Memorials as Spaces of Engagement
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Memorials as Spaces of Engagement

Design, Use and Meaning

Quentin Stevens, Karen A. Franck

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Memorials as Spaces of Engagement

Design, Use and Meaning

Quentin Stevens, Karen A. Franck

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About This Book

Memorials are more diverse in design and subject matter than ever before. No longer limited to statues of heroes placed high on pedestals, contemporary memorials engage visitors in new, often surprising ways, contributing to the liveliness of public space. In Memorials as Spaces of Engagement Quentin Stevens and Karen A. Franck explore how changes in memorial design and use have helped forge closer, richer relationships between commemorative sites and their visitors. The authors combine first hand analysis of key examples with material drawn from existing scholarship. Examples from the US, Canada, Australia and Europe include official, formally designed memorials and informal ones, those created by the public without official sanction. Memorials as Spaces of Engagement discusses important issues for the design, management and planning of memorials and public space in general.

The book is organized around three topics: how the physical design of memorial objects and spaces has evolved since the 19th century; how people experience and understand memorials through the activities of commemorating, occupying and interpreting; and the issues memorials raise for management and planning.

Memorials as Spaces of Engagement will be of interest to architects, landscape architects and artists; historians of art, architecture and culture; urban sociologists and geographers; planners, policymakers and memorial sponsors; and all those concerned with the design and use of public space.

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ON A HOT JULY DAY, people of all ages sit or lie on the edge of a circular stone channel. Many have put their feet in the cool, bubbling water. Some are in bathing suits, others simply have their shirts off. Almost all are barefoot. On the lush lawn encircled by this fountain, three young women in bathing suits are stretched out, sunbathing. Nearby, a group of young people in Goth costumes sing “Happy Birthday” to one of their group. Children play a game of chase, circling the fountain. On that same hot day, in the center of another city, a family sits on a gray concrete slab, set low on the ground; the mother hands a sandwich to the small boy; behind them on another slab the father stretches out full length in the sun. Two young people jump from one slab to another. A group of school children run down the slope on a narrow path between the slabs toward the cooler air where the taller slabs cast deep shadows. Further down the incline, a young man stands on one tall slab, gazing outward toward the adjacent park. His friends take a picture of him. Here and there others walk through this field of stones in single file, speaking softly, pausing to look down a pathway or up at the sky or to touch a stone surface.
Those who are unfamiliar with these two public spaces may be surprised to learn that each is a memorial. That the first is a fountain might be a clue but people lying on the grass or singing Happy Birthday would seem to contradict that possibility. This site does feature a sign indicating that it is the Diana Memorial Fountain. Located in Hyde Park, London, and dedicated in 2004, it was designed by landscape architects Kathryn Gustafson and Neil Porter (Figure 1.1). Neither the design of the second (an expansive field of stones in the center of a city) nor the playful activities occurring there suggest it is a commemorative space, though a white rose placed on a stele might offer a clue. Located in the center of Berlin, dedicated in 2005, the space was designed by architect Peter Eisenman, However, no sign anywhere announces that it is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Immediately after they were dedicated, the distinctive design and use of these two memorials attracted our attention and inspired this book.
In looking at other contemporary memorials, we came to realize that these two cases illustrate, albeit in a dramatic manner, two features that other memorials share. They create spaces people can enter and move through, and they support opportunities for a variety of actions, many of which generate sensory experiences beyond the visual. While searching for a way to characterize these features and to name our book, we came upon Kirk Savage’s (2009) apt description of the transition from free-standing “statue monuments” to “spatial” ones. As the collaborations between sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and architect Stanford White in the late nineteenth century exemplify, statues were designed as integral parts of architectural settings: the statue, on a pedestal, graced an elevated platform or terrace that also offered seating (Figure 1.2). “The lead designer of a monument was still typically the sculptor, and the hero remained elevated in the center of the composition, but a space of engagement was also beginning to emerge” (Savage 2009: 198). In describing the first such monument in Washington, the Samuel Hahnemann Memorial (Charles Niehaus and Julius Harder, 1900), Savage writes that the work “sought to guide visitors’ movement and experience in space”(ibid.: 200). These are precisely the qualities that stimulated our interest in contemporary memorials and that form the underlying theme of this book.
Figure 1.1 Diana Memorial Fountain, London, Kathryn Gustafson and Neil Porter, 2004
Source: Quentin Stevens, 2005.
Once monuments became spatial, they not only embellished the public spaces of parks, squares, and streets, they also created public spaces in themselves. At first, the spaces that people could occupy were relatively small as in the Hahnemann Monument or the Admiral Farragut Memorial in New York (Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1881). Later monuments became both more spacious and more monumental in scale and form as evident in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington (Henry Bacon, 1922) and the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne (Philip Hudson and James Wardrop, 1934). Eventually monumentality became much less important while the spatiality of memorials and attention to people’s movement and embodied experiences helped generate an increasing variety of memorial designs, which continues today.
A notable increase in diversity of designs as well as subject matter began in the 1980s, marked by the selection of Maya Lin’s competition entry for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington in 1981, and the exploration in Germany of novel ways to commemorate victims of the Holocaust. Both circumstances began what became a more frequent tendency to commemorate darker pasts and to recognize individual sacrifice and victimhood through formal, professionally designed and constructed memorials and also through informal ones—which people make themselves with and without coordination or direction. One example from the 1980s that is organized and ongoing is the NAMES Project Memorial Quilt, which began officially in 1987. Friends and relatives contribute individual cloth panels, each 3 x 6 feet, and made by hand to honor friends and relatives who have died of AIDS. The quilt was displayed several times in its entirety on the National Mall in Washington. It is now far too large to be displayed in that manner, but sections are periodically put on show, for example in the atrium of New York’s World Financial Center where people could visit the panels and also write or draw their own thoughts on large sheets of canvas, inviting them to be agents in extending the memorial as well as visitors to it (Figure 1.3).
Figure 1.2 Admiral David Farragut Monument, New York, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and architect Stanford White, 1881. Visitors physically engage with the memorial in various ways
Source: Karen A. Franck, 2014.
Leaving notes and particularly flowers is a traditional custom at formal memorials, particularly on national holidays at war memorials that recognize the sacrifices soldiers have made (Plate 1.1). This custom grew dramatically in frequency and in the diversity of tributes at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, starting with the first offering––a Purple Heart medal placed in the foundation of the wall when the concrete was being poured (Rawls 1995). The subsequent outpouring of tributes at the wall overlapped with an increase in informal memorials that emerge without organization or direction. These are small or large assemblages created in public space immediately following a sudden death. They are composed of flowers, candles, cards, and all kinds of additional tributes, some of which people make themselves, placed in a particular location without official sanction or direction, Creating a memorial from scratch by placing a cross at the site of a roadside death has long been a tradition in Catholic regions. In the southwestern US, this tradition dates back at least 200 years (Collins and Rhine 2003), possibly following the precedent of the Mexican and Spanish descansos (resting places) where a cross was placed to mark the resting place of those who carried the coffin from the village church to the cemetery (Anaza et al. 1995). Now roadside memorials dedicated to those who have died in car accidents, consisting of crosses, artificial flowers and numerous other items, can be seen along roadsides throughout the US and in many other countries. In New York City, the first such memorial appeared in 1980 at the site of John Lennon’s assassination outside his home. The assassinations of Olaf Palme in Stockholm in 1986 and Itzhak Rabin in 1995 in Tel Aviv (Azaryahu 1996; Engler 1999) also generated what Jack Santino has called “spontaneous shrines” (Santino 2004). By 1997, the practice had become well enough known to help fuel the worldwide creation of informal memorials following the accidental death of Diana, Princess of Wales (Phelps 1999; Sully 2010).
Figure 1.3 AIDS Memorial Quilt, sections displayed in Winter Garden, World Financial Center, New York. Visitors write messages on sheets of canvas
Source: Karen A. Franck, 1992.
Since the attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, assemblages of flowers, cards, candles and many other tributes appear even more frequently in urban locations to commemorate the death of a single individual or a group of individuals. These informal, unofficial memorials invite people’s hands-on participation in an intimate way. Through their design and use, informal memorials quickly transform quotidian bits of public space into commemorative sites. They too are memorials as spaces of engagement and so we consider them along with their formal counterparts.
In Memorials as Spaces of Engagement: Design, Use and Meaning, we explore the wide variety of people’s activities at memorials and the many ways in which the design and management of memorials, both formal and informal, allow and encourage such variety. While traditional monuments are intended only to be viewed, often from a distance, and their meaning requires little thought or interpretation, today officially sanctioned memorials are often designed to invite visitors to enter, to draw close, and even to touch parts of the memorial. And, as the examples of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Diana Memorial Fountain indicate, people may pursue activities generally not expected at sites of commemoration. Also, with the absence of symbols or figurative sculptures, the intended message of contemporary memorials may be far less clear than in the past, requiring more intensive cognitive engagement. Informal memorials are even more engaging in the sense of participation, since citizens themselves create them. The ongoing proliferation of informal and formal memorials in many countries suggests that while monuments that are traditional in design, subject matter and use, no longer have a place in the modern city, as commentators such as Lewis Mumford (1938) once predicted, memorials in all their current diversity surely do.


The idea for the book arose from several sources: Quentin’s sustained observations of visitor activities at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin and the Diana Memorial Fountain in London; his observations of informal memorials in London after the July 7, 2005 bombings; Karen’s visits to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington starting in 1982; and her observations of informal memorials and then interim and permanent memorials commemorating September 11, 2001, in New York and New Jersey (Figure 1.4). Over time, our perspective evolved to become both more inclusive and historically framed. From initial readings, we came to realize that what we had originally considered to be design features of memorials dating from the 1980s had much earlier roots, including some in the late nineteenth century. We realized that key design features of contemporary memorials could best be understood in the context of those earlier precedents.
The geographic scope of the book is international but not global. We examine cases from the US, Australia, Canada, the UK and Germany with some attention to France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Russia and countries in Eastern Europe. These are all historically Christian nations that share the tradition of creating formal memorials in public space as a means of commemoration. Some of the countries have historically been subject to totalitarian as well as democratic political regimes. While we acknowledge that ways of commemorating, including the building of commemorative places, differ culturally, such differences are beyond the scope of this book.
Since we are interested in urban public space, the majority of the memorials we describe are located in cities; only a few are in small towns. For the same reason, we have not studied cemeteries, graveyards, museums or memorials built at sites of killings outside cities, such as those at concentration camps. The size and degree of renown of the memorials we scrutinize vary from large scale, internationally known ones to smaller, less well-known cases. While we are keenly interested in the agency and creativity of people, our long-term concern is with people’s use of actual public space and how design supports that use. Hence we exclude virtual memorials and the frequently ingenious kinds of memorializing that populate the Internet such Maya Lin’s interactive website called “What is Missing?”
Figure 1.4 Informal September 11 memorial, New York. People left candles, notes, flowers and U.S. flags, and missing person flyers at Union Square
Source: Karen A. Franck, 2001.
Although we focus on memorials as public places that have been built, occupied and interpreted, we consider these conditions to be stages in the longer and often complex life of a memorial. The process of realizing a memorial is frequently a contested one with many struggles and compromises occurring along the way. Any memorial can be viewed not only as a realized object or space but also as a process of commemorating that extends over time, sometimes a long period of time, from the initial idea through all the tasks, negotiations and compromises that, in some cases, never result in a built project. This, the making and not making of memorials, is an important topic but we pursue it only briefly at the end of the book. With our focus on memorials as designed and experienced, we do not examine the often complicated, and politically fraught processes which generate them. Intended to be “permanent,” many formal memorials are in fact, modified, moved or destroyed; we briefly address this topic of malleability as an aspect of management and planning.
The sources of information we draw upon are varied: lengthy field observations at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Diana Memorial Fountain, visits to many other memorials in several different countries; interviews with memorial designers and ...

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