Volume 16, Number 28 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 9-16, 2003


Moving forward with the W.T.C. memorial plans

Sept. 11 was a day that shook us all down to our lowest depths, but no geographic community felt the pain more deeply than Lower Manhattan. Thirteen jurors convened by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. are now deliberating over eight possible designs to honor the lives of about 3,000 innocent people – we believe we’ll never be sure of the exact number – lost on 9/11 and in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. As the jurors ask for adjustments from the design teams, we look at the possibilities from a community point of view and offer our advice.

The memorial must be many things, but it can only be in one place and that is the site where thousands died, where uniformed and civilian heroes were killed saving others, where the best of humanity came together to begin to fight an evil that few of us knew existed when we woke up on Sept. 11. This memorial must live and grow in peace somewhere inside the space where it must be – a 16-acre area bounded by Vesey, West, Liberty and Church Sts.

Many have been disappointed by the designs and we share many of the criticisms we have heard since the plans were released last month. We understand the lack of enthusiasm.

On the other hand, we would also be cautious if a consensus were emerging around one design. At the risk of sounding elitist, if we were all embracing one plan, it is our suspicion that we would be picking the wrong thing – a perfect plan for 2003 that would fail miserably when tested over time.

One of the jurors, Maya Lin, was a young student when she was selected to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Veterans fought with her for years until her vision became a reality. The simple, elegant design with a black granite wall design is almost universally recognized now as one of the world’s greatest memorials and is the reason why she is one of 13 people who will select the W.T.C. memorial.

We are not going to recommend a particular design although we do see a lot of promise in one, Garden of Lights by French architecture professor Pierre David with two of his American students, Sean Corriel and Jessica Kmetovic. Their design has many strengths but it is also problematic. We don’t know if this team will be able to overcome the significant problems, but it is our hope that the jury is giving this team serious consideration and a strong directive to see if the idea can become the best of eight plans.

As we said we look at the memorial from a community perspective – can it live in peace and grow in the neighborhood where it must be. The place where Garden of Lights works best is closest to the street, where hundreds of thousands of workers and residents will see and experience it day after day.

The footprints of the Twin Towers would be two prairies or gardens to be cultivated by a different gardener every year. New and different life would spring up each year in a place that witnessed such horrible death.

Surrounding the footprints would be an apple orchard which would bear fruit every September. The idea is so simple, yet so powerful.

To us, this is the basis of the best street-level plan for the memorial. It respects the footprints without making them funereal. On the contrary – it celebrates life itself.

Some of the problems are easily rectified, such as the designers’ recommendation that the prairies and gardens be open for only two hours a day. This public space must be open most, if not all of the time. The design is also one of three to bring the plaza up to the street but leave a gap along West St. so visitors could look down at the slurry wall, known as the bathtub. None of these plans gives any indication that this view would have any dramatic power, so we think it is best to close this gap at the street level and to let those who see significance in the bathtub be able to experience the view below the street. This will allow more open space on West St. as the vehicular tunnel proposal is debated.

The gardens would have circular lights protruding two-feet out of the ground. During the day, light would shine down to the lowest level where the names of the victims would be handwritten on individual altars. The protruding fixtures would cause a problem and would likely need to be lowered so people could walk thought the orchards.

We also have concerns about the large number of lights that need to be powered and maintained under this plan.

The orchard would need paved walkways to allow for heavy foot traffic. Somewhere on the memorial there would need to be a gathering space for Sept. 11 and other ceremonies.

One of the problems with Garden and most of the plans is an over-reliance on technology, which will undoubtedly seem dated quickly. Landscaped prairies that would be different every year will always be evolving. Below ground, we think all of the plans make too little use of the remnants of the W.T.C. A view of the bathtub is part of it, but we’d like to see more elements and we are disappointed that none of the plans feature elements like the thin surviving metal pieces of the tower, The Sphere sculpture, or the metal cross — a source of religious strength to some of the rescue workers.

The adjacent museum will undoubtedly be able to tell more of the 9/11 story with artifacts and text, but it is essential that visitors to the memorial be able to take away an understanding of what happened on that day – to the victims and to the survivors – without having to pay a museum admission fee.

Garden does include a metal wall made from the W.T.C. remnants, but it is not clear to us that you will be able to know the wall is made from the towers unless you read a plaque nearby.

The mid-level space under the footprints would be reserved for only family members and would include an elaborate rose-carrying stream. We recognize the importance of having a private space for family members at the memorial, but we feel it should be a quiet reflective space that the public is not clamoring to enter. It should be set aside somewhere and designed after a long consultative process with family members and the selected design team.

The jury should be asking the Garden team to make adjustments and improvements to the underground area. Because we think the plan needs such significant changes, we are not prepared to recommend it at this time.

The designs with the most potential are the ones that offer plaza or park space near the street level with space for powerful memorial qualities underground. This doubles the open space on the site. It also allows the possibility of recognizing the significance of the site at street level without being overly morbid, while leaving space underground to pay fitting honor and recognition to what happened.

We are hoping the jurors are asking the other teams to develop their top plaza ideas more while also making changes below.

As for Garden of Lights, it is our hope that changes could make it an inspirational plan that is also workable, but that is up to the design team and the jurors.

Most of all we hope the jurors pick the plan that can evolve into a timeless and moving tribute to the lives that were lost as well as the ones that were saved, that will become a place where family members feel their loved ones have been properly honored, where visitors from around the world will want to visit time and time again, and a place that Downtowners can embrace as a cherished and oft-visited part of their living neighborhood.





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