Emotional Depths, Aesthetic Heights

Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 25, 2003

Where did it start? In the kitchen, which isn't really a kitchen at all but a space to stand next to the refrigerator and stove and a narrow counter that separates it from the rest of the apartment that is not much bigger than the master bathrooms they build in houses these days.

Julie Beckman was standing there, chopping vegetables for dinner, the sound of the knife on the cutting board bouncing off the too-close walls of the second-floor apartment on Amsterdam Avenue.

Keith Kaseman was sprawled on the couch, mentally spent from a long day at the drawing board.

Beckman looked up from her work and asked whether he'd seen the Web site announcing a design competition for a Pentagon memorial for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She said she had an idea. But that was all she said.

He mumbled something or other about not actually seeing it, but said he'd heard about it.

And that was it, the extent of the conversation. She went back to chopping, and he stayed on the couch, too tired to think.

They were so busy they hardly saw each other for the next two or three nights. When they finally got a break, they went for sushi at Tomo's, a neighborhood hangout on Broadway. "So can we talk about this?" Beckman said out of the blue, and she pulled out her notebook, which was almost always with her. She already had some sketches about a memorial.

Kaseman pulled out his notebook, which he always carried and considered to be "golden," meaning highly personal like a journal or diary. He, too, had done some sketches and had written some words, such as respect and contemplation.

They spoke for a few minutes, amazed that they were on the same track. Beckman looked at Kaseman and asked: "So, should we do this?"

A plane. A building. Ordinary people doing ordinary things, men and women in military uniforms and civilians, too, sitting at their desks, talking on the phone, thinking, breathing, sipping coffee. Travelers setting out on a perfectly cloudless day from Dulles, executives, lawyers, married couples, children, beginning a journey, some for business, others for pleasure.

How to remember the people, that moment, that day, the most unimaginable day in the nation's history, how to mark the place and time, that is what Beckman and Kaseman -- architects, partners in life, whose only previous joint design project was a loft bed for their tiny apartment on the Upper West Side -- set out to do.

But how?

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