Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

I graduated in 2013, but still blog here once in a while.

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    Live Blog: Naginski, Jarzombek, Savage, and Wodiczko on Memory, Vision, and Practice

    By Lian Chikako Chang
    Sep 13, '11 6:58 PM EST

    Hi Archinect!

    Live-blogging tonight from Piper Auditorium, where we somewhat inexplicably (and to my endless fascination) have a new gold lamé curtain. Krzysztof Wodiczko, Erika Naginski, Mark Jarzombek, and Kirk Savage are talking in an event marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The webcast can also be seen here.

    6:48 pm: Krzysztof is starting things off by talking about the notion of memorial. "Someone said that our era is not post-modern, but post-traumatic."

    "How do we build memorials that inspire pro-active engagements, so that the next generation has fewer tragic events to commemorate, and fewer memorials to build?"

    Now he's introducing Mark, listing off all his awards, publications, and fellowships, and in the middle of the list, Mark gets up and starts walking to the podium, trying to get Krzysztof to stop. Laughter.

    image [Gold lamé curtain, with Mark Jarzombek in the foreground.]

    6:53 pm: "When we talk about memorials, we often assume that it's somehow a question of design, compatibility, and politics, as if we somehow know what the event is that we're memorializing, but just not the memorial itself."

    Mark is framing his presentation from below, from the point of view of death--something which has changed in recent years and since 9/11. He uses a quote that also appears as an epigraph to his paper called "The Post-traumatic Turn and the Art of Walid Ra'ad and Krzysztof Wodiczko: From Theory to Trope and Beyond."

    I'm too lazy to re-type the quote. Just look at it here:


    What is the death-making that lurks within the social fabric? What does popular marketing tell us about the psychiatric industry of death? "The irony, of course, is that humans have been killing each other for millions of years...but it was only in 1992 that PTSD was recognized--and then, only for Vietnam War veterans." So it's only now that "we recognize the consequences of the crap that we do to each other." But "now that we've opened this up, there's no turning back."

    "We've produced a culture where death-making is ever more remote. you get an interesting paradigm in which PTSD has been proposed but [with pharmaceuticals] we can heal it." He's suggesting that it's in the best interests of the pharmaceutical industry for large parts of the world to continue what he calls its "DNNS" or "Dysfunctional nation-state syndrome."

    7:00 pm: Mark is done; Erika's up next, introduced by Krzysztof who comments that he pronounces "Naginski" the Polish way.

    7:04 pm: After excusing herself for being a historian of earlier periods than today's topic, Erika opens by reference to a piece by Simon Schama in the Financial Times called "The remains of that day." ...The title of this essay refers to Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day as well as ("equally obviously," Erika says) Freud's "residues of the day," in the form of dreams. The memorial is, in Schama's view,"a model of moral tact and poetic indirection."

    For Maya Lin's Vietnam War Memorial, Erika sees that "while we find abstraction and figuration," it's more often the abstraction that we respond to. But figuration haunts us. "I'm struck by how abstraction and figuration have, in truth, haunted each other's margins.

    ...But if minimalism is perceived as being "locked in a nostalgic state," then...

    [Oh good grief, Archinect, I am OUT of live-blogging shape and cannot keep up...I wasn't really able to properly catch the gist of either Mark or Erika's talks. I will do what we're supposed to do in studio: try harder.]

    7:15 pm: Krzysztof introduces Kirk Savage.

    Savage: "I'm very conscious of being an out-of-towner here--the only one on this particular stage...and that my thoughts are still pretty raw on this. I'm still puzzling through my responses [to a recent visit, over the September 11 weekend, to the 9/11 memorials]."

    "We can begin with Washington D.C., which became an incredible space of the mid-20th century, during the Vietnam War. If you go to the Vietnam War Memorial today, you hardly hear a murmur about the anti-war movement. It's only recently that it's burst into public space in a small way, at the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial."


    "What tends to happen is that the cacophony of voices is radically simplified, and the monument gets radically condensed into something like a list of names."

    [President Obama, President Bush, and First Lady Michelle Obama at World Trade Center memorial on September 11, 2011.]

    "I went to the site of the Flight 93 Memorial [on the 11th]. This has particular potency for us because this is not only where the passengers made an act of resistance but also because they did it in a democratic way: they took a vote before deciding to attack the terrorists."

    "Before you enter the site--which is huge, you drive in 2 or 3 miles...and in effect it's a national park--there are text panels that explain the significance of the site and the response of the passengers on the plane, as well as names and pictures of the faces of the passengers."

    "...After walking down a long path, you get to the listing of names which is, by now, pretty much mandatory in monuments of this kind. The name of each passenger is listed on these beautiful granite panels. The scale of the solution is interesting: the idea is that the fewer individuals are commemorated in a memorial, the more space can be used to focus on each one." If this were the Vietnam War Memorial, Savage says, the wall would be several miles long. "So there's an extraordinary pressure put on the individuals and the commemorative weight that they have to hold."

    "The ceremonies at the Flight 93 site were, if anything, more elaborate than those at the World Trade Center, with three presidential administrations [Obama, Clinton, Bush] represented."

    Quoting from George W. Bush's speech on Sept 10 at the commemoration of the memorial: "At the moment America's democracy was under attack, our citizens defied their captors by holding a vote. The choice they made would cost them their lives, and they knew it. [...] With their selfless act, the men and women who stormed the cockpit lived out the words, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." And with their brave decision, they launched the first counter offensive of the war on terror."

    Savage points out that this is a bit revisionary: "not to diminish the presence of mind and bravery of the passengers," but Savage in fact points out that phone conversations between passengers and their families suggest that the passengers knew that they'd die if they did nothing, and that attacking the terrorists was, if anything, the only way that they might live.

    Elaine Scarry has argued that the military was helpless on September 11, and that "the only successful defense that day [September 11] was was carried out by the passengers on Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania."

    Turning to the design of the memorial, Savage is saying that he has a problem with it: it has a perimeter wall that keeps visitors out of the field which is the crash site. "And when we come to the end of the black [perimeter] wall to the white wall where the names are listed, there's a gate." It's a rough-hewn wooden gate, and "the only people allowed through the gate to the crash site are family members and other important people." "There was a big crater at the crash site that has been filled in, covered with a boulder, and planted with wildflowers...and it is in a sense doubly-sacred; it's also where the remains of the people who died are, since the plane was largely incinerated when it crashed. And that is the general rationale for why the public is not allowed out there."


    "So President Obama and his wife walked out there on September 11, but most of us stayed behind the gate. And it was unprecedented; I couldn't think of anything like it in the United States. Many thousands of people died at Gettysburg; many of their remains are presumably under there [and you can walk on the site]." Similarly, Savage argues, it's also different from the ABMC cemetery at Normandy.

    "This led me to think more about questions of democratic accessibility and debate that would take place at sites like this, where the public is almost completely excluded, or herded into a particular location; and for me the gate itself stood for an emblem of the experience. And you'll see ordinary tourists there, putting their point-and-shoots in the gaps of the gate to take photos."

    7:40pm: Presentations done. Discussion time.

    Krzysztof: "I've never been a moderator. I've been moderated, but not moderator. And nor am I moderate. But..." he asks Mark about the question of memorials.

    Mark: "...I was interested in another history...we've already assimilated terror, and monuments become strangely ineffective."

    Krzysztof: "The trauma industry."

    Mark: "I don't want to point my finger just at them, but...for 9/11, if this allows Time Magazine to come out with a new history of America--if it allows us to find America--then we evoke death at every turn to [narrate] America."

    Erika: "The trauma history that we know...also has a complicated history. There's no word, "trauma," in the early modern period. But the execution of Louis XVI was celebrated, or it caused Kant to lose the ability to philosophize. ...So I think that trauma itself can be associated with a post-capitalist, consumerist relationship with death."

    Krzysztof: "What is the origin or history of the term 'nameless'?"

    Erika: "The notion that you could have a monument to the public or the 'nameless' is in the 18th century." Hercules is "all brawn and no brains." But the first instance that Erika knows is in the 18th century of a monument to an anonymous or class-based personhood.

    Krzysztof is asking: what about other people who should also be memorialized--children in Iraq? And what about the aftermath and afterlife?

    Savage: "There's an incredible power in naming: who you name or not. What categories of people don't deserve to be named on a monument. But one of the first questions I asked myself after 9/11 was why people thought that the names of the victims deserved to be etched in stone, because in an earlier period they wouldn't have been."

    "But the all-encompassing power of the names drains after a few years. That's why a visitor's center is being built right now at the Vietnam War Memorial; they say that the names have become anonymous. Think of that; it's an oxy-moron."

    "A Washington Post columnist argued that we should take down monuments as they become obsolete." ...But about the memorials that were commemorated this weekend, "at some point the family members of those victims will die off, and that memorial [for flight 93] will become [obsolete]."

    Erika: "when you broached the question of public access, I remember an archive in Paris on this question: on the distance and barriers to monuments; how you calibrate vision. For this, you have to recognize that there's a public to be controlled."

    7:54 pm: Krzysztof is opening the floor to the audience for questions. He finds some occasion to say (quoting someone else, I think) that: "there is a terrorist in each of us."

    And they're talking about the American tradition of leaving Beanie Babies at sites of tragedies, as a spontaneous memorialization. Mark: "...a meaningless vomit of schluff; you go to the mall and buy a teddy bear and leave it there."


    Mark: "And minimalism is no longer a Maya Lin, slightly counter-culture aesthetic. It's state-sponsored. Pretty soon, architects are going to wake up and realize that whenever you design some minimalist thing and call it a holocaust memorial. When I was in Israel, I went around and took photos of every odd, minimalist thing that could be a holocaust memorial. Of course, they weren't, but a piece of concrete or an odd chair. ...There's a saturation that isn't going to be able to survive much longer. People will get sick of looking at minimalist things and trying to figure them out. So as architects we should be really frightened, because minimalism is what we do."


    Thanks for reading!

    P.S. The Tokyo studio lottery was announced today. I did not get a spot in it, but it's OK because I've been shopping another course that I'm really keen on for next semester, and I think I might have secured a seat in it. But for this semester, my final roster is: Weiss/Manfredi for studio, as well as Building Technologies with Mark Mulligan, a seminar/workshop on books with Lars Müller, and a column and opinion writing course with Jeffrey Seglin.

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About this Blog

This blog was most active from 2009-2013. Writing about my experiences and life at Harvard GSD started out as a way for me to process my experiences as an M.Arch.I student, and evolved into a record of the intellectual and cultural life of the Cambridge architecture (and to a lesser extent, design/technology) community, through live-blogs. These days, I work as a data storyteller (and blogger at in San Francisco, and still post here once in a while.

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