A Novel Idea For A WTC Memorial

fred bernstein's proposed memorial
Fred Berstein
Fred Bernstein is an architectural writer living in New York. His idea for a World Trade Center memorial made a splash on the Internet last week. It consists of two tower-sized piers extending into New York Harbor. CBSNews.com caught up with Bernstein, whose idea, if implemented, would make lower Manhattan look quite different.

CBSNews.com: Describe your concept for a World Trade Center memorial.

Fred Bernstein: Two piers will stretch from the seawall in front of Castle Clinton in Battery Park toward the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island. Each pier is the precise size of one of the World Trade Center Towers (212 feet wide and 1,362 feet long). Walking out on the piers will be a chance to experience the architecture of the World Trade Center full-size.

CBSNews.com: Tell me a bit about yourself. Where do you live in the city, what's your age, and how long have you lived in the city? What do you do for a living?

FB: I'm 45. I live in the West Village; I stood outside on the morning of Sept. 11 and watched the towers fall. I am an architecture writer. I have an architecture degree from Princeton, although I've never practiced. (This is, really, the first thing I've ever designed.) In my spare time, I ride a bike; in October, I rode 300 miles from the Pentagon to the World Trade Center to raise money for the families of the 11 heroes of Rescue #5 (a fire company on Staten Island) who died on Sept. 11. For four days, we slept and ate in firehouses along the route; it was the most moving experience of my life.

CBSNews.com: How did the Sept. 11 attacks affect you personally?

FB: I watched the city I love hurt. And then I watched people everywhere rally around the city - they must love it as much as I do.

CBSNews.com: What has been the nature of feedback you have received from your idea? How much email? What percentage, so to speak, has been positive? Has anybody been completely revolted?

FB: My Web site has received more than 60,000 hits in four days [after an article appeared on Slate]. I've personally received over 2,000 e-mails, and 99-point-something percent have been favorable. Many have been ecstatic. The biggest surprise was that hundreds of people said, essentially, "I was never able to visit the World Trade Center while it was standing, and this memorial will give me a second chance to experience it." Hundreds of people told me they would make a special trip to New York if it was built.

There have been few criticisms, although there have been a few questions. Some people wondered whether the piers would interfere with shipping. The answer is no. I'm doing a little more research…

CBSNews.com: How did the idea of WTC memorial piers come to you?

FB: I attended a museum exhibition (now closed) of architects' designs for the World Trade Center site And while some of them were interesting, and beautiful, none would allow visitors to experience the Twin Towers full-size, which I thought was important. (The size of the towers was their most significant characteristic.) In my opinion, the memorial has to be as impressive as the buildings that were destroyed. And if we can't rebuild them standing up, we can recreate their facades lying down, and let people get a sense of their immensity (without having to climb).

Plus, I realized that the dispute over what should or shouldn't be built at the WTC site could take years to resolve. It occurred to me that building a memorial off-site would let the city move ahead while people are still coming to terms with the future of Ground Zero.

CBSNews.com: How long did it take to think the initial concept through? Was it a lengthy process from the idea to the Web site?

FB: Once I had the idea of recreating facades of the two towers, I looked at a map and saw that they wouldn't fit anywhere except in the harbor. And that was fine - there's something spiritual about walking out over water. And then I saw that I could create a triangle linking Castle Clinton (New York's first fortification against foreign enemies) with the Statue of Liberty (which represents freedom) and Ellis Island (which represents pluralism). The symbolism seemed perfect!

CBSNews.com: Have you heard anything from city officials? Is it clear yet on whose authority any memorial would come into being?

FB: No and no.

CBSNews.com: What in your opinion should be the fate of the site on which the Twin Towers used to stand?

FB: I really don't know what should be built there. I think delay, in this case, isn't a bad thing. If it takes years for the city - and the victims' families - to decide on the best use of that site, that's okay with me. Process - achieving closure - is important. And that may mean we have to take our time.

CBSNews.com: Have you made any estimation of what such a piers project would cost or how long it would take to build?

FB: I haven't estimated the cost or the time involved. But compared to other kinds of structures (bridges, towers), piers are quite easy and inexpensive to build. It needn't be an engineering marvel to be a very moving memorial.

CBSNews.com: Victims' names, how would they be arranged on the piers?

FB: I've had many suggestions from people …, and I'd like to continue soliciting opinions. But certainly as you pass over each floor of Towers 1 and 2 (that is, the two piers), the names of the people who died on those floors would be inscribed on plaques. I also imagined that people could buy digital audio players … as you passed over each floor, you would hear the victims' names, and other details.

CBSNews.com: Anything you would add?

FB: I welcome feedback.

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