This past September, a very special dedication ceremony took place in Hauppauge, NY to celebrate the completion of The Gardens of Remembrance, a memorial to honor the 185 Suffolk County, NY residents who perished on September 11, 2001. The memorial is on the grounds of the Dennison Building, the County office building for Suffolk County, and was designed by Barry Silberstang of Silberstang Lasky Architects, who also served as the Project Architect.
The Gardens of Remembrance is a square structure comprised of 188 glass panels that separates two gardens. The Accessible Garden is outside of the square. It is the place in which we live, with paths to walk on, places to rest, and markers to guide us. The Inaccessible Garden lies within the glass walls and is a place we cannot enter. Each glass panel is etched with the name of one of the 185 Suffolk County victims, and three separate panels are set aside for the remembrance of those responsible for the design.
When asked about the inspiration for the design, Silberstang explains, "The fellow that I collaborated with is a graphic designer and he came up with the idea of using glass panels with the names in the glass, which I thought was a good idea. I liked the idea of the panels, but felt that the Memorial must have a larger meaning. I thought if we can create a space that you can't get into, it would be a very apt metaphor for loss. There would be something very powerful about it. So I started sketching and the panels began to define a square, and the square became a footprint of one of the towers, and it just evolved from there. It just came to me in a flash. Two things were really important were: one, is that every person should be noted. I didn't just want an object. I liked the idea of giving everyone a panel, and I have to admit at the time I wasn't thinking literally in terms of 'panel equals gravestone'. I just wanted to create a place for everyone, where a survivor could go visit one of the victims in a very private way, and I wanted the memorial to be both private and public simultaneously. So I wanted the memorial to be an object, but I also wanted that object to be comprised of many elements, each element directly relating to one person, because at the end of the day, it's a personal tragedy. You could talk about America and terrorism, but at the end of the day, someone's father, someone's mother, someone's brother died, and that's what I wanted to speak to. It was only later that I learned that when people say "no remains," it means there is no gravesite."
"The concept for The Inaccessible Garden was that in counterpoint to everything outside, which is manicured and tended, the garden inside is only indigenous plants, it's just what naturally grows in that part of Long Island. It'll be tended, there's a watering system, there is one gate that the maintenance people can go into, but aesthetically the interior of the garden will grow wild as though it's just the woods in Suffolk County. It's supposed to be as random as everything else is ordered, to emphasize the randomness of life and loss. It was designed in a way to look like it's not designed. The idea is to create this counterpoint, that you're going to stand on this perfectly manicured lawn where there is a wall of glass panels that you can clearly see in, and inside there is going to be this little piece of forest. Right now it works, but you really want to see it in about five years when it grows in, when it matures a bit."
Despite the fact that The Gardens of Remembrance was a municipal project, many people pitched in to make it happen. Silberstang recalls, "When you're dealing with the government, things take forever. The groundbreaking took place in 2008, and then we started the work in 2009, just when everyone ran out of money. So the facility people started making phone calls to see if anyone would help. It turns out the Unions did work pro bono, the contractor did work pro bono, everyone rolled up their sleeves and pitched in. When it came to the planting, a local nursery donated all the plantings for inside the garden. With this project, everyone cared. All the workers were invested in it. They clearly wanted to do something special and it shows in the quality of the work. The facilities people at Suffolk County were amazing. Ted Godek was the Chief Architect, Jim Ingenito was the Project Manager, Lou Calderone is the Deputy Commissioner for the Facilities Department. Bill Hardy from Austin Interiors, Inc. was the contractor, and he was amazing."
"I've been doing architecture all my life, I've been practicing on my own for 25 years, I've done some interesting projects, some nice projects, some meaningful projects. I've designed synagogues, nature centers, children's museums, and nothing compares to this, there's nothing like this. People were coming up to me with tears in their eyes thanking me because I created a place for them to go, to grieve and to remember."