Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Flight 93 Memorial...

Mr. Atos

Much is currently being made of the proposed Flight 93 Memorial design. And rightly so, it might seem. The selected scheme, by Los Angeles architect,
Paul Murdoch, borders on being flippantly obscene. Michelle Malkin links to a graphic that puts the designer's idea into simple perspective.

The design consists of red maples forming a crescent wrapped around the crash site near Shanksville, Pa., where
40 innocent people were murdered at the hands of Islamic terrorists. The red crescent, an overt symbol of Islamic faith, might seem to be a profoundly offensive reference in light of the justification of its fundamentalist perpetrators who murdered over 3000 innocent people in the name of their religion.

Over at
OKIE on the LAM, OkieBoy sums up the sentiments of many regarding this concept,

    I actually like to give folks the benefit of the doubt about intent and all that, but these guys are professionals, with large planning projects in their backgrounds. It’s not defensible to say that they created this without knowing that the crescent was a major symbol of Islam. With that firmly in mind, makes you wonder which of the dead these architects are trying to memorialize!
He's absolutely right. As designers, it is necesary to be acutely sensitive to the complete context of every opportunity. In this case there would seem to be a degree of insensitivity if not indeed bias involved in the conceptual process. And yet, as professionals, they are hired to manifest artifacts that will define human culture at a moment in time for generations into the future. What, afterall does the Athenian Parthenon tell us now, some 2500 years after its erection. What story does the Chrysler Building contain that is similar or different from the destroyed towers of the World Trade Center? Most artifacts are tools of utility, and convey a functional honesty of the task for which they served. Architecture serves a function in addition to glorifying itself before men, gods, or God. In that respect it is art. And as art, it is highly subject to the eye of the creator... as well as the beholder.

There is certainly subjectivity involved in any creative process, but architects unlike artists, must convey honesty, thoughtfullness, and beauty. Clearly, this particular creator superimposed an additional set of values on his work, perhaps not appreciated by most beholders in this case, as
Murdoch's own philosphy suggest...

    A primary task of this generation is to create new patterns of development that sustain human habitation on this planet. Towards this end, the principles adopted for our practice are intended to ensure that each project contributes to an overall goal of environmental responsibility while striving for design excellence. As architects, we are uniquely qualified to help formulate and translate policy into tangible form; mitigating pressures of urbanity with the need to heal the natural environment. Each design solution is seen as a contribution to the human condition; as it exists today and evolves into future generations. Our goal is to define and study problems both in terms of clients’ direct needs and relative to long term effects on natural and man made surroundings. More than problem solving however, we aspire to emotionally affect and uplift our lives through poetry and beauty. It is through these transcendent qualities that we optimistically strive for ways to enrich life and fulfill our original purpose for engaging in the practice of architecture.”
One might attribute his mission statement to the whims of narcissistic folly on the part of the designer's approach to the historical significance of this place. The jargon, meant to impress the professional courtesans, obscures the substance of the intention with meaningless pretension. Often architects are the first to inject ego in the form of condescension in the place of context. Here Wretchard writing at the Belmont Club, serves as arbitrator providing the necessary overlay of cultural implication regarding the Flight 93 Memorial design concept.

    If you look at the video provided, you'll see that the orientation of the "Crescent of Embrace" is determined, or at least very strongly suggested by the contours of the ground. (The PDF map shows the same thing). The contours run right through the opening of the crescent. Unless you wanted the park visitors to climb up and down contour lines the opening was exactly where it had to be. So the simplest explanation it seems to me, is that the orientation of the Crescent of Embrace is coincidental....

    I am reminded of all those "Freudian" symbols that everyone suddenly noticed in High School, or about calculations showing the Great Pyramid had this or that occult meaning. Looking at the architect's portfolio and the topography it was better than even odds he was going to come up with a semicircle somewhere and if you allowed for twenty degree arcs as the limit of suggestion, there was a 1 in 9 chance of an accidental orientation to Mecca because any azimuth has a reciprocal.

    But memorials are what we perceive them to be; they rarely have an intrinsic value. They "remind" us of things, and it so happened that a design which was probably innocently conceived triggered certain unfortunate associations. Symbols are powerful and dangerous to the unwitting. During the Stalin era, one man was sent to the Gulag because he hung his hat over Stalin's picture. It didn't matter that he was blind. It was the symbolism of his act that counted then. Perhaps years from today no will object to Red Crescents displayed in conjunction with the victims of September 11, just as someday people may remember that
    Swastikas were widely employed as ancient religious symbols. One day, but probably not in 2005.

Upon first hearing about this latest 9/11 Memorial controversy, I too was inclined to jerk from the knee at the design. But, upon extended reflection, I came to a simliar conclusion as did Wretchard. And looking at the site and its physical context, I am not surprised about the selection of the form. In fact, sweeping arcs have been a trendy feature of design for quite a few years.There is something quite evocative about such a form in the landscape as perceived from the perspective of the human eye and rarely from the sky. Add to that the manifestation of that form with the red maple, and there is a bit of somber genius at play. If I recall from my trips to Lost Maples State Park in Central Texas, there is a fiery brilliance about the red maple when isolated and contained... it's contrasted fury comes to life for a brief instant at the beginning of the Fall igniting passion. Even if that fury symbolically defines the spirit of Islam , as perhaps was intended here, it does so momentarily, only to dissolve into the skeletal remains of stripped glory stolen by the winter of discontent. Perhaps I am being to gracious, but there are degrees of brilliant propriety in that approach, I think.

But, then I too am an architect.

It is both necessary and appropriate to question the propriety of those monuments that are erected to represent our culture and ourselves. In this Republic, everything can be subject to debate. Discourse is the fertilzer of American liberty. So when Representative Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) questions the propriety of a selection for the Flight 93 Memorial, he does so both as an individual and as responsible member of public representation. But when the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) invokes the charge of bigotry in the form of "anti-Muslim bias" in an attempt to silence his input, CAIR is demonstrating that they have no respect for this nation, its people, its culture, its traditions, and the foundations of liberty that maintain the Republic for our posterity. In this fourth year of conflict with radical elements of the Islamic faith, I submit that this organization has worn out its welcome.

We the People of the United States will decide how our culture is represented... not the apologists and public relations wing for global facsists butchers.

No comments: