Michael Arad: Space and Remembrance at Ground ZeroApril 22, 2012 —
On an oppressively hot Tuesday afternoon last week, the stoic Johnson Museum held a lecture by the man who designed one of the most stoic structures in America today: the National September 11 Memorial. Architect Michael Arad came to speak as part of the History of Art Majors’ annual exhibition, the theme of which this year revolves around how we perceive and interact with space in our changing world. Arad, responsible for filling the foremost void of our generation, saw no end of controversy, setback and frustration throughout the momentous task. But Arad emerged from the seven-year process victorious—he successfully adapted his design to everyone’s wished and had matured from a young hothead to a wise, experienced architect with quite a story to tell.
Arad’s design for Ground Zero took shape immediately after the attacks. A relatively new New Yorker in 2001, that breezy late-summer September day left Arad feeling of the city for the first time, and the communal mourning in Washington Square Park he experienced in the days following the attacks inspired his vision for a future Ground Zero where New Yorkers could interact and feel a sense of togetherness. His architectural musings were initially nothing more than a cathartic form of self-reflection, but by 2004 he had become serious about designing an open, public space that would be “in the city but not of the city.” The design itself was impressive and the plan ambitious, but the numerous delays and cost overruns—that so incensed New Yorkers and Americans alike—became the focus of the building process, and much criticism was aimed at Arad himself. He explained that the hiccups were simply unavoidable due to the massive amounts of outside influence wrought upon him and his team through every stage of the process. He repeatedly met with Mayor Bloomberg and victims’ relatives to field their suggestions and complaints, which were to thwart many of Arad’s more specific design instincts. Arad’s initial concept was criticized as being too stark and empty, and he was urged to update it with more foliage and green space; he also fought a losing battle to keep the victims’ names randomly distributed in an underground museum, rather than grouped around the memorial pools. But at the end of the lecture Arad gazed at current pictures of the site and attested that the memorial was much improved by the various constraints.
Most importantly to Arad, however, is the fact that throughout the many design iterations the site remained at street level—so as to reflect cohesiveness with the rest of the city—and the centerpiece of the memorial remained the towers’ empty footprints, solemnly framed by waterfalls. Ground Zero is now an innovative public space that remains true to Arad’s original concept while accommodating the wishes of those directly affected by the attacks. It is a nearly ideal blend of design ingenuity and moving memorial—a place where the public can, according to Arad, “stand on a green roof and think that they are on terra firma.”
Check out all the other fantastic speakers, exhibits and workshops that the Johnson Museum has to offer at http://museum.cornell.edu/