25 August 2008

Flight 5191 Memorial Design

There has been some criticism lately of our rush to build memorials. Like reacting to problems with a hot-temper, rushing to memorialize a moment or experience can lead to us respond in ways that are focused more on the immediate experience than a lasting testimony to a sacrifice or loss.

For instance, while I have no particular complaints with the design, I think that the delays at the World Trade Center site might help the various parties find an increasing of areas for agreement. It might also create additional opportunities for someone to ask how this thing will look in 100 years. One of the reasons that I worry is that some of the memorials that have been rushed, have resulted in design decisions that might not stand the test of time. Will some of the smaller 9/11 memorials be moved or removed in the next few decades? Could the controversial WWII Memorial in Washington DC eventually be moved or removed? It sounds unlikely today, but in another 50 years the Mall and the sacred spaces there may be viewed differently. It isn't that WWII didn't deserve a big memorial, or that we didn't wait long enough after the war, but the design approvals process was rushed and the result was a level of contention that is unfortunate for veterans and their survivors who have sacrificed so much.

The thing that brings this up is a news item I saw recently on the Flight 5191 Memorial Design process in Lexington, KY. While I think some families may be questioning the cautious approach being taken, I found it refreshing to see that they were be very deliberate about the values they want captured and reflected in the design. For the memorial to have a lasting impact, the built landscpae needs to be something of lasting value. Otherwise, it may provide small comfort to a group who still needs comfort, but it will provide little more and quickly end up forgotten and abused. I wish the memorial's mission and values were more focused on celebrating the lives of the lost than comforting the families, but that might change as this process moves forward without the rush that we have seen elsewhere. And their response demonstrates how tightly connected the famlies and the community are when a tragedy like this strikes.

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