Reasons To Save Facades

Unless there is a public outcry, the most tangible and evocative visual symbols of 9/11 will be cut-up and displayed in an underground museum. These shattered elements brought comfort and inspiration to a despairing city, nation and world. Here are some reasons why the facades should be preserved.

Icons of September 11, 2001: As the sunken U.S.S. Arizona is forever inseparable from December 7, 1941, so too the WTC facades became the most poignant reminders of 9/11. In the weeks and months following the attacks, the shattered trident columns were transformed from horrific remnants to steel shards of comfort and resolve. They are icons to be passed onto future generations for whom there will be no individual connection to 9/11 and physical proof will become the most effective testimony to history. We, the caretakers of these icons, have the utmost responsibility to return them to their contextual setting so that history will not be forgotten, and the horrific deeds of 9/11 will not be repeated.

Immediate recognition of the icons' importance: Numerous articles were published in the weeks following the attacks that extolled the virtue of reinstalling the facades in their original setting, within a larger memorial. Remnants of cathedrals and war-torn buildings from around the world were cited as evidence that surviving remnants can provide the most effective, affirmative testimonial to history. Government officials, memorial designers, and the general public were put on notice on how to treat these items of national heritage. This can still happen.

Incorporating the facades into Reflecting Absence: The trident pillars can surround the WTC memorial's two footprints without compromising the selected WTC memorial design, Reflecting Absence. Merging the facades into that design will also have an added benefit, allowing the viewer to imagine the lost Towers above the steel remnants. That visual effect is indeed absent in the current design. They will also provide context for a tower named "Freedom" that is to be the Twin Towers' soaring elegy.

Outlining the Towers' footprints: The concept of Reflecting Absence that was originally presented to the jury and the public in early January 2004 was straightforward: two pool-filled, street-level voids that demarcated the outlines of the Twin Towers. Yet as the details emerged, the jurors and public discovered that there were disturbing and seemingly unnecessary variations. The voids were smaller than the tower footprints. The voids were not perfectly aligned with the actual footprints. The voids included the L-shaped ramps that frame them, taking the public to lower levels. The voids were simple squares that ignored the Twin Towers' distinctive chamfered corners. Nevertheless, Reflecting Absence's central message is, here are the Twin Tower footprints. The voids can yet be modified to include the Tower facades and to faithfully demarcate the footprints.

Conveying the Twin Towers' verticality: The public has been shown aerial views of Reflecting Absence since this is the only perspective that conveys the concept of two void footprints. However, the footprints will largely disappear at street level, where the majority of the public will experience the memorial. For example, it will be impossible to see both footprints simultaneously. Moreover, trees may obscure the memorial entirely for those people passing by in cars and buses. As the years go by, the memorial will simply become a tranquil tree-lined park with water-filled pools. This will not be the case if the facades are reinstalled around the footprints. Additionally, the facades will more accurately convey the size of the buildings and start the viewer's eye on a path to the sky above, thus allowing the observer to imagine the vertical space once occupied by the Twin Towers. Reflecting Absence will not produce that visual effect as currently designed.

Replica facade: It would also be appropriate to erect replica facade at the WTC site. Cities all over the world have constructed replica structures to replace that which was destroyed by war, nature, or through other acts. Since it is unlikely that there will be enough salvaged facade to surround both footprints, new replica facade could surround one and salvaged facade the other - an ideal solution for demarking both. The replica facade would not include glass windows but only be comprised of the trident columns and chamfered corners. The replica facade would be evenly trimmed to a similar height as the salvaged facade. The effect would be startling both visually and emotionally: silvery new facade juxtaposed against the charred red remains of the original facade.

Leadership and vision: In their original setting, the burned and twisted skeletons of steel, along with the replica facade, will be timeless evidence to the horror of 9/11. The mission can be accomplished with leadership and vision. However, if we fail in this task, we will complete what the terrorists began, a total destruction of the Twin Towers.

Summary: A symbol of Western democracy, the Parthenon in Athens, was reduced to a mere skeleton when it was attacked on September 26, 1687. Yet it still embodies freedom, beauty and inspiration. Our predecessors recognized these qualities and protected the remnants. Let us give this same gift to future generations by preserving the WTC facades.