Feature Article - October 2005
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Stunning Shelters

Planning and protecting outdoor structures

By Stacy St. Clair

Monumental impact

No place probably has demonstrated the emotional power of an outdoor structure better than Middlesex County in New Jersey. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, officials grappled with how to memorialize the tragic event in which 57 local residents died.

They settled on a memorial in the Raritan Bay waterfront park. The site holds a special significance to the community because it offers spectacular views of the New York City skyline.

After county officials selected the location, they announced plans for a design contest co-sponsored by a local newspaper. They asked area children to submit designs and explain their visions.

In the end, they blended the ideas of three high-school students. Judges liked the entries because they embrace the community's desire to honor all victims of terrorism not just those who perished in the World Trade Center.

"The drawings were so good, we couldn't settle on one concept," says Ralph Albanir, director of the Middlesex County Parks and Recreation Department. "So we embraced three general concepts."

The winning entries were then folded into a design created by a professional architect. The memorial's base was shaped like a pentagon to remember those lost in Washington, D.C., and an arbor shading bench provided a place to reflect as visitors look toward Manhattan.

The county also commissioned a bronze eagle statue that seemingly looks over the Raritan to the former World Trade Center site. The piece was sculpted by an artist who worked on the local veterans memorial, giving a patriotic continuity to the county's most solemn monument.

A Middlesex high-school student suggested the eagle because she wanted it to represent a watchful eye intent on remaining vigilant against future terrorist threats. She wasn't the only one to suggest it.

"A lot of children really liked the idea of an eagle," Albanir says.

The most striking element, however, is the white pergola that provides the monument's focal point. The custom arbor structure is made entirely of bolted steel.

White slats rest upon curved support beams. Twelve-inch circular columns boast decorative bands and bases. The student designers recommended the columns to represent the liberty upon which America has developed and the base to symbolize the country's strong foundation.

The base also includes an inspirational quote from Daniel Webster.

It reads:

"May our country itself become a vast and splendid monument, not of oppression and terror, but of wisdom, of peace and of liberty, upon which the world may gaze with admiration forever."