An architect who lives in the East Village and works for the city Housing Authority has won the competition to design the memorial at the World Trade Center site to commemorate the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
His proposal turns the footprints of the fallen Twin Towers into two large reflective pools, each sunken 30 feet below street level.
The winning proposal, created by architect Michael Arad and called “Reflecting Absence,” was announced late in the afternoon on Jan. 6 by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the agency overseeing the competition.
Mr. Arad beat out eight finalists, whose designs, on display at the Winter Garden since November, have elicited less enthusiasm than the designs for the overall site presented to the public a year before. But even among the eight rather unpopular finalists, Mr. Arad’s design had been considered a dark horse among Ground Zero watchers because of its significant break with the master plan for the World Trade Center site envisioned by architect Daniel Libeskind.
Specifically, Mr. Arad’s original plans called for a large rectangular building shielding the memorial from West Street; Mr. Libeskind wanted that space kept open. Also, Mr. Arad has removed the museum complex which, in Mr. Libeskind’s plan, borders the memorial.
Mr. Libeskind, who had an hour-long talk with Mr. Arad on Tuesday afternoon, told The Observer he thought he and Mr. Arad could find a way of fitting the memorial design into the master plan.
Mr. Libeskind called Mr. Arad’s design “very simple” and “clear,” and said he was particularly gratified that it marks the footprints of the Twin Towers.
“The idea of the void of the towers is very strongly expressed, and that’s something that also moved me when I was thinking of the master plan. At its center, I thought it should be an expression of the void.”
That is about as tall a compliment as any of the eight finalist designs has received from the public, if the results of various polls and focus groups can be taken as a measure. In a survey taken by Imagine New York, a subsidiary of the Municipal Arts Society, none of the eight finalists received more positive responses than negative. In a report that Imagine sent to the jurors via the LMDC, however, respondents singled out for praise the same aspects of the design that Mr. Libeskind did, namely, the plan “vividly recalls the World Trade Center and strongly connects the memorial to the site’s past.” A number of people responded positively to the design’s “direct use of the void,” and that the design was “simple, clean and most memorial-like.” The most frequent criticisms were that the proposal was too “cold, bleak and angular.”
There is time, of course, for Mr. Arad to tweak his design. Next week, Mr. Arad will reveal a design that has been revised to meet requirements set by the LMDC; it is unclear how much of his original plan will remain intact. Mr. Libeskind, for his part, said that Mr. Arad “had his own ideas” about where to place the museum that Mr. Libeskind originally envisioned above the memorial.
The LMDC also announced that Mr. Arad has enlisted the help of renowned landscape architect Peter Walker, who is based in California. The two men will head the design team that completes the project.
A Place to Grieve
Governor Pataki has pushed the LMDC to follow a timetable that would see ground broken the memorial by the third anniversary of the attacks. Critics of the process have said that not enough time has passed for people to thoroughly digest and respond artistically to the events of Sept. 11.
Other critics have assailed the LMDC for not mandating that the memorial incorporate actual remnants of the original towers into the design.
But Mr. Arad appeared in a statement to be equable in the face of these criticisms.
“I am very honored and overwhelmed by the news that the jury has selected my design,” Mr. Arad said in a statement. “I hope that I will be able to honor the memory of all those who perished, and create a place where we may all grieve and find meaning.”
Mr. Arad’s sunken pools, according to the plans he submitted to the LMDC for the competition, are surrounded by an open plaza at ground level, and a constant stream of water cascades down each side. Visitors can descend into the ground alongside each pool, where, at bottom, the names of all the victims of Sept. 11 will be etched into the surface, along with those who died in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Mr. Arad, who grew up in Israel, the United States and Mexico, has been living in the U.S. since finishing his military service in the Israeli Defense Force in 1991. He received a B.A. from Dartmouth College, and an M.A. from Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture before moving to New York City in 1999. At that time he worked as an architect at the prominent firm of Kohn, Pedersen, Fox for three years. He recently joined the Design Department of the New York City Housing Authority and has been working on the design development of two police stations for the New York City Police Department. He lives in the East Village in New York City with his wife, Melanie Arad Fitzpatrick, and his newborn son, Nathaniel.
Jury spokesman Vartan Gregorian, the president of the Carnegie Corporation and a former president of Brown University, said of Mr. Arad’s design: “In its powerful, yet simple articulation of the footprints of the Twin Towers, “Reflecting Absence” has made the gaping voids left by the Towers’ destruction the primary symbol of loss. While these voids still remain empty and inconsolable, the surrounding plaza’s design has evolved to include teeming groves of trees, traditional affirmations of life and rebirth.”
“The result is a memorial that expresses both the incalculable loss of life and its regeneration. Not only does this memorial creatively address its mandate to preserve the footprints, recognize individual victims and provide access to bedrock, but it also wonderfully reconnects this site to the fabric of its urban community.”
Although the LMDC announced the jury’s decision on Tuesday, jurors actually completed their deliberations late Monday night at Gracie Mansion, after a marathon day-long meeting.
During that session, jury members were said to be focusing on two other main candidates out of the remaining eight. The other two were “Passages of Light,” the centerpiece of which was a clear, undulating canopy of light shafts; and “Garden of Lights,” in which a shaft of light representing each victim would penetrate into a dark lower level.
The meeting capped a six-month deliberation period, during which the 13-member jury faced the daunting task of winnowing down 5,201 entries to eight finalists, and finally, the winner. The jurors, who include the Vietnam Veterans Memorial architect Maya Lin, among other leading scholars, artists, and downtown business owners, have been meeting since July, insulated from all inquiries by the press.
The only official statement from the jury came on Nov. 19, when the LMDC put the jurors’ decisions for the eight finalists on public display at the Winter Garden. At that time, Mr. Gregorian, said the deliberations had required “hours of frank discussions, agreements and disagreements, always with the goal of arriving at common ground.” Mr. Gregorian also said even the final version of the winning design “will require additional refinements,” a caveat he echoed in his statement yesterday.
Other panel members included Martin Puryer, an artist and recipient of the prestigious MacArthur grant; Patricia Harris, a deputy mayor of New York; Lowery Stokes Sims, executive director of the Studio Museum in Harlem; Julie Menin, owner of the downtown restaurant Vine and head of the nonprofit organization Wall Street Rising; and Michael McKeon, Governor Pataki’s chief spokesman in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Each had to sign a confidentiality agreement prohibiting them from discussing the nature of their deliberations, and they were instructed to disregard any correspondence sent by those seeking to influence the process.
The LMDC announced the worldwide competition in April. A list of required program elements for the memorial was drafted and revised by two groups convened by the LMDC. The groups comprised family members, architects, artists, academics and community leaders.
Among the requirements, designs had to recognize each victim, provide space for contemplation, and convey a sense of historic authenticity.
Of course, thought also had to be given to context; not only of the memorial within New York City, but also within the 16-acre master plan set out in February by Mr. Libeskind.
In that plan, five skyscrapers of varying height that surround the memorial in a semi-circle, and a complex of cultural buildings overhang it. Mr. Libeskind, who has had to make compromises with architects and developers on several key elements of his site plan in recent months, appears resolved to make another one. Whether it favors his original plan or Mr. Arad’s design, only the coming weeks and months will tell.
“At every time a new piece of the puzzle falls into place, it has to be re-adjusted and reconciled with the master plan,” he said. “And there’s no reason this won’t be.”