Who designed the WTC memorial?

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

of winning.

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.

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5 Responses to Who designed the WTC memorial?

  1. Tod Papageorge says:

    It will be interesting to see if the jury, now having effectively designed the memorial, will repeat their earlier call for all of the entries to be publicly exhibited.I find Arad’s plan–or at least the design finally urged on him –to be a poor result to what initially appeared to be an inspiring process. But, if I’M disappointed, what about Daniel Libeskind, who’s seen the central concept of his winning site design–the 30′ ‘pit’

    –summarily dismissed by this same jury ? I’ve not read any discussion at all about this, or about the implications of a ground level plan for such a memorial (i. e., won’t it end up being just another park to lunch in?)

    Finally, where are those who wrote passionately about, and against, the eight finalist entries? Have they finally been exhausted by the process into a state of yielding, unhappy acceptance?

  2. Ray says:

    With 5201 submitted boards viewed by the jury, one can only imagine what kind of collective will all of the jury members REALLY had to use in finding the eight finalists. I am sure that the LMDC has a plan to display the 40″ by 30″ presentation boards that did not make the final cut. And, when they are scanned and posted on the internet, then, all of the worlds eyes can stretch their minds to encompass such a massive number of unique memorial concepts. It makes me think this: “I wonder what other designs were drawn for the Great Pyramids that did not make the cut?”

  3. ben says:

    Go elitist. Architecture is not a form in which compromise sits well. I live in London, and by God, among the most beautiful buildings in the world (designed by Christopher Wren and others,) sit the most appallingly stupid-looking.

    Until quite recently, that list included literally every tall building in London. Every single tall building (and they stand out because of London’s far-seeing “no building upwards” laws designed to create sprawl and enrich landlords)was insanely ugly and stupid looking. One is kind of cool because it has the elevator shaft in an exo-structure outside of the building. And the Lloyds building is a magnificent piece of wankery…but man…don’t let second rate architects anywhere NEAR the new World Trade Centre.

  4. Dear Sir.

    The following letter was sent to LMDC. We are looking to connect with like minded organisations and people.

    “We appreciate the efforts you are making on behalf of the nation in trying to designate ground zero primarily as a memorial site.. As time goes by it is gradually becoming apparent that competing commercial interests, which are not compatible with the sentiments of the bereaved families, and which have delayed any direct effort at reconstruction to date, will continue ad infinitum – until it is realized that the underlying spirit asking for the entire site to be made into national memorial is the only one that will ultimately prevail

    With the above in mind, our purpose herein is to share council with you on seeking ways and means to facilitate the decision-making process and arrive at the only right conclusion.

    At the beginning of the rebuilding process we proposed to the LMDC that a classical pillared pavilion, much magnified in size and height, with a three acre observation deck five hundred feet above street level, surrounded by a ten acre park, should dominate the center of the site as a colossal memorial.

    We further proposed that two tiers (30 acres) of the underground area be designated as the nationÌs largest and most up-to-date technological training institute. That it should provide free tuition, board and lodging to foreign students from undeveloped nations with the purpose of sharing with them the type of advanced technology that is required to effectively run a country.

    Altruism leavened with practicality is the most effective method of exiting broad national interest. We believe that the idea of erecting a one-of-a-kind colossal memorial – that will not only attract millions of visitors annually – but which also serves to ward off future terrorist attacks by disenchanted and impoverished nations, will appeal the people of this country. The aim is for the entire project to be funded and maintained by donations from the American public.”

    If you are interested in further communication along these lines, we will be happy to send you more detailed plans on the above

    Sincerely, Stuart Pringle

  5. Not Of Consequence says:

    Who designed it? The son of a foreign diplomat, who was foreign born, and served in a foreign military.

    In the process, eliminated thousands of actual American architects vying for the chance to design a 911 memorial in America.

    There is a time and a place for nationalism and it certainly should have been applied in a case involving 911.

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