Image Credit: a2t for studio a+i
Design processes are never easy. In New York City, that's an understatement. The New York City AIDS Memorial Park Coalition, which co-founders Chris Tepper and Paul Kelterborn started to create a memorial in the city, announced a winner of a design competition in late January for the site located in Greenwich Village on a small triangular plot across from the former St. Vincent's Hospital, which is currently be converted to luxury condos. Studio a + i, a Brooklyn-born architecture firm led by Lily Lim and Mateo Paiva, proposed what they titled "Infinite Forest." It would include a grove a trees fenced in by mirrors, upon which the names of those lost to AIDS could be written on with chalk, and which would eventually dissolve and disappear from the elements.
But the developers of the property, Rudin Management, said no way. The developer planned its own design by landscape architect Rick Parisi. So the organization and the designers went back to work and returned revealed a new design—a green arbor and no walls—that was approved the evening of July 19.
New York magazine's architecture critic Justin Davidson praised as a more "empathic" design.
"It is also much more modest, a tiny arbor parting tributaries of traffic. Maybe that's appropriate. AIDS is a global epidemic, its victims members of varied but overlapping communities, and its treatment triggered political battles of appalling intensity. Yet at the same time, each victim and each grouping of friends and family members has had to wage a separate battle with the disease, and this quietly abstract memorial—a life-filled roof, mottled light, a watery eye—captures something crucial about the intersection of public space and private reflection."
In their presentation to Community Board 2, the design team issued the following statement: “The memorial 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, and a narrative surface design of concentric rings creating an opportunity for sharing and learning.”
Tepper and Kelterborn said in a statement: “This memorial design provides an amenity for the new park and the surrounding neighborhood, while also marking this uniquely important site and providing a vehicle for passing on facts and memories about the ongoing history of the AIDS crisis.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (who is running for mayor of the city in 2013) apparently brokered the agreement among all stakeholders. “We’re very pleased this important project is moving forward and has received strong community support,” she said. “It has been inspiring to see how the community has come together in the creation of this historic and culturally significant memorial.”
So it seems this memorial may actually get built! Plans for the New York City AIDS Memorial will proceed next to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the City Planning Commission. Pending approval by both bodies, the Coalition will prepare construction documents for the memorial and raise funds for its construction and maintenance.