The Omnibus Roundup – Architecture, Reflection and Remembrance on the Anniversary of 9/11

This weekend marks the official opening of the September 11 Memorial in New York, and with that comes the inevitable series of reviews, opinions and contemplations on its success and society’s desire to create physical demonstrations of our collective grief, loss and memories. Simon Schama at the Financial Times asks what role memorials play and how we can even begin to judge their successes or failures. Witold Rybczynski at Slate finds the memorial beautiful, yes, but devoid of meaning or comfort.

Philip Nobel in Metropolis mourns the loss of the unplanned, unexpected and improvised memorial that was visitors’ and tourists’ ritualistic walk around the perimeter of the site: “A search for meaning enacted as a circular walk around a forbidden center, a quest with high expectations ending in futility, was an excellent, instructive, fitting (if accidental, unscripted) mechanism to aid in processing an event, like all fresh violence, that has no inherent message or palliative truth.”

Philip Kennicott at the Washington Post stops short of declaring success, instead waiting to see how New Yorkers incorporate the site into the fabric of the city. Kennicott also visits the memorial to Flight 93 at Shanksville, calling it elegant and evocative, but voicing concerns over how it will be affected by the future construction of a visitors center. Also for the Washington Post, Manuel Roig-Franzia visits the Pentagon memorial, which opened in 2008, and deems it “one of the most compelling in a city packed with memorials.”

The September issue of Architectural Record, dedicated to the transformation of New York in the past decade (which we looked at in more depth earlier this week), includes a critical look at the development and current state of the World Trade Center site by Michael Sorkin. Lamenting the lack of architectural ambition, the “melding of memory and profit,” and unfortunate accommodations to security demands, Sorkin expects the site to be “one very strange and unpleasant place, overscaled and aggressively bereft of humane meaning.”

Architizer looks back at the history of the site’s design in “The Remaking of the World Trade Center,” a slideshow that walks us through Libeskind’s original selected design, a number of competing proposals and Larry Silverstein’s commissions of SOM, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Fumihiko Maki.

Gizmodo asks and answers the question of “How New York City Built a Massive $3.8 Billion Underground transit Station in the WTC’s Footprints.” From the slurry walls of “the bathtub” to the construction of the transportation hub, above and below ground, this installment of the “Monster Machines” series looks at how this huge transportation center is becoming a reality.


The New York Times‘ “The Reckoning: A Special Report on the Costs and Consequences of 9/11” offers an extensive look at the effects, physical, emotional, political and social, of the events of 9/11, broken down into nine substantial chapters. “The Decade” reflects on coping, expectations and individual meaning; “the hour of human decency” amidst grief and war; the rise, the life and the fall of the towers in photos; and what lessons New Yorkers have learned. “That Day” presents selections from the September 11, 2001 Oral History Project, which compiled over 600 interviews with city residents describing their experiences, and asks readers to contribute where they were and how they felt when they first heard the news. “The War Abroad” focuses on “scenes from an unfinished history” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the men and women who enlisted just after 9/11, fear and the perception of the threat of Al Qaeda, and the lingering questions of whether or not it was a mistake to invade and occupy Iraq. “The War at Hometallies up the $3.3 trillion of estimated cost to the US in physical damage, war funding, homeland security and economic impact; looks at the unanticipated costs of our (over?)reaction to the 9/11 attacks; and reflects on civil liberties, law enforcement, immigration policies and priorities, and the physical manifestations of our heightened security measures post-9/11. “Remembrance” focuses on how individuals have dealt with grief and memory, from the tokens they kept to the messages they sent, also visiting neighborhoods that were hit hard and talking to some of the 3,000 children who lost a parent that day.

Sky Cowboys | Photo by Damon Winter/New York Times

Rebuilding” looks at the mechanics of the new memorial plaza, above and underground; presents a portrait gallery of the workers at the World Trade Center site; and presents a threepart look at the “Sky Cowboys,” the bold, agile and highly-skilled ironworkers who are building the new towers while perched a thousand feet above the city. “Muslims Now” looks at the complex challenges faced by young American Muslims who came of age in the past decade; how the Arab Spring uprisings have redefined the image of the Arab world; and what some small communities are doing to combat Islamophobia. “9/11 State of Mind” offers a look at the lexicon of 9/11, how schoolchildren around the world are learning about the day and its aftermath and, in “Outdone by Reality,” an argument that art and culture were not significantly altered by 9/11, in part due to the enormity of the tragedy. To conclude this special report, the Times team revisits “Portraits of Grief,” a interview project started in 2001 to gather stories about those who died on 9/11. In “Portraits Redrawn,” the team revisits some of the families they first interviewed ten years ago, and Mark S. Getzfred, the brother of a Navy captain killed at the Pentagon, shares his family’s story.

TIME Magazine has launched “Beyond 9/11: Portraits of Resilience,” an archive of 40 interviews with “the people who were most directly affected — and the ones who most directly affected us,” all conducted between June 1 and August 26 and each accompanied by a portrait by photographer Marco Grob. The first question posed to each person interviewed — first responders, survivors, politicians, servicemen and women, journalists — was the same: “Where were you on September 11, 2001?” Also included in TIME‘s coverage is an essay by Kurt Anderson, and a look back at the photos that define the event in our historical memory, selected by photo editors, photographers and writers, as well as a series of previously-unpublished photographs of the day from James Nachtwey.

Screengrab from Boatlift

Boatlift, a short documentary on the evacuation of Lower Manhattan by water, has been produced by The Road to Resilience, a project dedicated to advancing ideas in emergency management and crisis planning. With subways shut down and tunnels out of Manhattan closed, people turned to the Harbor to escape the catastrophe. When the US Coast Guard made the call to all available boats willing and able to help, tugboats, ferries, private boats, vessels large and small, gathered at Governors Island to assist a makeshift effort to move nearly 500,000 people out of Lower Manhattan in less than 9 hours, the largest sea evacuation in history. (via The Infrastructurist) For more on the maritime story of 9/11, from evacuation to supply delivery to rubble removal, check out Portside New York’s exhibition Mariners’ Response to 9/11.

New York Magazine has compiled an “Encyclopedia of 9/11,” with 92 entries spanning names, places, phrases and events. From “Abbottabad” to “Zazi, Najibullah,” the editors look back at the significant moments and gradual changes of the past ten years. Despite the name, the editors acknowledge that the issue is not comprehensive: “It’s neither a first draft of history nor a verdict — just a set of impressions from some point in between.”

WNYC, WQXR and the Jerome L. Greene Space have produced Decade 9/11, a series of on air, online and live content relevant to the tenth anniversary of the attacks. The Brian Lehrer Show has launched “10 Conversations About the 10th Anniversary,” with thinkers, leaders and “regular New Yorkers.” Radio Rookies gathers the stories of six young people “who are part of the last generation of young people who remember 9/11 as a lived experience, rather than a historic event.” Studio360 interviews illustrator and writer Maira Kalman about Fireboat, her children’s book that incorporates the day into its story. For the many stories, features and discussions from Decade 9/11, click here.

Tribute in Light 2011, photographed from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, by Michal Jaszewski

To commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, a slew of events, performances, remembrances and exhibitions have been scheduled. A few highlights are below, but you can also head over to WNYC for a far more thorough list.

  • Remembrances: Tribute in Light, one of the most well-recognized memorials of 9/11, will be on view (perhaps for the last time?). On Saturday, September 10, at 8:46am, Hand in Hand invites thousands to come to Lower Manhattan to join hands and create a human chain, representing unity and resilience. Dispersed Memorial is a project that will distribute thousands of glass plates with inscribed messages around the city, to wherever the towers would have been visible, as a collective dedication to the victims, paired with an online memorial that allows a more lasting record of the ephemeral installation.
  • Exhibitions: The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the Museum of Chinese in America are presenting Where Does the Dust Itself Collect?, an installation by Xu Bing utilizing dust collected from Lower Manhattan in the days following the attack. A group exhibition at MoMA PS1 explores the resonance of the attacks, while the New York Historical Society presents photographs, both amateur and professional, documenting the immediate aftermath. The Brooklyn Arts Council is “Rethinking Memorial” with a series of ten interactive “memorial stations” installed throughout the city.
  • Screenings: The Museum of the Moving Image is presenting a special screening of Man on Wire, the captivating documentary about Phillipe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers. The Museum of the City of New York will screen In Memoriam, a documentary produced by HBO in 2002. Ten Years of Terror, a film reflecting on violence and the terror it produces, will be on view at the Guggenheim.
  • Concerts: Commemorative concerts and dance performances are being held by Symphony Space, Avery Fisher Hall, and the Joyce Theater with LMCC.

The Roundup keeps you up to date with topics we’ve featured and other things we think are worth knowing about.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.


Georgia (local ecologist) September 9, 2011

Landscape Architecture Magazine’s Sept. issue is devoted to 9/11 Memorials in Arlington, Shanksville, NYC, and elsewhere.