9/11 Memorial Landscape Architecture

9/11 World Trade Center Memorial Landscape Architecture

9/11 World Trade Center Memorial Landscape Architecture

The 9/11 Memorial to the victims of the World Trade Center attack opens today, 11th September 2011. The memorial was conceived by the 42-year-old Israeli-born architect Michael Arad, with help from co-architect, Gary Handel, and landscape architect Peter Walker. The first pool opens on the 10th anniversary of the attack. When completed, it will be a tree-covered plaza with two giant pools marking the footprints of the Twin Towers. Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, was on the jury which chose the design. It is difficult to find similarities between the 9/11 attack and Vietnam events but there are undoubted similarities between the memorials. Both are sunken spaces, unlike most traditional memorials. Londoners may compare them to the Merchant Seaman’s Memorial on Tower Hill below), designed by Edward Maufe, which is also sunken and has names carved on black granite. Which of the three groups of people is best memorialised by a sunk space? The Vietnam memorial was criticised for making the fallen soldiers anti-heroes, associated with an unjust war. This cannot be the intention for the 9/11 Memorial.
Since the minimalist squares of the 9/11 memorial are Platonic Forms, they seem closer to God than to Man. Plato’s forms were the universal perfect shapes which must exist before any particular forms can exist on earth. Does their use in a sunk space indicate that the victims of the 9/11 atrocity are destined for a perfect world? Or are they symbols that Death, Revenge and Destruction may also be Platonic Forms which shape the world? If the squares were simply the outlines of the Twin Towers they could be historical traces, like the outline of the old fortress on the Place de la Bastille in Paris. Repetition of the square motif with the pools makes them Platonic forms in my eyes.
Judging only from the photographs, I think the 9/11 Memorial is very beautiful and very moving. Its sustainability credentials are also admirable. But should it be a memorial to human folly, not to the essential eternal wonder of the creation. The pile of rubble on the right-hand photograph would have been a good aid to remembering the tragedy. If it was too dangerous and too big then it could have been 3D-scanned and cast it in steel salvaged from the ruins, at a reduced scale.
There are always other ways of looking at memorials. The 9/11 attack was a disaster from every point of view, injuring both the cause of the attackers and the cause of the attacked. My view is that the Americans should have behaved like a Christian nation and, with the greatest heroism, turned the other cheek. This would have made an immense contribution to the Christian virtues of purity, forbearance, ethical conduct and the rule of law. So I recommend the following interpretation of the 9/11 Memorial: it is a symbol of the lofty idealism for which everyone admires America at its best. It tells us how the nation should have responded to the 9/11 attack. A peaceful response might have dealt a crushing blow to terrorism everywhere, showing that sacrifice purifies the victim and vilifies the perpetrators. This would remind us that the War on Terror was a misconceived and badly executed blunder. So the deep truth in the 9/11 Memorial would be ‘Forgive us, O Lord, for we knew not what were about to do’.

The precedent for sunken memorials with names carved on polished stone walls

30 thoughts on “9/11 Memorial Landscape Architecture

  1. Christine

    “Eerily shaped like a plane this pond (near the temporary memorial at Shanksville) is actually a natural feature bought about in the recovery from strip mining coal.” [ http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/Pond%20Landscape%202.jpg ]

    The description of the events leading to the plane crashing into the field fit your description of ‘Americans behaving like a Christian nation’:

    “As the four terrorists, wearing red bandanas, approached the cockpit and took over control, passengers and crew members were able to make phone calls to friends and loved ones. Through these calls they learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and realized that their plane was also a planned victim of terrorism.

    These conversations and the cockpit voice recorder then revealed that the passengers collectively decided to attack the cockpit and thwart the terrorists’ goals. Led by passenger Todd Beamer with his now famous words “Let’s roll,” the passengers attacked the cockpit and eventually overpowered the terrorists, with their struggle resulting in the plane crashing.”

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Christianity does have the doctrine of the Just War, for which the conditions are:
      1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
      2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
      3. there must be serious prospects of success;
      4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power as well as the precision of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
      The passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, and Todd Beamer (whose last words were “Let’s roll!”), unquestionably satisfied these criteria. But I think George W Bush would have to work hard to apply them to his War on Terror. He could satisfy the first criterion but I am doubtful about criteria 2 and 4 and have no view about criterion 3. I only have a slight knowledge of international affairs but a stance on these issues should, I believe, have been clear in the mind of the 9/11 Memorial designer and in the minds of the design jury. Symbolism is always important in design. For memorials it is a central consideration, though whether the response should be that of an artist or that of the client is hard to judge. The dilemma can be put as a question: should the design be selected on the basis or Emotion or Reason?
      Wiki says “Let’s roll” is a catchphrase that has been used extensively as a term to move and start an activity, attack, mission or project”. So it is worth remembering that in India a Chakravartin a great king who ‘sets the wheels rolling’ and becomes a world ruler.

  2. Christine

    My response to George Bush’s dilemma is perhaps of no assistance in understanding the ‘war on terror’ but maybe a study of the historical conflicts of nations using the Just War theory might be enlightening?

    In terms of designing memorials: the client usually provides a brief which is based on reason, while the artist responds with a design, the most powerful or evocative proposal usually being based on emotion.

    There are many memorials worldwide which perhaps might guide to a client of a sense of what is appropriate in briefing terms for different types of memorials.

    It was amazing to watch the relatives at the 9/11 memorial taking paper impressions of their loved ones names. This type of spontaneous interaction with the memorial tends to suggest it is a highly successful response.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      It is right to remember the families of the victims and I am sure they would find more solace in the right-hand photo than the left-hand photo, above.
      I have not visited Oradour-sur-Glane but think it a great way of remembering a great crime.
      With much simplification, one can summarise the history of European war memorials in the last two centuries as:
      – monuments to victory (eg Waterloo and Trafalgar)
      – monuments to regret (eg First World War memorials)
      – embarassment (eg the Second World War)
      Britain did not get round to making a significant memorial to those who died in the Second World War until the 21st century and, to me, the design of the Armed Forces Memorial is unsatisfactory. As well as remembering the fallen, it is inevitable that the design of a memorial says something about the attitude of society to the conflict in question and this is a very difficult thing to write into a brief. It may in fact be a thing for commentators to interpret long after the event. But I think William the Conqueror had the right idea: after his victory at Hastings in 1066 he built Battle Abbey to atone for all the blood he had shed. I guess it more of an insurance policy than an act of contrition.
      In my view, designers should give much more thought to SYMBOLISM at the outside of a design project. It is one of the qualities which could be added to the Vitruvian trilogy of Commodity, Firmness and Delight (though one could argue that that it would be included in a better translation of Venustas).

  3. Christine

    Perhaps William the Conqueror felt their was some portent at His Coronation that required an act of atonement? [ http://www.mytimemachine.co.uk/williami.htm ] Pope Alexander had send a banner of support at the time of the Norman invasion. [ http://hoocher.com/William_the_Conqueror/William_the_Conqueror.htm ]

    So perhaps the subsequent act of Church building (he also built a Church when he married Matilda without papal approval) reflected a supposed injustice not in the act but in the execution of the act? Do you suppose the insurance policy of church building was a form of indulgence?
    [ http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1881152,00.html ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      That is a great story about William I’s coronation it is no wonder that Pope’s became unpopular in England, if Alexander supported the invasion. But yes, I think the money spent on Battle Abbey compares with money spent on buying an indulgence – and this might be a good way to interpret the symbolism of the 9/11 memorial. Christians have always been gratified when sinners repent their sins.

  4. Grant

    Maybe leaving the ruins would of been too immediate, so the memorial has taken a step away from the reality of the original deed, is that a good thing to sanitise the event?
    Personally i think the design is brilliant, easy to interpret and in some ways it does what is says on the tin. tried to think of something better, but could not (like i am a world renowned designer or something).

    The storey that i get is the middle hole descending into darkness, no light, no life…..the end.

    As for the Christian ‘turn the other cheek’ i would argue that it was in the context of a country being occupied (ie the Romans) rather than the ‘just war’ scenario. ie the individual response to a situation of being harassed, rather than a intervention as a third party to seeing wrong committed from one person to another, (ie a teacher splitting up a bully from the bullied or just a plain fight, in playground terms).

    I have come to the conclusion that Intervention depends a lot on empathy and knowledge. Any kind of leader that shows any sign of being Psychopath should be ruled out we have had too many of these people getting to power. So good bye Tea party!!!! True leadership is about empathy, still making tough decisions, looking at long game, being accountable, being humble enough to delegate when needed, and asking what is the wise thing to do? (ie not necessarily out of self interest).

    Final thought, the memorial should also be for all have died in this war. On both sides as Death effects all people. So with humility we are sorry and morn the deaths of the many thousands of human beings who had the chance of a full life taken away from them by the few…there has to be another way….see above

    Always Reason. I remember my Father saying to me that he would never hit me in anger, he would go away calm down and then think of a punishment, i had a choice, A wallop or pocket money taken away, always took the former as at even a young age i was aware of the long game.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Grant, I agree that the sunk pools are brilliant – and re wallops I made the same choice as you at school (on many occasions!).
      The Christian attitude to conflict comes from Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to ‘save our sins’. It is therefore at the very heart of Christianity and given the continuing popularity of this faith in America I think the ‘other cheek’ alternative to bombing should have had the full consideration it deserves. The 9/11 memorial is not exactly a war memorial, though the same confusion exists with the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbour.

  5. Grant

    I think the association of the war and 9/11 so close that most people will not separate them on such a dramatic memorial. So maybe a ‘turning of the cheek’ in this situation could be the recognition of the suffering of the many due to the initial murder of the 3000.

    Your argument of ‘Forgiveness’ is a strong one. The gospel of Christianity is the sinner in the dock, admitting their wrong asking to be forgiven, with the proviso of changing their ways to another (repentance), then walking free of punishment (though not necessarily consequences), christ stands in their place and faces the punishment. So simple and yet so hard to replicate as humans one to another. The hope of forgiving another is ‘to heap burning coals on their head’ as in they will also forgive due to the heat of guilt/gratitude. It works on all levels unless you are dealing with a psychopath!

    It would’ve been a great debate, so should we just turn the other cheek? Would it of neutralised the Taliban? or at least the ideology turned a few away from their waring ways? Well then at that point the UN or a Muslim equivalent should of stepped in to fill the void and create hope.

    Heard a great quote from a comedian, “No light at the end of the tunnel?…you’re in a cave, stupid!”

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The economist in me is tempted to respond: ‘Never mind the morality – turning the other cheek would have done more good at a lower price and with fewer deaths’. Robert McNamara might have drawn this conclusion from his time as a cost-benefit expert with Ford and his experience running what the Vietnamese call The American War. In his time as US Secretary of Defense he used to calculate the differential costs of killing Vietnamese (guns, napalm, bombs, agent orange etc).

  6. Grant

    The argument could’ve been from many strands, with those with the most to gain out of a war being elected to go…exit the Tea Party. The rhetoric would’ve soon stopped once they were out on the front line.

    Though the general paranoia that is still prevalent in the US today would’ve never even allowed the question.

    So the big question would be, what are the consequences for the world if the other cheek had been turned?


    “He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself”

    -Chinese proverb

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The Chinese proverb is brilliant. Nobody can know what would have hapenned if the other cheek had been turned. With good luck, Al-Qaeda would have been shamed and America’s prestige would have soared – as the bastion of liberty and the arsenal of democracy. With bad luck, it could have turned out like Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 ‘piece of paper’. It is the latter example which weighed on the Big Bush and the Little Bush. If Hitler had called a halt in 1938 his place in history would be very different. But if Britain had gone to war in 1938, unprepared as it was, the country might have been invaded. In any event, I think it would have been better for the Americans to say ‘we will take 9/11 on the chin but if anyone else tries this we will respond with a very big stick’. I do not think the big stick should have included armies of occupation. The usual lament is ‘too little – too late’. For 9/11 I think it should be ‘too much – too soon’.

  7. Grant

    A lot be said for a few thousand years of collective wisdom over a few hundred of individual thought.

    I think like Gardens each situation in time is like space totally individual. So we can learn from the past, but it is no guarantee due to so many variables. Thus the strain on making any decision. Good or bad. But the conclusion of this story seems to be that all angles should at least be considered and played out in a giant game plan way. I am sure this is how it works for a lot of the time, its just that we never hear about it. The classic being the options during the Cuban missile crisis.

    There was a great series on R4 using the ‘what if ‘scenario for world history events. A good one was what if Hitler had waited to invade Russia and concentrated on England and not stopped bombing the airfields ( he changed to the cites after Berlin was bombed in a fit of rage). Thus opening the very real possibility of the sea invasion with air supremacy. Then the next spring took on Russia…..thankfully we shall never know. (unless you have a 1980’s De Lorean parked outside and a suitable sized car park)

    I think your final comment is about the pendulum effect of over compensation from an opposite perceived failure. Plus the denting of pride of the big school bully always has ramifications, even if they are a bit dim.

    So what next?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Yes definitely re considering a design from as many angles as possible. If this is not done, it is all to easy for designers to make fools of themselves.
      Re Hitler invading England, I think Churchill wrote in his memoirs that although everyone was scared about this (fanned by him, of course), he had experience of seabourne invasions (ie Gallipoli and Normandy) and they were much more difficult than people thought! I do not think it could have been done in 1940. For example, in 1066 William was able to get fodder for his warhorses in England, but where would Hitler have got his fuel from? And what if 12″ naval guns were positioned on the south coast? And how would air superiority have been gained (look at the meagre results from bombing Port Stanley airfield)?
      Re the 9/11 memorial, I think (as with other difficult projects) there should have been a competition to write the brief before the competition for the design.

  8. Grant

    Just thought the proverb is the brief completed, two graves (a bit of a Twilight Zone moment).

    So as the project is completed, now change the brief to fit. This has been done on many occasions with architects that i have worked with, build it and i will submit a drawing, a case of the tail wagging the dog.

    May do a picture and put it on my blog to stir up some controversy.

    ok going to sign off for a while as i really must get on with some work!!!

    Cheers Tom

  9. Christine

    Yes, vengeance is never a good idea. [ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vengeance ] It seems that the notion of vengeance relates to inflicting an unjust injury on another, perhaps by using excessive means so that an act of self-defence becomes an act of aggression?

    Thinking again about the concept of a ‘just’ war. There are two questions 1) is the end just? 2) is the means just?

    The first question answers 1) should you go to war? The second question answers 2) how should you conduct the war?

    Definitely, for a designer, considering all possible options is worthwhile.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Christine, your comment leads me to three thoughts. First, I agree about vengeance, but have a sneaky liking for films in which baddies get their just deserts. Second, my grandfather, who suffered in both World Wars, thought the First was unjustified and the Second was an unavoidable necessity. Third, with the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the critics have said that there is nothing which would even count as ‘victory’ so it is difficult not to find a strong element of vengeance in the conflicts.
      Thinking further about the Merchant Navy Memorial (photo above), I see it as appropriate. The sailors did not attack anyone but were themselves attacked, so it is good that there is nothing vainglorious about the design. Also, I see the polished marble walls of the sunk enclosure as a symbol of the watery deep. There is a great difference between this and soviet war memorials, which are heroic in the nineteenth century tradition. Memorials are an exceptionally interesting subject. I know that the statues of Saddam Hussein were pulled down and wonder what is happening to his other monuments.

  10. Christine

    Perhaps there is sometimes an element of political expedience in government’s response to attacks? It is very difficult to know. Maybe responses represent both the potential to placate ‘public anger’ and reduce costs (save lives)?

    International conflict seems such a difficult and fraught subject. And a huge responsibility for both individual states and the international community, given that lives and histories are involved.

    In Iraq they are reinstating the victory arch. [ http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/world/middleeast/06iraq.html ] There seems to be a mixed response to this eventuality, but ultimately, this is a question for the Iraqi people to decide.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I think the Iraqi’s are right to keep what the NYT describes as ‘the reconstruction of one of the most audacious symbols in Baghdad of Mr. Hussein’s long, violent and oppressive rule’. Not a few Roman Emperors were ‘violent and oppressive’ but I would not want cities bereft of their triumphal arches, and more than I would want Paris to lose its Arc de Triomphe ‘designed by Jean Chalgrin in 1806, and its iconographic program pitted heroically nude French youths against bearded Germanic warriors in chain mail’. You can’t change history by getting rid of historical monuments and in the reported mis-quote of George Santayana’s famous comment: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. But I would be tempted to add something to Hussein’s Victory Arch: I would like to see it in restored marshland, as a memorial to the almost-wrecked civilization of the Marsh Arabs, whose habitat is one of the candidates for the Garden of Eden. This would also improve the visual appearance of Saddam’s monument.

  11. Christine

    Yes Princes and Pope’s have been notorious too, and yet they have certainly contributed some of the most outstanding monuments to history. The Medici’s have been called the Godfathers of the Renaissance. [ http://www.pbs.org/empires/medici/florence/index.html ]

    Thankfully sporting contests with such auspicious historical origins do not always have as their goals “to hospitalise their opponents.”

    I am trying to imagine the Victory Arch with the restored marshland…

  12. Mark

    Re: Tom’s initial initial piece remarks on the square shape of the memorials and platonic forms. Are not squares associated with earth and circles heaven?

    The squares are the perfect historic reference to the (now mythical) towers. The reflected sky the place they once occupied and from which the attacks came.Everyone comments on the clear blue sky of that day. The water falling into the reflection of the sky suggests an upward movement of the water, while we know it is being pulled back towards earth and into a (square) abyss. This sets up a great dynamic. 9/11 was all about the sky and falling. Buildings falling. People falling.

    Icarus fell. America was caught with its pants down.The men with the box cutters outsmarted the men with the cruise missiles.

    If the shape in the centre was circular, rather than square, would we get to heaven any quicker?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Yes, the circle is a symbol of heaven in Indian and Chinese culture but not, I think, in Europe.
      I agree entirely with your analysis of the monument as built. But you seem to be saying that the memorial is and should be a memento of what happened. This is a strong argument: ‘let us remember what happened and leave the interpretation of the surrounding events to history’. If this was the intention I think we should view it as a postmodern memorial: not political, not religious, not sentimental, not viewing the departed as heroes or victims or anything, unrelated to the War on Terror. I like it.
      What do you think of my proposal for Saddam’s Victory Arch?

  13. Christine

    If the Vatican stairway to heaven is any guide the shape in the centre ought to be circular…[ http://www.flickr.com/photos/insiderperks/5260941874/ ]

    However, if we are considering 1) the act 2) the victims of the act 3) the responses or reactions to the act by various parties (ie the people, the families, the government, other nations, the united nations) there are different aspects to consider which might require different symbolic representations.

    Or perhaps the memorial is only concerned with the internal – the victims, the families, the people and the government? (Let us remember what happened).

    It takes a considerable time for the events to crystallize so that their meaning in history can start to be appreciated.

    Without fully understanding the context and events of Saddam and the Iraqi Marsh Arabs the proposal for Saddam’s Victory Arch seems to be very appropriate: the landscape setting is very fragile and ephemeral and the Victory Arch in contrast is imposing and dominates its setting. It seems to mirror the events which took place.

    Do you suppose the Marsh Arab’s might approve of your proposal?
    [ http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2011/04/pope-concedes-heaven-is-not-real-place.html ] It is interesting that archaeology might be able to locate Paradise afterall even if it is struggling a bit with Heaven!

  14. Tom Turner Post author

    Christianity was greatly influenced by Greek philosophy and probably sees the circle and square as being equally close to heaven. It is interesting to note that Christianity modernised itself during the renaissance by adopting Greek philosophy but now seems to be suffering as a result. The attempt to use reason to prove the existence of God does not seem to have worked. In the longer term it might have been better for the church if it had rested on faith and belief, hoping people would experience the religious life as a better life than a non-religious life.
    Re the Marsh Arabs, see today’s comment on the Victory Arch post.

  15. Christine

    You are right Tom, the relationship between faith and reason is a challenge. Sometimes too much emphasis is given to faith, and we wonder what happened to reason – and sometimes too much emphasis is given to reason, and we wonder what happened to faith!

    The better life as you say, must be partially a materially better life and partially a spiritually better life. Perhaps it is a balance between these two?

    Perhaps they should have said of God, ‘He thinks, therefore He is!’

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Nice adaptation of Descartes. I like the idea that a ‘more-spiritual’ life, contrasts with a ‘more-material’ life and is more a question of how one lives than of a metaphysical stance on doctrinal issues.

  16. Josef

    Returning to the proposed memorial space I read the sunken pool (which from the photographs appears to descend into infinity) as a literal inversion of the previous structures inhabiting the site. It is as though the bold, aggressive and strident sentinels were sucked back into the ground. Much has been made of the phallic nature of skyscrapers (less perhaps of the homoerotic undertones of an airliner penetrating said skyscrapers)and the sunken garden has yonic (?) or womb-like connotations, which could be read as a compensation for the “masculine” act of destruction. Whilst one tends to think of this male-female/ yin-yang dynamic as something to do with eastern philosophy, I’m personally reminded of the balancing between the pillar of severity and the pillar of mercy in the Kabbalah, which has subtly influenced the Judeo-Christian tradition.

    Elaborating on this masculine-feminine dynamic it is worth contrasting the sudden violence of the twin towers as a spectacular event (watched by a global population, over in a few hours)with the subtlety of a garden (developing over many many years, appreciated at a very intimate level.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I watched a TV programme about a Staten Island dentist Simon Leventhal whose hobby, for 30 years before 9/11, was photographing the Twin Towers. But on the actual day he was on vacation in California. In the most emotional part of the broadcast he explained his feelings about not being there on the day – and his personal shame at a voyeuristic wish that he had been there to photograph the disaster. The concept of voyeurism fits with a sexual and gendered analysis of the event.

  17. Johanne Abadie

    Circle = Archetypal Shape for Heaven, eternity and the universe.
    Square = Archetypal Shape for Earth, the finite and immediate realm.

    Art History 101. Pantheon incorporates both visibly and invisibly in its design and is the most highly regarded example of these features that are exhibited in Western and Eastern philosophies, architectural and urban planning.

    The 9/11 memorial is an urban feature that idolizes the symptomology of Rem Koolhaas’s “The Generic City” theory; ironically in the middle of NYC. The initial act, the ‘war’ and the monument are about identity.


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