The New York Times

The 9/11 Memorial: How Pluribus Became Unum


Published: January 19, 2004

Above all else, it was a jury.

It was sequestered, for six months, from those who would intrude. Its members were trapped in deliberation until consensus could be established. It called for expert testimony, then called for it again. It quarreled. It soul-searched. It schmoozed and, yes, it laughed.

Sometimes it despaired of reaching a verdict. And it worked as hard as if lives depended on it, which, in a broad sense, they did.

For its verdict was the World Trade Center memorial, commemorating 2,982 lives lost in the attacks of 2001 and 1993. The 13 jurors faced the formidable task of winnowing 5,201 submissions ranging from the sublime to something else. Big Apples. Towers inspired by Lego blocks. Clocks fixed at 9:11.

Assuming that the memorial motivates enough private donors to build it — the preliminary cost estimate is $175 million — the jurors' choice, "Reflecting Absence," by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, could be the most important public memorial in decades.

The 12 jurors and other officials who discussed their experiences with The New York Times opened the curtain on cloak-and-dagger moments — secret locations, two sets of entry keys and even anthrax screening. They bristled when they recalled some of the harsh criticism they could not help hearing. They proudly told of ignoring the footsteps of the powerful outside their jury rooms. And if they clashed during their 11th-hour bargaining at Gracie Mansion, they also fondly remembered its tranquillity, and the comfort food that fueled their struggle.

Almost from the start of the largest such competition in history, the jury bonded strongly. Maya Lin, one of the jurors, recalled being asked how they could go through 5,201 entries without feeling that they missed one.

"Many of us said, spontaneously: `I don't think of myself as one pair of eyes,' " she said. " `I think of myself as 13.' "

If the task was daunting, it was also inspiring. "The first time that I saw those hundreds of boards, my knees buckled," recalled Paula Grant Berry, a juror whose husband, David S. Berry, died in the south tower. "I was overwhelmed that so many people cared — and wanted to share our grief."

In an interview after the design was unveiled on Wednesday, Gov. George E. Pataki said, "Having a jury that was insulated and allowed to function — with the freedom to think and be involved and the freedom to have the time necessary to ultimately come up with what they thought was right — was absolutely essential."

"You can't," he continued, "have a memorial designed by politicians."

Overseeing the memorial, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation sought a jury largely of arts and cultural professionals, said the organization's president, Kevin M. Rampe. The belief was that it would lead to the best memorial and have the greatest chance of public acceptance.

The corporation also knew that to attract jurors of the highest caliber, they would have to be given the sole authority to make the final choice. Jurors were not paid.

The names of prospective jurors were discussed by Patricia E. Harris, the deputy mayor for administration, who ended up serving as a juror; Diana Taylor, the governor's deputy secretary for finance and housing; Louis R. Tomson, who was then president of the development corporation; John C. Whitehead, the corporation chairman; Anita F. Contini, director of the corporation's memorial program; and three corporation board members.

Vartan Gregorian, the president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and ultimately the jury chairman, was recruited by Mr. Whitehead. "He told me it would take a couple of weeks," Dr. Gregorian commented, with a laugh.

Michael McKeon, Governor Pataki's former communications director, allowed that he was seen at first as an outright political appointee. The jurors learned that Mr. McKeon, now a public relations consultant, had been working on the scene at ground zero for months, starting Sept. 11, 2001. He said he had signed onto the jury because "this was a way for me to finish the job."

As for Mr. McKeon being his eyes and ears on the panel, Governor Pataki said, "He was very silent."

Similarly, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that Deputy Mayor Harris, who oversaw the city's two Sept. 11 memorial ceremonies, "never shared with me the deliberations."

The question of including a juror who was related to a victim prompted a two-week discussion. There were fears that family members might be too close to their grief to work effectively with a jury and, on the other hand, that their opinions might be given inordinate weight.

In the end, the corporation realized that politically, it needed a family member. Ms. Berry, who is on the corporation's family advisory council, was asked to join.

"I agonized quite a bit," she said. "I needed reassurance that they didn't want someone to represent the families — because it is such a diverse group. But I hoped I could look at the process with the families' heart."

Ms. Lin, acutely conscious of her celebrated role as the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was also not easily persuaded. "She's a little uncomfortable about being Miss Memorial," another juror said. "She was conscious of checking her ego."

Ms. Lin and James E. Young of the University of Massachusetts, an expert in international memorial design, each agreed to serve if the other would. "I almost felt I needed to help, needed to be on the jury," Ms. Lin said, "that that was where I could help, where I could give back."

Nancy Rosen, a public art consultant, felt that being a juror meant facing a kind of quarantine: "We were like astronauts asked to go to some strange planet."


Setting the Rules

As submissions arrived at a warehouse on West 36th Street, the jury met with many groups and with the governor, the mayor and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. "All of them promised to affirm our autonomy and authority," Dr. Gregorian said.

For their part, jurors signed confidentiality statements restricting their public comments. But their silence during the process also reflected their respect for one another. "You did not leave a meeting and read about it the next day," Ms. Harris said.

Almost immediately, the jury challenged the master site plan by Studio Daniel Libeskind, which called for the entire memorial area to be depressed 30 feet below street level. "Most of us felt that an at-grade solution was preferable," said Julie Menin, a juror and president of Wall Street Rising, a nonprofit group set up after 9/11 to encourage the neighborhood's recovery.

Choosing the memorial was as much an urban planning exercise as an artistic commission. "It was the memorial site competition," said Susan K. Freedman, a juror and president of the Public Art Fund. "How many artists are given four and a half acres?"

Although there were two consultant firms to guide the process, it did not take long for the jurors to make their own rules, including a quorum of 100 percent for deliberations. "If somebody had to leave to get on an airplane, the meeting ended — period," said Ms. Harris. The jury also decided that the magic number for consensus would be 10 votes. And it wrangled with its stewards.

"There was constant friction with this group of jurors who hate authority," one official said. "They're a difficult group, but great jurors."

State officials were not the only ones to feel the jury's heat. Members debated among themselves — sometimes to the point of raised voices and stamping feet — how the memorial would feel to those who visited it. Jurors with a historical bent fought with those more concerned with the memorial's emotional and tactile impact.

Many jurors credited Ms. Contini, a former first vice president for sponsorships and events marketing at Merrill Lynch, for smoothing disagreements among them.

"I wanted to be sure that each juror always had the opportunity to have a voice," Ms. Contini said.


Narrowing the Field

With 5,201 entries to consider, the original strategy was for the submissions to be divided among three groups of jurors. The jury decided, though, that every juror would look at every board, including some 400 that had been disqualified on technicalities.

They did so in a 20,000-square-foot office on the 30th floor of the Equitable Building at 120 Broadway. When they gazed out the window, exhausted from viewing submissions, jurors saw ground zero.

A private investigation firm run by Bo Dietl, a former New York police detective, examined each submission for explosive devices or contamination by anthrax. The 30- by 40-inch entries were placed on hundreds of easels in rooms protected by a double-key system. Jurors' notebooks never left the office.

Mr. McKeon recalled the vista of easel after easel. "There was so much, and I didn't want to miss anything," he said. "It was an awesome responsibility. I didn't want to screw it up."

Throughout the process, jurors were permitted "passion votes" — designs that could be brought to the next stage of the judging by only one juror. One was cast by the architect Enrique Norten for "Passages of Light: the Memorial Cloud." "So few of the entries were unexpected, and this one was," he said. "I thought it was truly beautiful."

The daunting task of winnowing the submissions was accomplished in a succession of dogged seven- and eight-hour days. Jurors studied every presentation, identified only by six-digit codes. ("Reflecting Absence" was No. 790532.)

To be eliminated, a submission had to be signed by all the jurors. Votes were tabulated and retabulated as jurors asked to visit the nearly 600 easels again and again.

Jurors were appalled at the tastelessness of some entries, which conjured airplanes striking buildings and Las Vegas-style observatory towers. Other entrants had obviously studied the works of the jurors and attempted to win favor by adopting their design vocabulary.

"We resisted the idea of the literal," Dr. Young said, "that's why you don't get any Big Apples in our designs, or representations of airplanes, attacks, death, blood." The jury commissioned a survey of existing parks and grew certain that the memorial should offer residents green space. They asked engineers to explain how wind velocities would affect various tree species. They took into account predictions that the memorial would draw 10 million visitors a year.

The jurors shared thoughts on the phone, by e-mail, over drinks and dinner. "We liked to be together," Mr. McKeon said, but their shared responsibility "weighed heavier and heavier as it went on."

Discussion was heated at times, said Martin Puryear, a sculptor and jury member, "but nothing that could be called a meltdown."

Together, they clocked in thousands of hours. The jurors walked ground zero several times, pacing off the footprints to gauge the feasibility of the finalists.

They narrowed the selection to 250, then 50, then 25, then 11, then 9. A proposal called "Twin Piers" was eliminated when it was learned that its designer had submitted another entry, in violation of the rules. That left eight.


Despairing and Refining

Those finalists were given two months and up to $130,000 each to turn their original presentations into professional renderings, models and computer animations. The weekend before the first unveiling, on Nov. 19, the full jury met with the eight design teams and learned their identities.

Before the refined proposals went on public view, they were shown privately in a gallery at the World Financial Center in Battery Park City. Jurors, seeing the revisions for the first time, were underwhelmed.

"We knew a lot of these schemes didn't deliver the promise of what was on the stage-one boards," said Michael R. Van Valkenburgh, a juror who is a landscape architect. "It was a very heartbreaking time for the process."

Tensions rose as some jurors balked at a public display of the finalists. Other jurors countered that it was essential. Because the development corporation was committed to the presentation, the models were revealed.

Public and critical response was not encouraging. "Bland" and "generic" were two of the kindest characterizations. And, it turns out, Governor Pataki shared some of the frustrations.

"I — like I think most New Yorkers — didn't see one that just jumped out and struck me as the perfect, appropriate memorial," Mr. Pataki said. "So as you go through those discouraging moments, you think, `Hey, throw it out and start all over again.' But that's why we created a process where we had jurors who were insulated from those pressures."

Jurors read that victims' family groups were advocating the preservation of the original tower footprints and artifacts. They also read an article in The Times on Dec. 7 titled, "Ground Zero's Only Hope: Elitism," by Michael Kimmelman, the newspaper's chief art critic. He contrasted populism with democracy and suggested that the competition be started over and limited "to participants of the jury's expert choosing."

Jurors, including Mr. Puryear, were incensed. "Elitism was something I was absolutely opposed to," he recalled. "It smacks of smug cultural superiority, the opposite of the inclusive process we signed onto."

Matthew Higgins, the chief operating officer of the development corporation, sought a meeting with the editorial board of The Times. On Dec. 13, an editorial praised both "Garden of Lights" and "Memorial Cloud." They turned out to be two of the jurors' three favorites.


Picking a Winner

After working with the finalists to improve their designs, jurors gathered on Jan. 5 at Gracie Mansion. They were feeling the pressure. "I don't know that we were going to get out unless we had a decision," Mr. McKeon said.

With breaks for breakfast and lunch prepared by the in-house chef, the jurors heard the three remaining design teams make their final pitch.

Before the day began, "Reflecting Absence" was regarded as a dark horse, though it had been transformed from Mr. Arad's stark original, losing a slablike cultural building that state officials derided as "Motel 6."

There is a resemblance between "Reflecting Absence" and a sketchbook of memorial ideas by Ms. Lin that was published in The New York Times Magazine on Sept. 8, 2002.

In the end Ms. Lin said approvingly that "Reflecting Absence" "made something positive out of the void." Mr. Arad said he had been contemplating his memorial design long before he knew Ms. Lin would review his work in a competition.

Jurors dismissed the notion that Ms. Lin — or anyone else — could have commandeered the proceedings. "Otherwise the deliberations would not have lasted 12 hours," Dr. Gregorian said.

Instead, what swayed the jury was that the "Reflecting Absence" team was joined by Peter Walker, a well-known landscape architect in Berkeley, Calif., who had also submitted a plan to the competition.

"Without Walker, there would not be Arad," Dr. Gregorian said.

"Garden of Lights" had a lot of support, a juror said, but the support evaporated after a "very unfortunate last presentation" in which the design team failed to satisfy requests for refinements. Jurors who favored the "Garden" plan moved to "Reflecting Absence."

In their arguments, opponents of the cloud — as everyone called the "Memorial Cloud" design — focused on the very quality its advocates admired: its distinctive architecture called attention to itself rather than the tragedy. "Its spectacle was so eye-absorbing," Dr. Young said, "that it took us out of ourselves, at a memorial that should encourage us to contemplate inwardly."

Ballot after ballot was taken: 8 to 5, 6 to 7, 7 to 6, 9 to 4. There was still no consensus when the jurors broke for a dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, served with expensive bottles of Long Island estate merlot from the Gracie Mansion cellar. "The comfort food was important," Dr. Young recalled. "That break really helped."

Shortly before 11 p.m., faced with the prospect of adjourning and reconvening the next evening, Mr. Van Valkenburgh said he told his weary fellow jurors, "Somebody is going to have to change their vote."

"And somebody did," he said, without identifying that person. Ultimately 10 jurors voted for the Arad-Walker plan. Those who did not vote for it decided to support it. "Some left disappointed but not angry," Dr. Gregorian said.


A Beginning

The jurors did not reconvene until Wednesday's unveiling of the design in Federal Hall National Memorial. They blinked uncomfortably in the brilliant camera lights. Some reported a sad feeling of withdrawal. But none seemed to regret the powerful experience.

"After having a child," Ms. Freedman said, "there is nothing I have ever felt a greater responsibility for."

In a sense, it is just the beginning of a process that could further transform the memorial. Some jurors vowed that the voice of the jury would continue to be heard. "We intend," Ms. Berry said, "to see it to the end."


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