World Trade Center Model Donated to Sept. 11 Museum

The architectural model of the Twin Towers was restored with a grant from Save America's Treasures.

Credit: Lee Stalworth

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum has acquired a key artifact for its collection. Last week the American Architectural Foundation (AAF) donated the original architectural model of the Twin Towers to the museum, which is scheduled to open in 2013 at the World Trade Center site in New York City.

The seven-foot-tall model of the towers has been exhibited at several different venues, according to Jan Seidler Ramirez, chief curator and director of collections. "In miniature, they mirror exactly what a tourist or a bystander would have experienced at the actual site itself. There is a neck-craning moment where people first look up, then down to see the tiny people, cars, and trees. There's an awe that it inspires … when people grasp and emotionally and visually process the scale of this incredible feat of ingenuity that the World Trade Center represented in its era."

Minoru Yamasaki Associates, the architectural firm that designed the World Trade Center, gave the model to the Detroit-based Lawrence Institute of Technology. With remarkable foresight, Sherry Birk, then curator of the foundation, asked the institute to call her if they ever wanted to get rid of it. In 1991, after receiving a phone call, she had the model shipped to foundation headquarters in Washington, D.C.

"That's the point at which the model would have been thrown away if Sherry hadn't planted the seed," says Ron Bogle, president and CEO of the American Architectural Foundation. "After the tragedy in New York, the nature of this model really changed, and it became a historic model of tremendous consequence."

Birk says she "was in the right place at the right time. ... I'm thrilled that it's going to New York."

A similar model, on display in the lobby of one of the towers, was destroyed on Sept. 11.

Built between 1969 and 1971 from wood, plastic, and paper, the model had become fragile. Save America's Treasures at the National Trust for Historic Preservation encouraged the foundation to apply for a Save America's Treasures grant to restore it. A $62,000 grant, awarded in 2002 and matched by Alcoa, launched a meticulous 15-month restoration.

Under the terms of the donation, the model will occupy a prominent spot in the new museum. The subterranean facility is being built around the "Survivor's Staircase," the original steps and treads that people used to escape the burning towers. (A coalition including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Preservation League of New York State, the World Monuments Fund, the Municipal Art Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, worked to save the staircase from demolition during redevelopment of the site.)

"We think that this is an appropriate repository for both the model and the staircase," says Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. "The model will help people who don't physically remember the towers to understand what was lost on Sept. 11."

The model, which was officially donated on Jan. 15, will make its final journey to Ground Zero this winter.

Read more about the Vesey Street Staircase, also known as the "Survivor's Staircase"


For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.

Subscribe to the Today's News RSS feed


Submitted by bms at: May 18, 2010
I am making that i my woodworking class!!!!!!!!

Submitted by dennis b. at: February 13, 2009
I worked at Yama's on the WTC, including the model shown, as well as other bulidings. It makes me a little happier seeing the model again, after all that has happened. Thank you for keeping the memory alive.