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The Story Behind the First Public Memorial at Ground Zero

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Americans expressed their grief and condolences in many ways. For four New York architects, the best way to honor the fallen Americans was to create the first public memorial at Ground Zero, writes Elizabeth Greenspan in The Atlantic.

The chaos of the construction at Ground Zero in the months that followed the attacks encouraged Kevin Kennon to create a public space of reflection. His colleague, David Rockwell, had been asked to redesign a small private viewing platform at the site for the victims’ families. When Kennon and Rockwell visited Ground Zero with collaborators Elizabeth Diller and Ric Scofidio, the group was inspired to create a simple and dignified public viewing platform.

Because this platform would represent the very first piece of public architecture at Ground Zero, the four architects were determined to act quickly. Fearing that publicity of the platform’s production could create more logistical hurdles, the group quietly went about securing permission for the project. The Office of Emergency Management, which oversaw cleanup operations at Ground Zero, was thrilled with the idea for the viewing platform because the thousands of visitors who congregated around the site need a central place to go. After receiving the blessing of victims’ families and Mayor Giuliani, the four architects received donations from developers and contractors eager to contribute to the public cause.

On December 27, 2001 the viewing platform was completed in time for Mayor Giuliani’s final address as mayor, which he chose to deliver next the new memorial.

The final platform was made out of simple plywood and included a wall for visitors to write their thoughts on or to sign their name, as Mayor Giuliani did after he ended his remarks. Greenspan noted the tremendous public catharsis the first public memorial created. She writes:

The viewing platform looked modest and simple, but the architects’ hopes for it were enormous. It wouldn’t merely facilitate dialogue about what to rebuild; it would celebrate the country’s dedication to its founding principles. Like so much else connected to Ground Zero, the plain, plywood platform would stand as a symbol of democracy.