While it’s certainly important for integrators to make money on the work they do, some projects are about something a little more important. Such was the case when Electrosonic was called upon to be part of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the site of the largest terrorist attack on America in 2001.
“What it was and where it was made it an emotional project,” says project manager Jackson Benedict. “Everyone was attached to it.”
The museum, which has welcomed more than one million visitors since opening in May, has seen people from all 50 states and more than 130 countries come through the door to find out more about the events of September 11, 2001 and honor those who died that day.
The museum also honors those who died in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. It was designed by Davis Brody Bond, LLP with exhibit designs by Thinc Design and Layman Design. It is accessed by an entry pavilion designed by Snøhetta.
Both Thinc and Layman have AV designers on staff, says Benedict, and the museum owners and operators were “very hands-on,” a dynamic that “provided another set of eyes” and limited the amount of confusion in a project with so much riding on it. Weekly coordination meetings also kept everyone moving toward the same goal, he says.
More About the Museum
The main exhibition space includes remnants of the Vesey Street stairs, the Twin Towers’ structural columns, a portion of the original foundations plus a permanent collection of artifacts. The memorial exhibition features the Wall of Faces, which displays photo portraits of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks, and interactive tables to learn more about them.
The historical exhibition uses artifacts, photographs, and media to recount the events of September 11, explore the background leading up to these events, and examine their aftermath and continuing implications.
The vast Foundation Hall houses the exposed side of the slurry wall, the surviving retaining wall of the World Trade Center, and the well-known Last Column, a 36-foot high column covered with mementos from Ground Zero.
“This was a very large museum project located several stories underground, which made it a bit of a logistical challenge,” says Benedict. “The site is spread out over nearly eight acres, so just getting from one side to the other took a long time.”
Working in New York City is “always a challenge,” he says, mentioning the ability of getting equipment where it needs to be by truck and ensuring they maintain good relationships with the various trades in and around the city.
Because of the museum’s underground location, there was no cellular phone service in case someone forgot something or needed to get a message to someone who wasn’t working on the project at the time, says Benedict. There was also no elevator on the site until close to opening day, making the coordination of freight deliveries even more challenging, he says.
“We became very aware of having everything we need,” says Benedict.
Electrosonic put an emphasis on making sure the projection met the design intent of the project, says Benedict. That meant ensuring hidden projectors, unique angles and other one-of-a-kind aspects were done to perfection, he says.
“We had to make sure all of the projectors fit the way they were supposed to and the image was the right size to be seen,” says Benedict.
Because the project spanned several years, Benedict and the Electrosonic team had to stay on top of evolving technology and equipment advances as equipment was specified and installed.
Electrosonic created full-scale mock ups of about 70 percent of the exhibits at some point in time. They did much of their testing with Design & Production near Washington, D.C., Hadley Exhibits in Buffalo and their own facility in Burbank, Calif. This was the highest percentage of mockups for Electrosonic, says Benedict.
Inside the Installation
Electrosonic supplied a traditional museum system for the exhibition space where approximately 100 media experiences are available for visitors. These range from touchscreen interactives, small theaters and displays playing media to recording booths that enable visitors to record their own 9/11 stories.
Several exhibits required especially complex media systems. The first exhibition visitors see as they enter the galleries is We Remember, which features recollections of people around the world as Sept. 11, 2001, dawned. Six large, vertical screens are staggered down a 60-foot ramp; a portion of a world map is projected on each of the six screens, such that, at the top of the ramp it appears to be one cohesive map.
Rebirth is based on time-lapse documentary footage captured by filmmaker Jim Whitaker over the last 13 years on the site, from the clean-up of the pit to today’s rebuild. Seven Sharp projectors display the approximately 11-minute video on three walls that surround visitors. A full EAW sound system delivers the audio.
Since the Last Column, a 36-foot steel piece from the Twin Towers, is so tall, two 55-inch ELO touch screens run Local Projects’ interactive software, allowing visitors to scroll up and down its full length to see high-resolution details of the signatures and mementoes on its sides.
Eight interactive tables in the memorial exhibition enable visitors to scroll through the Wall of Faces or search for loved ones and access biographies and family photos. 3M supplied the touch screens, Dell the computers and Local Projects the software to operate this especially impactful exhibit.
Electrosonic also provided a full AV system for the multi-purpose pavilion auditorium, an approximately 150-seat theater used to show videos throughout the day and available for hosting events from standard presentations to video conferences.
The museum has four education classrooms equipped by Electrosonic with digital whiteboards, document cameras, video conferencing systems plus other standard features.
Key equipment components in the museum include Sharp, Christie and Digital Projection projectors, Alcorn McBride audio playback, Vista Group SoundStik audio stations, Dataton WATCHOUT display and playback, Adtec signage players, Boland, Sharp and Samsung LCD displays, Extron extenders and Medialon system control.
Three control rooms service different areas of the museum with a total of 26 equipment racks in use. Signals are extended via a mix of fiber optic and twisted pair extenders.
“The fiber and copper backbone we used allows the museum to expand with higher-resolution video or new monitors and projectors as they become available,” notes Benedict. A lot of the equipment was purchased early, says Benedict, between the design phase in 2010 and 2011 and the installation between April 2013 and May 2014.
“There’s room to grow in the control room but the public space is pretty much filled,” says Benedict.
The Pavilion auditorium has its own control room with two racks. Each education classroom is self-contained.
Among the new skills Electrosonic employed was installing mirror-bound rigs in the ceiling. They allowed access to the ceiling and gave museum officials the effect they wanted with the layout of the exhibits, says Benedict.
Electrosonic is providing two on-site technicians to help keep the museum’s exhibits in good order. The technicians will eventually hand full control of all the systems and exhibits over to museum staff.