All eight designs, selected from a pool of 5,200, list the names of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, as well as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. They would be inscribed on granite walls, glass panels and stone columns.
"We have sought designs that represent the heights of imagination while incorporating aesthetic grace and spiritual strength," the jury that made the selection said in a statement.
The finalists, whose identities were made public for the first time Wednesday, range from local artists to international architects.
One design proposes an open air structure with cathedral-like vaults and a glass walkway overhead where thousands of lights would illuminate the engraved names of the victims. It would group the rescuers' names separately in a ribbon that loops through the other names.
A day before the designs went on public display, relatives of those killed got a chance to preview the eight proposals for the site.
"I thought they captured the essence of what the memorial should be," said Christine Huhn-Graifman, who lost her husband, David Graifman in the attack.
Nikki Stern, who lost her husband Jim Potorti, said all of the designs were responsive to the memorial's mission statement crafted several months ago by victims' families.
She said each design offered a sanctuary of some sort and one featured a vast lawn area to be accessed only by family members for the next 20 years.
Jack Lynch, who lost a son, disagreed.
"I think that rebuilding has taken precedence over memorializing," he told WCBS-AM's Sean Adams. "I think it's extremely important we go all way down to bedrock, that there be no infrastructure of any kind on the footprint of the South Tower."
But as it stands now, the re-development will step onto the footprints, reports WCBS-TV's Hazel Sanchez, which many families view as a sacred cemetery for the nearly 2,800 people who died there.
Patricia Riley, who lost a sister, says the location should be designated a National Historic Site, and preserved.
"If there is any other site that deserves that respect, and that attention, I would like to know what it is," she said.
A 13-member jury established by The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. will decide the winning design by the end of the year.
Officials have said the jury may hear the public's opinion, but have scheduled no formal public comment process to preserve the jury's independence. Neither the designers nor jurors were to be present Wednesday.
The debate over the size, shape and design of the memorial has been one of the most emotionally charged of those surrounding the site's redevelopment, in some cases pitting some family groups against firefighters.