Georgia Tech architecture alumnus Michael Arad’s memorial to those killed in the attacks on September 11, 2001, opened to virtually unanimous rave reviews this month.
“Reflecting Absence” is a serene, public space for collective contemplation and remembrance. Two 30-feet deep reflecting pools create footprints where the Twin Towers once stood. The names of the 2,983 people whose lives were lost are etched across bronze panels surrounding the two pools. The placement of each name was determined through family requests and a complex algorithm in order to recognize personal connections among the departed.
The memorial was dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the attacks in September 2011. An accompanying Memorial Museum and pavilion are expected to open in September 2012.
In the eight years since his vision was selected out of 5,201 entries from 63 nations, Arad has revisited Georgia Tech on multiple occasions to share his experiences with students, faculty and alumni.
Recently, Arad spoke to the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine about the intense journey and the underpinnings he received in his Georgia Tech experience—here is an excerpt of the forthcoming feature article in the November, 2011 issue:
Sneak Preview: A Memorial to the Unthinkable: Excerpt from forthcoming article in the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine
“As I walked about the eerily empty and quiet streets of lower Manhattan, I was drawn to the fountain at the center of this public space,” he said. “There I found a few other people standing in silent contemplation. As I joined this circle—strangers both to me and to each other—I felt a sense of kinship and belonging. I was no longer confronting the horrors I had seen alone."
“I could not articulate it clearly at that moment, but I felt a bond form as I understood that I was a New Yorker now in a way I had never been before.”
Arad’s vision was no longer of a lonely memorial in the Hudson River, out of reach, but of one incorporated into the city. A memorial that would be a shared space, a continuing site for remembrance and bonding.
Arad came to Tech with no architecture background, and so he entered the intensive three-year graduate program. He recalled it as an “excellent” if challenging experience, one that gave him a thorough foundation.
Tech’s College of Architecture doesn’t hew to a single ideology, and Arad soaked up the distinct voices of his professors. He recalled classes with professor Douglas Allen as putting architecture into the context of history and the surrounding urban form. He learned he needed to bring his own voice to a project while collaborating with others. It was advice that would serve him well in the hard years ahead.
[Allen, a landscape architect and longtime fixture in the college, would become a sounding board for Arad on several occasions as he prepared his submission for the international competition.]
Word came back in January of 2004. Their design was the winner. Vartan Gregorian, who chaired the 13-member jury, said, “the result is a memorial that expresses both the incalculable loss of life, and regeneration.”
Previously an unknown architect, Arad knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime. But he didn’t know that the selection would come with so many challenges. He didn’t know how much work and stress and uncertainty and media scrutiny would fill the next eight years as he fought to bring his vision to life.
“This project in many ways is like this long journey, and I feel like I’m about to reach its end,” he said. “I very much welcome that moment. I think it’s going to be a difficult and sad day. But there will also be a sense of pride and achievement.
“I’ve certainly grown as a person. I’m just very glad I’ve had a part in this undertaking. It meant so much to me.”