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MIT Dedicates Reflecting Wall

By W.S. Wang


The Reflecting Wall at MIT was dedicated Friday evening as several hundred students, faculty, and staff placed flowers, candles and messages by the monument for the thousands of victims of last Tuesday’s terrorist attacks. The memorial is located along the wall behind the MIT chapel.

Assistant Professor of Architecture John Fernandez designed the 12 by 25 foot wooden structure to match the dimensions of the World Trade Center’s outer wall. Fernandez said that his purpose was to “establish a place sacred, quiet,and resonant with the experience of the people at the towers.”

Following the dedication, a vigil was held to reflect on the recent tragedies. MIT chaplains addressed the crowd, and led a group prayer to close the ceremony. Attendees were clearly moved by the memorial service, with some breaking into tears as they wrote their thoughts onto cards to drop in the boxes at the bottom of the reflecting wall.

After remarks by the Reverend Paul A. Reynolds, MIT’s Catholic chaplain, attendees placed red roses around the memorial and lit candles to place in the moat. Unfortunately, a stiff afternoon breeze extinguished many of the candles in the moat, but by evening, the light from the candles shone brightly.

Students appreciate memorial

Most MIT students have responded to the Reflecting Wall with reserved enthusiasm, but its presence certainly has not escaped their attention. “Even when you aren’t intending to look at it, it stands out,” said Carolyn B. Chen ’02.

Camila Chaves Cortes, a former research fellow in Course XI, said that the wall was a place where she can “take a breath and allow things to slow down, not like being bombarded by the media.”

However, some students questioned whether any gesture could suitably counter the emotion and stress of the September 11 disasters. “I’m not sure if anything helps except time, but it is a nice gesture,” said Chris A. Marianetti G.

Chaplains stress MIT unity

Amy McCreath, MIT’s Episcopal chaplain, feels that the reflection wall was unique to MIT in that “the MIT community did something comfortable for them which is to build something.”

Jewish Chaplain Miriam Rosenbaum said the wall was almost analogous to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The Reflecting Wall, she said, is also a poignant space for private prayers and thoughts.

Both MIT religious leaders stressed that the entire board of chaplains worked hard to make all the gatherings, like the vigil, as inclusive as possible. McCreath believes that “this is such a gut-wrenching and horrible event that whether people are of faith or not, they will be looking for meaning and something to do.”

What Fernandez did was to design “a space off the beaten path for thought,” and the MIT community participated by coming together in a vigil “to establish the sacredness of that space.”

Construction a community effort

Fernandez credited Kathryn A. Wilmore, Vice-President and Secretary of the MIT corporation, with suggesting the memorial site.

He stressed that many were involved in building “something a little bit formal that lasts outdoors, and getting it up as fast as possible.” The wall was dedicated only slightly more than two days after the idea was first conceived.

Helene Lipstadt, a visiting associate professor of architecture who studies monuments and their impact, headed a committee of MIT students, faculty, and staff which organized the project.

The request for a temporary space for reflection was first voiced during the MIT-wide community meeting on Wednesday, September 12 in Killian Court. Lipstadt presented the concept of a reflection space to the office of President Vest, and they turned to Fernandez, who had been doing research on the towers, to answer questions about the structure, materials, and the reasons for the collapse.

Fernandez had visited the World Trade Center many times, and was now “being confronted with images of people huddled around the wall.” To him, the Reflecting Wall serves as a reminder of the “last thing that many people saw” before dying.