Pentagon Memorial Opening: The Designers

Julie Beckman
Designers, Pentagon Memorial
Friday, September 12, 2008 11:30 AM

Designer Julie Beckman, who with partner Keith Kaseman created the Pentagon Memorial that officially opened on Thursday, was online Friday, Sept. 12 at 11:30 a.m. ET to discuss how she envisioned and produced the project and what the reaction has been like.

The transcript follows.


Woodbridge, Va.: Will the viewing public be able to take photographs of the memorial? I know there are rules for taking photos near the Pentagon. Will this be an exception?

Julie Beckman: Good morning! All visitors will be able to take photos while they are visiting the memorial. Once visitors leave the memorial, however, standard "no photograph" rules will apply for the rest of the Pentagon reservation.


Arlington, Va.: I love what you did. Just one complaint -- is it possible to keep the gravel out of the pools? By 8 p.m. on Thursday, most already were full of dozens of pebbles.

Julie Beckman: Hi Arlington. I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed the memorial. Keith and I feel that the memorial is both static and organic at the same time. While the Memorial Units will remain in their condition for generations to come, components like the trees and the gravel will grow and move with time and travel patterns. We always felt that gravel in the bottom of the basins signified that people were visiting and using the memorial in ways that we always imagined. The memorial will be maintained regularly, and periodically the gravel at the bottom of the pools will be cleared out and redistributed on the ground.


Kenosha, Wis.: What a stupendous job you two did designing the Pentagon Memorial. It is one of the most beautiful memorials I ever have seen, and what a special place all the families and others will have to remember who they loved and lost. It looks so peaceful, and yet so dynamic. We should never forget, and this will help us. You should design one for Ground Zero in New York.

Julie Beckman: Hello Kenosha! Thank you so much for your kind words. We hope the Memorial will serve as a place for healing for all Sept. 11 families, including those of New York and Pennsylvania victims. We hope you can come visit it soon!


Silver Spring, Md.: I'm concerned about the trees planted at the memorial -- it appears as though the paving stops right at the edge of the trunks. What kind of trees are these? How big will they grow, and what happens if they outgrow the hole? Have you planned for drainage issues? It looks as though some might encroach on the water pool/platform areas over time.

Julie Beckman: Good Morning, Silver Spring. The trees are paperbark maples -- approximately 85 of them are dispersed throughout the Memorial. They appear to grow straight out of the gravel field, which adds to the "place like no other" that we'd always felt the Pentagon Memorial should be. The gravel field is made up of a containment-mat system (just below the loose top layer of gravel) that not only helps stabilize the gravel, but also allows rain water to percolate down to each tree's root system. The mat system is very flexible and can spread as the trees trunks continue to grow. In addition to natural rain water, there is an underground irrigation system that brings water to the roots during dry spells. I know Keith and I really will enjoy coming back to the memorial and watching the trees grow up with the it.


Columbia, Md.: Just a comment. When I sat down to read the Post's article yesterday evening, I had to put it down half way through. I became much too emotional (and I'm a 61-year-old male, so this is contrary to my normal stoic responses) when I read the portion on seeing where the victim died in the background while reading their names. I hope, and fear, that I will have the same kind of emotional reaction the first time I go to the memorial that I did when I went to the Vietnam Memorial years ago.

Julie Beckman: Columbia, thank you for sharing your personal reactions. We always believed that Sept. 11 was experienced in so many different ways by so many different people. We designed the memorial to be a place where visitors can come to reflect upon the events of Sept. 11 in their own personal way -- where interpretation is personal to each visitor. When you do visit, I hope you find the it peaceful, yet uplifting.


Harrisburg, Pa.: What were some design features that you considered and rejected, and why were they rejected?

Julie Beckman: Hello, Harrisburg.

Keith and I always believed that the memorial should be both individual and collective at the same time. We wanted to create a comfortable place where family members, friends or even strangers could come for 10 minutes or two hours. A place to sit, shade, and the sound of water were all criteria that we intended to incorporate. Very early in the design process, we considered one single water feature -- like a larger reflecting pool -- with the individual markers surrounding it. We also, for only a brief moment, considered designing the memorial units to be different from each other to emphasize their individuality -- but quickly knew that it would be both logistically difficult to produce 184 uniquely designed pieces, and also might be viewed as representing the individual which we never intended to do. We simply wanted to create a special place on the planet dedicated to each life lost.


Alexandria, Va.: I went to the opening of the memorial last night and was very impressed with it. Walking up and seeing the bench for 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg made me have to stop and sit to compose myself. While I have several concerns, some having to do with upkeep -- i.e. keeping the gravel that you walk on neat and out of the reflecting pools -- the major one I have is that the names on the ends of the benches cannot be read at night. Is there a plan to address this problem? Thank you for such a beautiful and original memorial to the people who lost their lives at the Pentagon.

Julie Beckman: Hi Alexandria. Thank you for sharing your experience while visiting the memorial last night. I addressed a similar comment on the gravel earlier in the discussion and hope you find my answer helpful (see Arlington, Va., toward the beginning of the discussion).

rom the very beginning, Keith and I always intended the memorial to be a completely different place at night. There are details and reflections that one sees during the day and totally different ones at night. To the visitor, there is a different level of engagement at night. To read the names, the Memorial Units pulls one much closer in, and in many cases people will have to touch the nameplate. As one puts their hands up to the nameplate, a beautiful phenomenon happens -- something we discovered during the prototyping process. Obscure, mirrored reflections of oneself are displayed on the surface of the nameplate the closer you get to it -- the light from the pools bounce off of the visitor and help illuminate the names. We found it to be a beautiful, subtle detail that helps connect visitors with those who lost their lives.


Alexandria, Va.: I haven't been yet, but all descriptions and pictures I see lead me to feel that it is perfect. It must be bittersweet to see this project come to an end. Congratulations, and good luck in the future.

Julie Beckman: Thank you so much for your kind words. It is bittersweet to finish the project -- we've become so close with both the family members and our enormous team of designers and contractors. Many folks poured their heart into making the memorial as good as it could be -- and I know we're all so touched to see the positive response that it has gotten.


Rockville, Md.: I have seen a lot of memorials, but this is the first one I can call "useful" -- it seems to be a good place to sit and think. Are you happy with this aspect? I also like the composition and style. And after the walk, a lot of people will be very happy to have a place to sit. Very good work!

Julie Beckman: Hi Rockville. Yes! We are very pleased to see visitors engaging with the Memorial Units -- using them as resting spots or simply to think and reflect. That tells us that infinite thoughts and interpretations are being had -- a true reflection on the many experiences people had on Sept. 11 and throughout their lives.


Falls Church, Va.: I was fortunately able to visit the new memorial last night when it opened to the public, and I just want to compliment you on how beautiful it is. The many details included in the overall design are very impressive, and the experience of being able to visit the site on opening day was so moving. Thank you very much for creating such a wonderful tribute and bringing beauty and peace to what was such a tragic event.

Julie Beckman: Thank you so much, Falls Church. Your comments means a lot to us.


Arlington, Va.: Thank you for your powerful work. Is the memorial accessible from the Pentagon Metro station? I have not been able to find this information.

Julie Beckman: Arlington: Yes! Using Metro is the most encouraged form of transportation to access the Memorial. Upon exiting from the Pentagon Metro station, just follow the signs around to the West side of the building to the Memorial. We hope you enjoy it.


Memory: Julie and Keith, I am looking forward to seeing the memorial in a bit when the crowds go down. I was wondering how you felt about building something that would connect with so many of us. Did you talk to others who had a similar experience in designing something that had to do with an event still fresh in our minds? (Of course the one who comes foremost to mind is Maya Lin). Similarly, how did you deal with the issues of memory, and how, over time, the meaning of Sept. 11 in our consciousness might change? Thanks.

Julie Beckman: Memory -- thank you for your comments and question. Working on this memorial has been an immeasurable honor and we just hope that we have, in some small way, helped people find peace and solace -- or even just a quiet moment with their thoughts. We have not yet had the opportunity to meet or speak with Maya Lin or others who have designed memorials, but certainly have reflected deeply upon designs -- such as the Vietnam Memorial -- for their powerful impact on visitors over the years. We always intended for the Pentagon Memorial to be a place that would make one think, but not tell them what to think or how to feel. We hope that the personal interpretations of visitors will persist long into the future.


Toronto: Who built the fountains?

Julie Beckman: The fountain systems were designed by CMS Collaborative out of Santa Cruz, Calif. CMS has worked on many D.C. memorials including those for World War II and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The fountains systems were installed by a local contractor, Specialty Pool & Fountain out of Silver Spring. It was an absolute pleasure working with both groups. They beautifully realized the vision that we've had for the past six years.


Canton, Ga.: What is the daily schedule for visiting the memorial?

Julie Beckman: Hi Canton! The memorial will be open 24/7. We hope you get a chance to visit.


Morningside Heights, N.Y.: Is there anything about the memorial as it is now that you would change now if you were able to?

Julie Beckman: Hello Morningside Heights (where Keith and I lived for five years while we attended Columbia for our architecture graduate program -- and where we lived when we designed the Memorial!).

You know, I have to say that there is nothing we would change. Our team of designers and contractors -- which constituted hundreds of people -- helped realize our vision exactly. I honestly can say that the memorial is exactly as our concept renderings depicted. We're grateful for all of their hard work.


Washington: Do you like how the light in the pools under the benches reflect light? It gives off a greenish or otherworldly light. Your thoughts?

Julie Beckman: Washington, the lights are directing light from one end of the Memorial back towards the "spine" or underbelly of the stainless steel benches. Between the water, the stainless and the whitish-gray concrete basins, the light is bouncing back out onto the gravel field. The greenish light is a result of all of those materials -- something that we discovered during the prototyping process. We feel that it is as if the memories of the individuals are glowing from each of their special spots within the memorial.


Alexandria, Va.: I loved the photo in the Post of family members and others gathering, sitting on the benches and (strange word) enjoying the memorial. What were some of their reactions after spending time there? What were your reactions?

Julie Beckman: Alexandria, yesterday was one of the most special days in both of our lives. Families were smiling, crying and -- in some cases -- playing on and around the Memorial Units (I cried a bit when I saw a little girl sliding down the arc of the Memorial, realizing that she felt nothing but positive good thoughts despite the deeper meanings behind the place). There was an outpouring of gratitude yesterday on the part of the family members and visitors -- something that has touched us so deeply. It means the world to us that we may have contributed to, for some, a sense of closure, and for others, a new beginning.


Just a comment: No question, just wanted to tell you that your memorial is beautiful. I look forward to visiting in person. It looks like a wonderful place to meditate and reflect on all we have been given. Thank you!

Julie Beckman: Thank you so much for your very kind words. We hope you have a beautiful experience when you visit the memorial.


Fairfax, Va.: This design borrows many elements from the Oklahoma City memorial (benches, use of water, ordering the benches). I don't see much that's unique or innovative here. Did Beckman and Kaseman become familiar with Oklahoma City's memorial before submitting their design?

Julie Beckman: We feel that our design has many different levels of engagement and meaning behind the elements. The Memorial Units are several things at one time -- the place for the permanent inscription of the individual's name, a place to sit and place mementos, and a reflecting pool of water that glows with light at night. They each have their own water element and are not meant to represent the individuals (e.g. making the children's units smaller than those for the adults), but rather demarcate a special place on earth dedicated to that individual. The Memorial Units are arranged by age -- a timeless way to remember long into the future -- and are meant to be fully engaged (for 10 minutes or several hours) by all who visit.


Westford, Mass.: Hello Julie and Keith. Please accept my heartfelt congratulations on a magnificent job! I saw the pictures and plans and read the article "Emotional Depths, Aesthetic Heights" that appeared in The Washington Post a few years ago. As I was reading that article and tried to imagine what you two must have felt going through that thought process and how you decided to contribute your exceptional vision, I was just overcome with a strange mixture of sadness (at the scale of the loss of human life) and joy (at how this despicable act of some human beings brought out the best in the others). I must say that it has just left me with tears rolling down my cheeks, overcome with emotions that I can't describe.

I didn't lose anyone in this tragedy, but I can feel the loss of these people and only can imagine what the loved ones of these people must have gone through visiting the memorial yesterday. I hope to come and visit the memorial sometime soon. Again, congratulations on capturing the essence of the memorial so magnificently, and a big thanks for doing that! Keep up the good work. Regards.

Julie Beckman: Your comments made me tear up, Westford, and have touched us deeply just now. We felt similar sentiments back in 2002, which is why we entered the competition. It has been an amazing education and journey -- and an honor we can not put into words. We hope you find an opportunity to visit the memorial so that you too, can have a very personal, and I hope, beautiful experience.


Ellicott City, Md.: How were you chosen to be the architects of the memorial? It is beautiful.

Julie Beckman: Ellicott City, there was an open call for designs in an international design competition held back in the summer of 2002 which Keith and I decided to enter. We never imagined back then that we would have the honor and privilege to participate in such an important project. Thank you for your kind words.


Julie Beckman: Thank you everyone for you wonderful sentiments and questions.


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