One of the more intelligent comments about the World Trade Center memorial
competition – I can’t seem to find who said it, right now – was
that with some 5,200 entrants, the winning design would not be one individual’s
uncompromising vision, pace Maya Lin. Rather, it would essentially
be exactly what the jury wanted it to be: whatever it was that the jury collectively
wanted, they could surely find it among the thousands of different plans with
which they were presented.
This idea gained currency when Reflecting
Absence was chosen, for two main reasons. Firstly, it bore a startling resemblance
to a plan that Maya Lin – a jury member – had previously sketched
out for the site. But more importantly, it suddenly carried the name of Peter
Walker, a celebrated landscape architect, alongside that of the original designer,
Michael Arad. The clear implication was that the jury was essentially forcing
Arad into a direction in which it (the jury) wanted to go. Arad is a mild-mannered
mid-level architect for the Housing Authority in New York, who, frankly, seems
perfectly amenable to being pushed around.
Today, the New York Times runs a long
article about the selection process, which only reinforces the original
thesis. Here’s the key bit:
What swayed the jury was that the "Reflecting Absence" team was
joined by Peter Walker, a well-known landscape architect in Berkeley, Calif.,
who had also submitted a plan to the competition.
"Without Walker, there would not be Arad," Dr. Gregorian said.
"Garden of Lights" had a lot of support, a juror said, but the support
evaporated after a "very unfortunate last presentation" in which
the design team failed to satisfy requests for refinements. Jurors who favored
the "Garden" plan moved to "Reflecting Absence."
The Times has already reported that the jury essentially forced a landscape
architect on Arad, giving him a shortlist of people to choose from and basically
telling him that if he didn’t pretty things up substantially, he had no chance
But the bit about "Garden of Lights" is even more germane, really.
The jury wants changes, the designers stay true to their vision, and –
bang – they’re out.
What’s more, the jurors seem to think that their job is not yet done. Here’s
further evidence that the memorial has essentially been comandeered by the jury,
rather than the jury simply picking a designer and letting them run with it:
In a sense, it is just the beginning of a process that could further transform
the memorial. Some jurors vowed that the voice of the jury would continue
to be heard. "We intend," Ms. Berry said, "to see it to the
Now I’m not convinced that having a memorial designed by this particular jury
is necessarily such a bad thing. It’s a very distinguished and intelligent group
of people, who have clearly thought long and hard about the whats and the whys
of building a memorial. They’re working and deliberating at a very high level,
and clearly were not swayed by political or public pressure.
Ironically, they might even have done the very thing that a couple of them
were adamant that they would not do. Here’s the Times article again:
Jurors read an article in The Times on Dec. 7 titled, "Ground Zero’s
Only Hope: Elitism," by Michael Kimmelman, the newspaper’s chief art
critic. He contrasted populism with democracy and suggested that the competition
be started over and limited "to participants of the jury’s expert choosing."
Jurors, including Mr. Puryear, were incensed. "Elitism was something
I was absolutely opposed to," he recalled. "It smacks of smug cultural
superiority, the opposite of the inclusive process we signed onto."
Certainly the jurors spent a lot of time and effort going through the thousands
of submissions. But smug cultural superiority seems to be exactly what the jury
ended up going with: deciding that they knew best, that they could and should
make sweeping changes to the Arad plan, and that if they couldn’t make similar
changes to a rival plan then it would be out of the running.
In fact, the voting process is very interesting in that, it would seem, no
one on the jury ever really voted for anything, at least not until
the very end. The jury set a 100% quorum for making decisions, and every single
juror needed to sign off on every single entry that was eliminated. In other
words, simply by withholding his elimination signature, any one of the jurors
could basically ensure that their favoured plan made to the final nine, and
even maybe the final three.
But at the end, it would seem that the jurors were quite disappointed in the
teams that they had picked. They gave the final nine each $130,000 to turn their
original presentations into professional renderings, models and computer animations
– and discovered that the promise they had seen was not, in many cases,
delivered upon. "A lot of these schemes didn’t deliver the promise of what
was on the stage-one boards," said Michael R Van Valkenburgh, a juror who
is a landscape architect. "It was a very heartbreaking time for the process.""
That probably explains why the shortlisted nine candidates were generally considered
to be so uninspiring. Some
of the jurors didn’t even want the finalists displayed in public. At least we
know now that their reaction was pretty much the same as our reaction: the jurors
weren’t as out of touch as we had thought.
When they saw that the public was on board with their misgivings, I wouldn’t
be surprised if the jury felt empowered to take more control over the final
design of the memorial. None of these designs was all that great, so best that
the jury start pushing the finalists in the right direction. Some designers,
of course, react much better to such pushing than others, and it’s clear that
Arad is one of them. He won in the end, and will always have his name associated
with the memorial if and when it’s built. In reality, however, the WTC memorial
will have been shaped at least as much by the jury as by him.