This past week, the American Architectural Foundation (AAF) announced it will loan its iconic architectural model of the World Trade Center to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. This original presentation model was built by the office of project architect Minoru Yamasaki (1912-1986) between 1969 and 1971 to provide the Port Authorities of New York and New Jersey a to-scale sense of the planned project. It is the last authentic 3-dimensional representation of the World Trade Center complex—the only other that remained was on display at the bottom of the Towers and destroyed with the buildings. Like most architectural models, it was not built with the intention of a permanent existence, but rather, to temporarily illustrate the scope of Yamasaki’s controversial yet extraordinary architectural and engineering feat. This model, more than any other, symbolizes the skyscraper, a building style indigenous to America-- but while architecturally and historically valuable on its own merit, its significance and symbolic importance dramatically increased following the events of 9/11.
The Memorial and Museum will remember and honor those who perished in the horrific attacks of 1993 and 2001. Through a sensitive presentation of artifacts and intimate stories of loss, compassion, recovery and reckoning, it will communicate key messages to tell the story of September 11th and its aftermath. When the museum opens in 2012, the World Trade Center model will be an integral component and serve as a visual reminder and emotional symbol for all people and nations around the world of the tragedy that occurred on 9/11.
Like historic photographs, drawings and scrapbooks, architectural records are an important part of America’s historic legacy. They help trace the architectural development of our nation’s cities and towns, and reflect contributions of American ingenuity, creativity and innovation. This World Trade Center model is huge. Measuring eight feet by ten feet at the base, with the twin towers rising over seven feet high, it vividly demonstrates the sheer size and mass of the original site. Built to accurately resemble the towers, every detail was considered. The model was even painted with a special gloss to produce a shiny appearance and illustrate the towers’ extraordinary and unique cladding system. Primarily made of wood, plaster, plastic and paper, tiny, finely crafted pieces were cast from specially designed and milled brass molds and injected with special plastics. Each piece was designed to fit a specific area and was individually painted and affixed by hand. The model is testimony to the extraordinary talent and craftsmanship of the art of model fabrication thirty years ago.
It was amazing foresight on the part of the American Architectural Foundation’s curator to recognize the significance in acquiring this model when she was given the opportunity back in 1991-- ten years later, its true value was realized. But over time, the fragile fabric had suffered serious deterioration and loss of original elements. In addition to chips and fractures, railings were bent or broken, building corners and cornices were damaged or missing, and cars and pedestrians had been lost. Proper stabilization and conservation was critical to prevent further deterioration of this unique piece of modern American history.
The AAF looked to Save America’s Treasures (SAT) for help with this major conservation. And we were honored to step up to the plate, indeed, it became a top priority of this public-private partnership that includes the National Trust for Historic Preservation as the principal private partner, and our federal cultural agencies: the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the National Park Service, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. In 2002, the World Trade Center model conservation project was awarded a $62,000 federal SAT challenge grant. Save America’s Treasures at the National Trust sought support from Alcoa who generously agreed to provide the required match, ensuring full funding for the project. In the late 1960's, the company created a unique aluminum "skin" and novel cladding system that gave the Twin Towers their signature shiny, graceful appearance. In fact, their polished-aluminum facing and unique cladding systems alone were the subject of a 1971 ALCOA report on the project.
A team of experts in Baltimore, MD dedicated months of intensive work to conserve and restore the model. As the molds that created the buildings had since been destroyed, conservators had to create new molds to replicate missing pieces or those damaged beyond repair. Careful analysis was undertaken of all the glues, plastics, paints, and other materials used. The entire conservation was documented and oral histories were taken to further enrich the public's understanding.
The newly conserved model went on display in 2003 at the Octagon Museum, headquarters of the American Architectural Foundation, before traveling to New York as the central exhibit of the Skyscraper Museum’s grand opening. Most recently, it was on special display at the National Building Museum through January 14th. Its final placement at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum is a most appropriate venue for this iconic symbol of Manhattan’s familiar skyline. Save America’s Treasures was honored to join the American Architectural Foundation’s good stewardship efforts to preserve this model and commends them for generously ensuring it a fitting permanent home in the September 11 Memorial Museum.
-- Fiona M. Lawless
Fiona M. Lawless is the program manager of Save America's Treasures at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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