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Thread: WTC Memorial - by Michael Arad (Architect) and Peter Walker (Landscape)

  1. #1681

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    Wild Blue Wonder

    The New Air Force Memorial Is at Its Best When Reaching for the Sky

    By Philip Kennicott
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, October 12, 2006; C01



    With one bold leap, the Air Force jumps into first place for having the most distinctive service memorial in the Washington area. Visible up close from I-395 and afar from the patio of the Kennedy Center, three stainless steel arms set on a promontory above Arlington National Cemetery tickle the sky.
    From a distance they look like the ribs of a crown roast, or a metallic flower or the graceful ends of a scallion sliced for the crudites platter. The folks who built it, a private foundation formed by Air Force vets and supporters, give its shape a more specific and literal meaning: The spires represent a precision flying maneuver known as the "bomb burst."

    The Marines, with their iconic Iwo Jima statue, still have a claim to the most recognizable service memorial. And the Navy, with its map of the world inscribed on a plaza in front of the National Archives, built a memorial that deserves a good citizen award, for its understatement and the invitation it offers to buskers, skaters, loafers and kids making out. But the Air Force wanted more than that. Ross Perot Jr., chairman of the Air Force Memorial Foundation, remembers a meeting with its designer, the late James Ingo Freed. The architect, who also designed the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Ronald Reagan Building, flew into Washington and asked a cabdriver to take him to the Navy Memorial. The what? Where?

    "I promise you every cabdriver will know where it is," Perot remembers Freed saying of his proposed Air Force design. And so it now sits on the skyline, a $30 million sculpture as visible as the Washington Monument or the Capitol dome.

    You have to be thankful the memorial, which will be dedicated on Saturday, arrived after the Navy and Marine memorials, lest it touch off an interdepartmental arms race to build ever bigger, bolder and more in-your-face designs.

    Even so, there was a lot of interdepartmental bloodletting along the way. A very different version of the memorial, also designed by Freed, was intended for a spot on Arlington Ridge, near the Iwo Jima statue. That was in the mid-1990s. But the Marines were none too pleased by the encroachment, and plans for building something at the first site became mired in legal action, controversy and ultimately legislative fiat to prevent construction.

    The first design, a blocky, five-pointed star set on supports that made it look a little like a lunar lander, was scrapped. A new site was found -- the current one, on a hillside next to the Navy Annex in Arlington -- and Freed came back and won a second design competition. If Version 1 looked like it was landing from outer space, Version 2 looks like it's blasting into the stratosphere.

    Take that, Marines. The new memorial is better than the old one, and the new site far more inspiring than the ridge held by the Marines. Occasionally the byzantine grinding of bureaucratic gears spits out something better than expected.

    On a sunny afternoon with only a few cotton-puff clouds in the sky, it is mesmerizing to stand at the base of the spires and look up. They are three different lengths, the tallest rising to 270 feet, but their relative heights seem to change as you move around. Although filled with concrete to about two-thirds of their height (and their tops are secured against wind load by a sophisticated damping system), they have a buoyant lightness and energy.
    The color and mood of the monument change with the time of day and the weather. In that, it resembles Eero Saarinen's big metal arch in St. Louis -- indeed, while the construction elements of the two monuments are very different, Freed's vision feels indebted to Saarinen's, as if the Gateway Arch had been cut and curled like the ends of a ribbon.

    The monument is set on a little plaza, with grass and trees, that stretches out like a ship's prow over the hillside. Beneath it are Arlington National Cemetery's infinitely sad rows of identical graves, and the hulking presence of the Pentagon. So long as you keep your eyes firmly set on Washington or the cemetery below, the view is spectacular. Turn 180 degrees, however, and you see some of the most dispiriting military architecture in the region -- the long rectangular boxes of the Navy Annex. There are plans to take those buildings down, and that can't happen a moment too soon.

    The design of the memorial also deserves plaudits for hiding (in a minimalist shoe-box structure, behind a granite panel) the restrooms and offices -- a small space for two or three employees who will, among other things, coordinate public events with the cemetery. Limited finances, good taste and the fact that the Air Force already has a lot of museum space around the country devoted to its fabulous flying machines contributed to the most spectacular act of common sense: There is no museum or gift shop, the twin Gorgons of tacky memorial thinking.

    But alas, there is a big mistake in the memorial's "honor guard," a pathetically literal, poorly conceived, badly executed and oversize bronze statue of four figures holding flags, which feels a little bit like a 35-cent plastic bride-and-groom figurine stuck on a $500 wedding cake. And there are two walls of inscriptions, some of them inspiring, but others little better than corporate boilerplate, that in many ways degrade the power of the overall design.

    On one side, near the bathrooms, is a granite wall with the names of Medal of Honor recipients. Fair enough. The challenge of any memorial is to keep the attention squarely on the issue of service and sacrifice, and the inclusion of these names falls within that prescription.

    On the other end of the plaza, however, is the aforementioned honor guard and a matching granite wall inscribed with Air Force "core values," a lot of B-minus verbiage mixed in with inspirational rhetoric and a list of the military campaigns conducted by the Air Force. This wall, and the honor guard, could, and should, be removed, because they take the memorial, and the response it demands, into dangerous territory.

    As an abstract piece of sculpture, the memorial is broadly suggestive, but not particular in its meaning. But the dull literalism of the statues, by sculptor Zenos Frudakis, suggests the presence of a manipulative hand, a controlling intelligence that insists on taking free and unmitigated responses to the memorial and carefully channeling them through the numbing cliches of military-corporate-tourist culture. The statues distract the visitor from the essential reflective duty -- to honor service and sacrifice -- and introduce the specifics of military life: uniforms, medals, discipline. And they do it in a style little better than theme park kitsch.

    Once you deflect the attention from service and sacrifice, and start celebrating the trappings of military culture, you can't help but raise (for some visitors, at least) the obvious fact that the military is a machine that destroys and kills. In a democracy, it is a sad necessity, the use of which is almost assuredly a sign that diplomacy and hope have failed.

    But mostly these statues are silly and unnecessary accretions. We've seen this happen to decent and powerful memorials throughout Washington. Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial is now infected with the presence of similarly childish sculpture, and the primary idiocy of the otherwise innocuous Navy Memorial is, yes, a bluntly literal statue of a sailor walking across the world map.

    If a memorial is as powerful, in its basic elements, as the new United States Air Force Memorial, why gum it up with second-rate bronze figurines? It's a sign that the people who design and build memorials don't trust the power of their best ideas. Or worse, they don't trust the freedom of the visitor to think and reflect without the presence of oversize G.I. Joes made of metal.
    Perot says that the honor guard was always part of the design, and that the sculptures were included for a very specific purpose.

    "Where is the photo op?" he says. "Where will people get their photo taken? The spires are too long."

    It's a strangely candid admission, though it says a lot about the strange mix of motives, intentions and values that come together whenever a major new monument is built. Perhaps only a purist will insist that monuments should be exclusively or primarily places of reflection. They are also tourist draws, fundraising exercises and political statements. And of course they are the most elegant billboards in town. So, no surprise, once the earthbound and dispiriting statues of the honor guard have jolted your mind down from the dancing spires in the sky, the next thing you notice is the long list of corporations and other organizations that gave money to build the memorial: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon -- and the United Arab Emirates air force.

    Whose memorial is this, anyway? And how long has it been (about two years) since the Air Force's No. 2 acquisition official was sentenced to prison for arranging herself a fancy Boeing job while steering the company billions in dubious contracts?

    Not the sort of questions one should ask when a new memorial opens. And they could have easily been avoided if the memorial hewed to pure abstraction. There is still time to short-circuit the inevitable chain of cynicism introduced by the cartoon military figures. Take them down, and scrub the walls of the corporate names that only serve to remind us of Eisenhower's prophetic warnings about the military-industrial complex and its cozy alliances. This memorial has the power to speak more eloquently than that, and about the only thing that really matters: people who made the ultimate sacrifice, for ideals that are more fundamental than military or corporate values.

    2006 The Washington Post Company

  2. #1682

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    ^ That would make a pretty good WTC monument: soaring and uptimistic, rather than grim and forboding. I'd lose the soldiers though.

  3. #1683
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    Quote Originally Posted by ablarc View Post
    ^ That would make a pretty good WTC monument: soaring and uptimistic, rather than grim and forboding. I'd lose the soldiers though.
    Have you ever thought maybe grim and forboding is exactly what we need? Desperately need? Or is the high price of gas enough?


  4. #1684

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    Definitely keep the grim visage, at least for today, Fri 13

    On those gas prices, Europeans think we're giving it away as many places abroad pay nearly as much for a liter. Americans do have longer commutes so it's about the same cost per week.

  5. #1685

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    Quote Originally Posted by lbjefferies View Post
    Have you ever thought maybe grim and forboding is exactly what we need? Desperately need?
    Yeah, at first. But since then I've had second thoughts. Really, does anyone desperately need grim and foreboding?

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    Quote Originally Posted by ablarc View Post
    Yeah, at first. But since then I've had second thoughts. Really, does anyone desperately need grim and foreboding?

    Thousands of Americans are dead, tens of thousands of Iraqis, and more people hate us than ever before. Most Americans have sacrificed only by spending more at the gas pump, which is INSANE! Two years ago we re-elected a president who squandered more political capital than even FDR could dream of by thumbing his nose at the rest of the world and getting us into a war based on lousy intelligence. Meanwhile a country which has a history of eagerly selling weapons to terrorists might have just tested a nuclear bomb. Tourists take pictures of themselves in front of a giant hole in the ground the same way they take pictures in front of the Grand Canyon, oblivious to the monumentality of it all. But you know what? I don't want to think about it anymore. Whats on tv tonight?

    Oh yeah, I almost forgot your question. I guess my answer is a giant yes.

  7. #1687

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    So the event was grim and foreboding, but that was out of our control. Our response on a political level has turned grim and forboding because of our leadership, which was reelected by popular vote. So why should we compound that with a memorial that is grim and forboding?

    It is the practice of our culture to make graveyards green, friendly and relaxing. I presume this is because the common wisdom was that no one wanted to remember a loved one in a grim forboding place. Seems like a good call to me.

    But my point is that 9/11 was grim and forboding but not our choice. If our politics and our memorial are grim and forboding, it is by our choice and conscious action. I thought America was a place that focused on positive responses and making things better, not a country that wallowed in self pity.

  8. #1688
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Above ground at the memorial won't be grim or foreboding.

    Underground, on the other hand, appears that it will offer plenty of both.

  9. #1689

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    ^ All that water plunging into the ground evokes the River Styx and the entrance to Hades.

    The opposite of a spring.

  10. #1690

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    You're on to something, when traveling the Road to Hell, you'll eventually arrive at the entrance.

  11. #1691
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Depends how you look at it ...


    Might remind some of River Styx (now known as the Aheron River aka Acheron River ) and the Vikos Gorge / Nekromanteion ...
    We continue to visit the Aheron River Nekreomanteion (oracle of the dead). According to mythology. The Aheron River was the river Styx across which the ferryman of the dead, Charon, rowed the departed souls to the underworld. The ancients believed the Nekromanteion to be the gate to Hades (the world of the dead) and so it became an oracle of the dead and a sanctuary to Hades and Persephone.
    Could evoke Niagara Falls ...


  12. #1692

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    Quote Originally Posted by lofter1 View Post
    Above ground at the memorial won't be grim or foreboding.

    Underground, on the other hand, appears that it will offer plenty of both.
    They plan a large glass above ground visitors center which will contain a relic and be broadly visible. There are also hints of efforts to put additional artifacts in the plaza. The Plaza could become grim if it is allowed to. The final word on that is not in.

    The concept of a display of absence is definitely negative. Not grim and forboding, but not a celebration of life nor a peaceful refuge.

  13. #1693
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    The plaza will hardly be a space of absence seeing as how there will be a grove of dozens of trees there.

    I think the Koeing Sphere is one of the few fitting "artifacts" that should be placed above ground ...

    If there is a decision to spread relics about the area then that could definitely give me the creeps (plus it would get in the way of the frisbee + doggie fun).

  14. #1694

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    I agree you, Lofter, on the plaza. The plaza was intended to soften the bleakness of the original design. But the memorial itself is a couple acres' commemoration of absence, and the plaza is eight. That's enough room to get away from the negativity and noise of the memorial. But saying that the plaza is big enough to create space from the memorial is just about all one has to say.

    My biggest fear for the plaza right now is the survivors staircase. It is big, dominating, and ugly. I wouldn't put it in the category of depressing so much as stupid. If I have to walk by the piece of trash every time I walk through the plaza, it would change everything. And the piece is so big that it may not go into the Memorial museum.

    The problem with the sphere is that people tried to reshape it after 9/11. So it isn't the original and it isn't in its naturally destroyed form. It is awkwardly reworked.

  15. #1695
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by davestanke View Post

    The problem with the sphere is that people tried to reshape it after 9/11. So it isn't the original and it isn't in its naturally destroyed form. It is awkwardly reworked.
    Perhaps that makes it the most fitting symbol for the entire site

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