A place for reflection
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Strength, sadness, anger, and then frustration - the 16-acre area in downtown Manhattan that was home to the World Trade Center until the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, brings out a lot of emotions, says National September 11 Memorial & Museum President Joe Daniels. On Monday, the memorial site was officially opened to the public.
“Remember the empty pit, that frustrated a lot of people for a while,” says Daniels, referring to the nine months of cleanup after the attacks, and the years of waiting for an appropriate commemoration of that day.
“But this is the final stop for this very sacred ground, to create a place of beauty, a place that has seen so much pain and tragedy, but now, really it’s an inspiring place,” he says.
The Memorial, called “Reflecting Absence”, is made up of two enormous reflecting pools set in the footprints of the Twin Towers. Each square pool has waterfalls cascading down all sides.
“It’s nice to come up to a place which is teeming with life. The minute you step foot on the plaza, you’re surrounded by trees, and grass and cobblestones and you hear the rushing water, and you finally get to approach this incredible waterfall,” says Anthoula Katsimatides.
She lost her brother John, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, in the North Tower. “I’m finally able to touch John’s name, and know he is forever going to be preserved,” she says.
The names of 2,983 victims are inscribed onto bronze panels surrounding the pools. It includes those who died in the September 11 2001 attacks in New York, at the Pentagon in Washington DC, and aboard Flight 93, as well the World Trade Center bombing on February 26, 1993.
The memorial and the plaza were built by architect Michael Arad. He says it was important to create something that would be appropriate for the families of the victims.
“For us, it was about not embellishing it with personal design, about flourishes, but letting the history of the site come through in an unmediated way. And I think that’s happened - bringing a community of people together,” says Arrad.
The names are in nine groupings that correspond to whether the person was a first responder, or a victim of the Pentagon attack, the Twin Towers attacks, on one of the flights that crashed, or part of the group that died in the February 1983 attack on the World Trade Center.
Within each group, the architects worked to accommodate families, friends and colleagues who requested that certain names be together. “Others were for loved ones to be listed with people they may have barely known or just met, but with whom intense bonds were quickly formed as a result of shared response,” according to the Memorial’s website. Over 1,200 of these requests were made and all are reflected on the Memorial.
Swamp white oaks are planted all around the plaza, which was designed by landscape architect Peter Walker. He added one special “Survivor tree”, which stands on the plaza. It was badly damaged and discovered in the wreckage in October 2001.
The Callery pear tree survived not only 9/11, but a storm in 2010. Organizers say the tree’s vitality is a true example of its determination to survive and grow.
Some people have criticized long wait until the memorial was opened, saying it took too long to open. Some family members saw the opening of the plaza as a way to finally look ahead.
Katsimatides disagrees. “I can completely understand with people who are not intimately involved with the project and why they think 10 years is such a long time. For a family member who has lost someone on 9/11, 10 years is the blink of an eye.”
“It was important to take our time, to get it right, to build a lasting legacy for people to come to for generations,” she adds.
And when the site is completed, the Memorial will serve as twin centrepieces on a green roof top, with seven underground stories and a train station. The 9/11 Memorial museum will open on September 11 2012.
For those who cannot make the trip to New York, you can visit the site online too, at www.911memorial.org
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