Evolving Reflections – The National September 11 Memorial

March 12, 2013 at 5:56 pm Leave a comment


National September 11 Memorial, New York, NY
[Reflecting pool at North Tower, September 11 Museum by Davis Brody Bond in background] Dedicated September 11, 2011, Michael Arad, architect and Peter Walker, landscape architect; Photo by La Tanya S. Autry, 3/6/13

My recent visit to the National September 11 Memorial continues to linger on my mind. Over the years I have read many articles by scholars and journalists about the site. So I already had an idea of the memorial layout and design strategies. However, my experience at the site profoundly affects how I now understand it. Some key reflections:

  • The scale of Michael Arad‘s beautiful and austere pools on the architectural footprint of the World Trade Center is impressive. The immense size prohibits the ground-level viewer from seeing into the bottom of the open grave-like centers.
  • The waterfalls create a very dynamic element. The persistent sound of water is probably soothing. But on a stormy day such as when I visited, the flow of water was unsettling.  The unruly waves of water blowing out of the pool created a highly dramatic aspect that I didn’t anticipate.
  • The park-like space encourages contemplation and interaction. But it is counter-acted by the heavily guarded borders. As I expected, the area is highly regulated. Visitors have to secure passes to enter and go through airport-like security measures. But I hadn’t thought a great deal about how these restrictions intervene with the city layout and public memory until I was at the memorial.
  • Additionally, after following the roped paths to the exit,  a gift store – the visitor center, confronts the visitor. This consumerist feature relates the memorial to the prevalent museum strategy of blockbuster art exhibitions and, as Professor Marita Sturken describes, the “kitchificscation of experience.”  Yet, the memorial visitor fortunately isn’t forced to walk through the shop as is the case at many museums.

In a  2012 Huffington Post editorial, Sturken argued that the National September 11 Memorial needs to contextualize 9/11 within the broader realm of human rights issues.  She cites various memorial strategies that people have implemented in several South American countries.
As an art historian, I appreciate her position. Yet I think it’s important to note the role of politics in shaping the public memory of 9/11. I think the National September 11 Memorial is responding to our current situation that remains embroiled in a contentious flux involving definitions of national tragedy, military conflict, anti-terrorist measures, and citizenship. Similar to the surrounding construction zone, this memorial is still in a state of evolution. With time the memorial’s interpretative strategies will probably change and perhaps become more expansive as Sturken suggests.

Entry filed under: Memorials/Monuments, Public Space. Tags: , , , , , , .

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