause to realize that many of them were children when 9/11 happened. This museum is designed for not only those who experienced that day, but also future generations.
The role of the architects and designers in creating this museum, under extremely difficult circumstances, pressure, and constraints, cannot be overestimated. And sometimes, as a profession, we need to recognize people that do exceptional things. Mark Wagner, an associate partner at Davis Brody Bond, is one of those people. He has had an unimaginable combination of roles, not only as project architect for the 9/11 Memorial Museum, but also essentially serving as curator for items worth saving in the destruction while he was on site at Ground Zero in 2001 and 2002. He has, in essence, devoted more than 12 years of his career as an architect to the recovery efforts at Ground Zero, the documentation of more than 1,000 objects, and the subsequent design of the museum that holds those objects. We are pleased to present an exclusive profile of Wagner, written by Associate Editor Cody Calamaio. Wagner has not sought the limelight, but he deserves it for his commitment and what he has carried out.
We hope the Mark Wagner story inspires fellow design practitioners to do great things. Let’s keep a positive sense of purpose as change happens all around us.
John Czarnecki, Assoc. AIA, Hon. IIDA
Editor in Chief