Republication from our "Crescent of Embrace" post "Reading the landscape" of September 2005: The Three Soldiers (right) by Frederick Hart caught us off guard two falls ago when we walked up the rise after taking in Maya Lyn's once controversial but now much loved polished marble Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Wall on the Mall in D.C., engraved with all the names of the war dead (left). Overcome with emotion as we followed the three soldiers' gaze back to the wall, we recalled our elitist disdain from years before when we first heard that the pristine wall would be "contaminated" by a realistic grouping. How wrong we were. The lifelike but universal soldiers breathe life into the cool, abstract wall with their humanity, and the wall, in turn, lends historical resonance to the immediacy and concreteness of the soldiers. The whole, never anticipated by individual planners nor artists, was so much greater than the sum of its parts. Landscapes are like that. Their evocative power grows over time.
"Mark Steyn's commemorative block set on an acre or two of greensward surrounded by a cluster of iconic buildings does not translate well to an immense, windswept field of 2,200 acres surrounded at vast distances by forested hills. The large scale demands large landscape gestures," we blogged back in September of 2004, bucking the tide of an angry right blogospheric frenzy amongst our usual philosophical allies -- a Judeo-Christian version of the Mohammed-cartoons hysteria? -- over perceived Islamic iconography in the landscape architect's design for the Flight 93 crash site. We've flogged the topic here early and often. Now Mr. Steyn is at it again, determined that the naturalistic landscape of wetlands and surrounding woods proposed for the site is "the precise opposite of what Flight 93 embodies":
A true Flight 93 memorial would honor courage, action and improvisation, but reflection, healing and wetlands are the best we can manage. Go to any Civil War memorial on any New England common, and marvel at how they managed to honor their dead without wetlands and wind chimes.
We don't know about the wind chimes, but a rationally ordered, human-scaled New England common is totally the wrong model for the Shanksville field where Flight 93 went down as the forces of light and darkness wrestled in the aisles. As we wrote back during the initial controversy, think Gettysburg:
We've never visited Gettysburg National Military Park. According to the NPS website, it "incorporates nearly 6,000 acres, with 26 miles of park roads and over 1,400 monuments, markers, and memorials." But in our mind's eye it is not the touchingly sentimental, old-fashioned memorials so much as the evocative and timeless landscape itself -- the "passive beauty," in Lileks's words, of its vast, empty battlefields -- that moves us to contemplate the human condition. Again to borrow Lileks's words, these "muted things" do not seem "at odds with the events they describe."
Are Mark Steyn & Company blinded by an agenda they signed up for in the wake of Shanksville street evangelist Ron McRae's initial sighting of
the virgin the Islamic crescent and star in the site plan for the Flight 93 memorial? Have they strayed so far from their roots that they have forgotten Thoreau's insight that "The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him."
Update: Michelle Malkin, who led the charge last time, begs to differ for reasons of her own, of course:
Memorial architect Paul Murdoch, whose firm emphasizes "environmental responsibility and sustainability," did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment, but he did emphasize to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that his creation was about "healing" and "contemplation." He is also proud of his idea to hang a bunch of wind chimes in a tall tower at the site as a "gesture of healing and bonding."
No Fred Thompson, the architect obviously has no idea what to make of this new-fangled blogosphere thing. You don't not return Michelle Malkin's calls. But as we emailed Michelle, forget about what the architect says -- gestures of "healing and bonding" are mainly for other architects' ears anyway -- and look at the work itself:
I continue to think you're reading all the wrong things into the Shanksville design. As a landscape architect myself, I tend to bypass the bloated prose of architects to look at the work itself and try to imagine myself in the space.
If a landscape architect blogs in the 'sphere and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound?
Update: A way-cool blog we discovered in our Site Meter stats, Archinect links.