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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Half Dose #54: Pentagon Memorial

The seventh anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001 saw the opening of the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, from a competition-winning design by Kaseman Beckman Advanced Strategies.

[competition rendering | image source]

The location for the commemoration of the 184 victims of the attack is the actual site of the crash of American Airlines flight 77, on the west side of the five-sided building (the building in the plan below "points" northeasterly). The memorial is reached by foot from either the Metro Station on the building's east side or from a tunnel under I-395, after which one must traverse a large surface parking lot.

[location plan | image source]

While the given site for the competition makes the foot approach and ambience of the adjacent traffic less than ideal conditions for a memorial, the specificity was inspiration for the winning team. Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman's design uses the trajectory of the aircraft as a device for what is in effect a visual display of data: age, represented by rows of "memorial units" that correspond to year of birth (further defined by the height of the units), and the presence of the victim in the plane or in the Pentagon, represented by the directionality of the units.

[site plan | image source]

These "memorial units" appear like strips of pavement peeling up to form benches. The cavities below are filled with water that is then illuminated, making the nighttime effect of the 24-7 memorial particularly strong. Each unit is a personal marker to a victim, with the individual's name engraved into cast aluminum on the underside of the bench. The prefabricated units are very elegant, if overly stylish; their forms relate to the movement of the plane but also the shape of its wings.

[the memorial after opening day | image source]

The objective, statistical derivation of the memorial's design is its most controversial aspect -- lacking meaning in one critic's opinion -- as is the site's resemblance to a graveyard. Like any memorial that must address destruction on such a scale, the designers faced the difficulty of expressing individual loss as a part of something greater. Their decision to essentially treat each victim as an equal (in form, treatment, illumination, everything but location) units them in the common bond of the tragic act. Individuality is not lost, it is played down in favor of something that approximates a field in physics, where particles are under the influence of a force. Here the force is obvious.

[the memorial after opening day | image source]

An important piece of the memorial design that should improve the experience of the place over time are the trees that will mature to create a canopy and provide intimacy and hopefully relief from the adjacent highway. By locating the memorial units in a system that disperses them fairly equally, if randomly, the personal grief that a memorial should help foster is lacking. Enclosure is required to bring one closer to the deceased, in an intimate and fairly private setting, as merely sitting on a bench marker seems insufficient. But for the canopy to resemble the drawing below it will take a long time, too long for those striving to find something personal within the abstract.

[detail section of "memorial unit" | image source]


  1. Interesting design. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. a monument to the greatest cover up this century. cool.

  3. the designer(s) is/are really creative , nice post :)

  4. I just learned about your blog, and I hadn't realized that they'd opened the memorial. Thanks for your post!

  5. I'm a french architect. Very interisting, really. because we are important for built the environment in which the human beings will be able to bloom. But, please, do not speak about crash or provide proof therefore. We do not have the right to spread lies. We must remain honest. It is not about crash, no photograph proved it. Contrariwise, it would be just like that taken up of any room by those who have big interests to develop wars, these last being very profitable and judicious (to reinforce the patriot act for instance).

  6. The design is very simple and smooth. Pleasing to the eye as well.

  7. As someone who has visited this memorial and knew professionally one person who died in this attack I left this site feeling a little let down. I'm not sure how to describe the feeling. Although the memorial is aesthetically very pleasing, it lacks an emotional component that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial accomplishes so well. Perhaps this memorial tries to convey too much, over too large a space to give the impact that one expects to feel when viewing it.

  8. Have to agree with Yves. But then again, it is each one's viewpoint.
    The design is very elegant. I really liked the idea of the pavement strips that form as seats. The lighting will definitely make it look even more striking at night. But it does not seem to be a place where someone can sit and grieve, or come to terms with a personal loss. Perhaps over time, the young trees will change the way this place looks. But, as you said, those who visit this place for solace or thinking - they shouldn't have to wait for it.
    I guess the 'treatment' for a war veteran memorial and a 'disaster site' would have to be very different.


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