Carren's Pitch

Life by Design

The World Center battles politics and financials to rise again
Text and Photos by: Carren Jao
Edited by: Judith Torres
Published: Bluprint Magazine, October 2010

God (or the Devil) in the details
Rebuilding the site of the tragedy was one thing, creating a memorial became another. While the Innovative Design Study was launched, a separate stream for the creation of a memorial began headed by Anita Contini.

Another design competition was launched in the hopes of fielding a design worth of commemorating the events of 9/11. Needless to say, public scrutiny was intense.
Working with the victims’ families, Contini and her colleagues outlined a mission statement and guidelines for the memorial, which required among other things: recognizing each victim of the attacks, a space for contemplation and making visible the footprints of the Twin Towers. It didn’t however include a direct specification to work with the approved masterplan, a detail that would raise issues down the road. “Figuring out how the memorial competition would intersect with and not contradict the site design competition was the next challenge,” said Bell.

Contini assembled a star-studded panel, which included some of the arts community’s brightest names including Maya Lin, a well-respected architect who began her career by winning the 1981 Vietnam Memorial design competition as a Yale undergrad; Michael Van Valkenburgh, a Harvard teacher and distinguished landscape architect; and Vartan Gregorian, former New York Public Library and Brown University president.

The panel waded through 5,201 entries, making it the largest architectural competition in history, to come up with nine semi-finalists. A disqualification of one entry resulted in only eight designs remaining.

After a lukewarm public reception of all designs, Michael Arad’s “Reflecting Absence” emerged the winner. As opposed to Libeskind’s empty footprints, Arad had decided to fill the depression with a continuous stream of water, turning it into recessed pools. Nearly one acre in size each, these would become the largest man-made waterfall in the country.

Bronze parapets would rise above the pools bearing the names of each victim. Stencil-cut into the parapets, the names would shine in the dark, lit by the lights from the pools. Arad also designed contemplative spaces underground, which interfered with the current work being done based on Libeskind’s plans.

“The beauty of Michael’s design was that it could satisfy the emotional needs of those whose family members and friends were lost but also on a larger design frame create within a vibrant urban realm, a quiet space of reflection, a space where people who have no connection to the events of the day can come and contemplate larger issues,” said Bell.

Arad winning meant compromises on Libeskind’s end, but that couldn’t be helped. Arad himself also had some giving ground to do. After strong encouragements from the design panel, Arad worked with landscape architect Peter Walker to soften his stark initial proposal.

Walker’s collaboration added almost 400 hundred Swamp White Oak and Sweetgum trees to the eight-acre Memorial Plaza. The trees’ foliage will change according to the season, marking the passage of time and the unending cycle of birth, death and rebirth. In order grow healthy trees, Walker also designed a suspended paving system over the whole plaza. Pre-cast concrete tables would hang suspended above the soil, allowing it to breathe, gather water and nutrients. [continued]


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