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JEFFREY BROWN: In New York this morning, a design by 34-year-old Michael Arad, an architect with the New York City Housing Authority, and landscape architect Peter Walker, was unveiled as the winner of a nine-month international competition.
Their design, picked from more than 5,000 submissions, is entitled “Reflecting Absence,” and features sunken reflecting pools at the footprints of the original twin towers.
Thirty feet below ground, visitors will see the pools through a curtain of falling water, along with the names of the victims of Sept. 11 and the 1993 bombing of the trade center.
Also underground will be a chamber for family members, with a vessel containing unidentified remains of those who died, and a museum containing remains from the original buildings and other artifacts.
At ground level, the twin pools will be surrounded by rows of deciduous trees and benches. The memorial design is now the central feature of the 16-acre master plan for the entire World Trade Center site.
JEFFREY BROWN: The winning design was chosen by a jury of 13 members, including architect Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as well as artists, historians and civic leaders. Its chairman joins us now.
Vartan Gregorian is president of the Carnegie Corp. of New York, a major philanthropic foundation, and the former president of Brown University. Mr. Gregorian, before I ask you about the particular design that won, tell us about the essential assignment that you were given. What had to be there in a design?
VARTAN GREGORIAN: We had to satisfy several demands. Number one, it had to recognize all the names of the victims.
Second, we had to be national rather than New York alone because we included Pentagon and Pennsylvania victims as well as 1993 victims of the bombing of the World Trade Center.
Then we had to have access to the bedrock which is very crucial to the families. Then we had to be international and national in nature because we have 85 different nationalities who had died in a terrorist act.
On top of all of this we had to do something spectacular namely to satisfy the individual tragedies but then go beyond that and namely provide a memorial for the nation as well as the world.
JEFFREY BROWN: So out of more than 5,000 submissions, why did you pick the one that you did in the end?
VARTAN GREGORIAN: Well, we wanted to have something that marked the tragedy, something that was not a cemetery, something that also celebrated life, something also that was defiant, namely that New York would not be prostate, New York would not be vanquished, America would not be vanquished, but rather life and tragedy are hand in hand, but life always will be there, and that New Yorkers have been able to cope with the tragedy, but they want to go beyond it, remembering but then at the same time carrying the life and the progress of the life of New York.
JEFFREY BROWN: I understand that you asked for some revisions by the original design by Michael Arad, including an underground museum. Tell us about why those were added.
VARTAN GREGORIAN: We had 5,201 out of which we reduced it 250, then eight and then three finalists. All the finalists were given assignments and questions, technical and other things, but also we wanted to be sure that the exact position of the memorial was understood clearly by everyone.
So we asked the Arad Project that it had to develop a landscape because it was too arid, too dry, no pun intended, as well as it did not have the kind of life, it only spoke about death and remembrance and void. But we wanted to also to have life and symbolically to show that the trees, and nature will always be there as symbols of life — the kind of juxtaposition between that remembrance and life.
So one of the demands that we had that Arad had to get a partner, a landscape architect, that happened. Second thing we wanted to be sure that the museum exists in order to have all the memorabilia, most important ones, the relics of firemen’s badges, helmets, all of them and policemen’s as well will be preserved.
And last but not least we wanted also something private for the families. Those are all articulated by the commission that was given to us by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, there has as you know there’s been a lot of criticism along the way of the quality of the final designs and a sense from some people that maybe we’ve moved too fast with such an important event. What’s your response to those?
VARTAN GREGORIAN: Well, my response first of all, we’re very happy about critical responses we have received.
As I’ve told every reporter, a book not reviewed is a dead book. So there was so much criticism, good and bad critical reviews that we were very happy about it.
Second, we were given a task to be democratic in our outreach, and the world. So we did not design this monument, we chose one. And we did our best to choose.
And finally, the critics who have mentioned not completely all of them are antagonistic. There were many polls taken, some of them very, very favorable, on the Arad project and the cloud as well as the garden.
So the critics we’ll say New York is an impatient city, does not want to wait for a long time, it wants to repair its wounds and then move forward. And therefore we were given an assignment not to wait but to do now. But we also know that this monument will be evolving with time. It already has evolved a lot within six, seven months and I’m sure there will be more evolution in the years to come.
JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask but the broader debate that you clearly tapped into, a question of how we create memorials today. There was an interesting statement in your jury statement today, a few lines I just want to read to you: “Memory belongs primarily to the individual, at the same time we must acknowledge the extent to which the evolving process of memory also belongs to … communities and even entire nations. How to collect the disparate memories of individuals and communities together in one space … and give them material from has always been the daunting challenge of any memorial site.” How did you resolve that challenge, how do we as a nation now resolve that kind of challenge?
VARTAN GREGORIAN: Well, it’s a most difficult question you’re asking, because we through analogy, at least I did, about tragedy, when somebody suffers privately, it’s a private reverse, private illness, private failure, but when does it become the private tragedy national tragedy, common tragedy? As a result, we resolved that collection of all the tragedies become universal and that’s what memorial has done.
It has to withstand the test of time, it has to withstand evolution of the feelings that go beyond individuals, we are not providing a cemetery where individuals can go and grieve over their own dead, we also provide a monument which transcends individual tragedies and becomes a monument for the time to come, for future generations, so we can remember from generation to generation.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Vartan Gregorian, thank you very much for joining us.
VARTAN GREGORIAN: Thank you.