Keeping Flight 93 site a ‘field of honor’

Abbey Linville

Memorial designer explains the difficulty of capturing the bravery of 40 heroes who ‘defeated terrorism on Sept. 11’

WATCH a video of interviews of people connected to Flight 93.

“Picture an open, wind-swept field,” Paul Murdoch, winner of the Flight 93 memorial site design competition, told a room full of Kent State architecture students last night at the Michael Schwartz Center.

Murdoch, also president of Paul Murdoch Architects, used graphics and photos to describe the design plan for the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa. He spoke as part of Heroes Week, Kent State’s weeklong educational campaign and fundraiser for the memorial.

“I thought I’d ask you to put yourself in the position that we were in, along with many other applicants: to submit a design and to picture an open, wind-swept field, roughly circular in shape, like a bowl – basically a common field,” Murdoch said. “And in that field, 40 heroes defeated terrorism on Sept. 11, giving their lives selflessly and changing that place to a field of honor forever.”

The national competition saw entries from more than 1,000 architects and firms. Murdoch was among five semifinalists and was selected for his unique and understated design.

Murdoch’s “memorial landscape” design is focused around a semicircle path lined with native red maple trees. This mile-long path will lead to the crash site, where an inclined wall will enclose wildflowers and hemlock trees. Murdoch said a visitors’ center will intersect the plane’s estimated flight path.

The “tower of voices,” a portion of the memorial site, will be a tall, hollow structure that houses 40 staggered wind chimes of varying tones and lengths. Each chime, Murdoch explained, is to represent a passenger of Flight 93.

Along a wall that also intersects the flight path, the 40 names of the passengers and crew will be displayed in translucent white marble and lit from behind.

Murdoch showed students a picture of the memorial site today, where an icy, snow-covered stone sits with an American flag painted on its side and several small flags scattered around its base. The memorial has a temporary 40-foot chain-link fence decorated by citizens and family members.

Murdoch, an award-winning architect from Los Angeles, faced design conflicts when drawing his initial plan for the memorial site and national park.

In the case of Flight 93, the memorial commemorates those who Murdoch calls “citizen heroes,” who are unlike war heroes honored at Gettysburg and other war memorials.

He worked to design the park around this concept and also around the history and natural landscape of the crash site. The nearly 2,200 acres that make up the memorial were once home to several coal mines and a scrap yard. The land also has open pastures and forested areas that will be preserved.

Murdoch said the plan has five phases of construction, the first of which he hopes will be completed by Sept. 11, 2011. If funding reaches the $300 million needed to complete the project, he hopes it will be finished by 2016.

Sharon Deitrick, president of 93 Cents for Flight 93, brought Murdoch to campus for Heroes Week. She said Kent State is the first stop on a national tour that plans to visit Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State and many other colleges and high schools.

Deborah Borza, mother of Flight 93 passenger Deora Bodley, told the audience Murdoch’s design will be a beautiful site to commemorate her daughter’s life. Borza said her youngest daughter, Murial Bodley, burst into tears of joy when Murdoch’s design was chosen.

“Murial is my artist,” Borza said. “She saw Paul’s design, and she looked at it and she said: ‘This is the one. This is the one that is going to be the design that honors my sister’s life.'”

Contact School of Architecture and Environmental Design reporter Abbey Linville at [email protected].