Published: January 15, 2004
Somewhere down the road, the name "Reflecting Absence" will probably become a historical footnote. That name describes a design by Michael Arad and the landscape architect Peter Walker, a plan chosen by a jury, elaborated with their help and presented to the public in detail for the first time yesterday. But when construction is finished, when visitors wander through what Mr. Walker called "the forest grove" and come upon the voids marking the footprints of the twin towers, "Reflecting Absence" will have become, simply, the 9/11 Memorial. The anonymity of that name — the way it takes for granted the design's expressive power — will be the highest compliment the public can pay the designers and the jury that selected them.
The program for the memorial competition specified a number of conditions the winning design must meet. As a result, it goes without saying that "Reflecting Absence" provides private meditative space for the families of 9/11 victims and that it names each of the nearly 3,000 people who died on Sept. 11, 2001, and during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. This design succeeds by making those requirements look natural and necessary. But it also succeeds, on a much broader scale, by invoking the presence of water, trees and rock. The water defines the voids and cascades down through them.
The initial version of "Reflecting Absence" was powerful but stark. The memorial design jury performed a great service to the city by encouraging revisions that produced a purity of design deserving strong protection. The design that was revealed yesterday is one in which privacy and community work together, where one can find intimacy in the broad expanse of ground zero. Above all, it is a place where the urban texture of lower Manhattan is reunified and given something it never had before: an inviting, natural, open space