Join a WTC Memorial Discussion/Charette

A couple of people saw some cynicism my last post on the WTC Memorial competition’s designation as “open to all” and “part of the mourning process.” It was partly a reaction to that member of the axis of eager, Jeff Jarvis. And there’s my (not unfounded) skepticism about poorly guided democratic/populist design solutions. But mostly, it was about my own ambivalence about the process itself, what role a memorial there will play, and the use/impact/value of my own response.
I made a film about memorials, which looks at how people and places mark and deal with terrible events. I intended it to be something useful to people–to New York–for dealing with the WTC attacks. It occurred to me that the WTC Memorial competition is precisely when I/it can be of some use. But since it’s not in any way definitive, or authoritative, or even necessarily that influential, the way it can contribute is as one perspective in a discussion among equals. If I am ambivalent-yet-still-interested in proposing a design for the WTC Memorial, there are probably others in the same situation.
WTC Memorial site, image: LMDCFor me, and you (if you’re in the same competition boat as me), I’m putting together a WTC Memorial charette.
What’s a charette, you say? In architecture, it’s a quick-fire, problem-solving design exercise. When MoMA held one to select their architect, participants whipped up their ideas, models and sketches and submitted them in a shirt-box. Even though it’s called a charette, this exercise will put more emphasis on discussion and problem-solving and less on specific design. The goal will be to discuss our own real–not hypothetical–questions, ideas, and challenges around making our proposals for the WTC Memorial. Then, after an invigorating, thoughtful, and (hopefully) interesting charette, we’ll all be primed to make our proposals to the competition.
Here’s how I envision it so far:

  • It’ll be a small group (8-10 people max; I already have 4), with an architect moderating, but with a healthy mix of professionals (architects, artists, designers) and amateurs (everybody else). Importantly, there are no armchair generals; each participant must be registering for the competition. (For those who want to follow along, we’ll put it on the website.)
  • If you already know exactly what should go on the WTC site, congratulations and best of luck. This charette won’t be of use to you.
  • Demagogues need not apply. Since only brilliant people will participate, there will be no need to prove our brilliance to each other.
  • This isn’t a way to find a partner, join a team, or crib designs from others. If some people click and decide to work together afterwards, that’s cool, but it’s not expected.
  • Thoughtfulness is expected. Experience and expertise are welcome; credentialism, however, can wait in the hall. If you’re seriously entering the competition, and you have questions and issues around the memorial, mission, design, or competition, you’re qualified to participate.
  • How much preparation you do is up to you. At minimum, though, be familiar with the official competition materials. The charette should be a means, not an end in itself, though, so don’t go overboard. If it contributes to the program, I’ll show my short film, Souvenir (November 2001).
  • Logistical details are TBD, but it’ll be a couple of hours, on an evening or weekend, near the end of May, in NYC. If you’ve got ideas for a place, network, or other useful resources, don’t be shy.
  • Don’t think this is at all a proprietary deal, either. If this group fills up, and you want to start another one, be my guest. To participate, or if you have any questions or suggestions, email me at