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Merit Award - DESIGN

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Oklahoma City National Memorial
Oklahoma City, OK

Sasaki Associates, Inc.; Butzer Design Partnership

Neil J. Dean, FASLA
Principal, Sasaki Associates, Inc.
64 Pleasant Street
Watertown, MA 02472
Tel. 617-926-3300;
Fax 617-924-2748

Purpose of the Project

On April 19, 1995, at 9:02 a.m., a two-ton bomb exploded in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City After six weeks of searching the rubble for the remaining victims, what remained of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was cleared from the site. All totaled, 168 people were killed, including 19 children.

Shortly after the bombing, a 350-member task force was created in order to establish criteria, now referred to as the "Mission Statement," to guide the development, selection and construction of an appropriate Memorial to the bombing's victims and survivors. The Mission Statement seeks to honor those who were killed, those who survived, those who helped, and those changed forever. It calls for the preservation of the Survivor tree, and a special place for children. Lastly, it calls for the Memorial to offer feelings of comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity, and ultimately provide an uplifting experience, enriching the spirit of those who visit.

The site for the Oklahoma City National Memorial is located on the northern edge of the downtown business district in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It is bounded by Robinson and Harvey Avenues on the east and West, and by 4th and 6th Streets on the north and south. The 3.3-acre site includes the footprint of the former Alfred P. Murrah building, a portion of 5th Street that has now been permanently closed, and a surviving tree located north of 5th Street. Street. Also included are the sites of a parking lot, the former Water Resources Board building and the former Athenian building.

A 15-foot slope transverses the site from east to west. The northern portion of the site is partially occupied by the Journal Record Building. Standing today as it did on April 19, 1995, plans for its renovation to accommodate the Memorial Center Museum have just begun. To the south, the GSA parking garage and plaza are currently being renovated. The scope of the Oklahoma City National Memorial work does not include the renovation of these two structures.

Design Narrative

With the words of the Mission Statement's Preamble, the experience of visiting the Oklahoma City Memorial begins, "We come here to remember, 'those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity." Whether traveling by foot or by car, along Harvey, Robinson or 5d. Street, into or out of the downtown area, the first sight of the Memorial is of the gates of time.



Beneath the inscription "We come here to remember . . .", one is drawn through the gate into the heart of a moment eager to tell its story. The rising sun's innocence shines through the opening of the eastern gate that read "9:01." Morning gives way to the life-changing events "9:02." The footprint of the former Alfred P. Murrah Building to the south is covered with soft green grass, sloping up towards the warmth of the sun. At this sacred ground's edges, tall evergreens stand watch over a field of 168 empty chairs, in remembrance of those who died. The Survivor Tree, witness to the violence of the moment, stands to the north commemorating those who survived. Cascading terraces under its canopy offer a peaceful setting for thought and contemplation. Rushing forth from the city's edges to surround the Survivor Tree, an orchard of fruit- and flower-bearing trees offers recognition to those who helped, creating a symbol of unity and pride for today's and future generations. Children learn in their own special clearing amidst the orchard, sharing messages of encouragement and comfort on chalkboards.

The empty chairs, the Survivor Tree and its terraces, and the orchard meet at the reflecting pool's edge. As visitors gaze at their own reflections, gently flowing water ripples in the breeze, revealing the faces of those changed forever. The setting sun silhouettes the western gate that reads "9:03." As evening settles in under the vigil of survivors and helpers, a city prepares for tomorrow. Never to be forgotten, 168 glowing names inscribed in the empty chairs' bases shine out into the night sky, instilling the community with the spirit of hope for a better future.

Significance and Special Factors

The Oklahoma City National Memorial is significant for various reasons. First, the process involving the community and the formulation of a clear and legally binding Mission Statement should be a model for other significant projects throughout the United States. Second, the commitment of the design team and client to one another translated into a model of "partnering" .The dedication to a greater common vision fostered unparalleled cooperation on the job-site and led to an award-winning level of craft. Third, dedication to the design ushered in exceptional implementation challenges seldom encountered. Involved were, for example, developing a raised paving system around the 80+ year old American Elm {Survivor Tree) and hand-digging 66 of 80 of its support piers; hand-casting large pieces of glass for the chair bases for an outdoor application with tremendous climatic extremes; and designing and constructing a reflecting pool of exceptional design, size and tolerances. Compared to other National Memorials of this scope and size, the construction budget was not only modest and fixed, but was not exceeded. Lastly, the design remains devoted to a material palette (hard and softscape) inspired by the colors and patterns of the region so that the personal scale, familiarity and impact of the Memorial's story can be conveyed by day or by night.

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