Sandy Hook Memorial


Winning entry (image ©SWA Group)

 

Commemorating the deaths of 26 victims of a well-publicized school shooting is no small chore. But because of the tragic events at its elementary school in 2012, the village of Sandy Hook has achieved national prominence as a symbol of the gun violence afflicting the nation. Although it is almost impossible to bring closure to such an event, the community did determine that the establishment of a memorial would at least be a positive step in that direction. To arrive at such an important issue as a design for the memorial, it was determined that an international design competition was a logical path to follow.

 

Although this was not a competition for a large structure, interest was understandably high in the design community, with the result that 189 international submissions were received from around the world. For subjects such as this, a single symbolic structure was hardly the answer. The closest any of the three second-stage finalists came to employing this approach was SWA, the winner, who located a tree of life at the very center of the focal point of their submission—a large pond. But there was more to their design than that. Instead of locating the main event near the parking lot, they created a substantial journey along a pathway crossing two water features with pedestrian bridges, before arriving at the center of a large circular plan. Then one realizes that this was not just about the memorial itself, but fulfilling a larger purpose with an attractive park for walkers and joggers, an additional purpose added to those of contemplation and paying homage.

 

The two other finalists chose different approaches. A team composed of Teri Kwant (AIGE NAI), Joan MacLeod (ASLA) and Julia McFadden (AIA) with Alex Felson (ASLA) had a circular plan, but with various theme stages along the way before arriving at the main destination, the Memorial Grove. One of the stations, “the breathing field,” consisted of a large floral area within a circular walkway, somehow reminiscent of Tolstoy’s impressive burial marker in Yasnaya Polyana, a small mound only adorned with flowers. This was a design clearly focused on the mind and senses.

 

The final finalist, Justin Arleo from Arizona, concentrated his commemorative design on a bosque of trees, arranged in a very linear fashion, like what might have been imagined by landscape architect, Dan Kiley. Here, the processional was located in a covered wooded area. In a departure from the other finalists, access to this memorial site was directly available from the parking area.

 

 

Winner

SWA Group, led by Ben Waldo and Daniel Affleck with SWA/Balsley, Jim

Garland, AIA of Fluidity and Sherwood Design Engineers.

San Francisco/New York

 


Winning entry (image ©SWA Group)

 

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Recent Archive Updates

Interview: James Mary O’Connor FAIA (Winter 2017)

After receiving his Diploma in Architecture from the Dublin Institute of Technology and BS in Architecture from Trinity College in Dublin, James received his Masters in Architecture from the University of California, Los Angeles while a Fulbright Scholar in the U.S. Shortly after his time as a student in Charles Moore’s Master Class at UCLA, he joined the Moore firm in Los Angeles, now Moore Ruble Yudell. Beginning in the late 1980s, he was involved in the firm’s many projects in Germany, many of which dealt with masterplanning and the construction of large housing, primarily in Berlin. Subsequently, he was involved in the Potatisåkern Master Plan & Housing, as well as the Bo01 Housing Exhibition, both in Malmö, Sweden.
James was MRY’s point person in its subsequent involvement with the firm’s many projects in the People’s Republic of China, beginning with their winning competition proposal for the Century Center project in Beijing. Although unbuilt, it didn’t escape the notice of the Chinese, who invited the firm to participate in a competition for the Tianjin Xin-He large neighborhood masterplan—which they won. This was followed by the 2004 Chun Sen Bi An Housing Masterplan competition in the city of Chongqing, located in central China—completed in 2010. This high profile project resulted in a number of affordable and high-end housing projects throughout China. The firm’s most remarkable sustainability project was the COFCO Agricultural Eco-Valley Master Plan project outside Beijing, envisioned to become the first net zero-carbon project of its kind in the world.
In the meantime, the firm’s focus in China has evolved from its concentration on housing to institutional projects, such as the Shanghai University of Technology‘s research buildings. In the meantime MRY has been noted as a leader in the design of campus projects in the U.S. and abroad, as well as numerous government projects—courthouses and embassies.

 

 

Interview: Ralph Johnson of Perkins+Will (Fall 1995)

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COMPETITIONS: you have been in both open and invited compe-titions—both as a juror and as a participant. Which type do you prefer and why?

 

RALPH JOHNSON: I think both are viable. For a young architect, open competitions are great, because they are not going to get invited. It’s a way for young architects to break into a bigger scope of work. It’s an oppor-tunity for someone who doesn’t have the experience in that particular building type to get into a new area.
Shanghai Natural History Museum Photos: courtesy Perkins and Will

 

An invited competition usually involves some kind of portfolio or resume of the firm’s work, and you usually get selected on experience in that particular building type. In the latter case, you are probably dealing with fairly extensive presentation requirements and a big outlay of money. It often also involves a couple of stages. If the compensation is adequate, which is usually six figures—$100,000-$200,000—it’s great. Most of the time, it’s inadequate. For the recent (Beirut Conference Center) competition, we did in Lebanon, it was $200,000, and that was enough to cover (our) costs. So there are benefits for both types of competitions.

 

COMPETITIONS: And as a panelist?

 

RJ: It’s much more difficult to jury the open ones because it takes longer. I was on the Astronaut Memorial jury, and there were over 600 entries. You normally don’t interview the architect; it’s single-stage. It’s more a process of winnowing out inadequate submissions—which is easy to do—and getting down to the ten percent after the first cut. In the case of an invited competition, you have five to ten submissions from very qualified firms. I think it’s good if you can actually interview firms and have a question and answer period. In an open competition, it’s almost inevitable that you wonder who is actually doing the project, how qualified the architect is. It’s hard to keep that out of your mind.

 

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Shanghai Natural History Museum Photos: courtesy Perkins and Will

 

COMPETITIONS: In other words, the presentation isn’t necessarily an indication of the qualifications of the designer?

 

RJ: I wasn’t on the jury in the case of the Vietnam Memorial, which was a famous competition. There were very sketchy charcoal drawings (by Maya Lin), which really didn’t indicate anything other than conceptual design capabilities. How could you possibly come to any conclusion of technical competence based on those drawings? You really have to read into it and assume a lot in terms of the person. In that case, of course, it was a great success as a non-complex building type. As a laboratory or something else, it’s a different story.

 

COMPETITIONS: There are a number of anecdotes concerning jurors speculating about the author behind a competition entry—the one in Paris resulting in the Grand Arch is an example. Richard Rogers, a competition juror, supposedly remarked to another juror, Richard Meier, that the author of what eventually turned out to be the winning design, “might be a nobody.” Meier reminded Rogers that, before Pompidou, he was a “nobody.”

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