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INSIGHT: The Might-Have-Been Memorial

by Fred Bernstein
November 14, 2003

Two months ago, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation called to talk about my idea for a 9/11 memorial. Of the 5,200 or so entries in the memorial competition, mine was one of the ones that the judges liked.


It was a thrilling moment.


Only I hadn't entered the idea in the LMDC competition, and the call wasn't to me.


Like thousands of New Yorkers who've never designed anything bigger than a bookcase, I was moved by the events of September 11 to start thinking about what the memorial should look like.


My idea was to build a memorial in New York Harbor two piers the precise size and shape of the World Trade Towers (212 by 1,362 feet). From Battery Park, one pier would point at the Statue of Liberty, the symbol of America's freedom; the other would point at Ellis Island, the symbol of our diversity. Walking out onto the piers would be like climbing the Twin Towers. Names of victims would be inscribed (as close as possible to) where they died.


When I posted the idea at my website,, I received more than 150,000 hits, and thousands of supportive e-mails. Many correspondents shared my view that the memorial should somehow be the size of the Twin Towers; how else could people recall the enormity of what occurred there?


And they shared my view that it would be hard to build an appropriate memorial at Ground Zero, along with the office buildings, hotels, restaurants, parking garages, museums, and subway stations. Moving the main memorial off the site would give it room to breathe.


But by 2003, my idealism had faded. The LMDC announced a competition. According to the competition rules, the memorial had to be at Ground Zero, and it had to fit Daniel Libeskind's design for that site.


The Twin Piers wouldn't qualify. And so I began developing another idea for a memorial that fit the approved site plan.


But my partner, Chuck, loved the Twin Piers idea. Lots of people had supported me, he said; didn't I at least owe it to them to enter it in the competition?


Chuck asked if he could enter the Twin Piers; I said okay, and in June, he sent an entry (derived from my website) to the LMDC. I was sure it wouldn't be noticed among the thousands of proposals.


Three months later, the LMDC called Chuck to tell him the Twin Piers was one of the judges' picks. They swore him to secrecy, and asked him to await further communications. What followed was a series of phone calls, faxes, and e-mails from the LMDC's "vice president for investigations."


And then we found out the Twin Piers had been eliminated.


Had the LMDC learned that the Twin Piers had been on my website since early 2002? No doubt.


Did they think Chuck had stolen it from me? I hope not, but who knows?


And did they think I'd submitted two ideas, in violation of the competition rules? I don't know the answer to that one, either.


We never found out what the LMDC was thinking, and most likely we never will.


All we know is that the Twin Piers almost made it to the finals. Would it have fared better if I'd submitted it myself? I don't know, but I'll always regret not trying.



Fred Bernstein studied architecture at Princeton University, and has written about design for more than 15 years. He contributes to the New York Times, Oculus, Metropolitan Home, and Blueprint.


(click on pictures to enlarge)

(Fred Bernstein)
The Twin Piers