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Entries in New York City (2)


Oak Trees, Waterfalls, and Michael; a Park at Ground Zero 

Memorial park, with oak trees and waterfalls. Image: Manhatten Development Corp.One morning, a young man living in New York City was preparing to leave his apartment for work when he heard a radio announcement that a plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre. From his window, he could see smoke rising from the destruction and ran up to the roof of his building for a better view. There, he saw another plane crashing into a second, south tower. Worried about the fate of his wife, who worked only a few blocks away from the crash site, Michael hopped onto his bicycle and sped to find her.

The path of the second plane about to hit the WTC, hie found his young bride safe from harm, the horror of the experience, and the agony of the desperate people milling about at the scene of destruction, affected Michael deeply. In the nights that followed, when he was unable to sleep, he would attend vigils set up around the city, where ordinary citizens would come together to share a moment of understanding.

At the time, Michael was an architect who had given up a career with a prominent architectural firm so that he might work for the New York City Housing Authority. It seems that Michael preferred designing police stations rather than office buildings. That choice halved his income and truncated his professional growth. He did not mind; He was happy.

As the son of a foreign diplomat, Michael and his family spent their lives in many different countries; there had been no place to call home. New York City, which he and his wife adopted after graduating from University, had not yet made him feel welcome. Now, the night vigils with other city dwellers gave him a strong sense of belonging.

Michael's memorial, newyorkinsiderguideWhen the dust of the 9/11 tragedy literally settled, the need for a memorial to its victims became apparent and a competition was announced. Michael wanted to participate by creating a symbol for the experience of the night vigils that had comforted him.

However, his decision to enter the competition turned out to be audacious because, as a municipal employee, he had no team or partner for professional support. Nevertheless, his submission so moved the selection committee that, in spite of his lack of back-up organization, they declared him winner from among the 5,200 entrants from 63 countries.

Waterfalls, reflecting pool and the Void, gizmoweb.orgPrior to WW2, commemorative monuments celebrated victory and glorified war. They focused on traits such as valor, fortitude, patriotism, and gratitude to fallen soldiers. However, in the post WW2 era, the expressive nature of such memorials changed.

After 1948, the void, created in the lives of those that did not perish, became the artistic focus of many public tributes. For example, the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington D.C and the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, are stark, minimalist forms that evoke the emptiness and emotional numbness of those that survived to remember.

Close up of the waterfalls , 911memeorial.orgMichael’s monument echoes that contemporary sentiment as well. His is.....a starkly simple tribute consisting of a pair of square reflecting pools that evoke the footprints of the Twin Towers. Trees, arranged in informal clusters, clearings and groves, form the serene backdrop for the recessed pools, which are defined by a cascade of water. Ramps lead to the underground memorial space.

According to Michael, “As they descend, visitors are removed from the sights and sounds of the city and are immersed in cool darkness...

As they proceed, the sound of water falling grows louder and more daylight filters in from below....

At the bottom, they find themselves behind a curtain of water, staring out at an enormous pool, which is surrounded by a continuous ribbon of names....

The enormity of the space and the multitude of names that form this endless ribbon underscore the vast scope of the destruction".

The waterfalls symbolize a continuous sense of absence...Time moves forward but the absence is persistent...

A view from among the trees, dinainfo.comMichael’s original submission called for only a handful of trees while the surrounding public spaces were to be left barren. That stark emptiness created such an uneasy feeling among the committee members that they asked Michael to add landscaping to soften its emotional impact.

For that important project, Michael reached out to Californian landscape architect, Peter Walker, who filled the emptiness of the eight-acre memorial site with over 400, identical-looking and same-sized, White Swamp Oak trees. These were planted in an “abacus bead” alignment, i.e. orderly rows when viewed along an east-west axis but naturally randomized when seen from north to south.

"These trees have been grown with the most intensive tree growing in the history of the world by Bartlett Tree Experts who will continue to care for them for at least two additional years. Because urban growing conditions can be detrimental to some plants, each tree has a GPS system to monitor the tree's health, care and size. Staffers can follow every tree as it is planted at the memorial and keep following it to see if it develops any issues".

Bartlett Tree Experts have created a beautiful and moving video of their participation in this project. Click on the link to view at

White Swamp oak leaf, duke.eduThe oak tree is the national tree of the U.S.A, while the White Swap variety represent the five states where most 9/11 victims resided. Not only do the trees add a symbol of renewal and re- growth but also when they reach a mature height of 60 feet, their crowns will inter mesh to create a dense natural canopy over the entire plaza. Then, only the powerful, symbolic voids will receive uninterrupted light from the sky. Even though they are continuously being fed with water, these voids will always remain empty.

A close-up of the reflecting pool, coolgreenmag.comThe site, known as Ground Zero, opened to the public in September 2011. Its creator, Michael Arad, once an unconnected newcomer, but now integrated into New York City life - and once again, a practicing architect - aptly named his memorial meeting- place, Reflecting Absence.

Research sources for this post

Ground Zero Tribute, Gardens Illustrated, Issue 178, page 91

Michael Arad by Nancy A. Ruhing at

The Architects Newspaper

The Breaking of Michael Arad, by Joe Hagan, New York Magazine, May 16, 2006


The Gardens on "The High Line" and the Power of Nature.

Last week, eminent American journalist, Charlie Rose, welcomed a group of dedicated New Yorkers to his round table, for his nightly PBS televised broadcast. The interview coincided with the publication of a book celebrating New York City’s latest and second most popular tourist attraction, The High Line, a park in the sky.

thehighline.orgThe High Line was an abandoned elevated railway line that still runs through three different New York City neighborhoods. Many years ago, it carried freight trains to and from the meat-packing district, an industrial zone of Manhattan.

thehighline.orgWhen it ceased its usefulness, the rail service was abandoned. During the many years of neglect, nature moved in and, unknown to most Manhattan residents, created a ribbon-field of wild flowers that smothered the tracks and rail beds.

The original wild growth, http://www.thehighline.orgVery stiff opposition arose when there was talk of demolishing the elevation in order to rejuvenate the surrounding commercial properties. On one side were the real estate developers who wanted it gone in order to enhance the monetary value of the adjacent, deteriorated neighborhoods.

The wildflowers they discovered, http://www.thehighline.orgOn the other side was a group of a few conservationists who, having seen the awesomeness that nature and the wild flowers had visited upon the elevation, wanted the High Line preserved as a public park. In the end, the conservationists prevailed.

The new gardens, thehighline.orgOnce considered an eyesore, the High Line cut through derelict industrial slums. Now, it has been transformed into an idyllic park that seems to float, thirty feet above ground, for a distance of a mile and a half. This urban redesign has also spawned cultural centers nearby as well as several world-class architectural projects. The beauty of the adjacent new buildings and the almost magical atmosphere of the park have enriched the quality of life for urban residents of New York City.

The new gardens, thehighline.orgMost of the publicity about this park, emanating from the world of horticulture, has understandably focused upon the genius of Piet Oudolf. Unquestionably, the four-season, wildflower meadow plantings he designated for the High Line contribute significantly to its successful transformation and its popularity.

thehighline.orgHow odd that very little has been reported about the benevolent intervention of the visionary Diane Von Furstenburg and her husband, Barry Diller, whose philanthropic foundation underwrote the project for the sum of twenty five million dollars. Nor have we heard much about Amanda Burden, chair of the New York City Planning Commission, whose strategic and wise negotiations with intransigent property developers helped turn the project from an ideal dream of a few into a reality that benefits many.

thehighline.orgHowever, most of the honor must go to ordinary citizens, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, whose passion for the preservation of this natural anomaly - that each had quietly discovered on his own - was the impetus to start the project. Collectively, these four individuals unwittingly gave new meaning to the concepts of urban renewal and urban design.

thehighline.orgWho would have thought that a handful of urbane residents, in one of the most densely populated, industrialized cities in our universe, would tackle a project wedded to the power of nature? In the end, the group known as The Friends of The High Line created one of the great horticultural destinations of the world. This socially vibrant public space, fully wheel chair accessible, has already attracted over seven million visitors in less than a few years.

thehighline.orgThe photos used here to illustrate the story were taken directly from the publicity for this tourist attraction. For readers who would like to see additional images of this world wonder, The Friends of the High Line, have posted hundreds of © photos of the project on their website at: -

Readers can also learn more about an online Google virtual tour of the High Line by linking to: -