Memorial design for WTC site is selected

Reflecting pools to fill footprint of fallen towers

victims' names on ribbon

January 07, 2004|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Two sunken reflecting pools will forever occupy the footprints of New York's collapsed World Trade Center towers - permanent reminders of the voids left by the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. announced yesterday that a design titled "Reflecting Absence," by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker, has been selected from 5,201 submissions in an international competition held to create a memorial to the victims.

The memorial is one of the most anticipated features in the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan, along with a 1,776-foot-tall Freedom Tower whose shape will evoke the silhouette of the Statue of Liberty.

"In its powerful yet simple articulation of the footprints of the twin towers, Reflecting Absence has made the gaping voids left by the towers' destruction the primary symbol of loss," said jury chairman Vartan Gregorian.

In contrast to those voids, the surrounding plaza will feature "teeming groves of trees - traditional affirmations of life and rebirth," Gregorian said. "The result is a memorial that expresses both the incalculable loss of life and its regeneration."

The winner was selected by a 13-member jury of artists, architects and cultural leaders who narrowed the selection to eight finalists. The winning design is being modified and will be unveiled in its revised form next week.

Arad, a staff architect with the New York City Housing Authority, grew up in Israel, the United States and Mexico. He studied at Dartmouth College and at the College of Architecture of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Walker joined his team after the finalists were announced.

Competitors were asked to design memorials that would preserve the towers' footprints, recognize individual victims and provide access to the bedrock beneath street level.

In Arad's design, a pair of reflecting pools will mark the former location of the twin towers. The surface of these pools is broken by large "voids," which are meant to be read as "containers of loss," close by yet inaccessible.

The pools will be submerged 30 feet below street level in the middle of a large plaza where the towers stood. They will be fed by constant streams of water, cascading down the walls that enclose them.

Bordering each pool will be a pair of sloped buildings that create a sense of enclosure and guide visitors to the memorial itself.

Visitors will begin their descent into the memorial by entering one of these buildings, starting a journey that removes them from the sights and sounds of the city and immerses them in darkness.

As they proceed, the sound of falling water will grow louder and more daylight will filter in from below. At the bottom of their descent, visitors will find themselves behind a thin curtain of water, staring at an enormous pool that flows toward a central void.

Surrounding this pool will be a ribbon of victims' names. The vastness of the space and the multitude of names are intended to underscore for visitors the scope of the tragedy that took place there.

According to the designer, the names of the victims will appear in no discernible order. The apparent randomness is meant to reflect the "haphazard brutality of the deaths" and allow for placing some names together in meaningful ways; for example, siblings who perished together at the site could have their names side by side.

Between the two pools will be a subterranean passageway. At its center will be an alcove where visitors can light a candle. Across from it, a corridor will lead to a chamber that houses unidentified remains. This space will be open only to family members and will serve as a setting for private contemplation.

The end of a visit to the memorial will be marked by an ascent back to street level. Visitors will again be surrounded by darkness, but this time the long, narrow passageway will lead toward daylight. As they emerge from the ramped enclosure, visitors will find themselves back on the plaza and again part of the life of the city.

The jury met Monday at Gracie Mansion, the official mayoral residence, and toasted its decision with champagne.

"The most important thing is we come up with the right memorial, and this process had thousands of people who had suggestions," said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. "They whittled it down from thousands to one. You're not going to please everybody."

Some family members of victims already have expressed displeasure with the selection, saying the pared-down design that so appealed to the jurors fails to convey the horror of the attack.

"This is minimalism, and you can't minimalize the impact and the enormity of Sept. 11," said Anthony Gardner, who lost his brother in the Sept. 11 attack. "You can't minimalize the deaths. You can't minimalize the response of New Yorkers."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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