Posted in practice on March 21, 2014 2:02 pm EDT

Case Study: Inhabiting Memory

Empty Sky Memorial, a sacred nod to 9/11 in New Jersey, mourns loss and celebrates life

interior section of the Empty Sky Memorial; all photos courtesy of Frederic Schwartz Architects











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TAGS: community, memorial,


By Carolyn Heinze

Frederic Schwartz, FAIA, is no stranger to the classroom. He’s earned a couple of degrees, and has lectured extensively within the walls of higher education’s hallowed halls. But if this author had her way, she’d see to it that his speaking engagements included the K-12 circuit as well, just so he’d be influencing young minds sooner. Remember those class trips you used to take, to visit whichever memorial pertaining to whatever you were studying that term? (The same class trips that your children are probably taking now?) What do you remember the most? The trip, or the memorial? Or any of it, other than having been there? My bet is, if Schwartz had spoken to you before you went, you’d remember seeing much more than hundreds of names etched into brick and stone. Because that’s the thing about Schwartz––once you’ve talked shop with him, you never look at a plaque, let alone an entire memorial, the same way again. He has a way of making you remember.

Lecturing, however, is not Schwartz’s main gig. As principal at his firm Frederic Schwartz Architects in New York, N.Y., he was behind the design of the Staten Island Ferry Whitehall Terminal––which, for many visitors, has become a destination in and of itself––and developed master plans for the San Diego Harbor Front, the Singapore Harbor Front, and four miles along the Huang Pu River for the Shanghai World Expo 2010. His emphasis on the importance of sustainable, affordable housing resulted in his firm being selected to re-plan one third of the city of New Orleans to house 40 percent of its population, post-Katrina. These are all memorable projects, and one wonders if that is, in part, because Schwartz’s work has also required him to reflect a great deal on remembrance.

A New Yorker who unabashedly loves his city and has dedicated much of his work to improving it, Schwartz, like thousands of others, was deeply affected by the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. After the tragedy, he founded the THINK Team, an international group of architects whose master plan for Ground Zero was runner-up in the competition directed at rebuilding the site. Then there are the memorials: The Rising, which stands in the Kensico Dam Plaza of Valhalla in Westchester, N.Y., commemorating September 11th and the citizens of Westchester County who died during the attacks. The Empty Sky Memorial, also in honor of the victims of September 11th, sits in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J. just across from the World Trade Center site, and was designed by Schwartz and his associate, Jessica Jamroz. Like many of the firm’s projects, Empty Sky has received a number of awards, including a Merit Award from the AIA’s Interfaith Forum on Art & Architecture.  continued >>