Constructing Memory as Space: 9/11 Memorial as a “Cultural Elaboration of Landscapes”



2014-09-11 21.31.22

This week’s Dunn reading examined the construction of space as artefact in the historical sense- with reference to how the “digital dimension accelerates and simulated the fundamentally creative process of historical reconstruction”. While this is discussed in the more historically rooted disciplines of archaeology and classics, the notion of constructed space reminded me of my visit to MoMA this summer, featuring an exhibition on “Conceptions of Space” that I relate to my experience with the 9/11 memorial. Some of the spaces mentioned in the exhibition were:

Envelope Space- A result of height restrictions and other building regulations in modern cities. Building’s outer limit, rather than the function of its interior, is the guiding principle of design. Envelope organizes creation of architectural space and has theme in its own right

Fictional Space- architects conceive space out of imagination and use stories to help their ideas unfold

Space on Steroids- pioneering contemporary designs often combine references to historic buildings with groundbreaking spatial experiments. Architects often seek to create new and vital experiences of space unrelated to a building’s functions. Even if diverse practical needs must be met, space and its interaction with architecture’s existing repertoire of forms and spatial possibilities can be the main focus of the design process

Spaces of Assemblage- artists adopt creative strategy called assemblage i.e. grouping found or unrelated objects. Juxtapose different forms, volumes, other spatial elements and by repurposing preexisting construction components.

Performative Space- design that crosses boundaries between architecture, installation art and props for performance

In the various ways explored, architects are able to rely not only on precedents, but present needs and future projections to think about a building, and how its design would shape human interaction and experience that would contribute to a productive “cultural elaboration of landscapes”.

While I did not take any pictures of the architectural exhibits, the exhibition also made me think about the 9/11 memorial and the thought put into engineering it. As a historical event that is close to the hearts of many Americans, the herculean task to build a structurally meaningful and symbolic memorial to represent history while being aware of the practical limitations of a crowded city like New York was perhaps daunting. While not necessarily performative, the resultant two light beams shone were purposive in that it served as remembrance and recognition in respect. It had a spatiality that was palpable, balancing a modest unintrusiveness (lights could be switched off) without neglecting to remind of past constructions of space, as opposed to merely “representing and describing them”. It was an endeavor that balanced a past occurrence with the need to address the current climate and future

The quote Dunn places at the beginning of the article therefore becomes exceptionally poignant- “That was how I saw it then, and how I continue to see it; along with the five senses. A child of my background had a sixth sense in those days, the geographic sense. The sharp sense of where he lived and who and what surrounded him”. The relation and interactions of people in a given space give it value, and the sixth geographic sense empowers one to situate himself as a constituent of his surroundings. As such, the notion of space becomes important in constructing identity- the way it is presented and permits us to interact with it not only help us understand things around us better, but offers us a more robust understanding of ourselves.