Reflections on Personal Experiences Pertaining to the World Trade Center Tragedy
I originally put these memories on paper to share with my two sons when they become mature enough to comprehend more fully the events described. Because few physicians were so privileged to help during the World Trade Center disaster, many medical organizations requested the story of any doctor who was able to assist, in order to permit colleagues to share vicariously in such experiences. I was honored to have had my experiences appear in several publications and to be reviewed by the 9/11 Commission. I have chosen to share these memories with all those for whom I care and care about.
As long as I live, I will never forget my secretary, Kathy informing me on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, that an airplane had just struck one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Prior to this, it seemed like a normal Tuesday morning, seeing patients in my ophthalmology office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
That moment had an exceptional impact on me, as my nearly seven and nearly four and a half year old sons and I had been studying skyscraper history and construction for the past several months. It was more than a passing interest on their parts; it had become their passion. We have a library of books and videos on the subject that hold endless fascination for the boys. They were so proud of our Twin Towers, the once tallest buildings in the world and remaining the tallest in New York City. They would share their elation on the occasional clear Sunday evening, when we could see the Towers atop the Manhattan skyline, as we drove home from the country. The boys and I had studied the incident in 1945 when a B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building on a foggy Saturday morning, killing thirteen. I had an instant sense of déjà vu.
I ran out to the lobby of my office building, where there was a television and watched in horror as the black smoke billowed out of gaping holes in Tower 1. I watched with an extremely uneasy feeling as I saw, in real-time, another airplane on the screen, which my gut simultaneously told me, ought not to be there. My worst fears materialized as the plane moved in an erratic manner then disappeared to be followed a second later by the appearance of a fireball emanating from one of the Towers. It was not yet obvious as to which tower we just witnessed being hit.
My heart sank as any doubts about this being a terrorist attack went up in the very smoke that I was now horrifiedly watching along with my colleagues. My thoughts turned to the victims in and above the crash sites, what it must have like for the airline passengers and how those trapped in the Towers could be rescued. I was naively comforted by my having previously read that the Towers had been designed to withstand the impact of a jetliner. After all the buildings had structurally withstood the two impacts and, indeed, were still standing.
I resumed seeing the shocked patients in my office, when my secretary informed me that one of the Towers (Tower 2) had just fallen. My heart sank yet lower. I kept asking myself how this could have happened, as the Towers already seemed to have survived the worst. When I ran out to the television again, I unfortunately knew that New York City’s worst nightmare was true.
My mind was now miles away from my office, with those innocent victims of the ultimate in hate. I wanted to help, to do anything to relieve their suffering, but being on the Upper East Side (which felt so remote from the site of the tragedy), I knew it would be some time before the injured could be evacuated to my area hospitals, as those downtown would certainly fill-up. As I resumed seeing the patients who were still able to travel to my office, I was again horrified to learn that Tower 1 had also collapsed.
I called both of my hospitals, Manhattan, Eye, Ear and Throat and New York-Presbyterian to learn that their emergency rooms had “adequate staffing for the time being”. I volunteered to help and waited to be called. The call never came. Believing that the ER must be too overwhelmed to call, I physically went to the emergency room at New York-Presbyterian Hospital to find literally hundreds of physicians and nurses waiting in vain for the injured to arrive as massive amounts of emergency supplies were being unloaded. The desire of my colleagues to help was inspiring, however the lack of patients being brought in to the largest referral burn center in the New York metropolitan area spoke volumes about the even greater tragedy now unfolding. There simply were not enough survivors to treat. I even volunteered to help at St. Vincent’s (which is not one of my hospital affiliations), which was closer to the scene, but they too had “enough medical personnel” for the task. I was referred to a triage center at Chelsea Piers where medical volunteers could go to see “if they were needed”.
I learned that one of my residents, Dr. Charles Mango, from New York-Presbyterian Hospital, had managed to get downtown near the disaster site. I was successful reaching him on his cell phone and learned that ocular foreign bodies and surface irritations were among the two most common injuries, with respiratory problems being the other. Most of what he was able to do on-site was ocular irrigation, as there was no slit lamp biomicroscope where it was needed most. I was informed that major ocular problems required sending the injured through triage centers and on to local emergency rooms, which was creating a logistical logjam.
I now knew that if I were to make a significant contribution to the relief effort, I had to get a slit lamp downtown to treat the rescuers and victims with eye problems on-site. Foreign body removal under direct visualization was a far more definitive method of treatment than irrigation alone. This was a more practical approach than shuttling the injured through channels at multiple sites, delaying definitive care. It took most of the next day and dozens of phone calls to connect with someone in the City’s emergency health care hierarchy who understood that this idea made sense. He gave me some potential contacts at medical “staging areas” at the disaster area, but he regretted that he had no way to get me down there. He informed me that I would have to get through the roadblocks and check points on my own, if I could. No matter how difficult this was going to be, I felt I at least had to try.
I called the assistant administrator at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, Craig Ugoretz, who combed the building and found the one slit lamp microscope that was not bolted to a floor-mounted stand. My local police precinct, the 19th, said that they would try to get me downtown, but their van had been crushed in one of the Tower collapses. I saw the patients in my office that had not rescheduled their appointments. My first patient, a retired diplomat and a post-operative cataract patient, informed me that his sister-in-law had been a flight attendant on the first plane to hit the Twin Towers. My heart went out to him in his grief.
Not knowing when my next meal would be, or when I would return home, I grabbed a quick bite in a local restaurant. I overheard a woman behind me planning a wedding and announcing on her cell phone that she was from Windows on the World. Her next words were, “Well, at least I’m alive!” I almost choked on my food. On my way to the hospital, I could see in the distance that the normally quiet Seventh Regiment Armory was teeming with activity. There were armed soldiers walking through the streets. On some streets there was surprisingly little vehicular traffic. The weather was gorgeous. It all had such a surreal quality.
When I arrived at the hospital, the slit lamp was in the lobby, waiting for me at the security desk. The administration put Georgiana Sechuk, a pharmacist, at my disposal to give me any supplies that I needed. While I was in the hospital pharmacy preparing for the unknown by loading cartons of emergency supplies, I fortuitously met a police surgeon, Dr. Richard Leinhardt, who offered to drive me to the disaster site. The slit lamp was dismantled and loaded into the back of his car. I changed into scrubs, as I did not know what to expect and I did not want to bring toxic debris or microbes home to my family.
The FDR Drive, normally jammed with traffic, was closed to all but emergency vehicles. It felt quite strange to see no ordinary cars on the road. I could identify the police cars, fire engines, ambulances and military vehicles, but there was a strange uncertainty about the black, unmarked cars with built-in flashing lights. We passed through multiple roadblocks and checkpoints. Some were manned by the NYPD, some by state troopers and some by armed military personnel. Somehow, it gave me an odd feeling of security. It was apparent, however, that New York City had been transformed into a war zone. In the otherwise cloudless blue sky, one could see a huge gray pillar of smoke rising from lower Manhattan, pushed by the wind across the East River toward Brooklyn.
On our way it was suggested that I first stop at One Police Plaza to treat the eyes of injured police officers. I was content to offer my services wherever they were needed. Upon first being escorted up to the Chief of Police’s office, it became apparent that many officers around me had eye injuries that had not responded to irrigation the day before. They just ignored their injuries and kept working. In fact almost everyone was walking around with red eyes. I was given a conference room down the hall from the reactivated, old Command and Control Center to set up as an eye treatment facility. After a few minutes to unload my supplies, re-assemble the slit lamp and close the blinds, there was a seemingly endless line of police officers with inflamed eyes at the door.
The police officers that I cared for were still so debris-laden, that their uniforms appeared more khaki than blue from the concrete dust and ash. Most of the officers were already on site, helping with the rescue at the World Trade Center when the buildings literally collapsed upon them. I will never forget their inspiring stories of heroism in the face of extreme danger. As office workers were fleeing, the uniformed services were running into the buildings, against the flow of evacuees, to heroically do their jobs. I heard so many sad stories of partners, fellow officers, fire fighters and paramedics, who were killed when the Towers collapsed. I kept hearing the same expressions of guilt from survivors, who were serendipitously spared as those standing next to them were killed or injured.
On the first day alone, I had the honor of caring for the eyes of more than one hundred heroes in every sense of the word. I eventually lost count. Each and every one just wanted to be treated expeditiously so that he or she could immediately return to “Ground Zero” to help with the search for survivors; to help transform the chaos into some semblance of order.
Fortunately, most of the eye injuries were not severe, but were nonetheless incapacitating. When the Towers collapsed, there was a cascade of enormous quantities of pulverized concrete and sheetrock, wisps of fiberglass, asbestos dust (the buildings were not asbestos free) and splinters of glass. The rushing cloud of debris had been opaque and often deadly. Many of the injured had chemical keratoconjunctivitis from the toxic effects of the debris and acrid smoke from the fires that raged in the rubble. There were many foreign bodies lodged under eyelids. Having a slit lamp made all the difference in treating these patients definitively. Large foreign bodies were easily removed with cotton-tipped applicators and irrigation. Small foreign bodies such as embedded glass chips often had to be removed with forceps. Fiberglass imbedded in the tarsal conjunctiva created papillary conjunctivitis and the classic ultra-fine “ice skating track” corneal abrasions, often without any apparent foreign bodies to be seen. Under the highest magnification and viewed tangentially, one could usually see the offending fiberglass. It was tricky to remove the ultra-fine fiberglass splinters, even with jewelers’ forceps. It was often like trying to remove a straight pin with a monkey wrench.
During the night, when the steady flow of the injured slowed to a trickle I walked into the Command and Control Center next door to try to learn what was going on outside this fortress. The Center had the ambiance of a beehive. There were projection computer monitors with satellite maps showing which buildings had collapsed and which were still standing. There were banks of televisions on the walls receiving all the broadcast and cable news stations. The Center was staffed by representatives of all divisions of the NYPD, all other New York City uniformed services, New York and neighboring state police, the Army, Coast Guard, FBI, FEMA and other Federal agencies. I was in awe of the fever-pitched dedication of those around me. The amazing organization and responsiveness were inspiring. It was difficult to believe that this highly organized Command and Control Center facility had been just reactivated when the new one was destroyed in the collapse of 7 World Trade Center. The announcement that possible explosives had been detected at a site in the City resulted in a human stampede of Bomb Squad and other police officers, charging out of the room. Later Mayor Giuliani announced that this was, fortunately, one of many false alarms.
Still later when the flow of injured officers stopped, I wanted to take the slit-lamp to “Ground Zero” itself to care for injured members of the other uniformed services. I was emphatically discouraged from doing this by the staff of the office of the Chief of Police, until buildings stopped collapsing and the ground beneath was more stable.
I went uptown during the night for a few hours to check on my family, clean up and possibly get a nap to prepare for the next day. There were few people outside on the streets. Although it was late, one is accustomed to seeing some people on the streets of New York at any hour. The wind direction had shifted. Smoke from the disaster site was now blowing North, up the avenues, to the Upper East Side. It was like walking in an acrid fog. The boys were sleeping soundly in my bed waiting for Daddy to come home. I looked out my bedroom window. The wind must have changed direction again, as now it was the distant southern horizon that was blanketed in smoke. The sky above, however, was so paradoxically clear that one could see entire constellations that had been absent from the New York skies for as long as I could remember. It looked too serene, considering what I knew was happening downtown.
It wasn’t until my second day downtown, during a break, that I first opened the blinds of my improvised emergency room at One Police Plaza to discover that the windows faced out over the devastation. From the window, I could see streets covered with the omnipresent gray dust, emergency vehicles and fire hoses everywhere, many office towers that looked like the damaged survivors of a war, with plumes of thick gray smoke rising from behind them and military helicopters hovering over them. What I think was City Hall looked like it had been covered by a gray snowstorm.
After my final visit to One Police Plaza to render follow-up care on September 20th, I was escorted to “the site” by Sergeant Giuzio from the Office of the Chief of Police. He told me he wished that all Americans could see the devastation first-hand to fully understand what had been done to us all. On the way, he recounted to me how he was off-duty when the call went out that an airplane had hit Tower 1. He had raced to the scene. He informed me that he was there when the Twin Towers collapsed and how it felt to be engulfed by falling debris.
As we went through multiple checkpoints, I began to see large groups of rescue workers walking through the streets. There were countless bulldozers, emergency vehicles and support trailers. There were huge lines of dump trucks waiting for their turn to be allotted one load of debris from “the pile” that I was soon to see first hand. As we got closer, the rain began falling harder. It became obvious that the Sanitation Department had literally worked a miracle cleaning some surrounding streets. From our parking space on the West Street, one could see the still billowing smoke illuminated by the floodlights at “Ground Zero” as it rose defiantly into the sky. I was shocked that the fires were still burning on day nine, but they were actually to burn on for months, with subterranean temperatures over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit.
We walked the blocks of lower Manhattan, through several more checkpoints, to an NYPD “staging area”. There I was outfitted with yellow boots, a rain poncho, hard hat and a respirator to filter out smoke, asbestos and other particles. We suited up in the rain, discussing with the officer in charge how this tragedy could have happened. Even among those who were there every day, there was still lingering disbelief. I was warned that three blasts of a horn meant that something (a building or “the pile”) was about to collapse. This warning did not comfort me, as I would not know which way to run if I heard such an alarm.
We left and began walking to “Ground Zero”. Without the familiar landmarks of the Twin Towers to guide me, I was completely disoriented. As we got closer, the floodlights gradually got brighter and the activity in the streets increased. I passed armies of construction workers going purposefully in every direction. Security seemed tight as we both were challenged at several more locations. Flatbed and dump trucks were being turned around 180 degrees with almost effortless ease by drivers possessing skills that I had never before pondered. I could see cranes in the distance that were over ten stories tall pulling and picking at piles of rubble that I could not yet identify. I saw construction vehicles equipped with pincers the size of a small car, which I was told could cut through a steel girder like a scissor through paper.
The road on which we were walking (West Street), just days before, was under high piles of debris, left by the Towers’ collapses. This route was now clear. Sections of the multi-lane road that has been gouged into oblivion by falling steel had already been replaced. It was now a highway of hope providing clear access for the even more formidable rescue task ahead.
We were now standing adjacent to “Ground Zero” on West Street between Building 6 and the World Financial Center. I was awestruck by the utter enormity of the devastation. It was far beyond what I had expected, even having been in the vicinity for over a week and having constantly seen its images in the newspapers and on television. Behind me, there were large chunks of stone façade torn away from the northernmost American Express Building of the Financial Center. There were almost no windows left unbroken. There was a huge, cohesive, multi-story mass of steel girders from one of the Towers that had fallen on the Winter Garden (the glass archway that connects two buildings of the World Financial Center). There was a lot of human activity around this area prompting the sergeant to speculate that there must be some renewed suspicion of buried survivors in the vicinity. Residual concrete dust in this area had us walking in the rain through ankle-deep gray mud.
The façade of the low-rise Building 6 was largely gone. The remains of Tower 1 were the memorable few vertical strips of façade and an enormous pile of rubble being worked upon by huge numbers of construction workers. The massive scale of the devastation made these workers look like ants on an anthill. Despite being dwarfed by the magnitude of the rubble, they were clearly making progress. There was simply no recognizable vestige of the Marriott Hotel to the south. There were fire engines pumping water on areas of the wreckage that were still smoking from fires yet burning deep within. There were “bucket brigades”, which were lines of hard-hatted rescue workers removing debris one bucket at a time from “the pile”. I was dumbstruck by the unimaginable enormity of what I was seeing.
While I was transfixed by the overwhelming spectacle of this tragedy, the sergeant asked me to stay where I was as he walked up to a tall thin man. The man was dressed in a black shirt and blue jeans and was standing idly by, holding a folded collapsible umbrella. He was wearing no protective gear and had no identification badge. Of the myriad of people walking purposefully around the site, he clearly looked out of place. Indeed, he did not belong there. He identified himself as a French tourist from Bordeaux. The sergeant took me aside and informed me that he was to look out for members of the terrorist organization suspected of committing this atrocity, as they might send one of their own to do reconnaissance. The group is suspected of distrusting the Western news media to do the job for them. The sergeant (and I) walked the man to a police guard post, where a second officer accompanied us, as they now had to escort the man to an NYPD and FBI center for interrogation.
As we walked around the corner to the Hudson River side of the World Financial Center both the lights and the clatter of the rescue work faded, somewhat. Emergency cables for power and telephones traversed the pavement everywhere. The rain continued to pour down as the unidentified man was brought in for questioning. I was struck by how “normal” this side of the buildings looked. I recognized the boat basin at the edge of the Hudson. New Jersey looked so tranquil and pristine across the river.
During the interrogation, I left to visit the morgue, which was nearby. There were pathologists and representatives from the Medical Examiner’s Office in several interconnected tents. A chaplain shook my hand as I identified myself and entered. There were no new specimens being received at the time. I was saddened to learn that most human remains being received were fragmented. The conditions of the remains were reportedly varied, with some badly burned and others showing the effects mechanical trauma. I learned that human remains would eventually be compared to databases to be created from genetic data from next of kin at ninety sites around the country.
Going down Albany Street, we passed a restaurant, where people must have been sitting until the windows were blown in by falling debris. There was a commercial bank with a Military Police entourage guarding its still-open door. I could imagine those inside fleeing with no thought of protecting its valuable contents at the time of crisis. As we neared an outdoor parking lot, one could see the remaining unclaimed cars covered with the ubiquitous, thick gray dust and ash. How many of these cars belong to victims trapped in unseen and unimaginable places?
As we walked onward toward the site of the Tower 7 collapse, there were many tents and tables set up to provide the workers with the essentials of life during their mission. There were huge tractor-trailers containing commercial kitchens donated by McDonald’s and many other caring Americans. We had to detour widely, several blocks out of our way, as one building over a direct path was damaged. Even though it was a few blocks away from the primary devastation, there was a solitary steel girder impaled in the stonework of an older building, just hanging out, twenty stories over the street below. Not wanting to risk walking under it, we chose an alternate route. I was cautioned not to step on or near the myriad of thick black cables that were next to our feet on the rain-soaked pavement. Some were power lines and some were low-voltage phone cables. One couldn’t easily tell which was which, so I treated them all with utmost respect. Carpenters were boxing some into street-long enclosures. There were tents, trailers and lean-to’s containing scores of Verizon workers hunched over massive numbers of multicolored wires, splicing into the night to restore lost phone service.
We passed buildings that looked as if they had been spray-painted gray because of their coating of concrete dust. The only windows that one could see into were the ones that had been broken by flying debris. After emerging from under a scaffolding, we reached the remains of Tower 7 on Vesey Street. A former forty-story structure, it was now a ten-story pile of rubble that was being peeled away by cranes from the top and by bulldozers from the bottom. Fires were still burning inside the rubble. The sergeant informed me that it had been evacuated in time. Thank God. It had contained the “new” Command and Control Center, which had been emergently replaced by the reactivated one that I knew at One Police Plaza. I would later learn what this evacuation was like from a disabled patient of mine with Friedrich’s ataxia, who had worked at 7 World Trade Center. Seven World Trade Center was not actually on the same plot of land as the rest of the World, Trace Center complex. It was actually across Vesey Street. The great irony was that major factors in the building’s catching fire and collapsing were its gasoline holding tanks, required to power the backup generators in its Command and Control Center.
We walked to the corner of Vesey and Church Streets. There we visited an emergency medical tent staffed by paramedics from Boston. I identified myself as Dr. Belgorod. Everyone inside stood up to greet me with warm handshakes. I learned that they were both well staffed and well supplied. Unfortunately there was the consistent absence of victims to treat. We were invited in to listen to President Bush’s spectacularly worded address to Congress on the radio. Fire fighters and other rescue workers filtered in to join us. All present were silent. I couldn’t help feeling that the President’s message was all the more moving, being received at the prime site of this unconscionable attack on America. It was an honor to share this moment with heroic Americans dedicated to attempting, at all cost, to extracting some minute amount of good from such enormous evil.
After the address we said farewell, feeling a sense of comradeship, which was disproportionate to the time we spent together. The Sergeant and I walked on. Between the gutted low-rise Buildings 4 and 5 there was an enormous ramp constructed to accommodate massive cranes to clear wreckage from the very center of the World Trade Center complex. As we walked the wind shifted. The smoke poured down the street. I put my respirator back on. This was just a small sample of the environment at the site just days before.
As we approached Liberty Street we saw a large group of rescue workers gathered under one of many gasoline-powered floodlights. All were looking anxiously over the edge of a precipice created when a several story piece of Tower façade curled into a cylinder and impaled itself into the ground during one of the collapses. Few present were respecting the yellow police tape several feet back from the edge. I could clearly see a filing cabinet inside the twisted subterranean wreckage that looked incredibly intact. As a paramedic set up I.V. bags and other supplies a few feet away, I was told that one worker thought he saw a pipe move spontaneously. When a rescue worker thought he or she had a potential survivor, he or she then became in charge of the immediate rescue effort as the most qualified person to look farther. I identified myself as a physician and was told to remain close by. The large gathered crowd all had one thought: Might there still be someone alive inside this rubble? Dogs were taken down into the pit to sniff for survivors. The observing crowd of rescuers was transfixed. I said a silent prayer. The expectation was palpable.
Our hopes of finding another survivor didn’t materialize that night. The crowd dispersed. It has happened so many times before. Neither this nor the episodic torrential rains dampened the determination of the rescue workers. Each rescue of a miraculous survivor charged the atmosphere of “the site” and the very soul of every American. As it tragically turned out, there were so very few survivors discovered after the collapses.
I asked the sergeant when he was to finish his day’s tour of duty. He said, “two hours ago”. I thanked him for taking four hours out of his day to guide me around the disaster site. I discarded some of my debris-laden protective gear and went back to One Police Plaza for final farewells. As I left the Office of the Chief of Police, I was handed a large shopping bag full of emergency gear. I asked why I was being given this equipment and was told that I would need it if I ever wanted to man the “bucket brigades”. Reluctant to take their supplies, I insisted that if and when I were to do so, I could simply go back to a staging area to be outfitted again. Again I was told to take the bag of emergency gear. When I asked one final and emphatic, “Why?” I was stared straight in the eyes and told, “We all just want you to keep this around”. I finally got the chilling message, accepted the gear and left One Police Plaza for the last time. I went back home to kiss my sons in their sleep.
The WTC Memorial Competition
My younger son, Douglas, had expressed a desire to become an architect soon after watching the unfortunate events of 9/11 unfurl on television before nursery school on that ill-fated day. He said that he wanted to rebuild the Twin Towers to make them stronger, so that airplanes could not damage them. Then, at four and a half years of age, he requested a copy of a photograph of the Twin Towers to be permanently displayed in his room. I discovered a photograph that he and I had taken together on the deck of the Highlander, three months before the attack. To this day, he keeps it on display.
Several months later, I came home to a quiet, darkened apartment with everyone asleep. When I turned on the dining room lights, at my place at the table was Douglas’ concept for a WTC memorial rendered in Lego blocks. He had built towers (complete with antenna) with rectangular sections missing, to correspond to the areas of impact of the hijacked planes. I was quite taken by its form and thoughtfulness, considering the youth of the designer.
Taking Douglas’ design from concept stage to a scale model rendered in Plexiglas became a year-long father and son project. Memorials are, by definition, for remembering and, at times, for healing. However, we both felt that it is perfectly acceptable for a memorial to incite one to sadness, as well. We maintained that a World Trade Center memorial should embody four essential components:
1) The names of the victims
Victims’ names are an entirely appropriate means of remembering the dead in all memorials. It is also important to acknowledge that a list of names, no matter how aesthetically rendered, is not a memorial in itself, but is only a component of a memorial. Although all those who died in the attacks are equal in that they were all victims, there was a definite qualitative difference between those who died while trapped or escaping from the ravaged towers and those who lost their lives running into the burning Towers to save the lives of others. We felt that the rescuers must be honored as they had died: by name, occupation and uniformed service.
2) Access to bedrock at the Towers’ footprints
It must be noted that there were no recovered or identifiable remains belonging to over one thousand victims of the World Trade Center tragedy. An almost universal request of the victims’ families was maintaining the footprints of the Twin Towers down to bedrock. Although existing and future infrastructure necessary to rebuilding the area may interfere partially with this goal, the exposed footprints contain remnants of the original steel footings of the Towers. Keeping these remnants visible would give victims’ families a physical connection to the original Towers in situ.
3) Structures representing the lost World Trade Center icons
Albeit not universally praised for their architecture, the Twin Towers were an integral part of New York City, which no longer grace our skyline. It is hard to recall a recent photograph of our City without these symbols of New York, icons of free enterprise since their inception. One must not forget that they were not merely tall buildings; they were once the tallest buildings on Earth. Many of us still feel that we will awaken one day from a dream-like state to have them back. We both felt that a low-profile memorial simply would not reflect their towering loss. A memorial to the loss of the Twin Towers should not be looked down upon, or just “at”, it should be looked up to.
Both the names of the victims and a reincarnation of the World Trade Center icons could be represented simultaneously by the memorial, as there is no fundamental incompatibility between memorializing both human and material loss. For the overwhelming portion of the population who had no direct ties to a victim, the emotional link to the tragedy is represented by the loss of “our” Twin Towers.
4) Relics of the Twin Towers
Relics and rubble from the disaster site represent significant and tangible ties to the actual tragic event and location. Relics of the disaster should not solely be housed in a museum or off-site (as they are now) in an airplane hangar. Where should the last standing remnants of the Twin Tower icons better be displayed for our children and grandchildren to see, than at Ground Zero, itself?
The design evolved into a pair of transparent towers with rectangular areas missing where the airplane impacts occurred, containing standing façade relics inside one Tower and the recovered American flag inside the other.
I took a digital photo of the model, not knowing what I would do with it. On 9/5/02 the opportunity presented itself to show the photograph of the model to someone who appreciated it. An architect for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (the organization that built the World Trade Center after the public relations campaign waged by David Rockefeller) became a patient of mine. I was unaware at the time that it was he, who was responsible for the safekeeping of noteworthy WTC relics in an airplane hangar at JFK International Airport.
After studying the photo for pensively for several minutes, he said, “You have to do something with this”. I told him that I was hardly an unbiased party, being proud my son’s creativity. When I asked him if he were sure, he replied, “Let me put it in simple terms. If you don’t submit this design, I will”. He told me that he would find the right person to whom to send it.
On 9/1/7/02, I attended a benefactors’ reception for my sons’ school wearing a lapel pin of the World Trade Center given to me by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for treating eye injuries in the aftermath of 9/11. A man walked up to me and asked where I got the striking lapel pin. When I told him, he startled me my replying, “I know”. When I asked how he knew, he explained that he was a Commissioner of the Port Authority. He was also a trustee of the school. After seeing the design he was committed to delivering the design of one of his students into the proper hands.
Within a few weeks, I received not just one, but two letters from the General Counsel of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (the organization empowered with the rebuilding of the Ground Zero area). The letters stated that the LMDC was unable to view the design because there was to be a memorial design competition that we would be free to enter.
It took more than six months for the Competition Guidelines to finally be released on 4/28/03. The Guidelines were comprehensive to say the least, being 38 pages long with detailed maps and renderings of the site in which the memorial was to be constructed. To comply with these Guidelines and to make a polished presentation, it was clear that a set of professional renderings was in order.
Not knowing where to start, I casually asked an architect, Mark Mascheroni, who has a son at my sons’ school, how much a set of architectural renderings might cost. His reply was quite a revelation. I was determined to give Douglas’ design a fair chance, but in order to make the entry for a reasonable cost, I tried to find an architecture student at Pratt or Parson’s, with no success. I contacted a patient of mine, formerly with the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, who introduced me to Clement Mansion, a French architect, who recently was graduated from school. He was fascinated by how much we had already accomplished and was eager do the renderings.
On 6/9/03 I took Douglas to a lecture given by the Freedom Tower architect, Daniel Liebeskind. The lecture was sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, as Liebeskind is a professor of architecture at Penn. Dougie sat spellbound among the all adult audience at the Caspary Auditorium of Rockefeller University. We both enjoyed looking at the renderings of the winning designs. It also gave us ideas about the way we wanted to present our team’s designs.
Mansion worked on the renderings in his meager spare time over the two month period until three days before the submission deadline on 6/30/03 at 5:00 PM. The team spent more hours on this project than I had ever anticipated. I was very flattered when, at one point, Mansion asked me where I got my formal architecture training. I told him from my son Dougie!
We met face to face for only the second and final time at a very busy architectural printing shop, Esteban & Co at 139 West 31 Street. It was 5:00 PM, a few minutes before closing on 6/27/03, where the exquisite, high-resolution, AutoCad renderings for our final submission had been computer-printed and were meticulously packed for shipping by the hand of the shop owner himself. He was very kind. Sensing the importance of this project, he wouldn’t permit anyone else to do the packing.
As I handed Mansion a check for his work, I asked him to sign the official LMDC release, required for all submission team members. In his broken English, he asked me why he needed to sign a release. In informed him that all team members had to give the LMDC rights to use the designs as they saw fit. He said, “But you are paying me”. I replied that I was, indeed, paying him, but I considered him very much a team member. He said he felt honored to be a member of the team and was very proud of the submission.
As described in our team’s submission (written in the present tense according to architectural protocol):
“The Memorial structures are 1:5 scale (273.5 feet, or approximately 22 stories tall) allegorical representations of the World Trade Center Twin Towers comprised of seamless, 3-dimensional, lightly-smoked glass curtain walls. A stainless steel antenna (71.5 feet, in 1:5 scale) sits atop the North Memorial tower. The heights of the twin Memorial towers have been selected to ensure that they exceed that of the neighboring Cultural Center’s Museum building, making them the tallest structures in their immediate vicinity (Images, Sections B and D). Height is critically important to visitors of the Memorial, as the destroyed Twin Towers were the tallest buildings in New York, a city with a long heritage of innovative vertical structures. The Memorial compels the visitor to sense the enormity of the loss that occurred here and by visual means, will convey to future generations what New York, the United States and the entire world experienced at this site.
One appropriately placed 3-dimensional rectangular space, devoid of its glass façade, representing the “impact void” in each Tower (floors 93-98 of the North Tower and floors 78-84 of the South Tower) symbolize the loss from, and location of, the damage from each initial airplane impact. These stylized impact voids highlight the impasse that resulted in the deaths of virtually all those within and above the impact zones. The smoked glass façade gives an ethereal appearance to the Memorial towers. The color of the glass delineates the locations of the impact zones for current and future generations of visitors. It also serves to increase the visibility of the names of the victims, immortalized by being permanently etched onto the glass surfaces (Image 1, Section E).
The difference between life and death for thousands of people inside the Twin Towers was the ability or inability to find an intact stairway by which to escape. A scale representation of a stairway, with 93 flights (North Tower) or 78 flights (South Tower) of stairs runs centrally, only up to the bottom of each impact void. This graphically illustrates the pivotal role that simple stairs played in saving so many lives.
Each of the two Memorial towers has a footprint of 40 x 40 ft., and is situated in the space in between the two 200 x 200 ft. sacred footprints of the original North and South Towers, which thus remain visible and untouched. The Memorial footprints permit ample use of the available grass area for public memorial ceremonies, meditation, and quiet visitation. The Memorial towers are situated so visitors are able to walk completely around the structures to view the inscriptions on all four sides of each (Image 2, Section E). The structures are illuminated at night via architectural floodlights. The etching of the glass highlights the names of the victims by day and by night to enable 24 hour a day viewing (Image, Section C).
The glass panels making up the curtain-walls are inscribed with each victim’s name, date of birth, occupation, nationality and, when from a uniformed service, the appropriate shield (FDNY, EMS, NYPD, PAPD) (Image 1, Section E). Each victim is inscribed in an area of glass approximately 2 x 10-ft with the inscriptions staggered either three or four to a line, in alternating fashion, on all sides of the structures. This memorializes each victim in a tasteful and personal manner, emphasizing the peaceful nature of each victim’s presence in the buildings and the truly international scope of the tragedy. Telescopes are permanently mounted at ground level throughout the Memorial site to enable visitors to view victims’ inscriptions at all levels of the Memorial structures.
The glass curtain wall is supported by an internal, open stainless steel frame, reminiscent of the Twin Towers’ metal infrastructure whose melting under the intense heat of the jet fuel fires resulted in the Towers’ ultimate collapse. The four internal vertical stainless steel support columns and horizontal cross supports are reminiscent of the design and proportions of the original Twin Towers. Mirror-like cylindrical column surfaces and cables under tension render the support structure less visible and, therefore, permit the eye to view the glass curtain wall and its inscriptions without being distracted by the support elements.
The two glass Memorial towers are repositories, shielded from the elements yet clearly visible to visitors, containing and permanently exhibiting the most precious artifacts recovered from all of the 9/11 tragedy sites:
1) The inspiring American flag recovered from the World Trade Center rubble that was solemnly raised by rescuers.
2) Representative pieces of the last standing remnants of the World Trade Center façade
3) Damaged stonework from the Pentagon building
4) Recovered fragments of United Airlines flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, PA
5) A final resting place for unidentified remains
6) Artifacts from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing
The internal space of the two structures also provides an exhibition space for:
1) Other artifacts recovered from the sites
2) Artwork memorializing the tragedy and
3) Exhibitions that could change over time, including:
A) personal artifacts recovered from the site
B) documents recovered from the site
C) works of art recovered from the site
D) notices from family members searching for their loved-ones
E) rescue equipment used at the site
F) money and other valuables recovered from the site
G) furniture recovered from the site
H) damaged rescue vehicles
I) effects of the fires on building materials
This Memorial creates a bold and illuminating statement through its symbolic structure, which will serve to edify future generations of the events that took place on 9/11 and in 1993. The Memorial integrates the concepts of both human and material losses from the tragedies. The Memorial is a place to tastefully maintain the memory of each victim individually and all the victims collectively, as it is the inscriptions of the victims names themselves that encapsulate and give form to the structure. The worldwide impact of the tragedy is emphasized by recognizing the international scope of the loss. Finally, the Memorial is a permanent and dignified reincarnation of the World Trade Center icons that no longer grace the Manhattan skyline.”
A patient of mine, who saw the submission to the contest, was so impressed with Dougie’s concept that she arranged a meeting with the world-renowned architect, A. Eugene Kohn, founder of Kohn Pedersen Fox. KPF is the firm that designed the new, tallest building in the world (to be constructed in Shanghai) and the future Jets Stadium, just to name two of their many large projects. I took Dougie in his school blazer and tie to meet Kohn at KPF after school on 9/24/03. Kohn met us in a large conference room, where Dougie’s feet dangled in the air from one of the chairs around the huge conference table. After chatting for a short time, Kohn wanted to see Dougie’s design. He was obviously prepared to say something pleasant, but upon seeing the renderings, suddenly stopped, stared at the design silently and finally, with an incredulous expression said, “That’s good!”
Kohn spent the rest of the afternoon giving us a personal tour of the firm. Dougie was transfixed by the hundreds of scale models of the firm’s amazing architectural designs, including the proposed Jets Stadium and the new, world’s tallest building to be constructed in Shanghai. We had previously become familiarized with several of their designs from studying architecture books. Kohn had been exceedingly gracious and inspiring to Dougie that afternoon.
William Stratas, a website developer from Toronto created a wonderful website for contestants to share news of the competition and to discuss their personal experiences. He provided an invaluable service to those who felt compelled to participate in the memorializing of the WTC tragedy.
Stratas and I began to communicate on a regular basis and became long-distance comrades in architecture. On Wednesday, 11/19/03 the eight finalists had been selected by the jury. Stratas called to commiserate and to inform me that a reporter, Julia Levy, from the New York Sun had called him for recommendations for unselected designs to be published in an article about the competition. He asked me if I would be interested in being interviewed. After consenting, Julia Levy interviewed me by phone. I sent her a print of the Belgorod Associates entry into the competition. She asked me if I would be taking Dougie to see the finalists at the Winter Garden. When I informed her that I had to, she asked why. I told her that I had to prove to Dougie that we weren’t one of them and that we would be viewing the finalists after a birthday party at Chelsea Piers that coming Friday, November 21.
On Friday, as I walked the boys to school, I stopped by a newsstand to check out the Sun. There was our submission in full-color on page two! Even though it was likely to be published, it was an immense thrill to actually see it in print (Appendix A). I tore out the article and put it in my pocket.
After office hours, I took Dougie to the party followed by a trip to the exhibition of the eight finalists at the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center. As we were discussing the winning designs together, a voice in the crowd said, “Dr. Belgorod”. I did not recognize anyone there, but a young lady approached us (recognizing a father and a young, interested son) and surprised us by introducing herself as Julia Levy, the reporter from the Sun.
After talking to Dougie for a while, she informed me that the man standing directly behind me was Kevin Rampe, the President of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. The LMDC was the organization that had run the WTC Memorial Competition. I could not resist the urge to introduce Dougie to Rampe, who was most gracious. I informed Rampe that Dougie had come up with a concept for the memorial. He said, “That is very nice”. When I next told him that we had actually entered the Competition with Dougie’s design, Rampe’s face lit up and he asked, “What did it look like”. One could not have planned this turn of events. I said, “Funny you should ask. This was in this morning’s New York Sun”. I reached into my pocket and presented the article to Rampe, who looked stunned as he said, “This is fantastic. Dougie, I am going to invite you for a personal tour of Ground Zero and to present you with a special Certificate of Merit”. I was impressed by Rampe’s enthusiasm, but I did not want to get Dougie’s hopes up too high, in case it was not to happen.
On Saturday, 12/6/03 William Stratas had organized a WTC Memorial Competitor Forum at the NYU Kimmel Center. It was the first snowfall of the Winter. I took Dougie to the meeting which overlooked a snow-blanketed Washington Square from windows in the gorgeous, brand new building. Competitors were determined to fly to New York from far away, despite the weather. Doug was the youngest participant and was treated royally by all the attendees. All of the participants enjoyed discussing their designs. Some of us (including me) gave speeches. My WTC disaster experiences were published in the program along with a detailed account of rescue work by another participant, Jeff Johns.
At the Forum, Dougie was interviewed by Georgett Roberts of the New York Post and by Alan Feuer of the New York Times. Articles quoting Douglas were in the Sunday, December 7, New York Post (Appendix B) and the New York Times (Appendix C).
On 12/16/03 I received Kevin Rampe’s invitation for Douglas and me to visit him at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s headquarters at One Liberty Plaza. Rampe had been true to his word. On 1/14/04 the design of Michael Arad, “Reflecting Absence” was chosen as the winning memorial design. Arad then selected Peter Walker to be the landscape architect for the project.
Two days later, after school on 1/16/04 I took Dougie to the LMDC to visit Kevin Rampe. I had anticipated that many contestants would be invited. I was wrong. Rampe had rolled out the red carpet for Dougie exclusively. Rampe gave us an aerial tour of the reconstruction of Ground Zero. The LMDC had a professional photographer present to record the event. We were introduced to Anna Contini, who was responsible for maintaining the jury’s secrecy and adherence to the rules during the Competition.
After the photo session and the presentation of the Certificate of Merit to Doug, we were escorted to a locked room called “The Family Room”. We were informed that we were the only non-family and non-employees ever to enter that room. Inside was a large open space, with walls covered from floor to ceiling with photographs and memorabilia of the victims of the Tragedy. I told Doug, “These are pictures of….”. Doug completed my sentence for me solemnly, “I know, Dad. These are pictures of people who died”.
The person taking us around was stunned. I was told that the LMDC staff had not been sure if it would be proper to invite a six-year-old into such a sad place. I responded that they had picked the right six-year-old.
Doug was introduced to the winner, Michael Arad, and his associate, Peter Walker, in a conference room. As we left the LMDC, Rampe said, “Now Dougie, if they can’t finish the job, perhaps we will call you”. We all had a good laugh when I said, “Hey Doug, you’re still in the running. Tell them you will do it for half…a flat $175,000,000!” It had been a truly amazing afternoon.
Aptly stated about the competitors by New York Times reporter Julie Iovine was, “Working on their own initiative and against lousy odds, determined to express themselves and to keep memory alive, they spent countless thousands of hours conceiving, drafting, revising and explaining their visions”.
There was one final article in the New York Times on 1/19/04 by Glenn Collins and David W. Dunlap. In this article the authors wrote, “The 13 jurors faced the formidable task of winnowing 5,201 submissions ranging from the sublime to something else. Big Apples, towers inspired by Lego blocks, clocks fixed at 9:11”. I felt this comment was unfair.
As an ophthalmic surgeon, I expressed my personal need to do something constructive in the aftermath of the WTC tragedy by obtaining a portable slit lamp microscope and using it to treat the eye injuries of rescue workers at Ground Zero. At the time, my 4½-year-old son, Douglas, expressed his feelings about the tragedy in the manner he knew best and in the medium that he knew best, Lego blocks. This evolved into the formal submission, which was eventually professionally rendered by an architect. Our team’s submission was no Lego Land rendering of the design, but a formal set of high-resolution, meticulously scaled, computer-generated drawings of a truly dignified design for the memorial.
I reflected on how many renowned architects begin their creative processes with Lego blocks (or equivalents), or perhaps with rough sketches on cocktail napkins. Towers inspired by Lego blocks had, indeed, become sublime, per Kevin Rampe himself. Sometimes, albeit rarely, a profoundly creative and meritorious concept comes from a source, and perhaps in a form, that the intellectual establishment would not have anticipated. Jury member Mya Lin, the student-creator of the Washington, DC Vietnam War Memorial, I am certain, would have her own personal insights into that phenomenon.
I discussed my feelings about these comments with a patient, who is an editor of the New York Times. He insightfully chuckled, “Now you know your kid has arrived; the New York Times has taken a pot-shot at him”.
Our team’s memorial design now proudly resides on the LMDC website along with the other 5200 entries. It can be viewed at: www.wtcsitememorial.org/ent/entI=858065.html
To view an enlarged image and text, simply click on any part of the graphics.
One final note is that, several years later, a patient came into my office and informed me that he had just been hired as the General Counsel of an insurance company in Philadelphia, by, of all people, Kevin Rampe. He informed me that they were scheduled to have lunch together. He then asked if I had a message to send to Mr. Rampe. I told him that I would be grateful if he could tell Mr. Rampe that I will always remember how gracious he was to my son, Doug.
I received a call a week, or so, later. Apparently Mr. Rampe remembered Doug vividly. After lunch, he invited my patient back to his office and pointed to one of the only pieces of memorabilia of his previous job, hanging on his wall. It was the framed copy of our team’s submission, Doug’s concept.
I suppose he really did like it.
As I wrote in the beginning, I originally put these memories on paper to share with my two sons when they become mature enough to comprehend more fully the events that I have just described. Because few physicians were so privileged to be able use their skills to help during the World Trade Center disaster, many medical organizations requested the story of any doctor who was able to assist, in order to permit colleagues to share vicariously in such experiences. I was honored to have had my experiences reviewed by the 911 Commission and appear in the publications of the Medical Society of the State of New York, the New York State Ophthalmological Society and the Pennsylvania Gazette of the University of Pennsylvania, the New York Sun, the New York Post and the New York Times.
One of the most difficult things that I have ever been called upon to do, was to address the Connecticut Society of Eye Physicians on my experiences and on emergency preparedness, only a few months after the disaster, on December 7, 2001. The Society presented me with a photograph which makes the analogy between the Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima and the brave fire-fighters raising the now famous surviving American flag at Ground Zero. It hangs proudly in my examining room.
All of our lives have been changed by the events of September 11th. Three thousand innocent fellow citizens lost their lives. The rest of us will never again view a skyscraper, an airplane or even a simple piece of mail in the same manner that we did on September 10th.
How can my sons still have childhoods filled with innocence and security? How could I explain to them that there appeared to have been none of the “super heroes”, that they believe in, to save the day at the last moment? I thought about this and realized that in several places, there indeed were. On the hijacked United Airlines flight 93, over western Pennsylvania, some extremely brave men and women, knowing from farewell cell phone calls to their families that their fates were sealed, stormed the cockpit and gave up their lives to save those of unknown fellow citizens somewhere on the ground. We later learned from the news media that its target was to be the White House or the Capitol Building. I can think of no finer definition of “super heroes”. Other “super heroes” were the fire fighters, police, paramedics and “ordinary” citizens that put themselves in harms way, many losing their own lives in the process, to try to save the lives of others. If it were not for those brave citizens, far more people would have perished.
I think about the tragedy every day, and particularly my personal memories of experiences that have changed the course of history. The horrors that I witnessed first-hand were partially balanced by the privilege of having had the ability to serve my fellow Americans in time of need. Now, we must all adapt to an apparently new world. We have been forced to shake off the naiveté behind which we Americans hid up until September 11th. It is so unfortunate that we had to achieve this realization through such dreadful and painful experiences.
What kind of world have we brought our children into? We will only know in retrospect; it is far too early to tell now. I hope and pray that I will never witness another such man-made disaster ever again. I want to believe that the “civilized” world has learned a lesson from this tragedy and that the world community will never permit it to be repeated. History will eventually be the judge of how well civilization performed.
THE NEW YORK SUN
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 21
Rejected World Trade Center Memorial Designers Build a Relationship
By JULIA LEVY Staff Reporter of the Sun
A total of 5,193 World Trade Center memorial proposals have been given the heave-ho, but the people who created them aren’t slinking quietly back to their day jobs.
They’re planning a reunion.
On December 6, hundreds of teachers, architects, and engineers that didn’t make it will gather at New York University to display their work and discuss their discarded ideas.
“I’ve only shown my design to four people, that’s it,” said architect Hugh Lester. “I would love to have that feedback because honestly, in my heart, I feel like I nailed it.”
Mr. Lester, a detention-center designer, is flying in from Kansas City, Mo., to show his design, which involves a kinetic polycarbonate sphere etched with the names of the victims.
Another participant, Barry Belgorod, plans to bring his 6-year-old son, Doug, to the all-day event.
“There are an awful lot of creative people that have come up with some magnificent ideas,” said the Upper East Side eye surgeon who spent a few weeks providing eye care at ground zero after the attacks. “I think it would be interesting to interact with each other and understand the thought processes we all went through.”
Dr. Belgorod’s “budding architect” son, who was his teammate in the competition, created the prototype for their submission with Legos, about a month after the September 11 attacks. Their design was a glass replica of the twin towers with rectangular holes where the airplanes struck.
Brian McConnell, who owns a small telecommunications business, said he’s interested in the forum because, “The competition and the response it’s generated from people all over the world really is the memorial to what happened on September 11,” and “I’m just interested in meeting other people who participated in the contest.”
Mr. McConnell used mathematical equations to design his plan for a spire that creates the illusion of infinite height. He will be flying to the city from San Francisco to show off his plans.
William Stratas, the Canadian Web developer organizing the forum, said the event wouldn’t be a rally or a session dedicated to critiquing the eight designs that made it past the 13-member jury.
“It’s going to be peer-to-peer expression,” he said. “It’s not a formation of protest or questioning the authorities.”
Mr. Stratas posted registration forms online Wednesday morning, as the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation was announcing the finalists. By yesterday, more than 50 people had signed up.
Only one session is dedicated to discussing the finalist designs, and he said he’s anticipating some thoughtful but harsh critique.
“I was surprised at the uniformity of the theme and I was surprised that there was no iconic vision,” he said. “They all basically seem to stitch themselves into the perimeter. They sort of melt themselves into the sunken pit, infill the Libeskind depression.”
Mr. Stratas, who used a tholos as the centerpiece of his design, said he was surprised that none of the designs was a “purely artistic vision” or an “iconic vision.”
Although Mr. Stratas insists the forum isn’t about political action, some people say they’d like to find power in numbers. One designer, Gregory Mango, a free-lance photojournalist from Brooklyn, said he’d like to get together with some other designers to form a “coalition of designers” that can “have a say in structuring how this competition moves forward.”
Mr. Mango’s design, which involved two amphitheater-like structures at the footprints and prominently displayed remnants from the destroyed towers, said he suspects the memorial jury “tried to water down the ideas so people don’t get scared.”
New York Post
Sunday, December 7, 2003
LOSING ENTRANTS KNOCK JUDGES’ CLOSED DOOR
By GEORGETT ROBERTS and CYNTHIA R. FAGEN
December 7, 2003 — Some 60 people, including a 6-year-old boy, who were among the 5,000 entrants who submitted Ground Zero memorial designs, and lost, met in lower Manhattan yesterday to protest the closed-door judging process that produced the eight finalist proposals.
The group ranged from a New York heart surgeon to a first-grader.
Contestant Douglas Belgorod, 6, of Manhattan said he used his Lego building set to construct the two towers and had pulled out the blocks to leave a space where the hijacked planes hit. His father then hired an architect to comply with the competition entry rules.
“It reminds me of the towers when they were there. It’s in my skyscraper book. I can look [in the book] and bring it back,” Douglas said inside NYU’s Kimmel Center.
Most of the contestants were angry over the closed-door finalist-selection process, including William Stratas, who sponsored yesterday’s event and had met most of his fellow “losers” on his Ground Zero memorial Web site. “We are going to try and form a declaration that will express how we feel as a group, that this process should move forward [before the final design is picked] on the theme of disclosure and openness and to show the entire 5,200 entries,” Stratas said. “The people want to understand how the results were arrived at,” he said, adding that the public should have more say in picking the winner.
LaDonna Alexander, 47, a medical administrator flew in from Dallas. “The day I read they were having a competition, it was like a spiritual passion,” she said. Her design was of a memorial garden with artwork from 63 countries. “I felt I had to contribute something. I was a child when JFK was shot in Dallas. I look at it in the same light, a big American tragedy.”
Brian McConnell, 33, an engineer from San Francisco, said he was glad he made the effort to see other people’s work. “It’s pretty good stuff. I’m impressed. It’s a pity we didn’t do this before” the final announcement, he said.
New York heart surgeon Robert Jarvik, 57, said the finalists lacked passion and imagination. “This isn’t about architecture, it’s about a symbol of perseverance, freedom and strength,” he said. His design includes uniformed honor guards, firefighters and cops watching over a tomb in defense of the nation. “I think what is being done is a disservice to freedom and democracy,” Jarvik said. “I’d like to see a wide variety of creative styles among the entrants.”
New York Times
Sunday, December 7, 2003
9/11 Memorial Draws Together Nonwinners, Teeth on Edge
By ALAN FEUER (NYT)
The losers — no, not the losers, the ones who did not win — stood around doing what they had done for many months online, which is to say they thought, talked, argued, vented, ranted, complained and basically obsessed to the point of meltdown over how to build the best possible World Trade Center memorial.
They had lost. Yes. It was over now. O.K. Still, they wanted to remain involved and to contribute something — anything, please — because their energies and passions, the collective vat of their creative juices, really, could you throw it all away?
”The normal process is to tell the nonfinalists, the so-called losers, to go away, go home,” said William Stratas, a nonwinner, who arranged the forum yesterday for 70 or so of the more than 5,000 people who did not win the memorial competition either. ”But that is not going to happen. We’re not sore losers. We’re going to be involved.”
Mr. Stratas was standing at the lectern, on the fourth floor of the student center at New York University, talking to a group of peers whom he knew intimately but had never met before. They had been chatting for several months online through his Web site, wtc.planetcast.com, griping, carping, swapping tales of the anxiety of art, but this was the first time they had encountered one another in the flesh.
Naturally, there was a bit of surprise when Adrienne Austermann, who goes by the name of Trinity online, turned out to be a woman since many people thought she was a man, and there was more than pleasant applause when Eric Gibbons, also known as Lovsart, took his own turn at the lectern since people really liked the absence of public benches in his plan, benches that might encourage loiterers to hang out eating hot dogs — not exactly what Mr. Gibbons had in mind.
All in all, it was a remarkably diverse group, which had among its ranks a financial analyst, an engineer, a graphic designer, a schoolteacher, a sculptor, a union electrician, an ophthalmologist and his 6-year-old boy, and Robert Jarvick, the inventor of the artificial heart.
They were — each and every one of them — nonwinners.
”Disappointed? You bet we were disappointed,” said Gregory P. Mango, a photojournalist from Brooklyn. ”Everybody’s heart sank when the finalists came out. I know my heart sank.”
Then Mr. Mango said: ”You see, when I came up with my idea, I really thought that I was going to win. I mean, I knew I would win. Something happened to all of us. We all thought we would win. Even though the designs were all completely different — you see what I’m saying — all these people with different designs, but everybody had the feeling they were going to win.”
The only thing more diverse than the nonwinners were their nonwinning entries. There were models on display with lots of trees, stairs, reflecting pools and light. There were flat stones laid in the ground to form the numbers 9/11. There was a 70-foot glass sculpture of a pair of hands cupped together reaching for the heavens, and a sort of paddle-wheel thing that people pushed, and when they pushed it, it generated energy, and the energy was used to power spotlights, and the spotlights shone up into the sky, and the intensity of the shine, well, it depended on how many people were pushing the wheel.
There was also a very simple replica of the towers done in glass that was conceived by Dougie Belgorod, the 6-year-old, who constructed the initial model out of Legoes. He was with his father, Barry Belgorod, an ophthalmologist who was saying that he came home one evening shortly after 9/11 to find in the dining room his son’s plastic model of the towers, each one with a hole gaping in its side to represent the places where the airplanes had made their impact.
”He watched the whole thing on TV,” said Dr. Belgorod, dressed in a white turtleneck and blazer, same as Dougie. ”He told me, ‘Daddy, I want to be an architect and rebuild the twin towers.’ He said, ‘I want to make them stronger so planes can’t break them.’ I said, ‘That’s a very noble idea.’ ”
At any rate, the idea did not attract the interest of the competition’s jury, which — whenever it was mentioned — seemed to produce in the crowd of nonwinners the kind of forced affability and small uncontrollable tics one often finds in people trying to suppress great rage.
They spent the morning sharing their designs with one another, and in the afternoon set out to draft a Declaration (”Capital D,” Mr. Stratas said), which will lay out their displeasure with the competition’s eight finalists and which could be released to the public as early as today.
”I think I have given people an outlet for their passion and anxiety,” said Mr. Stratas, a Web consultant from Toronto. ”And it’s pretty hard to describe how completely passionate, obsessed and anxious these people really are.”
Ted Heys, for example, made no bones about being bitter. ”We’re the sour-grapers,” Mr. Heys, a Queens electrician, said. ”We’re not happy with the way things are so we want our designs re-evaluated.”
Overhearing Mr. Heys’s comment, Zane Kinney, who had flown all the way from Ellensburg, Wash., felt compelled to correct the record. Not everybody was a sour-graper, he explained.
”Look, I think it would be difficult to avoid the fact that all of us would have loved having our designs be the winner,” he said, ”so potentially you could view us all as sour-grapers, but for the effort it took me to fly out here just to whine and cry? You know, I’m not that self-indulgent.”
Later in the afternoon, the nonwinners went down to ground zero, where they stopped off at the World Financial Center to look at the eight designs that had defeated theirs. They planned to relax afterwards with a Chinese dinner at a place that Mr. Stratas described as ”reasonably priced and totally clean.”
It smarted having lost, no doubt about it, but all the nonwinners said they would not give up.
Dougie Belgorod, for one, was asked if he still wanted to be an architect.
”Uh huh,” he said with a nod. ”Yeah.”