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Reflecting Absence - the battle to build New York’s 9/11 memorial




People walk along a construction fence depicting the upcoming '9/11 Memorial' at Ground Zero, in New York, September 8, 2011.
People walk along a construction fence depicting the upcoming '9/11 Memorial' at Ground Zero, in New York, September 8, 2011.
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

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How do we best commemorate those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001? In imagining a memorial to the fallen towers, young architect Michael Arad envisioned holes in the Hudson River, with water flowing into them. That design evolved into his finished memorial, “Reflecting Absence,” which features waterfalls cascading into twin reflecting pools where the towers stood, ringed by the names of the dead etched in bronze. Arad’s submission was chosen out of over 5,200 entries by a jury which included Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin and a member of one of the victims’ families. Construction began in 2004, and along with the adjoining museum complex, cost around $700 million. But its journey to completion has not been without controversy. Perhaps most contentious has been the argument over how to list the names of the victims, and those of the earlier World Trade Center attack on February 26, 1993. Should first responders be listed together? Should people be grouped by where they worked, where they died? Some feared that any listing other than alphabetical would establish a “hierarchy of loss,” that a random listing would be haphazard and insensitive. In the end, the names were carefully worked out so that family members, co-workers, firefighting units and other meaningful relationships were honored together. The memorial will be unveiled on Sunday and open to the public starting the next day. Is this a fitting memorial, providing solace to survivors, honor for the dead, a place to reflect on our nation’s loss?

Guests:

Michael Arad, Partner, Handel Architects; his design for the World Trade Center Site Memorial, "Reflecting Absence," was chosen by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in January 2004

Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize-winning Architecture Critic for The New Yorker, where since 1997 he has written the magazine’s “Sky Line” column; author of several books, including Why Architecture Matters (Yale University Press 2009) and UP FROM ZERO: Politics, Architecture, and the Rebuilding of New York

Michael Arad (left) and Paul Goldberger (right) in studio.