Using WTC remnants for memorial design poses challenge
By Errol A. Cockfield Jr.
March 30, 2004
What's left of the World Trade Center, the very bones of the Twin Towers and the errant artifacts from the worst terror attack in the nation's history, sit now in a cavernous hangar at Kennedy Airport.
The 80,000-square-foot expanse houses -- among other reminders of the tragedy -- massive twisted steel beams, sections of the antennae that once dominated lower Manhattan's skyline, crushed police and fire vehicles, and "composite material," boulder-like masses of substances fused together by intense heat.
Deciding which pieces are worthy to go into an underground museum at Ground Zero will pose many challenges, but perhaps even more pressing will be the logistical quandary faced by planners. They must grapple with whether and how the large artifacts -- many of them weighing as much as 100,000 pounds and rising three stories -- could be incorporated into the site at all.
"This stuff weighs tons and tons," said Bartholomew Voorsanger, principal of Voorsanger & Associates, an architectural firm the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has hired to archive the artifacts. "They would have to build around it."
Officials with the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency leading the rebuilding of the site, say they are creating a committee of curators, historians and victims' family members who will choose the items that would go into the underground display area that's a key element of the "Reflecting Absence" design of architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker.
Anita Contini, an LMDC vice president, said yesterday that planners will have to consider questions of "load and stability" even as they decide on the story they want artifacts to tell. "The interesting part for a curator is to figure out how those can be installed," she said.
That issue has also provoked the emotions of some victims' family members who are pressuring the LMDC to include artifacts in the design's plaza.
Lee Ielpi, a retired Great Neck firefighter who lost his son Jonathan, also a firefighter, said the pieces should figure prominently when you enter the memorial. "It should be above ground, not just below ground," he said.
But Monica Iken, founder of September's Mission, another family group, said she was so disturbed after viewing the artifacts at the hangar that she doesn't want them on display at ground level. Visitors should be able to choose if they want to see those artifacts by heading below ground, she said. "I was prepared to see what I saw and I still had a difficult time with it," she said.
Contini said the LMDC had not come to a decision about the use of artifacts in the plaza, but she noted that Arad and Walker's plan does not currently include those elements above ground. And referring to concerns about preserving the items - which have rusted over time - Joanna Rose, a spokeswoman for the agency, said, "You don't want to expose these things to the elements."
Voorsanger & Associates was able to retrieve some of the artifacts from Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill before they were sold for scrap. Moving the items to JFK required cutting some pieces, Voorsanger said.
He also offered some advice to the memorial planners who will have to make some of the same considerations if the artifacts are moved back to Ground Zero. "They have to plan early," he said.
Tom Chase, president of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, said the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., faced similar hurdles in its restoration of the Enola Gay, the World War II aircraft that released an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. "This is out on the far end of difficulty," Chase said.
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