It Takes the Village

3.13.2012

By Jerry Portwood

Seeking clarity amid confusion, designers grapple with an AIDS memorial for all generations.

Although there’s a multitude of monuments in New York City to honor those who've perished over the centuries, there's not one that honors the city’s victims of AIDS. That absence made Christopher Tepper angry. "I was upset about how little I knew, when it should have been immediate to me," he says. "The St. Vincent’s Hospital building was the de facto AIDS memorial, and, after it was gone, the next generation wouldn’t even know it had been there."

Tepper contacted his friend, Paul Kelterborn -- both urban planners with historic preservation backgrounds -- to convince developers that a small triangular park, located across from St. Vincent’s in Greenwich Village, could be transformed into a memorial site. They formed the AIDS Memorial Park Coalition and organized a design competition to collect ideas for both a functional space and a contemplative haven for future generations. To frame the complicated goal for the site, Michael Arad, the jury chairman who designed the World Trade Center memorial, asked, “How do you create a memorial to victims, some of whom have yet to be born?”

The winning design by Brooklyn architects Studio a+i was announced in late January. Titled "Infinite Forest," it incorporates birch trees and mirrored walls so that visitors see themselves in the space and reflect into the future. But the final design and the fight for the future of the site are far from over. “We do want to create a physical space, but we also hoped to elevate the civic dialogue -- to see how people envisioned memorializing something as complicated as the AIDS crisis,” Kelterborn explains. “The architecture jury was just the starting point.”

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