Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Hard to believe it’s been ten years already. A lot has happened in those ten years, not all of it do I remember. I do know, however, that America is a different place because of those 102 minutes.

Our offices are located in Southern California, the main office in San Diego, which, as you may or may not have heard, experienced a complete blackout yesterday. A massive power outage left nearly 1.4 million people without power from Northern Mexico all the way into South Orange County, Palm Springs and Riverside. In the early hours of the outage the source was unknown, causing widespread speculation of another terrorist attack on our country, particularly due to the date and its proximity to 9/11. It was really interesting to see people’s reactions and behaviors in the wake of this event and how these types of things create major changes in people.

Traffic in South Orange County Thursday afternoon, Sept. 8, 2011, following a widespread power outage. 
 Photo: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times / AP

First off, I have no idea what people did before the invention of smart phones because for a better portion of the yesterday, it was the only way you could obtain information. I have heard and read many stories post-9/11 that talk about the sense of community and camaraderie in NYC. That sense of togetherness was not something I experienced in San Diego yesterday. On a small-scale, yes, within my own personal neighborhood, but not on a large, city or even county-wide scale. Sure, it was just a power outage, but being without power it became glaringly clear to me just how much we all rely on the modern conveniences of electricity and technology. The outage basically shut down our entire county. The roads were gridlocked because stop lights were out, gas stations were closed because all the pumps are now electric, businesses shut down due to lack of lighting, air and power to serve their customers, hospitals were nearly paralyzed and the airport grounded all departing flights. Turns out the event was caused by an Arizona Public Service employee during a routine check near Yuma. So great, no terrorist attack, but sheer panic and chaos – most definitely. This all got me thinking about the what if scenario. What if it had been another attack and we were in the dark (in nearly every way possible) for more than just a day.

Many people would agree that events like 9/11 are extremely powerful and should be – need to be – remembered. But how is the best way to do that? What form does it take and what is its intent? Sometimes the most powerful form of commemoration is to preserve the place where the event happened. This is the approach of the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, opening to the public on September 12, 2011. ‘Reflecting Absence’ as the memorial is called, was designed by Israeli-American architect, Michael Arad, who won the design rights in an international competition, beating out thousands of submissions from around the world. Designing a memorial like this must address a myriad of needs: how to communicate the details of the event to those who did not experience it; how to remember those who did not survive the event; and how to respect those who survived it but are forever changed because of it.

Rendering: Squared Design Lab

Photo: Joel Woolhead

The 9/11 memorial proposes a space that resonates with the feelings of loss and absence. It’s located at the site of the former World Trade Center complex and occupies nearly half of the 16-acre site. The memorial was created directly from the footprints of the original towers and have been turned into two large, sunken reflecting pools, fed from all sides by waterfalls. They are large voids, open and visible reminders of the absence and loss of what once was. Bronze parapets surround the twin Memorial pools, 2,983 names inscribed within them. The names in particular is what makes this memorial so memorable. Local Projects, a New York media design firm, created a custom software application to assist in the placement of all the names. A unique algorithm groups the names by affinity, allowing the names of those who died that day to be placed next to one other in a meaningful way, marking the names of family and friends together, as they had lived and died.

Buildings, statues and physical objects are not necessarily the only way to create a memorial. The art of remembrance can be embodied many ways. This image shows tribute in light, a memorial in the most simple of forms.

Photo: Joel Woolhead

This animated short, however, is a completely different type of memorial. Created by StoryCorps’, it’s a storybook take on life, love, and loss, providing people of all backgrounds and beliefs the opportunity to record, share and preserve their stories. John and Joe is about John Vigiano Sr., a retired New York City firefighter whose two sons followed him into service, and subsequently lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

This wasn’t meant to be a post all about the tragedies that took place ten years ago, but I felt it fitting as this day is a momentous one in the lives of many Americans. It is an interesting one as well in that unlike other anniversaries in American history, we are not nostalgic about September 11. Despite that fact, however, it does not mitigate the need to memorialize the event or the people who lived it. This will be an iconic memorial of our generation, much as the initial event was so I feel it is a good measure of design in general.

Some of the questions that come to mind when creating a memorial are:  Where should we build it? What form will it take? How should we select the design? What story will we tell? What information should we include or omit? I believe that memorials are interpretations of history, trying to make sense of events that often defy explanation. They are turning points and incredibly important to remember the causes and effects in order to move forward.

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