Responses by Jonathan Alger, managing partner, C&G Partners
Background: C&G Partners was commissioned by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum to design Revealed: Hunt of Bin Laden, an exhibition telling the story of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. The studio used physical space as a storytelling medium, creating a sense of place, time and plot to amplify the museum experience.
Reasoning: C&G Partners designed the experience as a crime story. Like a police procedural, it is a story of driven professionals who unite to pursue clues and seek justice. The exhibition design places visitors in raw terrain evocative of the forensic investigation and the operation leading to the capture of bin Laden. The story is told through the use of compelling artifacts, images, wall projections, architectural models, maps and audio-visual footage. The exhibition consists of media which visitors look down at, wall projections near architectural scale-models, and panoramas of forbidding mountain ranges. A top-down projection foregrounds a key exhibition artifact: a scale model used to plan the raid that brought bin Laden to justice.
Challenges: Coming up with a way to communicate the compelling nature of the middle of the story. Everyone knows how the story began with 9/11 and how the bin Laden story ended, but few people know what happened in between. The “hunt” in the exhibition’s title lasted a decade across the world, involving dozens of organizations and countless individuals, many of whom must still remain classified. We chose to depict the hunt as a crime story, a story of criminal pursuit for a culprit, over vast distances and time.
Favorite details: The hasty plywood materiality of field offices, structures typically built for combat training, gave us the idea to create giant “shards” with multiple meanings. We designed every shard to be a unique shape, with no true right angles, to hold content. These shards reassemble into forms reminiscent of mountain canyons, military base stations and residential compounds.
Visual influences: Graphically, design motifs of redaction, declassification, surveillance and crime scene investigations are central components of the exhibition. The solid black bars of ink used to redact classified documents became a graphic motif throughout the space, and yellow evidence markers used in crime scene investigations informed the color and typography throughout.
Specific demands: When designing for the 9/11 Museum, it is always critical that all the work is respectful of the solemn nature of the location. It is both a memorial and a museum, and the real needs and sentiments of those who fell and those who lost loved ones must always be kept front of mind. It is also important, given that the tragedy of 9/11 happened nearly a generation ago, to be sensitive to the fact that many visitors did not live through the events. Any exhibition at the museum must embrace all these audiences simultaneously.