5,201 Ideas for 9/11 Memorial, From the Sublime to the Less So
By DAVID W. DUNLAP
Published: February 20, 2004
Still not satisfied with pool-filled voids on the site of the twin towers? Count your blessings. It could have been a monumental red question mark, a geodesic steel egg, a glowing apple spiked on a tapering spire, two ghostly white airliners with the victims' names inscribed on the seats or a steel column tilted open like a Pez dispenser to reveal a jumble of mangled artifacts.
Well, actually, it couldn't have been. A 13-member jury stood between New York and countless submissions to the World Trade Center memorial site competition whose creators were unconfined by the bounds of imagination. Or, in some cases, by taste.
All 5,201 of the entries that the jury sifted through went on display at www.wtcsitememorial.org <[url=http://www.wtcsitememorial.org>]http://www.wtcsitememorial.org>[/url]; yesterday. Visitors to the site who signed on to second-guess the jury "How could they have overlooked that?" probably left with a new respect for the jurors' devotion and patience in going through the entire lot without pay. Visitors may also have left with a sense that the world cared, no matter how clumsy or inartful the expression.
"Now everywhere and now everyone all over the world has the opportunity to view the global outpouring," said Anita Contini, the director of the memorial program at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which oversaw the competition and created the Web-based exhibition.
Besides providing a kaleidoscopic perspective on ground zero from 63 nations and 49 states (hello, Alaska?), the Web site also offers an insight into the evolution of the winning design, "Reflecting Absence," by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, competing entrants who became collaborators at the 11th hour.
The competition opened last April and closed June 30. Jury members examined every submission, winnowed the field to eight finalists in November and then chose "Reflecting Absence" during an all-day meeting at Gracie Mansion on Jan. 5.
Mr. Walker's landscape architecture firm, Peter Walker & Partners, had submitted its own entry, the centerpiece of which was a circular grove of 120 trees enclosing what Mr. Walker called a sacred glade. While quite different from Mr. Arad's concept, the design shows a distinct kinship in its austere, geometric formality.
The same cannot quite be said for the entry from Dr. Robert Jarvik, the inventor of the first artificial heart, who proposed heart-shaped titanium containers, filled with up to 10 pounds of mementos for each victim, carried within nearly 3,000 life-sized human figures arrayed on a vast banner.
Dr. Jarvik was not among the finalists. Nor were the designers of the question mark, from Cairo; the egg, from Rio de Janeiro; the airliners, from Hong Kong; and the tower-shaped container, from Munich. Also not among the finalists were a number of accomplished and well-known architects and artists, including the designers of the Irish Hunger Memorial (Brian Tolle) and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Manhattan (Peter Wormser).
But the jury wanted the world to see them all.
"It has to be shared," said Paula Grant Berry, a jury member whose husband, David S. Berry, was killed at the trade center. "We all said, `Oh my God, this would make an amazing exhibit.' "
Whether the Web site fulfills the jury's intention is another question. A visitor gets to see reproductions of the original 30-by-40-inch competition panels. The images can be enlarged until the accompanying text is legible on screen. The site can be searched by the entrants' names, states or countries. It can also be browsed by the six-digit identification numbers that kept the submissions anonymous during deliberations (with the possible exception of No. 278825, a weeping giant whose spherical torso and head could have been the work of no one but the sculptor Tom Otterness).
"You can see more on the Web site about these plans than you could ever see if you had them physically displayed," said John C. Whitehead, the chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. "And the cost and the huge space required to display 5,200 plans in one place are almost prohibitive. So it looks to me that it may be unlikely that we will physically display them. But we haven't reached that decision."
Vartan Gregorian, the chairman of the jury and the president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, said yesterday that the Internet display was a "good first step" but had its own limitations, one of them being that not everyone has a computer. Another drawback, he said, was the format of one single entry after another.
"It's the collectivity that's important," Dr. Gregorian said. "It will lose its impact if it's done on the installment plan. You have to have a major space."
A major space, indeed. If they were hung with no room between them, the panels would stretch nearly two and a half miles, roughly the distance from ground zero to Union Square. Jurors saw them in groups of 600 on easels in a 30th-floor office at the old Equitable Building, 120 Broadway, between Pine and Cedar Streets.
"It is very important for everyone to be able to see these boards up close, in their actual sizes and original texts," said Prof. James E. Young of the University of Massachusetts, another juror, "and to be able to wander among them, compare them side by side, talk with others about them, revisit them, and do the kinds of walk-throughs we did."
"It's more important," he said, "that they really get to think through as many of these proposals as is humanly possible, as a way to grasp the enormous accretion of ideas and kinds of memory generated by this competition."
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