Farewell to “Twin Piers”

A superb 9/11 memorial design loses on a technicality.

Double-entry demise
Double-entry demise

Nearly two years ago, Chatterbox lavished praise on a proposed 9/11 memorial by architecture writer Fred Bernstein. The memorial was eloquently simple. It consisted of two piers—built to the precise length of the World Trade Center towers, and etched with the names of those who died on each floor—extending into New York Harbor from Battery Park. As Chatterbox wrote at the time:

The Bernstein memorial would be inexpensive to build; it would integrate itself well with other meaningful tourist sites in the area; it would sidestep current controversies about whether and how to rebuild on the World Trade Center site itself; and it would convey the scale of the World Trade towers—architecturally, the only distinctive thing about them—in a bracingly direct way.

After Chatterbox’s column appeared, Bernstein’s proposal received favorable attention from CBS, the BBC, Time Out New York, the Advocate (Bernstein is gay), and various Web sites. And when the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation held a competition to choose a World Trade Center memorial, Bernstein’s “Twin Piers” was one of nine finalists.

But, alas, this story has an unhappy ending. The LMDC subsequently bounced “Twin Piers” because it was one of two Bernstein designs submitted to the competition, and the rules state,

No person may register more than once or be a member of more than one team. Each registrant or team member may submit only one submission. If a person appears as the registrant or team member on more than one submission, all submissions associated with that person will be ineligible.

Why did Bernstein submit two proposals? Well, actually, he didn’t. He submitted one proposal—not the “Twin Piers” design but another design using hypersonic sound, a spiffy new technology that’s essentially an invisible whispering arch, to create a “sound memorial” that would send recorded tributes to multiple pinpoints in and around Ground Zero. Bernstein withheld “Twin Piers,” he told Chatterbox, because the LMDC had indicated that the memorial must be located “at the World Trade Center site” and be incorporated into Daniel Libeskind’s architectural plan for new towers on the site, which LMDC had already selected for Ground Zero. “Clearly,” Bernstein e-mailed Chatterbox, “the ‘Twin Piers’ didn’t have a chance.”

Bernstein’s domestic partner, however, felt strongly that “Twin Piers” deserved consideration anyway, and so, with Bernstein’s permission, submitted it himself “on behalf of all the people who supported the idea.” The “Twin Piers” submission did not pretend that anyone besides Bernstein had designed “Twin Piers,” Bernstein says, and anyway Bernstein had already claimed it as his own on his Web site and in various news outlets. “So obviously there was no subterfuge,” he insists. But the application didn’t explicitly state that Bernstein had designed it, either.

“The rules said you could only submit one idea,” Bernstein argues. “There was no rule, nor could there be, that said you can only have one idea.” This logic strikes Chatterbox as overly clever, and very possibly at odds with the LMDC’s concept of “team member.” A better argument in Bernstein’s favor is that it’s absurd to hold Bernstein to the rules when the LMDC, in initially choosing “Twin Piers,” had broken its rule that the memorial be located at Ground Zero.

The matter has landed, inevitably, in court, with a hearing scheduled on Nov. 25. Even if the judge reinstates Bernstein’s submission, though, Chatterbox has a hard time imagining the LMDC will eventually choose it as the winner, given the circumstances. “We have an obligation to protect the integrity of the process,” Matthew Higgins, the LMDC’s chief operating officer, told the New YorkTimes. But the LMDC has itself already violated the integrity of the process. And, anyway, who the hell cares about the integrity of the process? Chatterbox thought the LMDC’s obligation was to choose the best possible design for a 9/11 memorial.