By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 22, 2008 - Being chosen to design the Pentagon Memorial that will be dedicated here Sept. 11 is an achievement that may never be topped in an architect's career, one of the Pentagon Memorial's lead designers said. Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman, his wife and business partner, were selected in March 2003 out of more than 1,100 architect teams to design the site that will serve as a lasting tribute to the 184 people killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon.
"We'll never be able to describe how honored we feel to be a part of this project," Kaseman said. "We're just very humbled, and want to give our thanks to the hundreds of people who worked on the design team."
Kaseman and Beckman -- of the New York design studio Kaseman, Beckman Advanced Strategies -- were living in New York when the World Trade Center was attacked, and they lived there through the first anniversary of the tragedy. Neither lost loved ones during the attacks, but Kaseman said the year following 9/11 was a tough time to live in New York. The couple thought the best way for them to observe the attacks' first anniversary would be to submit a proposal in the design competition, he said.
"We're fortunate enough not to have lost anybody on that day," he said. "It was just the atmosphere from that day – it was filled with such sorrow, and it was such a negative time. We just wanted to contribute something positive. That's the idea of why we entered the competition."
The couple worked at their respective architecture offices during the day while putting in long nights developing the memorial design idea. They were just proud to have made the competition's deadline and were taken completely by surprise when, about a month later, they were selected for the final round.
The competition dwindled from more than 1,100 entries down to six, and the finalists had about two months to take the design to a higher level, he said.
When the couple learned their scheme had been selected, they immediately moved south. They lived near Washington in Alexandria, Va., for about three and a half years as they worked with construction documents and sorted through design details, he said.
The memorial is just outside the area of the Pentagon where the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building. Each victim is represented with his or her name inscribed on one of 184 benches illuminated by lighted reflection pools below.
The benches are arranged according to the victims' ages and where they were during the crash – the Pentagon or on American Airlines Flight 77. The benches representing the 125 lives lost in the Pentagon are positioned so that the Pentagon is in the background view of a visitor reading the victim's name. For the 59 lives lost on American Airlines Flight 77, the visitor sees the victim's name and the sky of the ill-fated aircraft's flight path in the same view.
Kaseman said he and his wife wanted the site to be an individual memorial, but collective at the same time. The memorial is about self-interpretation, which is why it's embedded with hints and clues that tell a story about who the victims were, he said.
"The design had to be like no other, because 9/11 was a day like no other," Kaseman explained. "We wanted it to capture the magnitude of the events that played out that day."
With the official opening of the memorial less than a month away, construction workers and engineers are putting the final touches on the two-acre site. The memorial is scheduled to open to the public at 7 p.m. on 9/11's seventh anniversary. More than 5,000 people are expected to attend, Pentagon officials said.
"Now that the place is almost open, we can begin to digest everything," Kaseman said. "It's been an intensely positive experience, but a lot of hard work all the way around. We're not sure we'll ever be able to top this experience or describe how honored we feel about being a part of this."