Monday, May 29, 2006

9-11 memorials: what might have been

The Weekly Standard has a long article on the Pentagon 9-11 Memorial.

The main idea behind this design seems to be that the memorial units, with the names of their loved ones inscribed on the benches' front ends, will help the bereaved reach closure. The precedent is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall, with its multitude of names listed in the chronological order of death. But leaving aside the fact that the chevron-shaped Vietnam memorial is spatially compact, clearly focused on its vertex, and handsomely inserted in its landscape setting, it is becoming increasingly clear that the therapeutic culture's dominion over memorial design since Maya Lin's triumph has swiftly degenerated into a tyranny. This tyranny suppresses any expression of civic idealism, let alone spiritual destiny.

Sad and all too true. The Vietnam Memorial really is the mother of all our flat, sterile, contemporary memorials. I've always liked this from Tom Wolfe on the Wall and the design that was passed over:

Nine of the top 10 choices were abstract designs that could be executed without resorting to that devious and accursed bit of trickery: skill. Only the No. 3 choice was representational. Up on one end of a semicircular wall bearing the 57,000 names was an infantryman on his knees beside a fallen comrade, looking about for help. At the other end, a third infantryman had begun to run along the top of the wall toward them. The sculptor was Frederick Hart.

The winning entry was by a young Yale undergraduate architectural student named Maya Lin. Her proposal was a V-shaped wall, period, a wall of polished black granite inscribed only with the names; no mention of honor, courage or gratitude; not even a flag. Absolutely skillproof, it was

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