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The Pentagon Memorial's Lessons for New York

by Aimee Molloy, Feb 27, 2003
 

pentagon

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The Pentagon design.

By the time New York City's September 11 memorial jury narrows the Ground Zero memorial competition down to five finalists, the Pentagon will have already broken ground on its memorial - selected way back in March - for the 184 victims who died there on 9/11.

Many in New York wonder how the rebuilding and memorial process in Washington D.C. has gone so quickly, and seemingly so smoothly, as New Yorkers still struggle with some of the most basic questions about rebuilding. And some families of those who died in the attack on the World Trade Center - many of whom have struggled since the beginning for a voice in the rebuilding process - are surprised to learn of the extent to which Pentagon family members were consulted and included. Some involved in the memorial process in New York are asking, should we follow the Pentagon's example?

A Fast Pace
The response in Washington has been markedly different than in New York. Just one day after American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into a portion of the Pentagon's outer ring, Pentagon officials put rebuilding efforts in motion. While many civilians were killed at the Pentagon, including 59 airline passengers, the attacks were handled with military efficiency. The day after the attacks, the Pentagon announced their plan to have the destroyed area rebuilt within twelve months. On the one-year anniversary of September 11, 3,000 dislocated Pentagon employees were moved into new offices in the rebuilt wing.

Planning for a memorial to the 184 people killed in the Pentagon attacks progressed as expeditiously. The Baltimore office of the Army Corps of Engineers took charge of the memorial site selection and design in the month following 9/11. Their first point of order was to solicit advice from family members of those killed, who organized into a Family Member Steering Committee.

In July 2002, the Corps announced an open, international competition to design the memorial, with guidelines largely developed by the families. It called for a design that would sit on a 1.98-acre site, just 165 feet from where the plane hit the building, and that would "speak generally - as the U.S. government's official response, it represents all Americans, and specifically - it must also embody the deeply personal tragedy that the events of that day visited on the families of the victims." The competition was judged by a 13-member jury, which included two family members.

In just three days, the jury sifted through more than 1,100 entries, and selected six finalists, who were given eight weeks and $20,000 to produce a more detailed plan of their proposal. On March 3, 2003, five days after Daniel Libeskind's chosen design for the World Trade Center site garnered worldwide attention, the jury announced the winner in the Pentagon Memorial competition: the design by Kaseman Beckman Amsterdam Studios.

The Memorial: Light Benches
The architects, Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman, both recent graduates of the Columbia architecture program, were living in New York on September 11, 2001. Both are relatively unknown designers with no major projects. At the center of their scheme, which is called "Light Benches," 184 benches - each bearing the name of a victim killed in the Pentagon attacks - are cantilevered over small, lit pools. The benches are ordered along what Beckman and Kaseman call an "age line," ranging from 3 years for the youngest victim, to 71 for the oldest. To find a victim's name, a visitor to the memorial would locate the year in which that person was born, and then travel along that line to the birth day. The benches are also oriented along the flight path that American Airlines Flight 77 was traveling moments before crashing into the Pentagon. A grove of 70 cedar trees surrounds the field of benches.

Construction of the memorial is scheduled to begin this summer and be completed by September 2005. Like most memorials, the Pentagon 9/11 memorial will be funded through private donations rather than by public money.

Victims' family members, who have been at the forefront of the Pentagon memorial process since the first meeting in November 2001, have assumed much of the responsibility for fundraising.

Involving the Families
In both New York and D.C., victims' family members were closely involved in planning the guidelines and mission for each memorial. But at the Pentagon, family members were given a more significant role in choosing the winning design. The memorial jury invited family members to view all of the original 1,100 competition entries, even before the jury began going through them. Their comments were shared with the jury. "Family members have always been the primary decision makers," said Brett Eaton, spokesman for the Pentagon Renovation Project, the agency that is managing the memorial construction.

In New York, the memorial jury is reviewing the 5,200 designs submitted to the competition in private. "I think that the families would appreciate having an opportunity to review the finalists prior to the decision," said Imagine New York coordinator Michael Kuo, whose father died on 9/11, "but I do believe that the jury should have the ultimate say. I wouldn't want to mislead the families into thinking that they have a chance to lobby for one design over another."

Involving the families of Pentagon victims was easier than in New York for several reasons. First, there were far fewer families, a majority of whom were members of a military family, where compromise and agreement is an accepted way of life. As Jim Laychak, a competition juror whose brother died at the Pentagon on September 11, said, "It was important for the family members to be united, and to compromise when necessary. We all wanted the best memorial, and so our focus was to work together to make that happen."

The World Trade Center site memorial jury has one victim's family member, Paula Grant Berry. At public hearings about the memorial, some family members of those who died on 9/11 have said that Grant Berry should not be their sole representative. "I would have loved to see more family members on the jury," said Monica Iken, who lost her husband in the World Trade Center attacks and went on to establish September's Mission, "But D.C. was a different dynamic. There, families are the primary stakeholders. But here, there are so many different interests - the owner, the builder, downtown residents. Family members are just one strong voice among so many others."

"A lot of families have said they're very comfortable with one family member. Some said they wanted none, as they thought that families were just too close to the situation. For this same reason, no Vietnam veterans were on the jury to design the Vietnam memorial," said Anita Contini, who is the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation official in charge of the memorial. "Family members did have meetings with the jury and the jury is aware of the families' point of view, as well as the point of view of other stakeholders - residents, the international community and the communities of those impacted by the attacks at the Pentagon, Shanksville and in 1993."

Kuo said that he feels that having high-caliber design professionals on the jury - even if that means less representation from family members - is very important. "Take a look at Maya Lin's sketches from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial competition," he says. "If I were on that jury, I would have never been able to visualize how those black, white, green and blue pastel sketches would somehow be developed into what is widely acknowledged as the most powerful memorial in the country today."

Different Places
Another significant difference between the two memorials may be that at the Pentagon site, the remains of all but five people were identified. In New York, however, the World Trade Center site is the final resting place for hundreds of people whose remains were not identified. This makes questions about rebuilding, and memorializing, much more complicated. The Pentagon, a government building in the suburbs of Washington D.C., is also a different sort of place than Ground Zero, in the heart of lower Manhattan.

Reed Kroloff, former editor of Architecture magazine and an advisor to the Pentagon memorial competition, said, "While the Pentagon is a public space, it's still a military building. Had this happened to the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial - icons of the city - the response would have been far different, and far more difficult."

New York and Washington are, of course, just different cities in general. New York is a designer's town, and a place where discourse, and disagreement, have often led to some of the city's best projects. As Terry Riley, architecture curator at MOMA and Chairman of the Pentagon Memorial Jury said, "New Yorkers have a tendency for critical discourse more than any other place. It helps to define who we are as a city."

Aimee Molloy is the Director of Exhibits at the Municipal Art Society. The exhibit "Results of the Competition to Design the Pentagon Memorial" is on view at the Urban Center Galleries, 457 Madison Avenue, through August 12, 2003.




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