TERENCE SMITH: For six months now, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood, New Yorkers have seen only a gaping hole in the city's downtown skyline. But beginning tonight and for the next month there will be a dramatic change.
Instead, from two platforms near ground zero two columns of pure light will beam into the night sky. The project is called tribute in light. It commemorates the victims of the September 11 attacks, the destroyed buildings, and the spirit and survival of the city itself. Gustavo Bonevardi is an architect and a member of the creative team that designed the project.
GUSTAVO BONEVARDI, Architect: This really has become very much a memorial to those who lost their lives. The idea of light is almost like the souls of those who died rising up to heaven. At the same time, it still does have a double meaning.
It is a memorial, but I hope that it's also light as life, light as hope, light as renewal.
TERENCE SMITH: The memorial is made up of 88 separate spotlights, 44 to a platform. Each light is powered by a 7,000-watt xenon bulb.
All told, the focused rays will equal the power of two million light bulbs. And weather permitting, it can be seen from 30 miles away from dusk to 11:00 PM.
PAUL MARANTZ, Lighting Director, "Tribute in Light:" Astronauts will see it when they're circling overhead. Very easy to see.
TERENCE SMITH: Paul Marantz is the lighting director of the tribute. It's the first project of its kind to simply light air.
PAUL MARANTZ: Usually we light something physical, but it's very important that this memorial is not a physical thing; it is really just the idea of light alone. And it was important for us to not get involved at this point in the process in a monument that was monumental. And so we're... the idea of this is that it is temporary, it is as thin as air, and therefore we're marking a moment in time, but this is not the permanent memorial for the tragedy of September 11.
TERENCE SMITH: The idea for the tribute was born in the initial hours after the attacks. Several different artists and architects, including Bonevardi and his partner, John Bennett, had similar visions purposes in mind.
GUSTAVO BONEVARDI: At that time on the 13th, the first week-- the 12th, the 13th, the 14th-- we still thought that hundreds of people were going to be rescued, were going to be pulled out from the rubble. What we really wanted to do-- we wanted to do a sign, a symbol to inspire the rescue workers. We wanted to... not recreate the buildings, we wanted to somehow heal the Manhattan skyline. We wanted to help the city with these lights to get it through its darkest time.
TERENCE SMITH: Artists Julian LaVerdiere and Paul Myoda had a similar idea of their own. They were working on a light sculpture for the top of the World Trade Center during the summer. For that reason, The New York Times asked them for a reflective vision in the days afterward.
PAUL MYODA, Artist: Within the space of a very few minutes, the idea sort of revealed itself to us, that this sort of ungodly plume of smoke, this illuminated smoke cloud, which every New Yorker will remember forever... we thought about sort of reconfiguring the chaotic smoke cloud-- we wanted to reconfigure it into the orderly image that was in our mind's eye.
JULIAN LaVerdiere, Artist: And it was very much in the spirit of the candlelight vigils that were held immediately within the following nights-- tens of thousands of candles lit by people in all walks of life, nobody knowing one another, but joining together in mutual grief. And it dawned on us that that's what we should build: Some sort of structure that could generate that same sensation.
GUSTAVO BONEVARDI: My only explanation in a way is after having stared at those towers for so many hours that day, you'd close your eyes and it's like an afterimage. You would see the towers as a negative on your retina. And I think it's this vision that so many people in the city had.
TERENCE SMITH: The Municipal Art Society brought those individuals together, as well as architect Richard Nash Gould to begin working on a unified concept. Corporate sponsors General Electric, Deutschebank, and AOL/Time Warner, underwrote much of the costs, totaling $500,000.
All agreed the tribute should be only a temporary memorial and, lest it interrupt the recovery work, not be located on the hallowed ground of the attacks. The creative team says it has made every effort to minimize disruption in the neighborhood.
The tribute will continue through April 14. At that time, like a candle, it too will go out.