Architect Brings Stirring Musical Element to Shanksville 911 Memorial

Architect Brings Stirring Musical Element to Shanksville 911 Memorial

Nineteen years after radical Islamic terrorists hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, a stunning memorial has taken shape in what was once a barren field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Architect Paul Murdoch got the commission to design the memorial dedicated to the 40 hero passengers and crew who confronted the hijackers and thwarted an attack on another sensitive U.S. target.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Murdoch’s journey to complete the Tower of Voices:

For the last 15 years, Murdoch and a team at his Los Angeles firm, Paul Murdoch Architects, have served as lead designers on the memorial to those aboard Flight 93. In collaboration with the Virginia-based landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz, they have turned what was once a barren industrial clearing into a real deal national park. (The site is managed by the National Park Service.)

The bowl of what was once the open-pit mine is now a picturesque meadow planted with wildflowers and native grasses. A curving allée fringed with maple trees leads visitors on a solemn walk from the visitor center to a memorial plaza, where a series of marble panels bear the names of the passengers and crew. From the plaza, the plane’s final resting place is visible, marked by a boulder.

But even though much of the site’s design and construction has been complete since 2015, a key component was missing. As part of the original proposal, Murdoch had designed “The Tower of Voices,” which would greet visitors to the site. Standing at a height of 93 feet — a nod to the flight number — the latticed concrete tower was intended to provide a visible marker at the park’s entrance off nearby Route 30. It was also designed to function as a massive wind chime, using air currents to activate a variety of acoustic tubes within.

“We were moved by the fact that the last contact that people had with loved ones or others on the plane was through phone calls,” Murdoch said, referring to the frantic last phone calls some passengers made before the plane went down. “Somehow those voices were a lingering memory of these people before they died. So, we wanted to do something in the memorial with sound.”

“By using the wind, it’d be an ever-changing memorial expression,” Murdoch said, “because it would always reflect the changing conditions on the site.”

The completion of the memorial — the installation of 40 aluminum chimes to honor the passengers and crew who died, was done last week  — almost 19 years to the day after the tragic event.

Murdoch had a whole team of experts to help him tackle the technical challenges of what amounts to a massive musical instrument.

“For Murdoch, the installation of the finished chimes marks the culmination of more than 15 years of work,” the Times reported. “In 2004, he was one of more than 1,000 designers to submit a concept to the public competition for the Flight 93 memorial. A year later, his firm had landed the commission in conjunction with Nelson Byrd Woltz.

“It’s a choreography of natural and commemorative moments,” Murdoch said. “You can drive around the bowl, but those who can walk, it gives them time to reflect on what they’ve seen. By the time they get to the memorial plaza, they are in a different frame of mind.”

“That tower really puts me in a frame of mind of what those people in the plane witnessed, and that they had the courage to fight back against unbelievable circumstances,” Stephen M. Clark, superintendent of the Western Pennsylvania National Park Service sites, said in the Times report. “The symbolism of those voices, that really speaks to me.”

President Donald Trump spoke at the memorial on Friday, noting the bravery of the people aboard Flight 93 and saying America “will never forget.”

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