On The Flight 93 Memorial Competition

Whoa. I had a looong post about the designs for the Flight 93 memorial competition for the site in Shanksville, PA, but I think I’ll spare you. For a few reasons:

  • Lowered expectations. Since the WTC site debacles (or, if you’re a Port Authority politico or a hack developer, roaring successes), any idealism or greater hopes that I held out for memorials have dissipated.
  • The designs themselves. Again, the WTC memorial competition shows that 1) 90+% of the entries are artifacts of their designers’ own remembering and reworking process, little mini-memorials-of-one; 2) Land Art, refracted through the emotional/experiential prism of Maya Lin, remains the de facto official language of memorials, and this is even more apparent in the rural setting of the Flight 93 memorial; 3) individualism-uber-alles, as the 40 passengers and crew are remembered with 40 identical somethings [although one design, which recreates the plane’s rows of seats, does divide them into coach and first class]; and 4) in a fit of information design-as-architecture, many designers simply reacted to the competition brief, accepting its arbitrary data as Important–the plane’s angle of impact, the map’s circular boundary around the debris/remains field–and translating them directly into the program.
  • Problematics of the Flight 93 story itself. In a Bizarro universe somewhere, the rapidly canonized “Let’s roll” narrative of American heroes sacrificing themselves and successfully thwarting the terrorists’ plans has already unraveled as a series of investigations and revelations showed that the plane was shot down on Dick Cheney’s chain-of-command-ignoring orders. Of course, that’d never happen in this universe… [Yet there IS one design that unintentionally (?) hints at this of-course-there’s-no-conspiracy. It’s title: “40 Grassy Knolls.”]
  • My own unacceptable idea is better. Sort of. I would build a runway for Flight 93. It would be an authentic and realistic landing strip, not metaphorical, as some competition entrants labeled their memorial paths. Mine would follow the rolling topography, though, so in addition to coming several years too late, it’d be unusable. Still, it’d evoke the thoughts that dance briefly across everyone’s minds, “Could this have been averted? What if we could turn back time?”
    But then I realized that all three of my Sept. 11th memorial ideas–the one I submitted for the WTC site and the ersatz ideas I conjured for the Pentagon and Shanksville–arise from the same sentiment, a self-consciously futile nostalgia. And I don’t know quite what that means.
    See the five finalists and all 1,059 entries at the Flight 93 Memorial Project site.