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The Remembrance Element of Monuments and Memorials

The design of monuments and memorials should encapture the moment that determined the need to be remembered by future generations.

Focusing on the past and the sacrifice that was needed is necessary, and this was the case with the competition to rebuild New York’s Ground Zero after the Twin Towers’ destruction from September 11 terrorist attacks.

Despite the participation of renowned world architects such as Zaha Hadid, Richard Meier, Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, a member of the jury poised an interesting question:

“What should be the goal here? … Is it to erase the memory of what has happened? That everything will be the same as it was before? … One needs a more profound indication of memory.” (Libeskind 2005: 30, 31)

These were the words of the Berlin Jewish Museum architect, Daniel Libeskind, who raised his concerns about the proposed developments for Ground Zero.

It was August 2002 when the first plans to rebuild Ground Zero were made public, and when Libeskind raised the issue of remembrance.

He then added that it was necessary to incorporate ‘a dramatic, unexpected, spiritual insight into vulnerability, tragedy, and our loss. And we need something that is hopeful.’ (Libeskind: 31)

Due to popular demand, the competitors were asked to resubmit their proposals; at the same time, the Libeskind Studio was asked to compete with its own proposal for Ground Zero.

Since the proposal from Libeskind Studio was genuinely linked with the past and the tragedy of 9/11 it was the preferred submission by the selection committee and New Yorkers and chosen to develop the devastated area.

However, though the Libeskind Studio proposal was based on the past, the aim was not to rebuild buildings similar to the Twin Towers.

On the contrary, the proposal uses the footprint of the original Twin Towers to create waterfalls surrounded by trees and a green area that, instead of rekindling the bitter memories of thousands of deaths during that fateful September, represents a source of life.

Libeskind’s proposal transforms the area into a spot where the past is always present.

However, the Ground Zero area is embraced by signs and sources of life, sending a message that society will not return to the past, but rather will rejoice in the future with this location – instead of reflecting the horror – representing life and peace.

The American architect Lebbeus Woods, during his research and preparation of proposals for post-war Sarajevo, suggests moving away from rebuilding and bringing the war-damaged buildings back to their original state.

‘Wherever the restoration of war-devastated urban fabric has occurred in the form of replacing what has been damaged or Destroyed, it ends as parody, worthy only of the admiration of tourists.’ (Woods 1993: 10)

Woods calls for embracing of past occurrences through his distinct approach, focusing about ways to patch up the material damages in the war-damaged buildings.

Rather than completing reconstruction and restoration of damages, Woods proposes covering them with construction materials different to the ones used to originally construct the building.

Woods calls these wounds, scars or cuts. (Woods: 19)

Buildings can withstand war wounds because they don’t have feelings but in a society where war wounds are still fresh, dealing with the past is much harder than dealing with the future.

However, a human being is stronger than stone because when a stone cracks or breaks it can never return to its initial state, whereas a person, on the other hand, has a self-healing power enabling him to repair the wounds of body or soul, created by inhumane actions during the war.

But if a stone or the building, in the case of Sarajevo, doesn’t have a natural self-healing power and cannot return to its previous state, then why do people continuously try to implement what is not in the building’s nature?

In different parts of the world, post-war societies continuously deny the past that the buildings tell about, restoring them to the state they were before the war.

Covering war-wounded buildings accentuates the remembrance of war, so that in a way, for example, the people of Sarajevo, themselves, do not have to carry the war wounds.

Woods suggests a new way of dealing with the past where the past is not rewound (reconstructed) but instead marked (partially supplemented).

In the past, a lot has been done to review the impact of memorials in various societies, aiming to represent victory or defeat, the end of a war or of injustice, or glorification or honouring of the sacrifice of life.

Often it is only the speeches at an annual commemoration at a memorial site that recalls the victim’s sacrifice – whereas it should be the memorial itself that recalls and pays tribute to the sacrifice.

Memorials convey diverse messages to society, and their impact may be clear, unclear, or inconsistent due to the lack of understanding of the desired reality it aims to represent.

One of the most renowned monuments is Christ’s cross, which depicts his sacrifice, and unless monuments and memorials encapture the human sacrifice that is supposed to depict its these sacrificing moments, they end up being the glorification of the artist’s aspiration rather than subject’s devotion to incite change.

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