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Six Months After, A Memorial Built On Beams of Light

World Trade Towers' Beacons   On Monday, the "Tribute of Light" will illuminate the Lower Manhattan skyline for the first time. (Illustration from The Creative Time Web Site - Photo by Roe Etheridge)

By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 5, 2002; Page C01


NEW YORK -- Ethereal towers of light, visible for miles around, will pierce the Lower Manhattan skyline starting Monday evening, six months after terrorism changed the world as we knew it. A companion memorial also will be unveiled that day: the 27-foot bronze sculpture by Fritz Koenig called "The Sphere." An abstract work that symbolized peaceful global commerce when it stood on a black granite base and graced the plaza of the World Trade Center, the sculpture emerged from the fiery destruction of Sept. 11 somewhat crushed, like us all.

New York will memorialize the tragedy and its more than 2,800 dead with these two temporary exhibits -- one running just a month, through April 13, the other remaining until the redevelopment of ground zero actually commences. That is likely to take many months, considering that the trade center tragedy has created a new kind of negotiation of grief that supersedes business as usual. Relatives of the trade center dead and residents of the area have emerged as a powerful bloc intent on protecting the sanctity of the suffering as searchers continue to pull human remains from the grave that is ground zero. In fact, the recovery of victims and the gathering of DNA matches to help identify them is the main concern right now for the families.

For the city, the need to memorialize the tragedy even temporarily has produced a "Tribute of Light," as the dual beams are called, located near the Hudson River just west of the recovery site. The tribute will glow from the affluent high-rise commercial and residential district called Battery Park City, which was built in the 1970s on landfill dumped in the Hudson River from the 1960s dredging of the World Trade Center construction site.

The two light beams, made up of 88 intense searchlights arrayed in two side-by-side 50-foot squares, will cost about a half-million dollars, which covers the installation, security and a lighting technician. Con Edison, the electric utility, is donating the electricity, which will be drawn not from existing electric service in the area but from a power grid once used by an Embassy Suites Hotel that has yet to reopen since Sept. 11.

The beams will be lighted from nightfall until 11 p.m., but are subject to temporary shutdown based on Federal Aviation Administration concerns about how the light plays in certain weather conditions and conservationists' concerns about the impact on bird migratory patterns. They worry the lights could draw migrating birds to their deaths.

Six artists and architects collaborated on the lighting design. Gustavo Bonevardi, one of the architects, said they conceived the idea the day after the terror attacks, when they hoped, like millions of others, that more survivors would be found.

"We always saw it not so much as a memorial, because when we originally conceived it we were still hoping for people to be rescued," Bonevardi said. "It was seen as a tribute to New York and to the rescue workers and to the spirit of the city, really. An act of defiance always sounds not quite right." Instead, he said, the lights represent "a statement or a sign of life."

"The Sphere" is to be unveiled in its new home at Battery Park, the stretch of green space along Manhattan's southern tip within view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and will remain on display until the redevelopment of ground zero commences. The sculpture was a central meeting point for many who traversed the trade center's plazas, and thus it has emerged as an emotive totem of the power of survival.

Since their recovery from the smoldering ruins of the trade center complex, "The Sphere" and numerous other remains of the twin towers have been catalogued and stored on a remote tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport, awaiting just such a moment as will occur with Monday's public unveiling.

"It stands for global peace, and there can be nothing more ironic than that sphere surviving and becoming a continuing symbol of global peace," said Christy Ferer, who lost her husband, Neil Levin, on Sept. 11. Levin headed the Port Authority, the agency that owned the trade center complex. Ferer is Mayor Michael Bloomberg's special liaison between City Hall and the families of the trade center dead.

"The Sphere" initially was to be sited in Battery Park City, but many residents there adamantly opposed it. After enduring damage to buildings from flying debris and evacuations that kept them out of their homes for weeks, residents said an attraction that would bring more tourists to the area was unwelcome, what with the streams of visitors already converging on Lower Manhattan to view ground zero.

"The mayor heard them," Ferer said, "and he responded by looking for an alternative."

And to discourage visitors who might want to venture down to Battery Park City to see the Tribute of Light up close, officials have made it clear in their public statements that doing so would be like getting on a barge shooting off a fireworks display that is meant to be seen at a distance.

As for relatives of the trade center dead, they were concerned that the light tribute would memorialize buildings, not people. That was one of many issues hashed out with relatives in meetings with the mayor and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., said Christine Huhn-Graifman, who lost her husband, David Graifman, at the twin towers.

"Originally, it was the 'Towers of Light,' and one of the meeting participants suggested it be called the 'Tribute of Light,' " said Huhn-Graifman. "So it's less about the towers and more about the victims."

Information from: The Washington Post

You can view this article at: The Washington Post