Architect tells story of 9/11 memorial design

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Michael Arad, 9/11 memorial architect, relates personal experiences that inspired the memorial on Sept. 11 in the Grande Ballroom.

Michael Arad, 9/11 memorial architect, relates personal experiences that inspired the memorial on Sept. 11 in the Grande Ballroom.

Robby Poffenberger | Assistant News Editor | [email protected]

Collin Cooper | Photo Senior Staff | @coop.97


UVU commemorated the anniversary of the September 11 attacks with the architect who brought the victims’ memorial to life.

Israeli-American Michael Arad, a longtime resident of New York City, made the trip to speak to UVU students and faculty as part of the executive lecture series. He told the story of the years-long evolutionary process of making the 9/11 memorial a reality in downtown New York.

In the year’s prior, Arad said he never felt like a true New Yorker, but that changed when he experienced the 9/11 aftermath with the rest of the city, and additionally when he beat 5,000 submissions to win the bid to design the memorial with his vision he titled, “Reflecting Absence”.

“Those experiences made me a New Yorker, made me an American. It changed my understanding of who I was. I felt connected [to New York City] in such a powerful way,” Arad said.

The initial design was very different than the final product, but Arad said he felt the original conception was taking it in the wrong direction and therefore submitted his design. But even after winning the bid, the design went through countless changes.

“It’s not a process that you can get with a fully formed idea,” Abad said. “It’s a process that you pursue over years … The design often gets better when its constrained in some way and you have to find a creative response to those constraints.”

Among those constraints were how to arrange the names of the fallen (which took years to configure), how to beautify the surrounding park and how to make it more accessible to the disabled.

Arad concluded the presentation with moving pictures of patrons visiting the new site; most of them there to pay tribute to lost loved ones.

Although most of the speech’s attendees weren’t in New York during the attacks, Arad said it’s important for him to speak to them because it’s important for us to understand what it was like.

“This morning I woke up and looked at the sky, and it’s this cloudless blue sky just like it was 14 years ago in New York … I have such a vivid memory of the colors of the sky. You obviously don’t have that, so we have to find a way for you to relate to the events of that day. I do think it’s one of the most important days in the history of this country, and we should be engaged.”

He added that it’s important for people to attend the memorial because it reminds us that we’re all connected by the events of September 11.

“You can come [to the memorial] alone, but you’re not alone … You’re apart of something greater,” he said. “We all have an obligation to remember the events of that day and to respond. Every American should find their way there, and stand there.”

Matt Robins, UVUSA vice president of Academic Senate, said he had the idea to invite Arad to UVU after a trip to New York with the Public Relations department where they visited the memorial and museum in March. While there, he heard of Arad through a public relations executive and said the thought of having him come to UVU never left him.

“When I came back, that was something that was always lingering on my mind–how I felt when I was at the memorial. So when I came back to UVU and I started working on putting together speakers for our speaker series it was always something that was on my mind … I knew I wanted to get ahold of [Arad] and see if he’d be willing to speak at our 9/11 commemoration.”

Sophomore Dave Weidler, a New York native who was living a few miles east of the city when the 9/11 attacks happened, attended the speech and said it hit close to home.

“I thought [the speech] was awesome … It was nice to see someone else who had the same emotional connection,” he said.

Attendees were invited to the UVU courtyard after the speech to participate in a moment of silence and to release red, white and blue balloons as an additional tribute to those who lost their lives 14 years ago.