Designing a memorial is a challenge of crafting a moment of pause – a slight change in one’s daily activity to experience a sense of place to respectively reflect and acknowledge. While memorializing a historical event, such as a war or a cultural achievement, has a definitive beginning and end – a set number of deaths, or a memorable proclamation declared on a set date – the act of memorializing the AIDS epidemic has no such tangible point in history. ”AIDS is not a war, nor a disease conquered. In our design process, we emphasize the changing and varied ways through which AIDS affects us personally and as a society. It is important to create a space that conveys our sense of solemn respect, remembrance and loss, without resorting to symbolism around a date, image, or names, ” explained Mateo Paiva and Esteban Erlich of the Brooklyn-based firm studio a+i, the winners of an international design competition for an AIDS memorial at St. Vincent’s Hospital Park. Set within the western tip of a triangular-shaped plot of land created by Seventh Avenue, 12th Street and Greenwich Avenue, the memorial will honor not only the city’s 100,000+ men, women and children who have died from AIDS, but also the efforts of the caregivers and activists who respond to the crisis. After drastically transforming the design to address community concerns about safety and to fit within the confines of a downsized site, studio a+i ’s new design has just received approval from Community Board 2 and will proceed to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the City Planning Commission. More after the AIDS memorial after the break.
In January of 2012, studio a+i’s memorial looked quite different. The competition, sponsored by Architectural Record and Architizer, asked participants to envision a memorial for the entire 17,000 sqf park across from St. Vincent’s Hospital. studio a+i responded with their Infinite Forest, a protected inner refuge bordered by continuous slate walls, lined with mirrors facing inward, which seperated slightly at the plot’s corners for entry. Since winning the competition, the site alotted for the memorial has dramatically decreased to 1,600 sqf, as the memorial will be one component set within a larger park designed by landscape architects M. Paul Friedberg and Partners. Replacing an existing utility building, the park will enhance community life and will complement real estate developer Rudins’ plan to build expensive apartments on the site of St. Vincent’s Hospital.
The new vision is composed of three inter-connected elements that are inspired by the shelter provided from a dense grove of trees, and the visual impact created when trees within that canopy are lost. The elements include a planted canopy creating a sheltered area that defines the memorial space, a reflective water feature providing a focal point for meditation (which is illuminated from an oculus), and a narrative surface design of concentric rings inscribed with facts, statistics, quotations and poetry.
The design retains a strong connection between the act of reflection and nature, yet in a more open and perhaps, softer, manner as an angular trellis of English ivy, Virginia creeper and honeysuckle folds to provide shelter and define an inner space. The memorial is now a more porous entity, inviting families to remember their loved ones, but also welcoming passersby and piquing the curiosity of those unaware of what its deeper purpose may hold.
“Of course, the architectural interpretation is multifaceted,” said Christopher Tepper, a founder of the AIDS Memorial Park Coalition. “But the underlying metaphor is that of the shelter provided by a dense forest canopy and the visual impact created when trees in the grove are lost.”
“We’re very pleased this important project is moving forward and has received strong community support. It has been inspiring to see how the community has come together in the creation of this historic and culturally significant memorial,” explained New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. We will keep you updated with t the AIDS Memorial Coalition has until April, 2013, to raise 75 percent of the funding, according to an agreement worked out with the City Council and Rudin Management. The project is slated to break ground next summer and open in fall 2014.