Pausing To Reflect

In just about two months' time, on the tenth anniversary of the event that changed America, the Word Trade Center Memorial will open to the public. I had the opportunity to take a private tour of the site last week, and it was one of the most moving experiences I've ever had.

To be honest, I wasn't sure -- and I'm still not sure -- that my visit was appropriate fodder for this column. I had trouble finding the words to describe my experience at the site, and I deliberated about whether I should even try. But in the end, I decided that the visit brought me a healthy moment of reflection, one that I hope I can share with my readers.

Like many of us, I lost friends that day.  One friend, Doug Gardner, the vice chairman of Cantor Fitzgerald, was set to play with me on the U.S. Masters Basketball team at the 2001 Maccabiah Games in Israel. Another was Neil Levin, the executive director of the Port Authority at the time. With my office just below the World Trade Center then, I had an incredible view of my friends' offices but never really appreciated the towers' magnificence until last week.



The memorial itself consists of two reflecting pools, each 200 feet square, occupying the exact footprints of the two towers. Water will flow continuously into each pool in a parabolic arc (water was in the pools but not flowing when I visited), creating a sense of intimacy despite the enormous scale of the site. The memorial is elegant, simple, and respectful.

The architect, Michael Arad, called his design "Reflecting Absence," and that's exactly what the memorial does: It grants visitors the opportunity to reflect on the void left by the towers and those who perished within.

The story of the memorial's origin and construction - from Arad's unlikely selection in a design competition to the multitude of bureaucratic challenges the project has faced - has been told many times. (To ensure his vision would be realized, leading architectural firm Davis Brody, with Steve Davis at the helm, was assigned to oversee the memorial's architectural team and design the museum.)

To me, what's most striking about the memorial is the genuine, powerful feeling at its heart. It's this feeling - a somber but uplifting one, of resilience and community - that the architects channeled into their design, which pays respect to victims and their families but also celebrates the power of the American spirit. Intentionally or not, it also shines a bright light on the magnificence of American ingenuity.

That feeling also derives from the authenticity of the experience of the memorial. The pools and imprints of the immense steel girders that remained after the towers' collapse inhabit the exact space that the towers once did. It would have been easier for engineers to relocate them elsewhere, but Mayor Bloomberg made it a priority to keep the site intact. I'm glad he did.

In building the memorial, which has consumed more than half a billion dollars and the better part of a decade, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (the city agency overseeing the project) did a phenomenal job balancing many interests. What you don't see of the memorial is as incredible as what you do see.

Powering the water cascades is a massive underground pump room containing 100 pumps. The trees surrounding the pools - eventually, they'll number 400 - are kept thriving atop five feet of soil by an irrigation system that captures and recycles rain run-off via barely noticeable gradations in the pavement. The reflecting pools themselves, which must be absolutely flat to function, were built so that as the site settles the welds can be broken and the pools re-leveled - an incredibly creative and sophisticated solution to a perennial engineering challenge.

While the museum underneath the pools is awaiting completion of the memorial, I understand the Davis Brody design is incredible. And while I did descend all the way down to the bedrock, there were constant reminders of the tragedy - the lone surviving tree from the plaza, the original Vesey Street stairs (aka the "Survivor Stairs") that saved many lives, and the soaring, twisted girders. And surrounding the pools on a bronze plaque are the names of those we lost, carefully arranged in groupings based on a sophisticated algorithm. Connecting these individuals' names with the lives they lived will be interactive histories, available to visitors all the way down on the bedrock via a mainframe computer.

If there is a message the memorial conveys to the world, I think it's about the perseverance and priorities of the American people. Ten years after the day that changed history, we're different but not diminished. We know who we are, and we know what we can and must do. The memorial itself embodies that spirit.

As an entrepreneur, there are parallels I could draw from my visit to the state of the media industry today, about the ways in which technology has evolved in the last decade, the tenacity of the site's planners, and the engineering marvel they've produced.

But at the end of the day, for me it's really all about who we are - as individuals and as Americans - and how we remember.

The World Trade Center memorial will open to the public on 9/11/11. Visit for yourself, and pause to reflect - on the events of that day, the decade behind us, and the decades to come. In more ways than one, the memorial reminds us that while we have much to remember, we also have much to look forward to.

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