WTC Memorial Design Finalists
November 19, 2003 8:13 AM   Subscribe

The eight finalists for the design of the World Trade Center Memorial were annouced today. Follow the link to see the proposals.
posted by callicles (29 comments total)
after a cursory glance, i'm not a big fan of any of them, although the best of the lot seems to be Reflecting Absence.

it's a bit odd that every one of the designs prominently features a 'wall of names' like the vietnam memorial in washington. i guess that is the short-hand for memorial profundity.
posted by callicles at 8:16 AM on November 19, 2003

I agree with Callicles that Reflecting Absence seems to be the best of the choices, but none of them seem spectacular.

Slate has an interesting article about a design that was eliminated earlier due to a technicality in the submission process.
posted by Mbarron2896 at 8:23 AM on November 19, 2003

The point about the wall of names is a good one, callicles. I suppose there's considerable history attached to memorialising war dead in that way, certainly in the UK most towns and villages will have cenotaphs with roll calls on them. The Vietnam memorial seems to have particular resonance in the US, I suspect largely to do with the sense that the lives were wasted in the sense that the US lost the war. Personally I found the Korean War memorial, with its representations of life size soldiers, better evokes a sense of loss.

I note that at long last a US national memorial to those Americans serving in World War II will finally be dedicated in May 2004.
posted by biffa at 8:34 AM on November 19, 2003

Actually, I thought several were spectacular, in no particular order -
Passages of Light: Memorial Cloud
Votives in Suspension
Lower Waters
posted by harja at 8:36 AM on November 19, 2003

This is a terrible presentation of the candidates, giving little idea what they are like, but from what I can tell none are particularly impressive.
posted by rushmc at 8:41 AM on November 19, 2003

I think the one that spoke to me the most was "Votives in Suspension."
posted by Quartermass at 8:42 AM on November 19, 2003

I agree with harja -- I found several very impressive. I personally like Votives in Suspension and Garden of Lights. Be sure to click on "Illustration & Models" to see other views. Garden of Lights in particular benefits from these different views -- there are numerous aspects to the proposal.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:44 AM on November 19, 2003

No "Pissing Calvin"? I don't think that these were selected democratically.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:57 AM on November 19, 2003

The power of the Vietnam memorial really has to be experienced first-hand. The wall doesn't rise above ground level - it extends down below, at a gentle slope. You don't think much of it at first, you're just walking down, seeing a handful of names of the early deaths. You think, well, yes some people do die in wartime. With each step the number of names increases, but never dramatically. It's only when you stop and look back at all the names that you've passed so far that it hits you, just how many lives were lost. But by then you're in over your head (literally), and there's a long way to go before you're back out of it.

It's the symbology that gets you. The memorial itself reflects the American experience in Vietnam - each step in the conflict didn't seem all that different from the one before, but each led further and further into the morass. It's an education on how the Americans allowed it to happen as much as anything else.

Back to topic, I don't think enough time has passed to give us the perspective to understand what Sept. 11 meant. And I don't see anything in any of these designs that has any "deep meaning" outside of artistic fancy (light/water symbolism, a cloud bandage... yeesh). Outside of "all these people died, but life goes on", what message are they trying to convey?

OK, I'll stop being a grouch now. It's nice that the dead will be remembered/memorialized somehow, but I'd rather future generations be able to draw a lesson from this event via the memorial.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:03 AM on November 19, 2003

I find it odd that so many of the designs are underground or undercover.
posted by none at 9:05 AM on November 19, 2003

It's disheartening to see how derivative most of the designs are.
Suspending Memory and the Garden of Lights are strongly reminiscent
of Arlington National Cemetary, or even the Berlin Holocaust Memorial; Passages of Light: Memorial Cloud echoes the geometry of the WTC's remodeled Path Station. Dual Memory could easily be confused with the Jacob Javitts Center or one of the lower pavillions of the Queens Museum
of Art. Either Lower Waters and Inversion of Light would at home at Lincoln Center's courtyards.

I personally like Votives in Suspension, but it's a lot like the Whitney Museum's Phillip Morris Gallery and a fair number of midtown lobby spreads.

Without the retaining wall, the two pools of Reflecting Absence would give a heightened sense of loss, but the honoring of names was a prerequisite for all the submissions.

But that's hust me. I'm critical like that.

P.S. - I didn't include hyperlinks, as many didn't include photographs to properly illustrate
my points, while others weren't properly configured for Firebird 0.7.

posted by Smart Dalek at 9:08 AM on November 19, 2003

The 'wall of names' idea is a politically safe way to give equal time to all victims without displeasing one family over another. It's fitting, and the end result is usually rather emotionally impactful, even if it may be a bit unimaginative. If I had to choose, I'd go with Dual Memories, where each victim of the tragedy gets illuminated. I like the idea of a private space for actual family members of those lost, down by the bedrock. However, all of these are in my opinion morbid and unnecessarily heartpully. This is a decision that will impact Manhattan and the world for many years to come. Do we really want to do this? Leaving it as it presently is may be a permanent scar on the face of New York and therefore the country, but these 'designs' look like taking a booboo and putting one of those silly kiddie bandaids with Hanna Barbera characters on it.

I say just clean the "Ground Zero" up a little bit more to keep it from looking like a perpetual construction zone, but otherwise leave it as it was after the towers fell. Put two powerful but portable search lights in there, one each as close to the center as possible to where the two towers were, and aim them straight up into the sky every night. No permanent construction should be made on the spot. It's sacred ground - not just the bedrock, but all of it. One shouldn't build on a graveyard. But then, I don't have to live there. If I had to live close to the spot, I'd want it all paved over and put a shopping mall there with a McDonalds and a Starbucks. I wouldn't want a memorial there. Bad enough that it happened. I wouldn't WANT to remember at all. Especially if I lost someone close.

Ultimately, the 'democratic' choice should be made by those who survive loved ones lost in the tragedy. I don't know if they get a voice in this or not, but theirs is the only voice that should matter.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:10 AM on November 19, 2003

A lot of the proposals are to make nearly the entire space into a cemetary, either figuratively or, even worse, literally (certainly better than a shopping mall). I'm not sure it's possible to escape the singularity of purpose of a "memorial". They all seem to so focused and unwilling to evolve, they all seem so permanent, which I guess is the point of it being a memorial, but I'm not sure any of these will age well - in 50 years, a 100 years. These are cemeteries, some are more installation-y than others and would be totally impressive, awe-inspiring, whatever -- but they're still cemeteries, and it's just depressing that a wound, that lack, that horror, is going to be so heavily recognized, and, essentially, glorified. Unavoidable, inescapable, a massive scar (instead of a rejuvenation of any kind) that I fear will dominate that entire area -- it is, after all, the center, the proverbial heart.

I hate to do this, but I think it's relevant, this is what Rem Koolhaas wrote back in June in Wired Magazine:

"A competition for rebuilding Ground Zero is held, not to restore the city's vitality or shift its center of gravity, but to create a monument at a scale that monuments have never existed (except under Stalin)....

Instead of the two towers - the sublime - the city will live with five towers, wounded by a single scything movement of the architect, surrounding two black holes. New York will be marked by a massive representation of hurt that projects only the overbearing self-pity of the powerful. Instead of the confident beginning of the next chapter, it captures the stumped fundamentalism of the superpower. Call it closure."
posted by panopticon at 9:29 AM on November 19, 2003

I find it odd that so many of the designs are underground or undercover.

I agree, that is something that struck me as well.

For that reason, my personal fav is the Suspending Memory. I love the fact that it is a garden, and doesn't have to be viewed underground at nighttime to be appreciated.

posted by jazzkat11 at 9:30 AM on November 19, 2003

I'm against Votives in Suspension just because it seems like something I'd see on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
posted by Stan Chin at 9:36 AM on November 19, 2003

Interesting point Panopticon. The psychology of loss and mourning versus city identification, do they have to exist in direct competition with each other?

To restore 'vitality', would it be better to rebuild the towers in their original place?

This is, after all, a cemetery.
posted by jazzkat11 at 9:38 AM on November 19, 2003

I don't think any of them are that great, but out of the 8 my vote would go for Votives in Suspension or Lower Waters.

I would like to see the focus to be on moving forward with remembrance rather than a memorial to the specific people who were lost. In other words, a place to find solace and peace and appreciation for life - rather than loss and grief and anger. A place to get away from the hustle and bustle for a moment and reflect on whatever 9/11 means to you.
posted by widdershins at 10:05 AM on November 19, 2003

I agree with most of what I've read here. Maybe the pictures don't do short list justice. But I get the impression that a large part of the remit was "Don't Offend" or stretch the sensibilities of the lowest common denominator.

I just got back from a first ever visit to Berlin which is now filled with powerful architectural memorials. The two that were the most moving, against all expectation, was the memorial to the burned books - which would be pointless to try and photograph because it is only a large square of almost opaque glass set in the middle of an open field, almost always surrounded by people gazing down, trying to see what is there beneath it. and Liebeskind's Jewish museum with its crazy angles, its impossible shape its symbolic fractures and its long passages that I can only describe as looking rather like the description of the tunnels of light that people make of their near death experiences.

And also, near a subway station, there is a sign that looks like a list of destinations but is actually just a simple list with no symbolism or decoration of all the extermination centers built and operated as destinations by the nazis.
posted by donfactor at 10:11 AM on November 19, 2003

wow, sappy and juvenile, that's all that comes to mind on viewing those 8 finalists. i'm flabbergasted that none of the finalists has even the remotest shred of dignity or quiet power i was expecting... something more in line with the vietnam memorial. now that i've seen them i'm leaning towards agreeing with zachsmind in that maybe nothing should be built there at all.
posted by t r a c y at 10:28 AM on November 19, 2003

I think it's a horrible presentation. Letting them write their own statements as the main description makes it very hard to visualize what they actually look like. The posters probably do a good job of presenting it, and they are posted on the site, but you can't read them since the images are too small. What's the point of having them at all?

Personally, I like the columns in Suspending Memory, giving a brief biography of each person who died. I doubt the grid of trees would ever look as good in reality as it does in their renders though.
posted by smackfu at 10:49 AM on November 19, 2003

In other words, a place to find solace and peace and appreciation for life - rather than loss and grief and anger.

Personally I can't think of anywhere which gives me more solace, peace, and appreciation for life than a cemetery.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 11:19 AM on November 19, 2003

Speaking of underground memorials, I was really moved by the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation in Paris which uses "small stones of quartz crystal" instead of inscribed names. (sorry, couldn't find a good color photo online)

Forced to choose, I would select Reflecting Absence, but like many have said, none of the choices really seems to capture the necessary emotions. It is a shame that Fred Bernstein's piers won't be considered. Thanks for the link, Callicles.
posted by shoepal at 12:08 PM on November 19, 2003

The more I think about this the less I like it.

Is this ultimately to celebrate that after over two centuries we finally have a battlescar on the face of the continental U.S. that U.S. citizens didn't put there them/ourselves?

The Civil War and Revolutionary War were fought on our soil but it was pretty much our efforts that caused any battle scars, which were comparatively minor. A few plaques here and there today symbolizing what had gone on before. There was Pearl Harbor but it didn't happen on the continental U.S. Oklahoma City's recent bombing tragedy was done by a militant extremist who at one time served in the U.S. armed forces. ..enemies foreign and domestic..

Nine Eleven's the first time in history a foreign invader has caused so much death and destruction in the continental U.S., and they STILL had to use our own planes to do it.

I mean what does memorializing this space in question do for our future? The property is some of the most lucrative and desireable property on the eastern seaboard, and yet we're roping it off and turning it into a cemetary, never to be used for commercial purposes again, because it might offend either the living or the dead.

I know it's cornball to say it, because the phrase has been so overused, but it means the terrorists got just what they wanted. Anything short of rebuilding the Twin Towers precisely as they were prior to Nine Eleven is an admission of failure. It's letting them win. It's letting them believe that if they blow up enough things they will eventually get their way, and I for one don't want anyone believing that.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:08 PM on November 19, 2003

I know it's cornball to say it, because the phrase has been so overused, but it means the terrorists got just what they wanted.

Huh? They merely wanted to knock down the two towers, and had no greater ambitions on affecting the U.S.? It is cornball to say it--not, in this case, because the phrase is overused, but because it's so absurd.

As to some of the other comments here, many of the common features people are complaining about are because of the guidelines [pdf] for the competition. Which is not necessarily to say that they're not legitimate complaints, only that the complaints are with the LMDC who set the guidelines, not the proposal designers. For example:
"The memorial site ground plane is a concrete deck located approximately 30 feet below street level and 40 feet above bedrock. Memorial designs should not extend below this plane except at the northwest corner of the memorial site where the exposed slurry wall extends down to the bedrock as shown in Illustration #6. Any landscaping and soil must extend up from this memorial plane."

"The memorial should: Recognize each individual who was a victim of the attacks.... Provide... [s]eparate accessible space to serve as a final resting-place for the unidentified remains from the World Trade Center site."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:23 PM on November 19, 2003

Reflecting Absence will win - it is the most negitive, maudlin, sentimental, backward looking, woe is me entry. Even the grey of the model seems designed to depress. Oh yeah...and did I mention that I don't like it?
posted by meech at 3:59 PM on November 19, 2003

I'm only surprised that all eight entries are so unrelentingly pedestrian. There's not a single original or innovative thought in any one of them. I'm with ZachsMind: fill in the holes and rebuild the towers, (metaphorically) twice as high as before. That's the proper response, that's the memorial that a true American would want - a clear and unequivocal demonstration that no attack, no matter how horrendous, will keep us down.
posted by JollyWanker at 4:44 PM on November 19, 2003

You know what would really symbolize America's triumph over terrorism? A really, really BIG McDonalds!

Oh, and a Starbucks. And maybe a Kinko's.
posted by SPrintF at 8:38 PM on November 19, 2003

The power of the Vietnam memorial really has to be experienced first-hand. --GhostintheMachine

Agreed. I didn't expect to be impacted as much as I was...but I'm still shaken by it.

I think that while these designs may be pretty...although I don't much care for any of them, they just seem sappy...saccharine...I dunno, false. It feels too much like propaganda, and not enough like a recognition of a terrible event. But that's just me, what do I know?

I know there have been some tongue-in-cheek comments about building stores there...but really, were it up to me...I would rebuild the towers...or something just as functional. We don't need to be constantly reminded of 9-11. Nobody alive that day needs to be constantly reminded of's seared into our memories.

Don't get me wrong, I realize that it was a tragedy...a bloody awful, horrible, unreal, thing to happen. And I really wish my friend Anne had not gone to work that day, cause I liked her a lot...but a memetic Stalinesque reminder that we should all live in fear, lest we be the next victims, would be the last thing she'd want erected on the spot where she died.
posted by dejah420 at 6:50 PM on November 20, 2003

The power of the Vietnam memorial really has to be experienced first-hand. --GhostintheMachine

I have been there, I stand by my comments on the Korean memorial being more 'human'.
posted by biffa at 3:35 AM on November 21, 2003

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