The events of September 11th, 2001 are forever etched into the memory of America’s history. In the moments since the attacks, Americans have vowed to never give up and never forget the memories of the lives lost and those forever changed. The themes of American Patriotism and the endurance of American spirit is represented among all three 9/11 memorials – the World Trade Center, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and Pentagon. They also have a shared goal of providing Americans with a space to remember the lives lost as a result of the attacks. However, how their chosen designs carry out these purposes and inform the memorial ceremonies that take place there, differ based on the site’s role prior to the attacks and the the role of the people who fell victim to these attacks in these locations.
The argument is outlined by looking at evidence from each memorial site.
I first look to the role each site played before September 11th, 2001. I then look at what was lost during the attacks. Finally, I look at the key design elements from the designs chosen by the jury selection committees of each site. (to learn more, see content at bottom of page)
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The World Trade Center
Unlike the memorial spaces at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, the competitors for the WTC Memorial competition had to consider what would be made of the destroyed Twin Towers. For New York City, the loss of the Twin Towers, was a loss of a distinct NYC landmark. The WTC was also a major civilian work complex that house many companies.
As told by the authors of September 11 in Popular Culture: A Guide : A Guide, “on September 11, the familiar image of the Twin Towers became even more significant because it was no longer there.” The designer competing to have their design chosen had to figure out what would be made of the pieces left behind from the towers and surround buildings.
The winning design featured two pools containing the names of lives lost during the attacks of September 11th, 2001, as well as accounted for those lost during the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993. The pools were placed in the footprints of the Twin Towers, paying homage to the powerful landmarks that once towered over the city. In addition, the finalized design also featured a museum underneath the memorial, which is not seen in any other 9/11 memorial site location. The museum “serves as the country’s principal institution concerned with exploring the implications of the events of 9/11, documenting the impact of those events and exploring 9/11’s continuing significance,”as stated by the mission statement by the museum.
Unlike the other two sites, the Pentagon was a federal building. As told in a 2002 article in the Marine Gazette, which compared the Pentagon in 1942 to its role nearly sixty years later, the 9/11 terrorists “attacked the heart, soul, and nerve center of our Nation’s defense establishment.”
The Pentagon is unique because the building was only partially destroyed, but was swiftly rebuilt. Known as the “Phoenix Project,” reconstruction efforts were completed by the first anniversary of the attacks. Neither the WTC, nor in Shanksville, Pa were spaces reconstructed to fit its original purpose.
A public memorial was chosen by a selection committee, which included a memorial park with benches for all 184 victims of the attack on the Pentagon. The design features a space for the 59 victims of Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon, with engravings for these individuals that are read in view of the sky. Meanwhile, engravings honoring the 125 victims from the Pentagon are read in view of the building.Additionally, the reconstructed Pentagon wing would include a memorial chapel. The chapel is more exclusive than that of sacred spaces at the WTC and Pennsylvania memorials, given its position inside the Pentagon. It is for the use of Pentagon personnel, other members of the government, and the select visitors of the Pentagon. It also serves other purposes (ceremonies and memorials) other than those specifically meant for the remembrance of 9/11.
The Flight 93 space in Shanksville, Pennsylvania is distinct from the other two sites, because it was not known to the public prior to 9/11. The land was a family farm in rural Pennsylvania before the attacks.
The 2,000 plus acres was eventually turned over to National Park Service. This is unlike the two other site, as both the WTC and Pentagon remained under the same governing body as they had been before the attacks took place. Unlike the WTC and Pentagon there were no limitations on how to incorporate buildings, or remnants there of, into the memorial space.
In contrast to the WTC and Pentagon, there were no videos or pictures when the flight crashed. According to Cynthia Weber, author of “Popular Visual Language as Global Communication: The Remediation of United Airlines Flight 93,” the remediation of “UA93 from an event which no surviving person and no camera witnessed directly into and immediate, first-person experience for any American was never going to be an easy task. Yet it was far easier to pull off than remediations of the other terrorist attacks of that day.” Much of the sentiments surrounding the memorial in Pennsylvania highlight the tremendous heroism demonstrated by the victims of Flight 93. The individuals of UA93 know about the hijackings of other flight, information that individuals on the other flights used in the 9/11 attacks would not have know. Recordings recovered from the crash site and witness testimonies from families detail the heroic actions of the flight crew and passengers as they attempted to thwart the hijackers plans. The committee wanted to honor these actions. In the end the selection committee chose Paul Murdoch’s design which “included a marble wall listing the names of the forty passengers who died in the crash” of Flight 93 and, “a concrete ‘Tower of Voices’ housing forty white wind chimes.” The design embodies the motto of the site which reads, “A common field one day. A field of honor forever.” A nod to the rural field’s ordinary beginnings out of the public eye, to its transformation into a national icon based on the heroic action of Flight 93’s passengers.