How the National September 11 Memorial and Museum Works

Controversies Surrounding the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

September 11 memorial September 11 memorial
Flowers are left at the North pool memorial site before a commemoration ceremony for the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks at the September 11 Memorial in New York City. John Angelillo-Pool/Getty Images

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum has been a very large and complex facility to construct, and given the emotional nature of the attacks themselves, it should come as little surprise that controversies and competing ideas dogged and delayed its completion. The numerous stakeholders involved all wanted a say in how the final structure would honor the victims.

Although the basic design was chosen in 2004, for example, it wasn't until September 2005, that it was fully developed. Construction efforts kicked off in 2006, but the project was almost derailed right off the bat when a number of factors caused the estimated cost to soar from $500 million to $1 billion [source: BBC]. The design plan for the museum and memorial then went through a revision and simplification process. Changes included:

  • Displaying the names at street level rather than below ground
  • Reducing the amount of exhibit and administrative space to more modest levels
  • Merging the multiple entryways to the museum into a single access point
  • Consolidating the leadership authority for the project into a more staid entity

These changes brought the estimated cost at the time back down to around $510 million.

Over the years, the price tag has continued to yo-yo. That $510 million again ballooned to more than $1 billion, according to one 2008 source [source: Feiden]. And from another, later source, the final estimate of the cost was about $700 million [source: Hollander]. Reasons for the increases, decreases and delays weren't often made clear by authorities, but increases in steel, concrete and oil prices were one noted cause for concern.

Another point of contention was the placement of names along the memorial. Preliminary plans were to simply alphabetize or randomize the names. But many pushed for a more complicated arrangement: The placement of the names on the panels could represent the victims' connections to each other. Firefighters from the same ladder would be listed together, and passengers and crew aboard hijacked flights would have their names near one another. And within such groupings, families and friends could make additional requests, so siblings or close colleagues could be placed near each other as well. It was a challenging task, with so many overlapping requests and design elements to satisfy, but eventually the organizational details were hammered out to most people's satisfaction.

Other hot-button issues that bubbled up over the years included the intention to build an Islamic Cultural Center and prayer space near the site of ground zero and the plan to display what has become known as the World Trade Center cross inside the museum space. But the development of the 9/11 tribute marched on despite these controversies.

On the next page we'll cover what you can expect to see if you visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.