World Trade Center Memorial Proposals by Roy Leban

A New Proposal for the WTC Memorial: The Ten-Year Memorial
(see also: an entrant's perspective on the competition;  comments on the winning designs)

Now that the competition is over, it seems clear to me and many others that not enough time has passed to know what the memorial should be. This is a new alternative proposal and I'm very interested in whether this strikes a chord in others and whether others would be interested in helping me refine the idea. My email address is at the bottom of this page.

The Ten-Year Memorial

PART ONE: The entire WTC memorial site itself is left unchanged, to the extent possible because of architectural constraints, site preservation, etc. The entire site is surrounded by an 8-foot tall clear wall, which has embedded in it the 5,201 original presentation boards sent into the memorial competition. Adjacent to each presentation board is a mechanism for visitors to leave permanent comments.

To allow the Ten-Year Memorial to honor the dead, their names will be etched deeply into the wall below the competition boards in an order to be determined, with an appropriate method for the families and friends to find a name. To ensure readability, the inside of the etchings will be darkened in some way. To allow the names to be of a reasonable size, it will probably be necessary to have two or three lines of names wrapping around the circumference of the memorial. It occurs to me that it would be desirable to allow for visitors to leave memorabilia (such as photos, copies of missing posters, etc.) in a permanent way, but I'm not sure how this would work. It will probably also be desirable to facilitate visitors leaving flowers and other non-permanent memorabilia in a way that doesn't interfere with other visitors.

Additionally, because looking through a thick Lucite or Plexiglas wall will yield a distorted view of the site, there are liberally spaced portholes or gaps between Lucite panels allowing people an unrestricted view of the site.

PART TWO: On the ten-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks, 8:45 AM on September 11th, 2011, the jury will reconvene to consider the comments that have been left by visitors to the site. The jury will consider primarily the comments left by people to understand how different memorial elements and ideas have resonated with visitors, and what other comments they may have made that do not directly relate to the memorial proposals. The intent is not to pick a winner from the original proposals, but to understand better what visitors to the memorial site want and need. Based on this information, the jury will choose a group of three to six competition participants to collaborate on a design for the final memorial. The collaborative design group will have available to it all of the original competition designs and all of the comments that were received. The group may use any and all of the ideas from the original proposals, ideas provided through comments at the site, or new ideas. Any incorporated ideas will be credited in any final design, except where ideas were provided anonymously.

When the final memorial is installed, the original presentation boards can be incorporated, if desired. If not, they will remain in place to the extent possible while the final memorial is being built and they will then be moved to the memorial museum, where they will be put in a permanent (possibly rotating) display along with the comments that were received and possibly video footage of the Ten-Year Memorial and visitors to it.

During the intervening time, the physical pieces of the original WTC site that are in existence, such as pieces of the exterior skin and the globe will be preserved so that they may be used, if desired, in the final memorial.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: Here are some additional thoughts in response to feedback I've received on the above ideas.

Glass may work better than Lucite or Plexiglas. It would be just as strong, harder to scratch, and more optically clear (meaning portholes might not be necessary). The wall should be designed so as not to interfere with construction access so portions of it don't need to be removed during construction of the final memorial (or any other construction).

Display of the actual original presentation boards may not be practical as they may be too hard to preserve while displayed outside over the course of many years. It may be better to display a photographic facsimile, possibly a transparent one adhered to the inside of the wall or protected between layers.

It may be possible to allow people to write directly on the wall with dry-erase markers and preserve the comments using digital photographic methods. Alternate methods (e.g., a computer setup where users can type in comments, or a web site for comments) could also be used. It is probably desirable to enter the comments into a database and organize them so as to make reviewing them easier, but it is very important to make sure that any such organization does not implicitly bias the way the comments are perceived. It is probably at least one full-time person to do this work between the time the Ten-Year Memorial is created and the time the jury convenes.

It is important that the Ten-Year Memorial allow people to grieve and to pay their respects as the temporary memorials and platforms, the multitude of "missing" and tribute posters, and the current Family Room have done.

Interesting recent comments by Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic for the New York Times: "The undertaking revealed a plain truth: not enough time has passed for any mere design to surpass in emotional power the pure void that extends from earth to sky. That revelation was worth something. So what if it was inadvertent?" see http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/28/arts/design/28MUSC.html

WHY IT'S SO HARD TO KNOW WHAT'S RIGHT: What is the right thing to do with the tower footprints? I really thought I got it -- see the italic sentence in this text. I proposed "somber, black outlines of the tower footprints which were clearly visible from street level ... from the plaza floor, the black outlines of the tower footprints are less visible and the green of the footprint lawns appears dominant. The outlines serve as a path for those visitors who feel the need to trace the tower footprints or feel the expanse of the tower. Heated from underneath so that snow will melt off them quickly, the black outlines will be visible and walkable year round, even when the rest of the memorial is covered with snow...." But, read what family members said, in a New York Times article of December 30th (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/30/nyregion/30FOOT.html):

Mary Fetchet, whose son, Bradley James Fetchet, died in the south tower: "They died within that space, and it is sacred.... After all this time, I have never had the opportunity to stand where my son died, where the south tower came down."

Anthony Gardner, whose brother, Harvey Joseph Gardner III, died in the north tower: "A lot of people feel that the remains were fused with the earth, and others see it as more of a symbolic thing...." He seeks "the maximum access and preservation of the footprints, but they could, for example, be the bottom of a memorial museum."

Not a single one of the finalists' proposals do this (several make the tower footprints or a good portion of them inaccessible to people, as a pool or a roof). And none of the designs that I have seen from others did it either. The LMDC is now revising their guidelines with a bit of hindsight, as if they can patch flawed designs with more instructions (which will undoubtedly make the designs even more complex than they are). Why did we all miss it? And is it the right thing to do? What really meets the need of the mourners? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I hope that time will tell, and I believe that our hindsight at the end of ten years will be even better than it is today.
 

An Entrant's Perspective on the WTC Memorial Competition

Long before the competition for the World Trade Center memorial was announced -- in fact, long before I even knew there would be a competition -- my design for a September 11th memorial was taking shape in my head. The 5,201 entries in the competition tell me I wasn't alone. Yet, even so, I entered the competition with some trepidation. Had enough time passed that we could truly know what we wanted in a memorial?

The eight designs announced recently are impressive. In fact, they are disappointingly impressive. In contrast, my own design (#858271) wasn't impressive. It was simple, somewhat sparse. I thought that I couldn't possibly know everything that visitors would feel (or need to feel), so I tried to design a space which would allow people to experience whatever they needed to.

All of the finalists' designs can be described with an apparent oxymoron: they are simply complex. If you add enough simple things together, you end up with something complex. Unfortunately, I think this is a direct result of the design requirements that we were given. I know that I found myself struggling to avoid adding more to my memorial proposal in order to ensure that I was meeting all of the requirements. Today, I feel I didn't go far enough in sidestepping the design requirements.

In order to satisfy the requirements of the competition, each of the finalists packed a lot into their designs. Rather than laying out the memorial and allowing visitors to have a variety of experiences by looking at it or walking through it from different perspectives, it seems that they tried to ensure that each possible experience was attainable with a different feature of their proposal. When I hear people criticizing these complicated designs as being "minimalist," it makes me realize that they lack heart. In the simple statement "Recognize the tower footprints," the finalists (and jury) seem to have read "Make the tower footprints into something monumental." I'm sure that I didn't impress the jury with my non-monumental proposal of simple lawns framed with black granite paths.

Yet, in packing so much in, I'm surprised at what got omitted. None have anything that echoes the original twin towers and none use black in any significant amount. None use any of the elements of the original World Trade Center, such as pieces of the wreckage or the famous "sphere" sculpture. None leave the bedrock of the tower footprints exposed, as has been requested by many family members. The omission of a some tangible connection to the twin towers or the events of September 11th is glaring. None of the designs really connect to the neighborhood of which they will be a part. Few have anything which invites or affords touching for individual memorials -- a huge omission, as touching memorials and graves gives people solace and helps them connect with a memorial and their own feelings. And, while this memorial is both 1 large memorial and 2,982 individual memorials, none of the finalists provide a true focal point for the 1. I made some of these mistakes in my own proposal.

Time has a wonderful power of giving us perspective. I'm not even happy with my own proposal anymore. My entry, like the finalists' entries -- indeed, like all the entries -- suffered from lack of knowledge that, even today, is still incomplete. I wonder what the other 5,192 proposals are like and I wonder what we could learn from them. Were the competition to be held today, I suspect that we would all send in revised proposals. To be honest, I want another chance. And, I'd love to see what all the other entrants would propose today -- or next year -- with what we've learned from seeing other entrants' ideas, from hearing the public and critical reactions, and from -- yes -- the passage of time. I think that's the best way to truly meet the needs for the memorial.

I realize that this is rather unlikely to happen. So, I hope that the jury and the finalists will revisit and question their ideas, changing what doesn't work and improving their designs with increased knowledge, so that we get the best possible design. I hope that they can find the time it will take to design less, so they can accomplish more. The September 11th memorial is bigger than one design jury and one designer or design team. It will take great courage -- and a lack of ego -- to end up with a final design that works for the families and all the citizens of the world who will visit. I wish them the best.
 

Comments on the Winning Designs:

I submitted an entry for the World Trade Center Memorial Competition (here). Even though I knew I had little chance of winning with thousands of other entrants, I felt that I wanted to contribute to the dialogue and it was indeed an honor contributing my proposal. I'm glad I did it.

Though I wasn't chosen as a finalist, I still like my design. I think it's more specific to the WTC site and September 11th and less generic than a lot of the designs. I also think it's more impactful and more personal. The main difference between my proposal and the selected ones is that they all have a strong sense of grandeur that I omitted from mine. While there are things that I like in every design, I feel they are all too complicated, too impressive. It was a conscious decision on my part -- I went for simplicity, feeling that I wanted to allow for a variety of experiences for visitors and I wasn't trying to impress anyone. I even wrote that, from a distance, most of my proposed memorial would look like open space. I also felt that it was very important that the tower footprints themselves be recognized in as simple a way as possible out of respect and I wanted that space to speak for itself. But, clearly, the jury was looking for something different.

To be fair to the finalists, I think that the complexity of their designs does stem largely from the design requirements that we were given. I know that I found myself struggling to avoid adding more to my memorial proposal in order to ensure that I was meeting all of the requirements. Even simple things, if you have enough of them, become complex as a group. This is a trade-off that I'm used to making in software development, and it's always hard to avoid responding to additional requirements with additional complexity. As an example, my proposal provides no specific area set aside for visitation and contemplation, instead incorporating that need into the overall design.

On first viewing, only "Suspended Memory," a good portion of which is similar to my design, has the personal element that I felt was important. The initial design for my memorial columns was similar physically to the glass columns in "Suspended Memory" -- one per victim and made of solid (non-rotatable) glass with an internal light for illumination at night. Mine were and still are taller -- so you have to look up a bit to see the top -- and arranged in curved groups like my final design has rather than the grid they're proposing. My final memorial columns evolved from a desire to intermingle the victims' personal memorials to a greater extent (this is both 1 memorial and 3,000), to allow the memorial to constantly change (in addition to the changing natural light and per-column illumination), to make the memorials themselves less cold, and to invite -- almost insist upon -- touching. The desire of people to touch a memorial is something that I noticed first at the Vietnam Memorial but have since seen elsewhere. It seems to give people solace and helps them connect with the memorial and their feelings. Of the other finalists, only the "Garden of Lights" seems to invite touching, but it feels cold to me. Similarly, I don't feel that the large photographs in "Dual Memory" feel personal at all. I considered having photographs and/or bios on my cubes, but I felt that a single, simple statement from each family about their loved one was more appropriate.

There seemed to be a lot of concern about separate recognition for firefighters and other rescue workers. Some people felt it should happen while others felt that it shouldn't. It seems that all of the finalists' designs have taken one approach or the other. My indexes were intended to address this issue by taking a middle ground -- allowing for all of the rescue workers to be grouped together on the Location Index, while still allowing for a random placement of personal memorials throughout the memorial plaza. Although I didn't say it, the Location Index could also have written text about each group of people, and there is significant space on the Index Towers for additional text. I hope that an approach like this can be taken in the final memorial.

I'll admit to being a bit disappointed that most of the finalists did not follow the guidelines for the submission board (one is even horizontal), and that all but one of the original submissions have the polished look of an architect -- mine clearly doesn't and it may well have as much text on it as all 8 finalists combined (I write better than I draw). I wonder if it helped their designs stand out. If you would like to see my proposal, you can view it at http://www.groupthink.com/royleban/wtc.pdf (the most interesting portions are the upper right and the lower left).

I've had a few months to reflect back on my own design and now I've seen eight other people's designs. If I were working on the design now, I would almost certainly make some changes. Here are some questions I would ask myself: My memorial plaza was stone because I wanted the tower footprints to be the living spot (I also didn't want a huge maintenance problem, which could make the plaza appear shabby). But is it too cold? Are the rotating cubes more or less personal than my original idea of square, glass columns? (Which would the families want?) Are my family areas completely wrong and should they perhaps be underneath the tower footprints as many of the finalists have done? (or both?) Should they be closer to the unidentified remains? I designed my memorial so that, from street level, it would appear serene, somber and, to some extent, beautiful. Is that enough of a connection to the street and neighborhood?

I hope that this sort of revisitation and questioning of their ideas is what all the finalists go through, changing what doesn't work and improving their designs with increased knowledge, so that we get the best possible design. I wish the best for the finalists and the jury. I hope that the final design is one that works for the families and all the citizens of the world who will visit.

Roy Leban
royleban AT groupthink DOT com
various dates in 2003