A few months after the attack at the World Trade Center, Rudolph Giuliani, then the outgoing mayor of recent York City, called for a “soaring” memorial to the folk who died on 9/11. But ten years later, the newly completed memorial carries us within the other way. Two massive square voids sited inside the footprints of the towers, it digs down almost as though the collapse of the towers had pounded out an area to deposit feelings about that whole wretched day. On all four sides of every void, waterfalls descend right into a broad reflecting pool, irresistibly drawing your eyes, and your thoughts, ever downward. But for all that, the memorial doesn’t carry you right into a dark place and leave you there. By an adroit balance of elements, it manages to recognize the inevitability of grief at this place, but in addition to some extent dispel it. Over the last ten years there were any selection of disappointing developments on the Trade Center site (more on that later), however the memorial has not turned out to be considered one of them. If there’s one lesson it offers, it’s that there is multiple option to soar.
The National 9/11 Memorial, to make use of its formal name, is the brainchild of an architect, Michael Arad, collaborating with the landscape designer Peter Walker. When he first submitted his proposal to the memorial design competition in 2003, Arad was an unknown 34-year-old working on the Ny city Housing Authority. A COUPLE OF months after the 9/11 attacks, he had made a drawing of an impossible idea for a memorial: two square holes that plunged during the surface of the Hudson River, in order that water poured down their sides as if they were drains. Was there a way, he wondered, to translate that image right into a reality on dry land? (See TIME’s 9/11 Memorial Site: “Beyond 9/11.”)
There was, nevertheless it will require a multi-year process stuffed with setbacks, squabbles and changes to the design that began even before Arad won the contest. In his master plan for the redevelopment of Ground Zero, a scheme that had won a separate competition only a few months earlier, the architect Daniel Libeskind had proposed that the exposed foundation pit of the towers, a 70-ft.-deep concrete “bathtub” scorched by the fires of the attack, could be kept open. He saw in those walls a raw memento of that bitter day and an emblem of the strength of the town and nation. (Because that bath held, the Hudson River didn’t come flooding into lower Manhattan.) The organizers of the memorial competition told applicants to respect Libeskind’s plan, which might have placed all the memorial plaza far below street level. To do this also meant, in effect, asking them to situate their memorials within a bigger and potentially overwhelming commemorative space. Arad ignored the instruction. Though his own scheme called for pools recessed 30-ft., he envisioned them surrounded by a street-level plaza associated with the encircling neighborhood.
Arad’s victory within the memorial competition meant that Libeskind’s idea of preserving that wounded pit was swept away. With it went it the potential for endowing the location with a primordial force that Arad’s more cleanly manufactured voids, with their polished bronze parapets and smooth-surfaced walls, can’t quite summon. But scale has an influence all its own, and by its very size all of the voids is set an acre in size the finished memorial still evokes the immensity of 9/11. Its right-angled geometry notwithstanding, apparently before you as an infinite abstract of nature, of cliffs, waterfalls and chasms. In a stiff wind, when the water whips and lashes the walls, it even has an unruliness of its own, like that restive, riderless horse within the funeral procession for John F. Kennedy. (See unpublished photos from 9/11 by photographer James Nachtwey.)
But the entire while that those deep, dark voids express a way of loss and grief and reach into your feelings concerning the grave the falling water exerts its ancient power to console. Or even on this immense memorial there’s an intimacy in one of the crucial details. For the reason that water pours into the tanks through narrow channels spaced an inch and a half apart, it drops first in separate rivulets. As those descend they combine right into a unified sheet of water, a mingling that speaks of the numerous lives joined by the vast event that was 9/11. Then there is a final gesture that seems designed to represent grief being drawn away eventually. On the center of every tank the pooled waters drain right into a square opening like one in every of Arad’s imagined holes within the surface of the Hudson and out of sight.
Arad’s design originally called for ramps that may lead visitors all the way down to galleries 30 ft. below ground. There the names of the 9/11 dead can be inscribed on walls visible behind the curtains of falling water. It will…