Two 9/11 memorial designs that should have been built

I was this close to getting my radical, hair brained 9/11 memorial design built on ground zero.

In the spring of 2003 I was taking the graduate course “Memory and Tragedy” with James Young, a professor of English and Judaic Studies at UMass Amherst. Around the world, Professor Young is often consulted about memorials to tragedies. He was the only person from the United States on the committee that chose the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe design in Berlin. He’s a big deal, in addition to being a smart dude with a dark sense of humor.

One class in April Professor Young was 20 minutes late, which was unprecedented, but he had a good excuse: he’d just been asked to be one of 12 jurors of the September 11th Memorial Design Competition.

It was a timely opportunity for the class to explore what kind of memorial should be built. Professor Young led a few conversations about the nature of this future memorial. I think the first question was, is it too soon to design a memorial? What the hell are we memorializing 2 years out from the events? Because the memorials that punch you in the gut hardest both reflect back on the events and have an eye towards the future, we thought about how design could reflect that at the ground zero site in New York City.

I had my ideas. Every week I’d come in with another memorial concept for Professor Young to consider. Here are my two favorites, that funny enough resemble the design that was built, though not in every regard.

  1. Like the memorial that was eventually built, both of my best ideas used the foundations left from the Twin Towers. They called them “tubs” because those walls held back the high water table. Idea number 1 is exactly as you see the current memorial except that instead of water flowing down the walls of the foundation, I thought oil should have been used. Because in 2005 our petroleum future was the reason we’d invaded Iraq — oh, do you remember WMD? Stopping Osama in Iraq before he washed up on our shores? — it seemed fitting that the memorial look towards our oil future.
  2. My second concept, like the first, used the foundation walls, except no oil was involved. This time the memorial was interactive of a sort: it would be a constantly evolving memorial that would be build over time along the foundation walls. With each new country we invaded to keep us safe from terrorism, a mural would be painted on the wall depicting battle scenes in that country — Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., into the future. My goal was to design a “living memorial” for the dead.

The memorial as built is good enough, I guess. Kind of boring, though.