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Overall, when describing the eight finalists for the World Trade Center memorial, words like boring and safe and impractical keep springing to mind.

It's not that these potential memorials lack the appropriate gravitas or are altogether terrible, it's just that they all feel the same. From the street level, in the shadow of a massive new World Trade Center, passersby will likely see a park. Or a reflecting pool. Or some lights. Or some combination of the three. It's as if it were half-price day on "running water over engraved stone" at the old idea shop and all these guys had coupons.

Or not. These could all be brilliant. So you can decide for yourself, this is The Black Table's little guide to the World Trade Center Memorial Plans, biased commentary included, of course.





Hey, Kirk to bridge: We've encountered a heavy force field of Eurotrash pretension. Set phasers to GAG.

The Garden of Lights might take the schmaltz award in this competition, and, let us tell you, that's no small feat. There's a "star" shining for each person killed on 9-11, and they included little biographical details on each one. Everything is surrounded by greenery, which will surely work well with the New York City smog. (Listen, if we wanted to live in Vermont, trust us, we'd move there.) The highlight: A path leading up to the memorial that's a "stream lined with roses." Isn't that a John Mayer song? Who came up with this overwrought crap? Oh, yeah … the French. Color us shocked.

An fascinating conceit: This particular memorial would only be open from 8:46 a.m. to 10:29 a.m. everyday, guaranteeing not only that people will forever remember those horrible moments, but that they will do so while standing in a very long line.






As the name would indicate, Dual Memory has two parts. One is horrible and one is merely bad. As the above picture shows, the "Individual Memory Footprint" has horrible nailed nicely, landing with all the emotional impact of the Sprint PCS Store at the local mall. This area -- in the footprint of the North Tower -- is basically a multimedia walkthrough with a lake on top of it. Under the light of 2,982 light portals, one for each victim, visitors weave their way through tacky glass video panels to discover a central room where all the names have been chipped into stone.

Hallmark-worthy stuff here.

The South Tower footprint, dubbed the "Shared Memory Footprint," uses less of the huggy design elements, and is essentially a park, comprised of 92 sugar maples, one for each country who lost a victim. Visitors move their way through messages of hope from every country, which are surrounded with wild roses in a rather meditative setting. In 50 years, the growth of the natural elements will be an impressive reminder of hope, but everything else feels like it came from the school of bad diorama.






If Inversion of Light were a movie, it would be the kind of soulless, empty fodder that passes as a Hollywood blockbuster these days. In keeping with what has already worked with large-scale memorials, the design uses combinations of light, water, air and earth in order to make a larger point about the sanctity of life, which is presumably that being alive is good. Like so many others, the aboveground part of the memorial will feature a park and a reflecting pool, while the underground portion contains areas for people to grieve. (Apparently, people at memorials need massive unbroken spaces to stagger around in tears and wonder at the horrors of surviving.)

In keeping with the "been there, memorialized that" theme, the treatment of the Tower footprints has been cribbed from the city's first brush with a WTC memorial, the "Towers of Light" that were installed six months after the attacks. With Inversion, a reflecting pool will cover the site of the South Tower and will be lit from underneath, brightening the sky. Similarly, the floor plan of the 94th and 95th floors will be laid out over the North Tower and illuminated at night, but the central part, where the planes hit, will be blacked out.

Beneath the park, users can wander through a vast, dark plane where they can reflect on how unoriginal this plan is. Or perhaps, they will amble over to the unidentified remains of victims, the piece de resistance in the design, in which a blue laser beam shines from below, slicing up through the park and into the night sky, where the designer claims it will connect "the geometry and geography of the earth with the geometry and eternity of the universe."

Yawn. Next.



Of all the entries, Reflecting Absence is the gloomiest and most straightforward with its expression of loss as a literal void. And of all


the entries, it's the only one simple enough to look good if New York City ever goes the way of Rome.

Two enormous reflecting pools cover the footprints, both of which have large square holes at the center sucking in all the water. These pools are dotted by pines and surrounded with angular buildings that serve as the entrance to the visitor's center. Once in one of the buildings, you'll walk down an increasingly dark incline towards the sound of rushing water, heading straight into blackness, one step at a time. That is, until you step into the


light again, tucked behind a curtain of falling water, in a gigantic chamber where all the names of the dead are randomly engraved into the rock walls.

The explosion from dark into light will be unforgettable, but perhaps a bit too "first time I walked up the tunnel and saw Yankee Stadium" for some. That said, the bleak, concrete bunker asthetic is moody without feeling like that decrepit Yankee dump, and would be a lovely addition to downtown Manhattan, spilling right onto the street level and welcoming visitors. If you love The Smiths, you'll love Reflecting Absence.




  Leave it to the designers from Brooklyn to put together Lower Waters, a memorial that bears more than a passing resemblance to an underground parking garage.

Sure, the vertical waterfall is a nice touch, pretty, kind of peaceful … but it still looks more like something you'd see in the lobby of a fancy hotel. And the water in the middle of the memorial is a nice riff on Oklahoma City's reflecting pool. But in Oklahoma City, they have full-time staff there to keep the water clean and still. They better open up the wallet for security, or, in New York, the homeless folks will be washing in it within a month.

This is probably the most tasteful of all the memorials, which is to say, it's kind of boring and conventional. Black granite walls? Snore. It's not particularly original either; the wall of names is so Vietnam memorial, and besides, that'll be covered too in graffiti before you know it. (We imagine a WTC widower trying in vein to scrape off the TURK 182! splattered across his wife's name.) Kindly, well-thought-out and rather dull, this one.






Look at that Memorial Cloud. Isn't that something? Crystalline. Nothing gets a design student's cockles warmer than "crystalline." Imagine how the light would reflect off that memorial cloud. Could be beautiful.

That is to say, when it isn't raining or, worse, sleeting. And something about that cloud is almost a little too precious, a little more theory than practice. How would such a thing work? How would it look, I mean, really? What would it be made of? How often would they clean the pigeon droppings? If you're standing in the middle and look up at it all, would you see your face reflected at a whole bunch of weird angles, like in a fun house? Lots of questions here the sketches don't really answer.

However, one concept here we love: The way the victims' names are organized. The names of the dead will be located next to those with whom they were when they died, and there's a "line of rescuers" that flows through, representing firemen, police and medical staff. The disaster, after all, isn't the only thing worth commemorating from that day.





  Have you lived a good enough life, an important enough life, that you'd feel comfortable with a timeline of it displayed for future generations of strangers?

That's one of the questions behind Suspending Memory, a fascinating submission that provides every person who died that day -- and those who died during the first World Trade Center bombing, in 1993 -- their own glass statue, with highlights from their life, culminating in their death. Now, if you read the New York Times' "Portraits of Grief" stories, which came out in the weeks after September 11, you know this can be a shaky proposition; if you'll remember, about half of those were about how so-and-so stockbroker "really loved the Jets" or "was known by his friends as an avid golfer." Before you get mad, bear with us. F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that American lives have no second acts; this memorial is going to require that the dead have about 20. It's a wonderful idea, touching, really … but who is going to fact check it? Think about all the misspellings, factual inaccuracies and embarrassing biographies like "1978: BORN. 1996: GRADUATED HIGH SCHOOL. 2000: GOT JOB CLEANING TOILETS AT WINDOWS ON THE WORLD. 2001: DIED"

It's a nice thought, though. Once again we get a reflecting pool, but a big one, with an expansive bridge memorializing those killed on the planes in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, because, apparently, they're not going to do memorials there. This whole design is haunting and human, and is most likely to be the favorite of surviving family members. But it doesn't make memorializing lives on posts any easier and it doesn't stop this design from looking like an especially challenging Super Mario Brothers level.






As far as Doom levels go, Votives in Suspention is a remarkable achievement. Its wide grassy planes are perfect for epic gun battles, the narrow concrete hallways add a superior chase-and-hide element and the Eastern bloc concrete sensibility is an appropriate touch. But as a memorial for the World Trade Center attack, Votives in Suspention is a total snore.

A collection of concrete santuaries loaf near the footprints and overlook an empty grass field that the designers assume will be used for memorial events. But until someone else comes along and throws that event, there's really no where for anyone to sit. So visitors graze and wander, perhaps over to the footprints, which are encircled with walls that somehow lead to slow concrete stairs or elevators. These, in turn, head down into a pair of sacred memorial chambers filled by thousands of votive candles, one for each victim.

Points for keeping the slurry walls and allowing families to light the eternal flame when the design is complete. But after lighting their votive, will those families like waiting in line for the elevators or stairs to revisit the incredibly dopey Hall of Candles? Not at all. The whole empty emptiness Lee & Lewis have going was supposed to build up to some seriously impressive "votives in suspension" and the end result looks like the Illuminations store at Christmas.