Throwing Good Money After Arad


There's very interesting reporting, but nothing too surprising or too comforting, in Joe Hagan's NY Mag feature on the complete disaster that is Michael Arad and his WTC Memorial design.

Within two weeks of the jury choosing Arad's design, it seemed clear that the jury and the LMDC wanted to design and alter the memorial as it wished, and that Arad's inexperience and youth--and the concept's many unresolved elements--were thought to be "the most amenable to their impending directives."

And within two months, there were stories of Arad not playing well with others being leaked by his LMDC overlords.

The only relief would be comic if it weren't such a serious topic. Hagan shows that Arad had patterned his violent, stubborn arrogance after that Organ Grinder's Monkey For Freedom himself, Daniel Libeskind, the guy who claimed victory for his concept at every step, even as his "master plan" was being altered out of existence, in large part by Arad's own contribution. [bonus Libeskind hissyfit quote: "I'll fight this! I am the people's architect!" You can take the boy out of Poland...] But without a Jewish Museum to beat people over the head with, or a steely wife to wield a cudgel in his wake, Arad had nothing but his empty, facile, original vision, which he defended at all costs. Check out Hagan's Arad-sourced description of the problem with a Port Authority-authored change to two central ramps into the memorial:

Although [Arad] didnít object to the central hall per se, having the ramp entrance there destroyed his notion of drawing visitors through a distinct walking narrative that focused on the experience of the pools, especially the initial breathtaking view at the bottom. Now that experience was marred by the tourist facility.
So who's responsible for this? I've wanted to see the Port Authority and George Pataki held to account from the beginning for the 10mm sf program-driven that has been millstone around the WTC site rebuilding effort's neck since day 2. And the best outcome I can forsee now is for the mess to continue long enough to dog Pataki into the political oblivion he deserves.

But there are other fingerprints on the scene, and they belong to Maya Lin, the original Minimalist Memorial Artist Intransigent In The Face Of Politico-Bureaucratic Meddling. Here's Hagan on the memorial jury's selection process:

In the secret proceedings, Maya Lin, the designer-cum-martyr of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, pushed for Aradís design; he could not have had a more meaningful advocate. If Lin recognized in Arad something of herself, if she saw in his design a connection to her own extraordinary monument to grief and memory, then maybe Aradís memorial was really equal to this tragedy. And maybe that would protect it from the conflict that had swallowed up every other inch of ground zero.
And maybe the Freedom Tower is really gonna be 1,776 feet tall, too. Or not.

Then there's this passage about Arad's final presentation of his revised, finalist's design:

Lin recognized the value in Aradís resistance. "Maya was able to set our sights on the kind of intensityóthe scrutiny and the kind of forces that were going to come to play on his design," says Michael Van Valkenburgh, a landscape architect who served on the jury. "We recognized a kind of stamina that he had. It seemed like it would hold up." (Lin declined to comment.)
I added the italics. Someone needs to get Lin on the phone.

The Breaking of Michael Arad
Previously: my inspiration by and reluctant criticism of Maya Lin & Minimalist Memorialism

Also previously, from "Ugh, Maya Lin strikes again," 1/6/04:

The only positive aspect of the proposal: it was the only finalist to call for alterations to fellow Israeli Daniel Libeskind's proposed cultural buildings, including eliminating that one museum from above the North Tower footprint. The LMDC says there'll be extensive changes to the design, which I hope renders it essentially unrecognizable.

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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