ALEXANDRIA,Va. – Tucked away at the end of an alley a few blocks from the Potomac River in Old Town is a small two-level loft where architects Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman live and work.
If it weren't for a cardboard sign with a number “4” written in black marker tacked on the door,passersby wouldn't be able to tell the apartment from the restaurant next door.
Until recently,the couple was just another team of young architects recovering from graduate school and working toward someday owning their own firm.
But one year ago this week,Kaseman,31,and Beckman,30,were presented with an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
They were chosen as one of the top six teams,from among more than 1,000 that entered a contest to design the Pentagon Sept. 11 memorial. On Feb. 26,they were informed they had won the contest.
“It was like the twilight zone,” said Beckman. “When we found out we won,it was really overwhelming in the fact that we were so honored,but … we wish that there was never a reason for this memorial in the first place. It wasn't a high-five kind of feeling. It was a bittersweet moment.”
Unlike some proposed memorials in the nation’s capital,this one has drawn praise from almost everyone.
“Our experience so far has been very smooth and not controversial.” Beckman said.
Before moving to Alexandria,a few miles from the Pentagon,Beckman and Kaseman lived on New York’s Upper West Side. During the weeks following attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,the two grappled to find a way to contribute something to their suffering city,Kaseman said.
They both began to brainstorm ideas privately. For three weeks they met at an Italian restaurant near their apartment to talk and share sketches before finally deciding to enter into the contest.
They didn't tell anyone they were doing it.
“It was really personal between us,” Kaseman said. “Not only because it's a relationship to 9-11,but also … this was the first chance we had to really work together on something that had a strict deadline.”
Their design focuses on each of the 184 lives that were lost at the Pentagon. Beckman said they wanted to create a place that was elegant and classy with comfortable seating.
The memorial park – slated to open in 2005 – will have 184 memorial units,each dedicated to one victim. Each unit will have a cantilevered bench over a lighted pool and a place to inscribe the victim’s name. The memorial units will be laid out along the trajectory of the plane that crashed into the building and organized according to the victims’ ages,3 to 71.
The intent of the design was not to portray each victim,but rather to demarcate a place dedicated to him or her while still retaining the collective spirit of the day,Kaseman said.
“The 184 lives that were lost there were 184 unique individual people who were going about their daily lives,” Beckman said. “And due to the event,those 184 people … were brought together.”
Jim Laychak,president of the Pentagon Memorial Family Steering Committee,was one of the jurors who helped narrow the 1,100 design entries to one.
“What I liked about it was the fact that it was individual,kind of collective and told a story about what happened that day in a very thought-provoking way,” he said. “We always said we wanted to make people think,not tell them what to think.”
Jury members also looked for a design that would draw visitors to the Pentagon – a location outside of the usual tourist circuit. Kaseman and Beckman's design provided a special environment,Laychak said.
“It was more of a destination,if you will,” he said.
The memorial project will rely entirely on private donations,Laychak said. The steering committee has raised about $400,000 of the $20 million budget for construction and a maintenance endowment.
Proceeds from a poster created by artist Peter Max with the help of AT&T will go toward funding the project. Steering committee members will soon select a professional fundraising group to help them launch a major donor campaign.
Construction will not begin until the committee raised the $12 million allocated for building the memorial.
Kaseman and Beckman said they will work with contractors through every step of the 22-month schedule. For now,they continue to do research and make final decisions about materials and design details,working officially as employees of the construction firm that will build the memorial.
Although the two haven't decided what they will do after the project is complete,they hope to use their talents to show how architecture is an important part of the world's culture.
“Given the turn events that have played themselves out for us to be sitting here … it just brings us to a point where we just have to try our best to show what architecture is possible of doing in a cultural setting,” Kaseman said. “We feel a duty now more than ever to just try.”
The memorial’s Web site includes drawings of the memorial’s design at: http://memorial.pentagon.mil