Semicircular forms -- like the amphitheatre (upper left) in this chipboard topographical model of a design project from our student days at Harvard Design School, are standard archetypal tools of the landscape architects' trade. But in today's fevered climate of seeing witches behind every tree, the use of such forms can get your plantings -- specifically red maples -- metaphorically burned at the stake.
"The simplest explanation, it seems to me, is that the orientation of the 'Crescent of Embrace' is coincidental," writes Wretchard of The Belmont Club re a Freeper's claim that the Flight 93 Memorial design's semicircular grove of maples is oriented toward Mecca. Having checked out the portfolio of Nelson Byrd Woltz -- the landscape architectural firm that collaborated with Paul Murdoch Architects on the project -- Wretchard had noticed that semicirclular forms are a signature motif in the company's work:
That brought me right back to the Flight 93 Memorial Site. If you look at the video provided, you'll see that the orientation of the "Crescent of Embrace" is determined, or at least very strongly suggested by the contours of the ground. (The PDF map shows the same thing). The contours run right through the opening of the crescent. Unless you wanted the park visitors to climb up and down contour lines the opening was exactly where it had to be. So the simplest explanation it seems to me, is that the orientation of the "Crescent of Embrace" is coincidental.
Even so, Wretchard is able to prove, in an explanation too technical for us to follow -- 'wish he'd drawn a diagram -- that it just so happens the curved maple grove is, indeed, oriented toward Mecca. He concludes:
Perhaps years from today no one will object to red crescents displayed in conjunction with the victims of September 11, just as someday people may remember that swastikas were widely employed as ancient religious symbols. One day, but probably not in 2005.
If only the designers hadn't used that tin-eared title, "Crescent of Embrace." As Wretchard writes:
The phrase "Crescent of Embrace" seems particularly unfortunate, when "Circle of Remembrance" would have done as well. The Islamic red crescent is typically oriented east, not southwest, like the memorial. The idea the Flight 93 memorial should be oriented towards Mecca struck me as implausible. But hey, there it is.
We emailed the landscape architects -- with a copy to the architects -- this morning soliciting comments on the controversy swirling around their project and will update here when and if they reply. Googling Warren T. Byrd, Jr., principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz, we found not the slightest suggestion in his words or works that he would be interested in imposing Islamic symbolism -- or any extrinisic symbolism -- on the land. He's obviously heavily into what Richard Haas calls "haunting the site" and responding to the spirit of the place in developing his design "interventions":
Both his teaching [in one of the nation's top landscape architecture programs at the University of Virginia] and his practice emphasize the importance of knowing the specific qualities of the physigraphic regions within which one works. His particular expertise, beyond site planning, drawing and teaching design, is his knowledge of natural systems and plant communities, especially as they might influence design ideas for particular sites and programs.
We meld the particular -- a place, a plant community, a certain landform -- with universal archetypal forms such as the mount, the theater, the grove, the parterre, and spatial concepts of prospect and refuge -- so that the local ethos of a place is never lost or homogenized.
Then stop to look at the actual design as laid out in the plans and renderings. But no. Even the sensible Dr. Sanity -- with whom we agree about everything 99% of the time -- seems to have temporarily lost her mind:
It could be coincidence. It could be deliberate. Or it could be a monumental "Freudian Slip" -- that aptly demonstrates the unconscious motivations that drive many anti-American, "peace"-loving; appeasing; enabling; and unbelievably blind minions of the left side of the political spectrum.
Reading into things is only human, but some of the more hysterical riders of this bandwagon -- there were at least two among Wretchard's commenters talking about burning down the trees once they were installed -- are just plain crazy.
Update: Michelle Malkin -- always interesting and informative and worth reading, even though we disagree with her big time on this one -- has more, including a "sample of letters sent to architect Paul Murdoch, who is unavailable for comment until Sept. 19, according to his office." Did we really have the nerve to call one of the shining lights of the blogosphere shrill? Please forgive us, Michelle.