In terms of the degree of closeness between the family members and the memorials, there is a clear gap between them – a gap not experienced by others, since a memorial alienates family members, turning them into products of mass consumption or branding because family members do not experience the same feeling as they do when visiting their loved ones at the family gravesites.
In different societies, the presence of memorials perhaps represents a vision that incorporates both remembrance and renewal, focusing on the past and the sacrifice that was needed is necessary, which was the case with the competition to rebuild New York’s Ground Zero after the Twin Towers’ destruction from September 11 terrorist attacks.
Despite the participation of renowned world architects such as Zaha Hadid, Richard Meier, Rem Koolhaas, New Yorkers did not like the suggestions for Ground Zero.
This tough blow to the competition organisers and participants happened afterwards; before a hall full of residents and relevant authorities, one of the evaluation committee members raised the following questions, ‘What should be the goal here? … Is it to erase the memory of what has happened? That everything will be the same as it was before? … One needs a more profound indication of memory.’ (Libeskind 2005: 30, 31)
These were the words of the Berlin Jewish Museum architect, Daniel Libeskind, who, as an evaluator, put doubts in the minds of those present that day about the purpose of the Ground Zero’s development concepts. It was August 2002 when the first plans to rebuild Ground Zero were made public, and when Libeskind raised the issue of remembrance. He then added that it was necessary, ‘a dramatic, unexpected, spiritual insight into vulnerability, tragedy, and our loss. And we need something that is hopeful.’ (Libeskind: 31)
Due to popular demand, the competitors were asked to resubmit their proposals; at the same time, the Libeskind Studio was asked to compete with its own proposal for Ground Zero. Since the proposal from Libeskind Studio was genuinely linked with the past and the tragedy of 9/11 it was the preferred submission by the selection committee and New Yorkers.
Thus, it was awarded the right to plan the development of New York’s Memorial Museum Site.
However, though the Libeskind Studio proposal was based on the past, the aim was not to rebuild buildings similar to the Twin Towers.
On the contrary, the proposal uses the footprint of the original Twin Towers to create waterfalls surrounded by trees and a green area that, instead of rekindling the bitter memories of thousands of deaths during that fateful September, represents a source of life.
The trauma that New Yorkers went through resurfaces every 9/11 anniversary. Libeskind’s proposal transforms the area into a spot where the past is always present; however, the Ground Zero area is embraced by signs and sources of life, sending a message that society will not return to the past, but rather will rejoice in the future with this location – instead of reflecting the horror – representing life and peace.
The American architect Lebbeus Woods, during his research and preparation of pro-posals for post-war Sarajevo, suggests moving away from rebuilding and bringing the war-damaged buildings back to their original state.
He states that, ‘Wherever the restoration of war-devastated urban fabric has occurred in the form of replacing what has been damaged or destroyed, it ends as parody, worthy only of the admiration of tourists.’ (Woods 1993: 10)
Woods calls for embracing of past occurrences through his distinct approach, focusing on ways to patch up the material damages in the war-damaged buildings.
Instead of complete reconstruction and restoration of damages, Woods proposes covering them with construction materials different to the ones used to originally construct the building. Woods calls these wounds, scars or cuts. (Woods: 19)
Buildings can withstand war wounds because they don’t have feelings. On the other hand, in a society where war wounds are still fresh, dealing with the past is much harder than dealing with the future.
However, there is a local perception that the, ‘human being is stronger than stone’ and it refers to the ability or inability of these two elements to return to their previous state. When a stone cracks or breaks it can never return to its initial state, whereas a person, on the other hand, has a self-healing power enabling him to repair the wounds of body or soul, created by inhumane actions during war.
But if stone or the building, in the case of Sarajevo, doesn’t have a natural self-healing power and cannot return to its previous state, then why do people continuously try to implement what is not in the building’s nature?
In different parts of the world, post-war societies continuously deny the past that the buildings tell about, restoring them to the state they were before the war.
Covering war-wounded buildings accentuates the remembrance of war, so that in a way, for example, the people of Sarajevo, themselves, do not have to carry the war wounds.
For the first time a new approach towards post-war architecture has been taken, for Woods has offered a new way of dealing with the past where the past is not rewound (reconstructed), but instead marked (partially supplemented).
Libeskind, Daniel, Breaking Ground, (London: Penguin Books, 2005)
Nelson, Robert S. & Margaret Olin, Eds, Monuments and Memory (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003)
Sudjic, Deyan, The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World, (London: Penguin Press, 2005)
Werner, Blaser, Mies van der Rohe (Berlin: Birkhauser, 1997)
Woods, Lebbeus, War and Architecture, (New York: Princeton, 1993)