Flight 93 memorial incorporates sustainable building elements
Photo courtesy of USGBC
Grief and the memories hit people differently when visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania. For many, the focal point is the 17-ton sandstone boulder that marks the site where the wreckage of United Airlines Flight 93 smoldered 15 years ago.
Others are moved as they walk along the Wall of Names — composed of 40 individual slabs of white marble, each inscribed with the name of a crew member or passenger who died in the attack — and realize that they are traversing the jet’s final flight path. For some, a gentle breeze and a ray of sunshine are enough to transport them back to that early fall day in 2001, when planes across the country were grounded and the calm blue skies belied the chaos unfolding on the ground.
At the Visitor Center, which opened last fall and achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold, visitors listen to recordings of calls made by passengers in their final moments; in the future, a 93-foot Tower of Voices containing 40 wind chimes will welcome them into the park.
“The chimes are meant to be a living, ever-changing memorialization of what, for many people, were the last memories of their loved ones on the plane, which were through phone calls,” Paul Murdoch, whose architecture firm designed the 2,200-acre site, told the U.S. Green Building Council.
The events that led Flight 93 to tear a hole into this remote field 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh are well known.
Almost immediately after 9/11, mourners began making pilgrimages to the crash site, leaving tributes at a chain-link fence along the highway. National Park Service volunteers began staffing a small building where visitors could ask questions and sign a guestbook, and in 2011, the Flight 93 National Memorial was officially dedicated. The Visitor Center opened in September 2015, and the memorial now draws around 1,200 visitors each day.
“The Flight 93 National Memorial Visitor Center’s purpose is to tell the story of that day,” says LEED Fellow John Zinner, who consulted on the project. “Even more than most projects, the LEED strategy needed to support the project’s priority.” For example, while daylight was important, it had to be done in a way that protected the displayed historic artifacts. The placement of openings was important to connect the interior to the site, so the architect and lighting designer used a daylight model to analyze natural lighting while keeping the light level low at displays.
Sustainability and preservation are important to the site in several ways. All new National Park Service visitor centers or major visitor facilities must incorporate LEED standards to achieve a silver rating. But the idea of a sustainable building is perhaps even more resonant at a memorial site — which, by definition, is built to last through the ages. And the very fact that the memorial is at a remote park ensures that visitors will have a different experience from those visiting the 9/11 memorial sites in the population centers of New York City and Washington, D.C. Like most National Park Service properties, the Flight 93 site is dedicated to the preservation of not just history, but also nature, and the park’s natural elements create a sort of living, changing memorial.
Murdoch notes that the park sits on land that was once used for mining, and that it needed to undergo significant remediation before opening to the public.
The Visitor Center uses geothermal heat pumps, features a radiant ceiling for heating and cooling and incorporates several different types of glass in a sophisticated daylighting system. Compared to a baseline calculation, the building uses 49 percent less energy and 53 percent less potable water.
More than 20 percent of the building materials are recycled, and more than 35 percent of the materials were manufactured and extracted within 500 miles of the project site.
“Part of the legacy of the park system is offering this to generations,” Murdoch said. “It’s part of why we wanted this diversity of different commemorative places within the park and gave visitors the opportunity to participate in their own way and at their own pace, so we didn’t have something so overly programmed with a certain perspective that in 20 years would be outdated. We tried to do something that is open and resilient enough to be powerful well into the future.”
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Companies: U.S. Green Building Council