New York buzz: memorializing 9/11

Designs unveiled this week aim to capture emotional response to terror tragedy.

New York is moving closer to resolving one of its most heartfelt yet contentious issues: the design for the memorial to the 9/11 victims.

The eight finalists, participants in a global competition, are all concepts that incorporate powerful symbols - light, water, stone, and plants - into their designs. Each concept uses the symbols differently to meet the basic goal of recognition for each victim, delineation of the footprints of the twin towers, and a private space for victims' families.

But a jury evaluating some 5,200 entries from 63 countries and 49 states also looked for concepts that represented strength, imagination, and grace. "I think there are features that strike emotive responses on the part of any thinking person, any feeling person," says Frederic Bell, executive director of the American Institute of Architecture's New York chapter.

From the ethereal field of lights representing each victim in the design entitled "Votives in Suspension," to the slowly changing images on glass-backed waterfalls of "Dual Memory," the plans each incorporate public and private memories, while representing the resiliency andstrength of New York City.

The simple, geometric exterior of Votives in Suspension, designed by NormanLee and Michael Lewis, is intended to evoke a sense of absence and meditation. The enclosed sanctuaries located in thefootprints of the towers will be austere and minimal, with a line of sunlight coming in from the perimeter of the footprints. Each individual will be honored by a light suspended in midair at a height corresponding to his or her age.

Dual Memory, by Brian Strawn and Karla Sierralta, uses water and earth in a memorial that combines the solemnity of the tragic events with a feeling of movement toward the future. The design includes a floating panel of water that surrounds an enclosed pavilion and 2,982 "portals of light" projecting upward and downward. Evolving images and stories will be projected onto panes of glass covered with flowing water. The outdoor area will include 92 sugar maples and soil from 92 countries.

These designs need to meld into Daniel Libeskind's strong concept of a 1,776-foot spiral tower, the tallest building in the world. This portion will cost $330 million and take 10 years to build.

The design for the memorial has been one of the most difficult parts of the reconstruction, in part because it means so much to so many people.

"How do the plans address that that there will be millions of visitors over the years, and many at the same time who are coming having lost a loved one or coming because they wanted to see what was happening on the way to the Statue of Liberty, perhaps on their first trip to New York?" asks Mr. Bell.

For example, for many who lost relatives and friends in the attacks, the memorial offers a way to heal. This has led to the formation of several groups who insist that it contain elements that help bring closure.

The Advocates for a 9/11 Fallen Heroes Memorial, for example, would like the names of the 343 uniformed rescue workers who lost their lives in the attacks to be listed together by department, along with their rank, badge numbers, and units.

Yet some worry that, by including a subgroup of victims, the memorial would create a hierarchy - undermining the feeling of unity it is intended to represent. "I don't think the segregation of loss advances the historical understanding of what happened here, although it may, in the short and maybe the long run, put balm on the wounds of their particular families. You can't bring them back," says Bell.

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