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(F)LIGHT : THE LUMINOUS ROOFSCAPE
flight 93 9/11 National Memorial
Awards : Two Ontario Association of Architects Award in 2006 and 2007, International Competition - Finalist of 1011 submissions
This is a working story of the evolution and philosophy that culminated in the creation of a September 11 National Memorial.
Unlike previous September 11 memorials, the Flight 93 National Memorial was charged with the unique challenge of remembering the tragedy through the collective acts of courage and sacrifice shown by passengers and crew which resulted in the saving of countless lives. Such is best described in Flight 93's Mission Statement:
A common field one day. A field of honor forever. May all who visit this place remember the collective acts of courage and sacrifice of the passengers and crew, revere this hallowed ground as the final resting place of those heroes, and reflect on the power of individuals who choose to make a difference.
There are, according to writer Marcel Proust, two different kinds of memories. The first found in a nostalgia located in the past, "... touched with a sentimentality that remembers things not as they were, but as we want to remember them". The next is what is known as a living memory, "... which is active in the present and devoid of nostalgia for a remembered past". Both are equally valid means of memorializing for they inevitably lead to the same result - a reconciliation with the past.
The manner in which the memorial chooses to address the issue of memory and healing was critical - the choice between nostalgia or living memory would inevitably effect contemporary and future generations. Many perceive healing through nostalgia as a temporary means of reconciliation due to its tendency to veil one's perception of the truth, it embraces one in the ecstasy of comfort and ease. Memorializing nostalgia is unfortunately detrimental to the collective memory of a civilization. It is cosmetic and a proponent of Jacob's 'cultural mass amnesia' in which future generations lose touch with the 'living experience' of that which truly unfolded.
Called (F)Light: the luminous roofscape, the memorial attempts to capture the solemn yet inspirational journey of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 through the harmony of sculptural form, light and landscape. It explores the act of reconciling family members, a nation, the world and future generations to the tragedy that transpired through 'living memory' manifested in the 'scar' and absence in the 'void'.
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(F)LIGHT : THE LUMINOUS ROOFSCAPE
flight 93 9/11 national memorial
This memorial recounts the experience of 40 people who uncovered the designs for a doomed voyage and acted to re-chart its journey. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 gave up their own lives to save countless others. Their gesture and loss remains forever etched in the memories of their loved ones, a great nation and the world.
A violent scar on a Pennsylvanian meadow marked their journey’s end. This scar traces the horrific yet inspirational narrative that is the legacy of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. It transformed what was a common field one day into a field of honor forever.
◄ The memorial proposes a place that resonates with tragedy and absence, but also of inspiration and hope through the inscription of a luminous scar in a landscape previously defiled by mining. The memorial’s roofscape trajectory retraces the final journey of Flight 93: its departure from Newark, New Jersey at 8:42 a.m.; its hijacking and turning point above Cleveland, Ohio between 9:35 a.m. and 9:39 a.m., its descent and final resting place in the open fields of Somerset, Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m.
Ethereal and dynamic in composition, the roofscape comprises an outer textured cast glass shell and an inner laminated glass on quartzite skin fastened to a structural steel space frame. It gives form to the collective acts of courage and sacrifice of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 and acts as a guide throughout the entire memorial experience. While traversing through its luminous form, visitors are immersed in spaces of light and darkness, and exposed to dramatic views of the landscape. A narrative and timeline of the tragedy is etched into its under-skin.
The memorial is unadorned with specific personal accounts of the events. Rather, it proposes an ever-changing narrative formed by visitors and their interaction with the roofscape, timeline, light, and landscape. Its composition is majestic, eternal and reconciliatory.
The memorial is situated on a vast meadow scarred by drainage swales and mining pools. An extensive concrete wall sections a small fragment of that meadow. “A common field one day, a field of honor forever” is engraved at its northern end in polished quartzite. Descending into the entrance courtyard, visitors experience the collapsing of scales from vast landscape to sheltered memorial entrance. The wall and change in elevation effectively sever views of the meadow while preserving a view of the ridge over which Flight 93 emerged.
◄ The plane’s flight path is inscribed in the floor of the Entrance Courtyard. Beginning as a horizontally ascending wall at the southern portion of the memorial’s Entrance Courtyard, the roofscape folds and becomes a roof over the Passage of Collective Memory, rearticulates itself and becomes a wall at the Turning Point, and returns to a descending floor at the journey’s end in the Memorial Courtyard.
◄ At the Entrance Courtyard, the roofscape forms an enclosed, terraced overlook that orients and frames the Sacred Ground. Engraved on the quartzite wall is “0842: Departure from Newark, New Jersey”, recalling the beginnings of the doomed voyage. As two separate elements, the roofscape’s upper cast glass assembly begins its journey towards Sacred Ground as its quartzite counterpart rises horizontally. The materials unite at the entrance to the Passage of Collective Memory.
◄ The Passage of Collective Memory evokes the ordinary, individual memories of passengers and crew going about their everyday lives – a typical day of everyday concerns, wonderings and worries. Dim and enclosed, the passage descends into the earth. Above, the roofscape radiates with warm light accentuated with slivers of shimmering light refracted off the textured quartzite skin. Inscribed midway through the passage is 0928: Takeover.
◄ At the 0939: Turning Point, the roofscape reverses its course and unfolds into a semi-enclosed space. This space recalls the moment when the passengers and crew of Flight 93 became aware of their grave situation. The gradual unfolding of the roofscape exposes earth and sky; its white crushed stone courtyard amalgamates with a strip of onsite quarried stone that lines the underside of the Passage of Collective Memory. This space allows for pause and reflection.
◄ The roofscape’s composition ends at the open, paved Memorial Courtyard. It gradually descends into a horizontal position, revealing the Sacred Ground. Forming an inaccessible threshold, the roofscape creates a slight incision in the earth, situating visitors below the surface of the Sacred Ground. The descending trajectory of the quartzite shell folds and flattens to become a raised slab hovering above the dark concrete courtyard. The roofscape’s form and the surrounding tree line embrace and protect the memorial courtyard from the site’s prevailing winds.
The roofscape violently punctures the threshold of the Sacred Ground, its tip rupturing the earth’s delicate fabric. The words “1003:11 Sacred Ground” and the empowering mission statement mark the roofscape’s end. The 40 names of the deceased are inscribed on its monolithic form, creating contrasting scales between the individual and the enormity of their sacrifice. Its form separates and preserves the poignant absence of the Sacred Ground from the recovered landscape of the blooming white meadow. It is a place for remembrance and quiet reverence – a place for healing a scarred memory. ▼
◄ Upon departing the memorial, visitors find themselves immersed in the immensity of a vast bowl-shape meadow scarred by drainage swales and mining pools. Its 'void' and empty temperament signifies the beginning of a new journey in life - a chapter written in memory of loved ones.
Excerpts from the Stage II Jury Report:
The Jury believes that (F)Light come closest to having the visitor experience what the 40 felt when they acted. It may depict the conditions the heroes felt at the moment of heroism. (F)Light is both sobering and shocking. ... The memorial expression “scar” is placed in a manner that focuses the visitor to both the event and the actions of the 40 passengers and crew.
(F)Light had many proponents on the Jury because the design represents an emotional approach that focuses the visitor experience on the shock of the event. It is this experience by the visitor that would not be forgotten. ... The Jury commends (F)Light as a bold and daring design that captures the event and sends a strong emotional message. The “scar” is art - disturbing to some, challenging to others, but memorable to everyone - and would be a lasting voice for the event far into the future.
The Official Stage II Jury Report: here.
Each image is a 30x40 panel. All material are copyright, please do not use or reproduce without author's permission. For more information and media related
inquiries please feel free to contact the author or the main competition website at www.flight93memorialproject.org.