University student to submit plan for Sept. 11 memorial

K.C. Howard

While workers toiled to deconstruct the Twin Towers in the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks, others lent a different kind of labor to the project. They bowed their heads over desks to design a structure commemorating the lives lost within the 16-acre lot.

University landscape architecture student Cassie Neu was one of more than 5,000 Americans to grieve through conceiving a World Trade Center memorial.

Her design includes two voids, or 30-feet-deep open-air museums, that serve as footprints of the giant buildings.

“A void is where there is destruction, where tragedy has occurred,” Neu said. “I was fascinated with the fact that the buildings were so tall and now there is just nothing.”

The 16-acre memorial would also boast a park and a garden of remembrance, where Neu said the names of the 2,823 deceased victims would be etched in crushed white marble within a glass block arc.

The 28-year-old master’s student had no idea what she would do for her final project until tragedy struck and inspired the design of Void and Space, the museum and park commemorating the victims.

Like most Midwesterners, Neu woke up on Sept. 11 to the startling images of a crumbling tower on her TV. But after the initial shock subsided, Neu went to work.

“I thought, ‘This is bad. It’s too soon.’ But as an educational process I thought this would be good,” Neu said. “The whole memorial is intended to be a journey for the visitors.”

Neu said she will submit her proposal to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in December or January, when the company begins accepting plans from the public.

The LMDC, along with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, released six initial plans in July for the site.

New York New Visions, a coalition of 21 architecture, engineering, planning, landscape architecture and design corporations, will help select five teams to prepare additional concept plans.

For now, they are only reviewing architectural and design firm proposals.

Their criteria for the proposals includes residential housing and commercial and retail space. The proposal must also add to the distinctive New York City skyline.

But Neu’s plan to build a park and two below-ground-level museums does not comply with those guidelines.

“Instead of looking at the same capitalistic targets, maybe we need to look at other ways to reflect the site,” Neu said. “It’s a powerful act not to build on the site.”

Neu, who lost her father to cancer 14 years ago, said the process of developing a memorial helped her cope with her own grief.

“I just thought: what would I want if somebody close to me died there, and how would I want to remember their lives?” she said.

She placed the finishing touches on her 45-page proposal a few weeks ago, and completed her master’s degree last May.

She now works in Uptown at redlurered, an architectural design and housewares store.

Though it’s doubtful her plan will have any influence on the memorial, Neu said her message should be incorporated into the final design.

“There is a very slight chance that something like my project would be picked because of the economic requirements alone,” she said. “But now that I finished, and I had the support and encouragement to keep going with it, it got me excited that this is a different opinion that others might share.”

KC Howard welcomes comments at [email protected]