Architecture Review Recap: National September 11 Memorial

Despite having its own many pitfalls and delays, architect and designer Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker‘s “Reflecting Absence,” the National September 11 Memorial, has sometimes seemed like one of the high points of all the very-frequently troubled projects being built on the former World Trade Center Towers grounds, because it occasionally felt like it might really get finished. Now that it’s preparing to open next month, along with the the National September 11 Museum (tickets for which now won’t be available for months), some of the headlining architecture critics have gotten an early look and have since weighed in. While all the critics take note that the memorial is still virtually in the center of a construction site, given the towers going up alongside it, the verdicts are generally positive. The Chicago Tribune‘s Blair Kamin, who also interviewed master planner Daniel Libeskind to go along with his review, decides that “Though not profoundly original, the memorial still rises to a level of noble simplicity, one that could well be enhanced by the presence of people and their interaction with the victims’ names and each other.” New York‘s Justin Davidson, like Kamin, can only speculate about what the minimalist memorial will look like once all the construction ends and it begins interacting with normal, day to day life, closing with the thought, “I can’t help wondering whether the place will really be exhortation to memory, or just a pair of darkly alluring holes—a doubled invitation to oblivion.” Finally, the Los Angeles TimesChristopher Hawthorne gives the memorial perhaps its lowest marks, citing all the hurdles Arad, Walker, and the memorial’s planners had to jump through to get it built as the reason. He also adds that “It lacks the sharp conceptual power that an artist, rather than an architect, might have brought to the job” and that in appeasing all parties, “his design operates both as a pared down, abstract design and as a literal representation of what once covered the site.” This last review sparked something of a battle between Hawthorne and Huffington Post contributor Steve Rosenbaum, who penned a piece chiding the critic, claiming many of the facts in his review were wrong. Hawthorne replied, but only in brief, implying that Rosenbaum had not understood the things he had intended to refer to.