Omer Shahab Kenneth Schwartz USEM 171 – Design and Politics 7 May 2008

Reflecting Absence – The World Trade Center Memorial
The World Trade Center (WTC) complex of seven buildings, developed in the 1970s by architect Minoru Yamasaki, became a New York City icon over the past several decades and was a substantial part of the city’s downtown financial district. Funding and oversight for the development of the site was handled by the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York (PATH), a joint organization created by an interstate compact between the two states. On an average day, 50,000 people worked in the towers and nearly 200,000 more visited the buildings. The WTC complex was so large that it even had its own zip code, 10048, and housed 13.4 million square feet of office space. The Twin Towers, formally known as 1 WTC and 2 WTC were a massive technological and cultural undertaking when being constructed. After its completion in 1972, 1 WTC became the tallest building on Earth with a height of 1,368 feet, surpassing New York City’s own Empire State Building and together the two structures sculpted a vital part of the city’s picturesque skyline. The Twin Towers became a cultural icon and symbol of not only New York’s economic advancement but America’s mark of modernity, and were referenced in all facets of American media from the cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to songs by rapper Jay-Z.


On the fateful day of September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks led to the demise of a prominent part of the New York City skyline, the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Also destroyed from the collapse of the 110-story towers were the other five buildings which were a part of the World Trade Center complex, including 4, 5, 6, 7 WTC, and the Marriott World Trade Center (3 WTC). The attacks brought sweeping changes to the political and cultural landscape both within the United States and internationally. Domestic security was immediately stepped up including the formation of a new cabinetlevel federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the passage of the USA PATRIOT act which gave government agencies increased jurisdiction over public domain and even led to lawsuits concerning the Executive branch’s infringement upon constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties. Another direct effect of the September 11th attacks was the extremely toxic air pollution that resulted from the collapse of the towers. Air pollution expert Thomas Cahill at the University of California, Davis studied the air quality at Ground Zero and characterized it as “the perfect storm of environmental toxins” (Armour, 2006). The effects of this were disastrous with the more than 2,500 contaminants propagated through the debris in the air leading to illnesses such as pulmonary fibrosis among nearby workers (Wikipedia – Health effects arising from September 11 attacks). With such havoc wrought from a single coordinated terrorist attack, and approximately 3,000 lives lost (Huempfer), the event was sure to be deeply etched in the volumes of history. Shortly after the attacks, the Lower Manhattan


Development Corporation launched an international design competition to create a memorial to commemorate the victims of the September 11th attacks. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) was founded in the wake of the September 11th attacks by Governor George Pataki and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to oversee the rebuilding of the World Trade Center complex. The LMDC is a joint corporation headed by a 16 member board of directors which are appointed by the governor of New York state and mayor of New York City, and is funded by $2.78 billion in grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (LMDC, 2). The self-stated mission statement of the LMDC is “the creation of a permanent memorial honoring those lost, while affirming the democratic values that came under attack on September 11, 2001” (LMDC, 2). What is interesting about the organization is that it is a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation and is not subject to oversight by the legislature or voters. Furthermore, the organization exercised its jurisdiction over the World Trade Center site of which it had no ownership. Instead, the WTC site is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and is currently under lease by American billionaire investor Larry Silverstein of Silverstein Properties (Wikipedia – LMDC). Naturally, this caused the organization to be plagued with controversy and public criticism during its tenure. Critics pointed out its deficiencies in effectively undertaking the memorial project, complaining about the long delay before construction on the memorial commenced, and expressed skepticism relating to its handling of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds. Former New York Attorney General

Elliot Spitzer even went as far as to call the LMDC an “abject failure” (Wikipedia – LMDC). With the complete destruction of the World Trade Center and its 7 building complex, the LMDC had to form a new building plan for the WTC site. In December 2002, nine site designs were presented to the public, one of which was to be chosen for the new redevelopment of the area. On February 27, 2003, Polish born Architect Daniel Libeskind’s vision was ultimately selected as the plan for reconstruction. The competitors in the design competition were limited by the Libeskind master plan. His vision of the master plan for the whole WTC site severely limited the creativity in the development of the memorial itself. Libeskind wanted to make sure the memorial could be built only in a certain way. Most importantly, he wished for the memorial to be remain below ground and remain “protected from the dynamic activities of a revitalized new neighbourhood” (Libeskind). He designed several ramps that led down into the crater left by the destruction of the towers, including a major one nearly bisecting the memorial site. Furthermore, Libeskind’s plan had already taken the initiative to name and allot functions to the walls of the crater. One was to be made of glass and would be a window to the concourse of the underground transportation system. The western wall was known as the slurry wall, a reinforced concrete wall similar to a dam that kept the Hudson River’s waters from flooding the basement of the World Trade Center towers. It was the only structure at Ground Zero that survived the attacks unharmed, and thus the only option


was to keep it. The eastern wall was preordained to become a waterfall. (Huempfer, 15). With the other three walls of the basin accounted for under the site master plan, the memorial designer only had complete jurisdiction over the design of the one remaining wall. To summarize, Libeskind had vastly limited what could become of the memorial site by leaving little freedom to the memorial design competition winner. As the winner of the overall WTC site competition, he believed the designing of the memorial site too was his job, and only the memorial structure itself should be placed within the confines of his site. The guidelines for the WTC Memorial Competition, in turn, were largely based on Libeskind’s master plan. There were five important aspects required for contest entries: each individual victim had to be recognized, space required for the unidentified remains of the victims, a space for contemplation, a powerful, distinct setting, and historic authenticity. The memorial site was an area of 4.7 acres recessed 30 feet below street level. The site included two 200 by 200 feet areas which were the footprints of the original twin towers (LMDC, 9). The rules also explicitly stated “it is fundamental to Studio Daniel Libeskind’s design that the slurry wall remains prominent and visible.” At first, such constraints seemed to severely limit the participants of the competition. However, the competition’s jury allowed for the possibility of more innovation and creativity than was set aside by Libeskind. In the official contest rules, the LMDC outlines in bold, “Design concepts that propose to exceed the illustrated memorial site boundaries may be considered by the jury if, in collaboration with the LMDC, they are deemed feasible and consistent site plan objectives.” This shows that the jury may have

understood that Libeskind’s master plan was severely limited and wanted to make sure it would not discourage participants from submitting their best possible work. As will be discussed later, this leniency on the LMDC’s part proved to be significant in the final outcome of the design competition. (See Diagram 1: Proposed redevelopment map of World Trade Center site) A team of 13 individuals comprised the World Trade Center Memorial jury. The jury stated the defining goal in selecting an appropriate memorial design was “to collect the disparate memories of individuals and communities together in one space, with all their various textures and meanings, and give them material form” (“WTC Memorial Jury Statement for Winning Design,” 2004). The jury included a variety of individuals from artists and architects to the family members of victims and Deputy Mayor of New York City. Notable members were architect Maya Lin, winning of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Design Competition and David Rockefeller, grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller and former chairman of the Lower Manhattan Association which originally built the World Trade Center (LMDC 26-11.1). The role of the jury in determining the winner of the competition was greater than originally envisioned. The LMDC had initially hoped the jury would comply fully with the rules set out in the design competition briefing. However, the jury defied the LMDC’s orders from the beginning by publicly stating the rules were there to be broken. They started out by changing the contest deadline as they pleased. Secondly, and most importantly, the jury clarified that deviation from Libeskind’s original master plan was both needed and

appreciated. This opened up a world of possibility for aspiring contestants—the once rigid guidelines had now morphed more into flexible recommendations than anything. James Young, a member of the jury, said: “We want...anyone who submits – to feel they can go where their imaginations, where their mourning needs to take them in order to articulate some relationship to this terrible loss” (Huempfer, 23). Following this, the once strict guidelines were now open to much more interpretation. Knowing that the jury would accept designs that deviated further from the original rules, the stage was set for participants to let their creativity flow. The World Trade Center Memorial design competition was received with immense publicity and interest by both established and aspiring architects from all over the world. Both the honor of one’s design being selected to commemorate a solemn and historical event, and the opportunity to become the architect whose design was immortalized and revered for generations to come, created a high level of competition among the contest participants. The competition started in late April 2003, when the LMDC published the official World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition Guidelines for anyone interested in participating. The registration deadline for the competition was May 29, 2003 and all designs had to be sent by submitted by June 30th. Remarkably unique and innovative designs were proposed for the memorial, with a total of 5,201 plans being submitted for the design contest. The competition was the biggest in US history, so large that the LMDC had rented a warehouse in Manhattan to receive all the contest submissions.

After almost one year from initiation, the World Trade Center Memorial Design Contest concluded with the announcement of the winning design. Michael Arad’s submission, “Reflecting Absence” was chosen as the winner of the contest and blueprint for the new memorial. Arad was an Israeli citizen living in New York City whose father was Israel’s ambassador to Mexico and the United States. He worked for the New York City Housing Authority before he won the competition and was only 34 years old (Huempfer, 35). As a relatively inexperienced but aspiring architect, Arad capitalized on the LMDC’s openness to designs that did not conform fully to the rigid master plan and was able to win. The official LMDC press release on January 14, 2004, detailed the new memorial as follows: “It is located in a field of trees that is interrupted by two large voids containing recessed pools. The pools and the ramps that surround them encompass the footprints of the twin towers. A cascade of water that describes the perimeter of each square feeds the pools with a continuous stream. They are large voids, open and visible reminders of the absence” (WTC Memorial Team Statement for Winning Design). What is important to note is that this was not the original untouched submission that Arad had created for the contest. The LMDC presented the winning design as a product of a partnership between Arad and Peter Walker, a senior landscape architect from California (Huempfer, 33). Even though Arad had been anointed the winner of the memorial design contest, his original submission was not going to be built without revision. The reason for this can be pinpointed back to the drama of Libeskind’s master plan for the WTC site. As previously mentioned, the strict regulations imposed by the plan left little room for even

the minimal amount of deviation that Arad had proposed in his design. (See Figure A: Michael Arad’s original design contest submission board). However, he disregarded many of the rules set in the guidelines, and chose to design the memorial as he saw fit. This was actually one of the main reasons the jury liked Arad’s submission so much (Huempfer, 33). Maya Lin was the main proponent for the selection of Arad’s design. She herself had disagreed with the strictness of Libeskind’s master plan and did not want the memorial to be subject to it. Naturally so, she saw Arad’s submission as a bold and daring concept that challenged the rules. She used her influence among the group as the winner of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial design contest to convince the other jurors to choose “Reflecting Absence.” Another rumor has it that when she was asked to sketch some memorial ideas for the New York Times, one of them was similar to Arad’s design, leading her to instinctively support a concept similar to her own. The most threatening part of Arad’s design was that it completely disregarded Libeskind’s master plan by placing the memorial above ground at street level, unlike the subterraneous concept Libeskind had preordained in his plan. Furthermore, he did not have the required waterfall, exposed slurry wall, and did not include the museum Libeskind had wanted to accompany the memorial. Arad understood that he had deviated greatly from the master plan and is quoted to have said, “Daniel Libeskind had designed the memorial, and you were given the task of picking fabric swatches and I think I pushed against it somewhat.” This was important because the jury themselves, led by Maya Lin, wanted to break free from Libeskind’s tight grip. When Libeskind found out

about the blatant disregard for his vision in the winning design, he was outraged and immediately proclaimed, “I will fight this!” (Libeskind, 2004). The LMDC somewhat agreed with him in that the organization too believed the memorial should have been subject more to the master plan instead of becoming a unique entity of its own. The LMDC thought Arad’s design was too barren and devoid of life, so it mandated that the design include more trees and greenery to further liven up the memorial. The trees were important to convey a message of hope and rebirth for the future, that the memorial should not only be a place for mourning, but also motivation and empowerment. Libeskind also tried his hardest to rescue his original vision through much argument and debate. Ultimately, his plan for a museum was once again included with the memorial; however, it was to be placed underground. The LMDC’s efforts also succeeded in modifying Arad’s design to allow visitors to view the original slurry wall that remained from the towers. In the final design, the wall could be seen from the ramps as visitors descended down into underground rooms of the memorial. The finalizing of the design and pre-construction phase for the memorial was not without both public and political upheaval. The original design underwent several revisions and modifications due to financial constraints, public criticism, and political pressure. From the beginning, the process of building a memorial had created friction between several parties: families, rescue workers and residents – those directly and indirectly affected through their personal loss and the loss of their safety and security. The Widows’ and Victims’ Families Association (WVFA) spearheaded the complaints

about the memorial, upholding its self-stated mission of “ensuring a proper and fitting memorial is built in honor of our loved ones and America” (WVFA, 2004). The WVFA’s main agenda was to preserve as much of the towers as possible. The firefighters on the other hand had their own demand. They were primarily unhappy with the arrangement of names on the walls of the underground rooms of the memorial. Arad had intended to have no order to the names in his plan, signifying the chaos and equality in death that resulted from the attacks. He had provisioned to place badges next to the names of rescue workers, including firefighters. The firefighters did not want to concede to just this. Instead, they sought that the names of fallen firefighters be listed separately from the other victims. This led to further debate and discomfort between the opposing parties and even more discontentment. Arad summed up the situation aptly by saying, “Every way you find to resolve this satisfied some, but causes pain and anguish to others.” Since the September 11th attacks were such a tragic and resounding event in the United States’ history, there were many people who were affected by the attacks and felt that their opinions and ideas should be heard in the construction of a memorial to remember the event. With numerous delays and changes in the agenda for construction of the memorial, the financial cost of the memorial increased significantly as well. In January 2004, the LMDC had estimated the total cost of the memorial to be approximately $350 million, with $175 million of that to be allocated for PATH infrastructure such as train


tracks and air conditioning. The costs soon burgeoned to nearly $972 million, partly due to rising material costs in the time it took to finalize the memorial. On top of the 30% increase in construction costs, new items were added to the memorial budget that the planners had initially not anticipated. The costs of lights and transformers for the reflecting pool added $26 million, but the majority of the expenditures were due to the museum that now had to accompany the memorial. The rough “hard cost” of the Memorial Museum, without contingencies, infrastructure, and insurance, was $110 million, while the construction of a new entrance for the museum added $22 million to the price tag (Hagan, 2006). Various other things added over $150 million to the overall project cost, leading the final memorial cost estimate to near $1 billion, making it the most expensive memorial ever built. What is more discouraging is that by mid-2006, the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation had raised a mere $131.4 million for the construction of the memorial. With such a massive budget required for the construction of the memorial, something had to be done to legitimize the project. One billion dollars was too large a portion of the city and state’s budgets, and enough to provide apartments to all of New York City’s homeless or to buy all of the oil Saudi Arabia produces in one day (Huempfer, 51). Something had to be done in order to carry on with the project, so Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki hired Frank J. Sciame, CEO of F.J. Sciame construction company to “lead the effort to ensure a buildable World Trade Center memorial.” His task was to review the plans LMDC officials had made to cut

costs, as well as find new ways to further decrease the cost of the memorial, while limiting alteration of Arad’s design. In less than a month, Sciame had managed to devise a plan to constrain the costs of the memorial to $510 million. This however did not come without changes to Arad’s original design. This time though, Arad was more willing to conform without arguing the modifications. After so much delay and conflict, Arad himself just wanted to get the memorial construction underway, and thus was flexible with the proposed changes. Sciame proposed giving PATH the responsibility for the whole memorial project, in order to lower costs by increasing efficiency and using the organization’s existing capabilities (Huempfer, 54). He acknowledged that PATH would provide “a single point of accountability, consolidation of management…and eliminate redundancies within the World Trade Center site.” It made sense, instead of giving accountability of the site to smaller organizations like the LMDC, assigning the construction to PATH would allow for less friction and communication delay between parties. Sciame also related that the infrastructure costs for the memorial could be minimized by using alternate engineering methods instead of those which were originally planned. One of the biggest changes to the memorial proposed by Sciame was to move the names of the victims above ground and display them on a wall surrounding the pools. This would save the construction of six out of the eight underground rooms which would lead to a huge decrease in overall cost. Lastly, Sciame also suggested to only have a single entrance to the museum and memorial to limit operational costs, and also to decrease the size of the museum overall. After this final reevaluation and revision of the

World Trade Center Memorial project, Michael Arad’s original design had been modified substantially, but a conclusive plan for the construction had been reached at last. The memorial is set to open on September 11, 2009, exactly eight years after the devastating attacks that spurred a global superpower into public frenzy and diplomatic instability. It is estimated that the memorial will attract between 8,000 and 50,000 visitors daily and up to 5 million annually (LMDC, 9). Following a successful design competition was a tumultuous process of actually constructing the memorial. As was highlighted earlier, numerous parties were involved in the realization of the ultimate goal. The process was not without turmoil and upheaval or delay and disagreement. It is important to understand that such is the norm when building any architectural structure that directly affects the public, especially when it is of such significance and magnitude. As to whether the memorial will be a success is debatable, with opposing sides supporting various positions on the subject, but the goal of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation remains clear: We must “recognize the endurance of those who survived, the courage of those who risked their lives to save others, and the compassion of all who supported us in our darkest hours” (LMDC, 18-5.1) Declaring such an important yet controversial memorial a success or a failure is a subjective matter, but as long as any structure is erected to commemorate the heroes of September 11th the American ideal of honoring those fallen will never be forgotten.


Related Images

Diagram 1: Proposed redevelopment map of World Trade Center site (LMDC, 7).


Figure A: Michael Arad’s original design contest submission board (Arad).


Figure B: Computer rendering of the future of the World Trade Center complex. 17

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful

Master Your Semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master Your Semester with a Special Offer from Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.