September 16, 2008
by Murrye Bernard Assoc. AIA LEED AP

Event: Memorial Sites: New York to Nairobi, Photographs by Julie Dermansky & Memorials and Meaning Panel Discussion
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.10.08
Speakers: Julie Dermansky (artist statement) — Artist; Frederic Schwartz, FAIA – Principal, Frederic Schwarz Architects and Architect, Westchester County 9/11 Memorial & Empty Sky Memorial at Liberty State Park; Michael Arad, AIA – Partner, Handel Architects and Architect, National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center; Louis Nelson — Designer, Mural Wall of the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
Moderator: Lance Jay Brown, FAIA — Competition Advisor, National 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center competition
Respondent: Rick Bell, FAIA — AIANY Executive Director
Organizer; Sponsor: Center for Architecture

The South Pool of National September 11 Memorial with the latest rendering of the Memorial Museum beyond. Memorial by Michael Arad, AIA, with Peter Walker, FASLA; museum by Snøhetta.

Created by Squared Design Lab, provided by National September 11 Memorial & Museum

While many see a memorial as a single object, such as a statue or fountain, Frederic Schwartz, FAIA, Michael Arad, AIA, and Louis Nelson have tried to reach beyond this notion to create unique spaces for healing and reflection. Though each memorial has a different purpose with varying site conditions, several common themes resonate through all of them.

Each project attempts to move people — both figuratively and literally. The designs guide visitors through changing levels via prescribed paths, often culminating in a moment of contemplation. Arad’s design for the National September 11 Memorial channels people down to bedrock and then back up above grade to view the footprints of the former towers from above. The linear design of Schwartz’s Empty Sky Memorial at Liberty State Park, NJ, compresses people between two abstract slabs engraved with the names of victims, culminating in a framed view of the empty space left in the Manhattan skyline by the towers’ collapse. In Nelson’s Korean War Veterans Memorial, viewers find themselves surrounded by life-size steel sculptures of marching infantry soldiers.

The experiences of these memorials don’t always reflect the processes that created them. All of the designers recalled frustrations of having their winning entries altered through the intervention of committees, juries, and government. Often the path from design to built reality is not straight, yet the interaction between designers and grievers (friends and families of the victims) is necessary for appropriate memorial design, the designers agreed. Viewing a memorial is intensely personal, as is the process of designing one. Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, described memorials as the “interplay between abstractness and figurativeness.” Arad sees memorial design as a conflict between rationality and emotion. But ultimately, “people: that’s what a memorial is all about,” said Nelson.

In conjunction with the panel, the exhibition of photographs by Julie Dermansky titled Memorial Sites: New York to Nairobi is on view at the Center for Architecture through 10.04.08. The exhibition reflects on the meaning and history of memorials while addressing site specificity, the culture of place, injustice and genocide, and the irony of sacred sites converted to tourist destinations. The exhibition catalogue is available for purchase online.

Murrye Bernard, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, is a designer with TEK Architects, and has written for Architectural Record, Architecture Boston, and Architectural Lighting.