And then in 2015, a crane deposited four tons of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center and fashioned into a massive sculpture by American artist Miya Ando. Duffy is the director of Since 9/11, the charity that brought the steel here. Now it aims to look to the future as much as memorialize the past.
Last week, I was vacationing in London, a place that, like Washington, is full of monuments to conflicts, some long forgotten, some still fresh.
“Unfortunately, most people don’t know it’s here,” says Duffy, as we gaze up at the steel. We have the lozenge of park to ourselves after scaring away a woman who seems to have come here for a smoke.
The sculpture had a nomadic existence after its creation. That’s not unusual for large works that are bestowed upon the public by larger-than-life visionaries who are eager for others to share their visions.
A decade ago, British insurance executive Peter Rosengard
read an article about the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey donating pieces of the World Trade Center to communities across the United States. Deeply affected by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Rosengard thought London should have some. He was told sending the steel overseas had not been part of the concept.
“If you meet Peter, telling him he can’t do something isn’t a good idea,” Duffy says with a smile. “He makes it his mission to make it happen.”
And so Rosengard did. He convinced the Port Authority that London would be a fitting home and raised 250,000 pounds to bring the steel here.
“I think if there’s a city outside of the United States that felt 9/11, it’s London,” says Duffy.
Ando’s sculpture, called “After 9/11,” was briefly unveiled on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. It stood in Battersea Park for 28 days before going into storage while local politicians argued over where the nearly 30-foot-tall work should end up. The bickering went on for nearly four years before the 2015 dedication in what’s now called the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
“It’s finally found a home,” says Duffy.
(It’s the second 9/11 memorial in London. On Sept. 11, 2003, a memorial garden was dedicated in Grosvenor Square, near where the U.S. Embassy was located at the time.)
While the massive sculpture is the most physical reminder of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, including 67 Britons, it isn’t what Duffy is most excited about. Today, the Since 9/11 charity runs counter-extremism programs in British schools, aiming to nip in the bud the impulses that led to 9/11 and to the attacks that have since taken place in Britain.
Regulations passed in Britain in 2015 included language requiring schools to present anti-radicalization programs.
Last year, more than 4,000 students ages 12 to 16 participated in the charity’s workshops, which were developed by University College London’s Institute of Education. Some of Since 9/11’s work has been funded by the British Home Office, some by the U.S. Embassy.
On this Sept. 11, the charity is announcing it’s expanding its audience, reaching down to 7- to 11-year-olds.
“Research shows that by the time they’re teenagers, it’s too late,” Duffy says.
On this warm and sunny morning, a week before the anniversary, the sounds of nearby trains wash over the park. A handful of flowers, dry now, rests at the base of the sculpture. A vertical panel hangs from three beams, its surface ground and polished to a reflective sheen.
“I think it’s about due for another polish,” Duffy says, noting some rusty mottling on the mirror.
He was 11 on 9/11. It was afternoon in England. Duffy was home from school when his babysitter called him to the TV. He remembers feeling in an instant that something happening an ocean away would change him. He went on to study counterterrorism in college.
Tucked in London’s parks and squares are handsome memorials to British wars in far-flung places like Crimea, Africa, India. . . . Will this stark monument to the horrific act that started a messier conflict one day become as antique as those cenotaphs and statues?
“Terrorism’s not going away,” Duffy says. “And I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
It’s something to ponder as we look up at the steel.