Museum of the Unlost

During excavation work for the Federal Courthouse complex at Foley Square in Manhattan in 1991, approximately 850,000 historical artifacts were uncovered, dating back to the neighborhood’s days as the infamous “Five Points” area. The artifacts were cleaned, catalogued, photographed, and stored in 1,200 boxes in the basement of 6 World Trade Center.

At the time of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, eighteen artifacts were on loan to the Archdiocese of New York. The remainder were lost when the World Trade Center was destroyed.

The purpose of the Museum of the Unlost is to provide a display space for the eighteen surviving artifacts that also commemorates the hundreds of thousands of artifacts that were lost. The objective of the project is reinstall the remaining pieces back into the context of those that are missing, and to respond to two kinds of loss: that which occurs slowly over time, and that which happens abruptly by an act of violent destruction.

The design for this project responds to the tension between opposing ideas such as security and destruction, transparency and opacity, darkness and light, and earth and sky. The museum consists of a cast concrete rectangular element at the northeast corner of the site which contains a cafe, library, administrative offices, and other ancillary spaces. Spanning the width of the site are nine structural elements that support eight glass elements of varying shapes and sizes. These glass elements contain 850,000 glass vitrines, eighteen of which are occupied by the surviving artifacts. The rest are empty. A suspended pathway passes through the glass elements and allows visitors to view the surviving artifacts and contemplate the thousands of empty spaces set aside for the lost artifacts. A public gathering space, open to the surrounding streets, is set aside within the midst of the museum.

Summer Architecture Studio, 2007
Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
Studio Critic: Bradley Horn