Nearly two years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, New York developers announced a challenge: Design a memorial for a shocked and grieving nation.
Anyone could enter the competition. Entries poured in from architects, artists, students, and other creative people around the world. A panel of 13 judges reviewed 5,201 proposals. It took six months to select eight finalists. Behind closed doors, one of the judges, Maya Lin, praised a simple memorial originally titled Reflecting Absence. The architect, 34-year-old Michael Arad, had never built anything larger than a police station.
Michael Arad's VisionBorn in London, Michael Arad attended high school in Mexico, served in the Israeli Army, studied at Dartmouth College and Georgia Tech, and eventually settled in New York. On September 11, 2001, he stood on the roof of his Manhattan apartment building and watched the second plane strike the World Trade Center. Haunted, Arad began sketching plans for a memorial long before the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) launched their competition.
Arad's concept for Reflecting Absence featured two 30-foot deep voids, symbolizing the absence of the fallen Twin Towers. Ramps would lead down to underground galleries where visitors could stroll past cascading waterfalls and plaques engraved with the names of those who died.
Although the judges admired Michael Arad's entry, they felt that it needed more work. They encouraged Arad to join forces with California landscape architect Peter Walker. By all reports, the partnership was rocky. However, in Spring 2004 the team unveiled an expanded plan that incorporated a scenic plaza with trees and walkways.
Early Renderings for the 9/11 Memorial
- Arial view of the waterfalls
- Sectional view of the northern waterfall
- Memorial Plaza at night
- Memorial Hall
Trouble Looms for the 9/11 MemorialCritics responded to the 9/11 Memorial plans with mixed reviews. Some called Reflecting Absence "moving" and "healing." Others said that the waterfalls were impractical and the deep pits hazardous. Still others protested the idea of memorializing the dead in a space located underground.
To make matters worse, Michael Arad butted heads with architects in charge of New York reconstruction projects. Daniel Libeskind, master planner for the World Trade Center site, said that Reflecting Absence did not harmonize with his own vision. J. Max Bond, Jr. and others from the Davis Brody Bond Aedas architecture firm came on board and tweaked Arad's memorial design--against Arad's wishes.
After stormy meetings and construction delays, cost estimates for the memorial and the museum soared to nearly $1 billion. In May 2006, New York Magazine reported that "Arad's memorial teeters on the brink of collapse."
Michael Arad's Dream TriumphsCompromise is the cornerstone of every great project. Like Libeskind's dramatically altered Freedom Tower, Reflecting Absence has seen many transformations. It's now known as the National September 11 Memorial. The names of those who died are inscribed on the bronze parapet on the plaza level, instead of in underground galleries. Many other features that Arad wanted have been modified or eliminated. Still, his core vision--deep voids and rushing water--remains.
Architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker worked with a water architect and many engineers to construct the enormous waterfalls. Family members or victims remained actively involved as they deliberated over the arrangement of the engraved names. On September 11, 2011, ten years after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, a formal dedication ceremony marked the completion of the National 9/11 Memorial. The underground museum building and pavilion by Snøhetta are expected to open in the Spring of 2014.
Learn About the National 9/11 MemorialThe September 11 memorial site is designed to honor the nearly 3,000 people who were killed in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and also the six people who died when terrorists bombed the New York World Trade Center on February 26, 1993. More generally, the National 9/11 Memorial speaks out against terrorism everywhere and offers a promise of renewal.
To learn more about the evolution of the National 9/11 Memorial, see the beautifully illustrated National Geographic book A Place of Remembrance. () Also browse the links at the bottom of this page for information about September 11 monuments and reconstruction plans.
Plan Your Visit
- 10th Anniversary of 9/11: Memorial Events in New York City
- Ground Zero Visitors Guide
- How To See Ground Zero and the World Trade Center Site
Sources for This Article
- Reflecting Absence, commentary by Michael Arad from Places magazine, May 2009 (pdf file)
- The Breaking of Michael Arad, New York magazine
- Cost and Safety Put Memorial's Striking Vision at Risk, New York Times
- Reflecting Absence: Exploring The 9/11 Memorial, Huffington Post
- 9/11 Memorial Nears Completion, Ending Complicated, Contentious Process, Gotham Gazette
- Ironing Out Where to Purpose 9/11′s Iconic Steel Cross, New York Observer
- 9/11 Memorial Official Site
- Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC)
- The Port Authority website at www.panynj.gov/wtcprogress/memorial-museum.html
- Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center Project Update