NYC AIDS Memorial design competition
Although New York City has lost more people to AIDS than anywhere else in the country, the city still has no significant AIDS memorial to honor and recognize all those lost to the disease or to celebrate the heroic efforts of those who responded, and continue to respond, to the crisis. Simply stated, the NYC AIDS Memorial coalition chose to fill that void by engaging the community, architects, designers, urban planners and historians in the design process for the new public open space at the former Saint Vincent’s Hospital, in order to create a memorial park that provides a much-needed inspirational, educational, and green public oasis for the city and surrounding community. The goals of the memorial are not only to reflect the enormous diversity of those impacted by AIDS, but also to reflect the unique importance of this site in the history of the crisis.
The site is located at the gateway to New York City’s storied West Village neighborhood and blocks from the Chelsea neighborhood, on a triangle of land bounded by Seventh Avenue, West 12th Street, and Greenwich Avenue. With its proximity to the former Saint Vincent’s Hospital, it stands at the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in New York City.
This memorial park acts as an interactive allegory. It draws a parallel between the invigorating properties of a natural environment and the collective energy produced by a community. It simultaneously renews that energy by providing a multifaceted natural space for public gatherings. It reminds people who live with AIDS that shelter within the community exists for them, while symbolically honoring those people lost to AIDS.
The form joins its architectural neighbors in creating a street facade, while setting itself apart emotionally. Landscape alone would not call attention to the cause as much as the use of a bold action that cannot be ignored, much like the AIDS epidemic itself. The structure is dually active. It provides shelter and solace, blocking out the urban surroundings, while inviting the community to interact with it. Its height as a mountainous form is an homage to the heroic efforts of those who have helped the victims of AIDS. It is a reminder that the community is a guardian to those who have died of AIDS or are living with it now. The tension created by the heaviness of this figure alludes to the struggle to overcome fear, social biases, and misconceptions about the disease. Entering the park signifies progress and the multiple paths towards a better understanding through education, communication, and collaboration. The form makes reference to the history of this site as an asylum for those with AIDS, while literally and figuratively opening up the issue.
The element of water encourages introspection, specifically the sound of falling water. Its strength builds the greater the distance it travels. Visitors and passersby will hear the falling water and be able to touch the force of its flow.
In addition to its symbolic presence, the memorial serves as a public forum for education and community events. The organic space is a sanctuary within the surrounding urban environment. A lawn for seating gently slopes down to create a hillside where individuals can casually sit on the grass and view the waterfall. It also features an amphitheater for various performances and events. The city’s noises are drowned out by the sound of falling water as a gentle mist rises up from the base.
The memorial acknowledges the loss of so many people, without resorting to a literal, static representation. Each blade of grass and drop of water can account for the loss of lives, while the vitality of these same elements attests to the continued efforts and successes in battling AIDS.