September 27th, 2011

The sound of the 9/11 memorial

Around the time of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 I wrote a post about the new 9/11 Memorial at the site. From the photos and the descriptions of the installation, it looked like a moving and profound tribute.

Now I read about an additional quality of the memorial that I hadn’t heard mentioned before—its sound:

As one nears the pools across the light-gray granite paving stones installed by Walker, the murmur of rushing water rises from the cascades that pour Niagara-like down all four sides of the sunken fountains. The sound becomes louder and louder, until it reaches such a steady crescendo that the noise of the surrounding city, even from the construction going on very close by, is drowned out completely…

The propulsive aural and visual excitement of the three-story-deep waterfall and its mysterious disappearance captures and holds your attention in a way most unusual for the static medium of conventional architecture. That distraction makes one’s next perception all the more shocking, as you focus on the names of the victims, incised into the continuous tilted rim of bronze tablets that surround each pool.

The initial perspective provided by the cascades mimics a technique employed in classical Japanese gardens, through which one’s gaze is briefly diverted by a change in paving, screening, or some other element to dramatize a coming transition. Here, after you take in the diaphanous waterfalls, you discover spread out before you at waist level the names, the names, the names. Nearly three thousand victims—not only those lost at the World Trade Center, but also those who died at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania—are memorialized with their names inscribed in Hermann Zapf’s classic Optima typeface of 1952–1955 (an elegant, slightly flaring sans-serif font), with the letters cut through the bronze so they can be backlit after dark. This is a typographic tour de force.

I am very much looking forward to seeing (and hearing) this and judging for myself.

9 Responses to “The sound of the 9/11 memorial”

  1. SteveH Says:

    Something this big and important always ran the risk of becoming a hodgepodge by commitee. Looks like somebody had the sense to let one very good architect do his thing.

  2. Jewel Says:


  3. Don Carlos Says:

    “I came away with the same feeling that overtakes one after a funeral or memorial service for a relative or close friend”, the NYRB writer observes.

    She does not say what that “same feeling” is. I expect she means sadness. But these people didn’t die of cancer or in an accident. They were murdered by jihadists. Where is the writer’s anger?

    Sadness is a passive, inward emotion. Anger is activating.

    We need some anger at this Memorial, but that is denied us by design.

  4. Promethea Says:

    I’ll probably like the memorial in same way that I like Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial. Very moving.

    However, I strongly agree with Don Carlos that September 11 memorials have stomped on the anger that we should feel toward this ATROCITY. Sadness should not be the main emotion.

    Enough already with the victimology–which now pervades our culture like an allergy or an everlasting case of acne. Where’s our American spirit?

    I’m especially outraged by the Flight 93 memorial. That should have showed the defiance of free people united against their Islamist murderers. The Flight 93 heroes saved our government. The so-called memorial is designed to make us sad instead of proud. It will be a blot on our landscape, and I hope it gets vandalized so that the “crescent” is destroyed.

    I guess there’s a reason why I’ve been reading Brad Thor, Vince Flynn, and F. Paul Wilson “repairman jack” novels. I want to see heroism honored and the bad guys taken out.

  5. Colin Says:

    I can’t say I’d want an ‘angry’ memorial, no matter the justification. In honoring the dead and their memory, I think it works, and seems a fitting tribute on that level. It could have been much, much worse.

    I used to feel an echo every time the anniversary swung around. 10 years on, I can’t say I honestly feel the rage and bewilderment of that day anymore. Just a resigned sadness and a resolve that such a thing be deterred as strongly as possible.

    Anger and righteous rage have their place, but I don’t think they need to be nurtured and tended like some flame that should never die.

  6. Promethea Says:

    Colin . . .

    We can’t remain in a permanent state of rage, that’s not a good memorial.

    But a good memorial would honor American values and heroism.

    As I said in my comment above, I’ll probably like this one anyway. I’m just disturbed by the direction our formerly optimistic culture has taken.

    I hope there are a few American flags at this memorial site. Maybe that terrific photo of three firemen raising the flag against the destroyed background.

  7. Artfldgr Says:

    i nearly forgot…
    and dont know where to put the post…

    hopefully here is ok..

    L’Shana Tovah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Promethea Says:

    Artfldr . . .

    Thank you for your holiday wishes!

    And in that spirit I’ll tell you the story of most of our Jewish holidays….

    “They tried to kill us. They failed. When do we eat?”


  9. Wm Lawrence Says:

    I wonder if the falling water will be loud enough to drown out the call to prayer from the new mosque.

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