Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Flight 93 memorial: a controvery and a suggestion

The memorial being proposed for Flight 93, the aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11, has become controversial owing to the design element that gives the memorial its title - a crecent. The shape of the memorial as a whole is a crescent which is the internationally recognized sympol of Islam. Now, I don't know whether or not the designer had that in mind when he proposed the design. There are 2 points that indicate he did: 1) when a panel reviewing the design suggested to the designer that the shape coupled with the title, "Crescent of Embrace" implied a memorial to Islam or islamic beliefs and suggested a change to use the term "arc", the designer refused, and 2) since this controversy has been made public, the designer hasn't come right out and said it was a coincidence. All that said, I would submit that the distinction is immaterial. If the designer had been making a museum for WWII and had inadvertently made the building into the shape of a swastika, he'd be expected to change the design if building had not yet commenced. (Even if it's discovered after the building is done, it's at the very least embarrassing.)

Now, I am no artist. However, in the spirit of suggesting a solution whenever one complains, I'd like to recommend this as a design. I'm going to describe it in words since the crude sketch I just did confuses even me as to what the &$^@@! I was trying to portray.

I propose a memorial built upon a circular stone platform 80 feet in diameter. On the platform there will be a flagpole, 40 feet high, located 20 feet from the edge of the platform at the most southern position. At 40 feet due north of the flagpole, there will begin a sculpture consisting of two distinct parts. The first is a 20 foot tall "cut-off" obelisk. Think "Washington Monument" without the pointy top.The obelisk should 5 feet on a side at the bottom with a gentle taper to 4.5 feet on a side at the top.

On the side facing away from the flagpole (the north face) should be a brief narrative of what happened on 9/11 and how Flight 93 came to its end there. My recommended text is: "On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked by terrorists who hijacked passenger aircraft and crashed them into buildings in New York and Washington DC. On hearing about the other aircraft, the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 rose up against the terrorists on their flight and fought to regain control of the aircraft before it was crashed into a target in Washington, DC. During the battle, Flight 93 crashed in this field. The actions of the passengers protected the lives of Americans on the ground at the cost of their own."

The west face of the obelisk should have a carved image of the World Trade Center - just the 2 towers. This image should be stylized, not rendered realistic. The east face should have a carved image of the Pentagon. Again, it should be a stylized image.

The southern face of the obelisk (the one facing the flagpole) should have 2 images carved into it. The first, very near the top, should be a stylized image of an aircraft. It shouldn't be a realistic image identifiable as a specific aircraft model but a fairly generic passenger jet-looking image. The aircraft should be nose up at a 30° angle, my personal recommendation is ascending to the right, tail down to the left. About halfway down the obelisk will be the other image, that of an American flag. The flag will be carved as if billowing in the wind, but still flying full from a flagpole. The pole will have its top very near the left side of the face with a slight angle as you drop down the pole toward the right, perhaps 5°. The flag will be carved with the "trailing edge" flying at this same angle "up" from the leading edge attached to the pole. The image is to invoke an ascending wind. The flag and the aircraft will be about the same length and the plane will be directly over the flag with about 5 or 10 feet of separation.

The second element of the sculpture will be a cast bronze piece on the platform directly in front of the obelisk. It will start with a curving surface. Rising out of the surface will be 40 stylized human figures from just below the waist up. The figures will be identical and will not have any specifically recognized features - they will not be identified as specific individuals. The right arms of the figures will be positioned with their hands over their hearts as if reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or singing the National Anthem. The left arms will be hanging straight down ending in balled fists. The heads of the figures will be angled as if looking up. The specific angle should be such as to have the figures looking at a flag flying from the flagpole located to the south on the platform.

On plaques mounted directly in front of figures should be the following text: "This memorial is dedicated to the heroes of Flight 93 who stood together in defense of Liberty. September 11, 2001." The names of every passenger and crew member aboard will be listed below. Below all that, in a slightly larger font, should be "Let's Roll."

Have a museum or a vistors' center located somewhere nearby but not on the platform itself.

A memorial should be a memorial, not a museum and not a history lesson. It should certainly not be a analysis of the socio-ethnic cultural diorama blah, blah, blah. This should be a place to recall not just the sacrifice of those ordinary Americans thrust into extraordinary circumstances but the spirit in which they rose, together, to fight our common foe and the lucid bravery they displayed.

That's my suggestion.