Beginning with Charles McKim, William Mead, and Stamford White and concluding with Michael Arad, Makers of Modern Architecture, Volume II examines the people behind the work at the forefront of 20th and early 21st century architecture. Critic Martin Filler masterfully integrates each person’s unique biography and distinctive character into the architectural discussion. Here is his revealing profile of Michael Arad, the young architect whose design for the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero brought him into the national spotlight. It was originally published on Metropolis Mag's Point of View Blog.
I wept but about what precisely I cannot say. When I first visited Michael Arad’s newly completed National September 11 Memorial of 2003–2011 at Ground Zero, which was dedicated on the tenth anniversary of the disaster—the ubiquitous maudlin press coverage of which I had done everything possible to ignore—it impressed me at once as a sobering, disturbing, heartbreaking, and overwhelming masterpiece. Arad’s inexorably powerful, enigmatically abstract pair of abyss-like pools, which demarcate the foundations of the lost Twin Towers, came as an immense surprise to those of us who doubted that the chaotic and desultory reconstruction of the World Trade Center site could yield anything of lasting value.
Yet against all odds and despite tremendous opposition from all quarters, the design by the Israeli-American Arad—an obscure thirty-four-year-old architect working for a New York City municipal agency when his starkly Minimalist proposal, Reflecting Absence, was chosen as the winner from among the 5,201 entries to the Ground Zero competition—became the most powerful example of commemorative architecture since Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial of 1981–1982 in Washington, D.C.