Michael Arad’s WTC Memorial

by dharris63

As a CS undergrad and an HCI grad student, I’m not very familiar with architecture. I was a little leery of Michael Arad’s talk beforehand. This was quickly stifled when Arad began to talk, using common language to describe his motivations and goals. The absence of technical jargon made the lecture much more accessible. I also appreciated all of the images of drafts and prototype construction over the course of this eight year project.


Wall with digital artifacts

Another architect's proposed design: veneer of tech over a design that doesn't not consider space or purpose


I was struck by Douglas Allen’s comment that Arad’s design stood out because of its simplicity and directness. Looking at Arad’s design, it is clear that the problem preceded the design. Some of the other finalists seemed to awkwardly tack on technology without designing for the space itself.


Finalist design for WTC memorial

This design is aesthetically appealing, but from a glance it is not clear what the purpose is. I could easily believe it was for the flagship office of a tech conglomerate. Where is the emotion?


Others designed a pretty structure that had no relationship to the previous buildings. These designs were aesthetically appealing, but there was no sense of loss, of remembrance, of solidarity that one might expect from a memorial on the site of the World Trade Center. This is what Arad’s design had that others lacked: 1) a design that would not allow viewers to forget what had occurred at this site, and 2) a plan that allowed for tourists to visit and also for locals to use in their daily lives, a site where people could come together as a representation of strength but also to show that terrorism will not deter progress.


Michael Arad's winning WTC memorial render

Michael Arad's design is a serene respite from the city, but the soothing pools are a subtle reminder of the events on 9/11.


Even though I do not design buildings or landscapes, I think I can learn from this situation. A core tenant of HCI is the process of creating a solution based on the needs of effected users instead of finding the shortest path from point a to point b. Just as an architect needs to consider who he intends to use the space, an experience designer needs to design software that caters to a specific audience and build in constraints and affordances accordingly.


2 Comments to “Michael Arad’s WTC Memorial”

  1. Because you’re not actually in the field of architecture…you may not have realized the importance of what Michael meant by “You can’t fall in love your design.” You’re going to have to change things, make compromises for various reasons. The main feature of his design was never lost, BUT he made several concessions on almost every other part of the design. Most importantly with designing a memorial, you need to make sure that it can be tied into the “urban fabric” of the surrounding area.

    • Agreed re: not falling in love with your design. That’s important in HCI as well. You iterate through designs as users evaluate the usability of each prototype. The application is different, but the approach is similar.

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