New York officials Wednesday unveiled the eight finalists in the World Trade Center memorial competition, designs ranging from quiet gardens and sunken pools to clouds and shafts of light meant to honor those who died in the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the 1993 bombing of the trade center.
A 13-member panel is set to choose the winning design by the end of the year. But key issues remain unresolved -- including demands by rescue workers that their comrades' names be listed apart from other victims', and the insistence by many family groups that nothing be placed on the exact sites where the twin towers once stood.
Still, planners are optimistic that the public will unite behind a single design, which would be folded into the overall rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. That work is expected to take eight to nine years.
"When it is finished, we will have a new symbol of our nation's resilience," said Kevin Rampe, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which is overseeing the competition and hosted Wednesday's event across the street from ground zero. "We will restore light to a place made dark by evil. We will have a place to remember."
The eight designs -- by architects and artists based in New York, Paris, Houston and Chicago -- offer visions of solitude, remembrance, courage and loss in the heart of what is expected to be a heavily commercial site. Visitors to the memorial will have a chance to be alone with their thoughts, officials said, even as a new business and regional transportation center hums around them.
"Generations to come will see the memorial design as a reminder that America was attacked but not bowed, and heroes were lost but not forgotten," said John Whitehead, chairman of the development agency. The finalists "draw upon the elements of light, water, earth and life itself," he said, adding that site planners have tried to reach out and gauge the full range of public opinion.
Those with the final say over the memorial include Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., as well as architects, academics, artists, lower Manhattan community leaders and ordinary citizens. They winnowed the 5,201 entries submitted by people in 63 nations and 49 states, Whitehead noted, to come up with the eight finalists.
Observers noted that the jury would have to sort through conflicting opinions about what a memorial should look like, how it should honor the dead and the message it should convey. That may not be easy, with critics suggesting that the process has been flawed from the start.
"The officials responsible for this competition didn't want to hear what all families had to say, and we weren't included in this process," said a tearful Rosaleen DaRos, whose brother, New York firefighter Patrick Tallon, died on Sept. 11, 2001.
"They didn't listen to us when we said we wanted firefighters' names listed separately. And now they're just trying to rush this through. But what's the hurry?"
Author Edward T. Linienthal, an expert on the process of designing memorials in America, also has voiced worries that New York may be choosing a design too hastily. He and other experts have noted that it took Oklahoma City more than five years to agree on a memorial for the victims of the 1995 federal building bombing. It took even longer for Americans to decide on memorials for the Vietnam War dead and those killed at Pearl Harbor.
But others have argued that New York needs to recover from Sept. 11 as quickly as possible -- for economic and emotional reasons.
"It's been two years since the attacks," New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Wednesday at the unveiling. "And I'd hoped we would have had something in the ground right now. I'm in favor of getting all these projects underway as soon as possible, whatever they are, to help with the area's long-term revival." He brushed aside criticism that officials were rushing to judgment on a memorial for crass economic reasons.
The room filled with memorial designs also proved for some to be an uplifting sight, a tribute to architectural design and aesthetic values that rise above controversy.
"These are all very, very good ideas," said architect Daniel Libeskind, whose design plan for the overall site was chosen in an earlier competition. "I think any one of these plans could work with what we've proposed, and that's what the process of building a memorial is all about -- incorporating these things together."
Libeskind would not say which vision he preferred.
Acknowledging the differing opinions, the jury issued a statement outlining its overall approach and noting that "the memorial itself is a process, an attempt to bring reconciliation to that which can never be reconciled: love and loss, heroism and horror, past and present, public recognition and private introspection."
The plans, which will be subject to further public input, range from "Votives in Suspension," which would memorialize each victim with an individual light hung over a pool, to "Passages of Light: The Memorial Cloud," which would feature a glass walkway overhead and lights illuminating the names of victims on granite walls.
Other designs include "Lower Waters," with a park that slopes from street level to 30 feet below, a garden and a museum devoted to the Sept. 11 attacks; "Reflecting Absence," which would have a pool 30 feet below street level, trees and a stone field; "Inversion of Light," with a reflecting pool, granite walls containing victims' names and a shaft of blue light honoring the remains of those still unidentified; "Garden of Light," a three-level memorial that includes a field of lights, one honoring each victim; "Dual Memory," including 2,982 light portals in honor of those who died; and "Suspending Memory," featuring two gardens rising from where the twin towers once stood and acknowledgment of the highlights in each victim's life.
According to competition guidelines, the designs avoid construction on the "footprints" of the twin towers; they also provide a listing of victims' names and include private places for victims' family members.
Some family organizations have criticized plans to build a new train station at ground zero; even though the memorial and commercial building plans will avoid the area where the towers once stood, they say, the train route would burrow into that space underground -- an area where some believe microscopic human remains still may be discovered.
Patrick McCarbill, a New York firefighter inspecting the designs Wednesday, said it would be hard for jurors to satisfy all parties on such an emotional issue. "I wish everybody good luck who has to make this decision," he said. "I wouldn't know where to begin."