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The National September 11 Memorial & Museum sets out to preserve the story and honor the memories of the people affected by one of the most significant and tragic events in the history of the United States. To achieve that, the Museum had to document and present a complex story in a way that was compelling and engaging, but extremely sensitive. The organizers wanted to give visitors many alternative ways to connect with the Museum so that they experience and understand in their own way. Planning the presentation of the story involved people directly involved in the events of 9/11 as well as professionals tasked with delivery. The aim was to determine the most appropriate form of presentation — an approach that could tell the story with eloquence and emotional power. It had to convey the true scale of events while providing detailed context and the emotional testimony of survivors, witnesses and families affected by 9/11.
While most museums aim to recreate events from the distant past, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum tells the story of an event that is very close to the present, one that was experienced directly by New Yorkers or seen on television by millions around the world. That makes audiovisual a relevant medium for communicating and sharing the story. As the organizers point out, the twenty-first century is an audiovisual age and the events of 9/11 were recorded on thousands of cameras. This gave many people the opportunity to share their personal memories by contributing images or stories to the museum.
The audiovisual content is presented in small theaters and in 90 multimedia and interactive exhibits throughout the museum. There are also booths where visitors can record their own recollections to add to the collection and educational areas that include digital whiteboards and videoconferencing equipment to support the programs.
Audiovisual technology plays a key role in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, but it had to be planned and deployed with discretion to maintain the dignity of the space. Interactive elements would play an important part in helping relatives or friends of victims find out more about them. Touch display tables had to be easy to use so that visitors could choose a name from the 3000 who died, find out more and then send data to an ‘Inner Chamber’ where people could reflect quietly while viewing details. Sixty four projectors were required to show video and other content in small theaters or in open areas. These had to be easy to control and support continuous operation throughout opening times.
The installations had to be extremely reliable to ensure that visitors could experience the exhibits without frustration and minimize maintenance requirements. With almost 1000 audiovisual devices on site, reliability was critical. While audiovisual was important, it was only part of the experience, which featured artefacts of every scale and meditative spaces. In this environment fusing architecture, storytelling and technology was essential.
The Museum integrates the site of the events into the visitor’s experience, displaying artefacts in compelling ways. Audiovisual and interactive elements give essential information and allow visitors to experience the event in many different ways through more than 100 media elements. These include touchscreen interactive displays, small theatres, displays playing audio or visual media and recording booths where visitors can record their own 9/11 stories.
Audiovisual plays an important role in honoring the memory of a tragic event. Visual media and interactive elements let visitors connect to the story in personal ways — powerful but sensitive. The sympathetic balance of immersive content, artefacts and quiet areas for contemplation and reflection create an environment that is emotionally powerful, thought- provoking and challenging. A sensitive tribute to an event that changed American history forever.
Audiovisual plays a key role in connecting visitors with events and people on that tragic day.