Friday, July 13, 2012

Crescent and Moon Inspired Buildings - Part 3

(This is the concluding part of this series of posts).

Not that long ago there was controversy in the US about proposals for the construction of a 13 story Islamic community centre in Lower Manhattan.  Originally named Cordoba House and now referred to as Park 51, the centre is intended to be open to the general public and, according to its supporters, promote interfaith dialogue.  It is a controversial proposal in that it is located two blocks from the World Trade Centre site, being referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque” notwithstanding that it is neither on Ground Zero or a mosque.  In late September 2011, the project developer opened a 370 m2 Islamic centre in renovated space at the Park 51 location.  It is hoped to build the larger planned project within several years.

There has also been controversy in respect of a memorial for the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 which was hijacked as part of the September 11 attacks.  Flight 93 crashed in a field about 3 kilometres north of Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers fought the hijackers to regain control of the aircraft.  All aboard died in the crash - 40 passengers and crew and 4 hijackers.

The proposed memorial design was to be approved by a 15 member jury composed of family members, design and art professionals, and community and national leaders.  The design selected drew criticism from various groups and individuals, especially from religious groups and online blogs, among them Tom Burnett Snr, the father of Thomas Burnett, the leader of the passenger revolt.  Tom Burnett Snr was a member of the jury which selected the final winning design 9 votes to 6, although he was strongly opposed.  His comments can be read at:

On 5 September 2005 the winning design was announced:  Crescent of Embrace by a design team led by Paul and Milena Murdoch of Los Angeles.  The design would include a "Tower of Voices," containing 40 wind chimes, one for each passenger and crew member who died. There would also be a crescent formed by a circular pathway lined with red maple trees that follows the natural bowl shape of the land. Forty groves of red and sugar maples and eastern white oak trees were to be planted behind the crescent, with a black slate wall marking the edge of the crash site, where the victims are buried.

The criticism of the design was that the proposed red crescent, whether intentionally or accidentally, strongly resembled the Islamic crescent. Furthermore, it was suggested, the orientation of the crescent was towards Mecca.

The proposed design

 Left: The Crescent of Embrace design.
Right: Typical Islamic crescent and star, viewed from a similar angle.
Image from Tom Burnett Snr’s letter of objection at the above web site.

Mike Rosen of the Rocky Mountain News wrote: 

"On the anniversaries of 9/11, it's not hard to visualize al-Qaeda celebrating the crescent of maple trees, turning red in the fall, "embracing" the Flight 93 crash site. To them, it would be a memorial to their fallen martyrs. Why invite that? Just come up with a different design that eliminates the double meaning and the dispute."

In response to the public criticism that the crescent design honoured the terrorists, rather than the passengers and crew, the designer modified the plans. 

The redesign seeks to maintain much of the original but based the on the plain shape of a circle, rather than a crescent, bisected by the flight's trajectory. A break in the trees symbolises the path the plane took as it crashed.

Because the area has a bowl as the main geographic feature, the circle utilises the terrain.   A walkway leads to the main circular area, opening to a ceremonial gate with a wall bearing the names of the deceased passenger and crew.  The wall is composed of 4 polished white granite panels.  The flight path is paved with black granite, the impact site is planted with wildflowers and there is a henlock grove further behind.

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