A serene, sweeping design by three young architects from Gemany was chosen Tuesday to memorialize the victims and honor the survivors of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
The most dramatic feature is intended to be 168 permanent stone and glass chairs, which will occupy the space where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood. Each chair will be illuminated from beneath and bear the name of a victim.
Local officials gathered in front of the now grassy site to unveil plans for an elaborate three-acre, $25 million complex that will include the memorial, a museum to tell the story of those affected by the bombing and an institute to study terrorism.
The Oklahoma City Foundation, formed to spearhead the project, hopes to break ground within a year and to complete construction within two. The money, including $8 million for the memorial, will come from federal, state, city and private funds. There is a bill pending in Congress to classify the site as a national memorial.
“We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those who were changed forever,” said Kathleen Treanor, a foundation volunteer who lost her 4-year-old daughter in the blast.
A 15-member committee, a majority of whom were victims’ relatives and survivors of the blast, unanimously selected the design by the team of Hans-Ekkehard Butzer, his wife, Torrey, and Sven Berg, all Berlin-based architects.
The centerpiece of the area dedicated to the survivors is an elm tree that burned and lost all of its leaves in the explosion - but lived. Known as the Survivor Tree, it will be surrounded by a circular wall that likely will be inscribed with the names of survivors. An orchard of fruit trees will honor the rescue workers, and there will be a special area with large chalkboards for children to record their thoughts.
A shallow reflecting pool bordered by trees will replace a block of Fifth Street, just feet from where Timothy J. McVeigh detonated a Ryder truck stuffed with explosives at 9:02 on the morning of April 19, 1995. (McVeigh was condemned to death for the crime last month.) At each end of the pool will be a gate, one etched with the time “9:01,” the other with “9:03” - the moments before and after the bombing.
Butzer said the empty chairs are intended to send a powerful message of lives lost.
The chairs, with smaller ones representing the 19 children killed, will be aligned in nine rows to signify the nine-story building.
Each row will contain chairs corresponding to the number of people killed on each floor.
While visitors can sit on the chairs, the architects, Butzer said, hope to encourage them to first “take a moment to decide where they are in the healing process.”
Butzer, who is American-born, his wife, an Oklahoma native, and Berg, a German, plan to relocate to the United States to refine the plan and oversee the execution of their design.
Not all were pleased with the plan.
“I’m tired of people lining their pockets with my husband’s memory,” said Tina Tomlin, who lost her husband, Rick.
“I think that fence and the bombed building over there is the best memorial. How else to show what an explosion looks like?”
In the 26 months since the blast, thousands of visitors, as well as relatives of the victims, have used the chain-link fence around the site as a makeshift memorial.
Tuesday was no different. A steady stream of mourners, many with tears in their eyes, filed past the heartbreaking mementos: birthday cards to children lost, T-shirts with personal messages from all over the world, dried flowers for the grandmothers who perished.
Last month, a son who lost his dad left this message: “Have you ever imagined that on Father’s Day you’d come to visit a fence to tell your dad how you feel.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.