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An Empty Space

Eight Finalists Chosen for Memorial at Trade Center Site

By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 20, 2003; Page C01

NEW YORK, Nov. 19

There could be, at Ground Zero, a "pool of tears" to symbolize a nation's lasting grief. There could be lights that cascade as a "downpour of loss," one for each of the souls departed in the terror attacks. Or a "memorial cloud" that hovers underground over the old World Trade Center footprints like "a translucent bandage healing a wound." Or sugar maple trees planted on these mournfully empty spaces as symbols of new life. Or glass columns holding larger-than-life portraits of the nearly 3,000 people murdered that fateful September day.

More than two years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, eight prospective memorial designs were unveiled as finalists Wednesday. Winnowed from 5,200 entrants from around the world, including design professionals as well as ordinary people, the finalists produced a collection of designs that represent a wide array of methods for remembering and revering the dead.

"Inversion of Light" by Toshio Sasaki, one of the eight finalists for the World Trade Center memorial, illuminates the tower footprints. (Lower Manhattan Development Corp. - Reuters)

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WTC Memorial Designs Unveiled
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"Their vocabularies are elemental," said John C. Whitehead, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC), which is running the competition. "Their designs draw upon light, water, earth and life itself. With these simple yet profound elements, these eight teams have each crafted a unique place for us to contemplate, reflect and seek our own peace with the tragic events of Sept. 11."

The jury itself, in a statement read by juror Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corp. of New York, said it faced a difficult challenge of reconciling the irreconcilable, which it described as "love and loss, heroism and horror, past and present, public recognition and private introspection."

Gregorian was the only one of the 13 jurors present for Wednesday's announcement. Though the jurors' names are known -- they include Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall -- the LMDC has kept the jurors off-limits to the public and the news media to avoid undue pressure. The finalists also were kept away, for the same reason. The winner of the competition will be announced toward year's end, in a process that already is several weeks behind its original schedule

Wednesday's announcement at the World Financial Center's Winter Garden atrium across the street from Ground Zero opened a new chapter -- some might say a new front -- in the effort to redevelop the piece of real estate that exists like a gash in the nation's psyche. The memorial will be located within a four-acre swath of the so-called bathtub, which includes the one-acre footprints where the twin towers once stood. That real estate, however, has become a civic battlefield where competing imperatives are at war. How to develop the space and restore it to commercial viability while also remembering that some relatives of the dead view it -- specifically the twin towers' footprints -- as the final resting place for the cremated remains of loved ones never found?

How to maintain a reverential atmosphere while taking into account the financial, cultural and transportation ingredients that are needed to accommodate the droves of tourists who began visiting Ground Zero before the smoke had even cleared?

Shortly after the design models and video presentations were displayed Wednesday, leaders of a coalition of hundreds of relatives held a news conference of their own and issued report cards on the eight designs. Each design received a grade of "F" for failing to preserve as much of the bedrock footprints of the twin towers as possible.

The relatives feel they've been marginalized in the redevelopment process. They have been upset about the use of the bedrock since it was revealed earlier this year that the memorial area would not reach down to the 70-foot-deep bedrock level but would stop at 30 feet. The remaining depth would accommodate various underground power-generation plants and a commuter railroad. That means the original bedrock site would be marginally accessible, if at all. They also have been confused in light of a pledge this year by state officials, including Gov. George Pataki, that nothing would be built where the towers once stood.

"The politicians and the power brokers have only one interest," said Jack Lynch, father of fallen firefighter Michael Lynch. "Their interest is they want to maintain as much land as possible for commercial enterprises."

The families have sought new leverage in the memorial process by nominating the bedrock footprints as national historic landmarks. Represented by the Coalition of 9/11 Families, the relatives also have allied themselves with two members of Congress, Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who have introduced a bill that would mandate a federal study of the trade center remains.

Maloney called the bedrock "the Gettysburg of the 21st century, the Pearl Harbor of our time" and said she is hoping to help the families find a clarity that has so far eluded them.

Whitehead, asked after Wednesday's presentation about the proposed legislation, said, "I don't think the legislation is likely to pass or is needed at this point." And he played down the perceived importance of the bedrock, saying: "I don't know of any plan, any memorial, anywhere, that goes down to bedrock. It would be a unique concept that people are killed on bedrock."


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