A serene, sweeping design by three young architects was unveiled today as the winner of an international competition for a permanent monument to the victims and survivors of the 1995 bombing here.
The most dramatic feature is intended to be 168 stone and glass chairs, which will occupy the space where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood. Each chair will be illuminated from beneath and bear the name of a victim of the worst act of terrorism ever committed on American soil.
Local officials including Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating gathered today in front of the now-grassy site to announce plans for an elaborate three-acre, $24 million complex that will include the memorial, an interactive museum to tell the story of those affected by the bombing and an institute to study terrorism.
The Oklahoma City Foundation, formed to spearhead the project, hopes to break ground within a year and to complete construction within two. The money, including $8 million for the memorial, will come from federal, state, city and private funds. Former defense secretary Richard Cheney, now chairman of the Dallas-based Halliburton Co., will head the fund-raising effort.
"We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those who were changed forever," said Kathleen Treanor, a foundation volunteer who lost her 4-year-old daughter in the blast.
A 15-member committee, a majority of whom are victims' relatives and survivors of the blast, unanimously selected the memorial design by the team of Hans-Ekkehard Butzer, his wife, Torrey, and Sven Berg, all Berlin-based architects.
But the process did not start as agreeably. When a 350-member task force was formed about a year ago to study options for a memorial, family members and survivors bickered about what shape it should take and who should be honored. Some relatives of the dead resented the idea that survivors would be remembered. Parents of adult children didn't understand why the 19 youngsters who died should be specially memorialized. And many were horrified when unfounded rumors circulated that a restaurant would be built on the "sacred ground."
The architects, whose design prevailed over 624 entries in the competition, clearly understood that emotions were still raw and tried to satisfy all their constituencies.
"There are so many aspects to what has happened in the bombing and we wanted to address each and every one of them," Hans-Ekkehard Butzer said. "The most important element was to convey the impact of the loss, but we wanted everybody -- survivors, rescue workers -- to find their place and be comfortable."
The centerpiece of the area dedicated to the survivors is an elm tree that burned and lost all of its leaves in the explosion -- but lived. Known as the Survivors Tree, it will be surrounded by a circular wall that likely will be inscribed with the names of survivors. An orchard of fruit trees will honor the rescue workers, and there will be a special area with large chalkboards for children to record their thoughts.
A shallow reflecting pool bordered by trees will replace a block of Fifth Street, just feet from where Timothy J. McVeigh detonated a Ryder truck stuffed with explosives at 9:02 on the morning of April 19, 1995. (McVeigh was condemned to death for the crime last month.) At each end of the pool will be a gate, one etched with the time "9:01," the other with "9:03" -- the moments before and after the bombing.
Butzer said the empty chairs are intended to send a powerful message of lives lost. The chairs -- with smaller ones representing the 19 children killed -- will be aligned in nine rows to represent the nine-story building. Each row will contain chairs corresponding to the number of people killed on each floor.
While visitors will be able to sit on the chairs, Butzer said, the architects hope to encourage them to first "take a moment to decide where they are in the healing process." There is a bill pending in Congress to classify the site as a national memorial.
Butzer, who is American-born, his wife, an Oklahoma native, and Berg, a German, plan to relocate to the United States to refine the plan and oversee the execution of their design. The three -- all in their thirties -- have worked together on various projects overseas. They and four other finalist teams each received prizes of $15,000.
In the 26 months since the blast, thousands of visitors, as well as relatives of the victims, have used the chain-link fence around the site as a makeshift memorial. Today was no different. A steady stream of mourners, many with tears in their eyes, filed past the heartbreaking mementos -- birthday cards to children lost, T-shirts with personal messages from all over the world, dried flowers for grandmothers who perished.
Last month, a son who lost his dad left this message: "Have you ever imagined that on Father's Day you'd come to visit a fence to tell your dad how you feel?" Soon, Jeremy Tomlin will be able to remember his dad, Rick, surrounded by tall trees and tranquillity. CAPTION: The winner of Oklahoma City Foundation's design competition features 168 stone and glass chairs.