Reflecting Absence in the Details

Event: Reflecting Absence: Designing a Memorial at the World Trade Center
Speaker: Michael Arad, AIA — Partner, Handel Architects
Location: 7WTC, 03.20.08
Organizer: Downtown Alliance (part of the Downtown Third Thursday series)

WTC Memorial

Arial view from the southeast of “Reflecting Absence.”

dbox, courtesy

When it opens in 2011, the World Trade Center Site Memorial, whose theme is “Reflecting Absence,” will look somewhat different from its original concept. In addition to the bosque of trees that has been added surrounding the Memorial, the concept and progression of the underground Memorial Gallery has been altered. Michael Arad, AIA, winner of the memorial design competition, showed how the design has been refined over the past four years, presenting a palette of details currently under development with landscape architect Peter Walker, FASLA. Undergoing fine-tuning are the fountain design and the project’s name plaques, both of which are intended to ultimately reinforce the memorial’s underlying theme, “Reflecting Absence.”

The water delivery system designed for the project’s massive fountain centerpiece is vital, says Arad. Though initially intended to be a sheet of water “clinging to the surface” of the memorial, the fountain will ultimately feature individual streams of water canting more than six and a half feet from the face of the wall. The fountains take inspiration from Arad’s initial concept of providing two large fissures in the Hudson River. Now they will mirror the footprints of the towers on the memorial site.

After many mock-ups, Arad and his team are also close to finishing the design of the name plaques, including material and font. The plaques will now circle the top ring of the fountains (instead of the original location proposed circling the lower level of these openings) and may be partially engaged with the water. Viewing the names from the surface, rather than from inside the fountains, altered one of the project’s initial concepts – reflecting from within the void. According to Arad, this move “changed the entire meaning of the project’s edge,” making the ground-level perimeter of the fountains even more important.