Rendering by bioLiINIA and Paul Murdoch Architects
Architects design homes for families, buildings for commerce and public use, infrastructure for communities and resorts for leisure, but on one day in 2005 architect Paul Murdoch and his namesake firm Paul Murdoch Architects, along with Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects were chosen from a list of 1,100 competing firms and solo practices to be awarded the commission to design the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, PA. Now, 13 years later, the Tower of Voices, phase three of this serene, poetic, and sustainable 2,200-acre memorial, marks the extraordinary courage of the 40 passengers and crew members on September 11, 2001 and was dedicated in their honor on September 9, 2018.
Flight 93 Memorial Visitor Center. Photo by Eric Staudenmaier and Paul Murdoch Architects
It was Murdoch’s hope that every visitor will have his or her own singular experience, and that a bigger impact of national healing and remembrance be inspired by his work.
The 93 foot concrete Tower of Voices has 40 wind chimes suspended by corbels in a 3D soundscape where every chime has a unique sound, commemorating the 40 lives lost on United Airlines Flight 93.
“This is the culmination of 13 years of work, a critical milestone in the project. It’s the last major memorial feature that we originally envisioned in the larger framework of the memorial expression. The tower is the iconic piece as you enter or exit the park to really set the tone for the overall experience. It’s really a welcoming beacon or sentinel, an important moment in the experience of the park,” says Murdoch, whose work is influenced by his travels through India and Japan.
The 93 foot concrete Tower of Voices has 40 wind chimes suspended by corbels in a 3D soundscape where every chime has a unique sound, commemorating the 40 lives lost on United Airlines Flight 93. (It is expected to be completed by end of month.)
Photo by Paul Murdoch
“Since the last memory that many family members have of their loved ones is through voices on those phone calls from the plane, we had this idea of somehow incorporating sound into the memorial. As we came to understand the site better, we realized the natural forces of this site could activate these chimes that would then embody the voices of the passengers and crew, becoming an ever-changing and living memorial expression,” says Murdoch.
Raising the chimes. NPS Photo by Brenda Torrey
The design of the chimes has been challenging for the team, as there is no design precedent for aluminum chimes of this size and in this number, not to mention using them in the confined space of this tower. Plus, each internal striker is unique. “We wanted each chime to have its own inner voice, if you will,” says Murdoch, who adds that this has been an on-going technical challenge that has required a lot of simulation and physical testing.
Photo by Laura Novak
“Every time we do testing, we have to react with design. Because of how unprecedented and complex it is and because we are working with the wind instead of a programmed type of a musical instrument, it’s a much more open-ended process. It’s just like developing a new musical instrument that has not been played before,” says Murdoch.
Photo courtesy of bioLINIA and Paul Murdoch Architects
One of the voices he hoped to capture in a chime was that of Todd Beamer, who provided inspiring words that day.
“Some of our greatest moments have been acts of courage for which no one could have been prepared. But we have our marching orders. My fellow Americans, let’s roll!” said Beamer, moments before he and a force of courageous passengers and crew members stormed the cockpit of Flight 93 to fly the plane into the ground, ultimately saving countless lives while sacrificing their own.
Photo by Laura Novak
Those 40 voices are the extraordinary inspiration for the expansive memorial that is almost entirely flat. The bowl-like earthwork designed by Murdoch and Nelson Byrd Woltz is nearly three times the size of Central Park, and was designed to encourage contemplation through subtle alterations and restoration of the site’s existing landscape, near a reclaimed coal strip mine and adjacent wetland.
The design transforms the site to a place of environmental and symbolic healing, moving visitors through a composition of open spaces defined by site walls, planting, walkways and courts, gateways, and building elements. The centerpiece of the master plan is the Sacred Ground at the edge of the Field of Honor, with an alley of red maples backed by 40 memorial groves.
Photo courtesy of the NPS
Murdoch chose to build the memorial around the site as opposed to on top of the site, with an open circular boundary that is intended to inspire others to feel beyond the memorial. It was important to Murdoch to consider long-term relevance for the memorial, to ensure it resonates with visitors for decades to come.
“While the tower is a monumental, heroic, iconic piece, it’s not meant to overwhelm the visitor with this booming sound, but etch a memory with the intimate sound of the chimes.”
“Thinking of high schoolers and younger, even if you weren’t alive when it happened, you really need to learn about it. Hopefully visitors will find a way for that story to resonate with them in their own lives. So that even five years from now, 20 years, 100 years from now, it is relevant to people,” says Murdoch.
“I just hope they experience something very personal. We very consciously tried not to impose a programmed response. While the tower is a monumental, heroic, iconic piece, it’s not meant to overwhelm the visitor with this booming sound, but etch a memory with the intimate sound of the chimes.”
Photo courtesy of the NPS
Is this a legacy project for Murdoch and his team? “This project has so many different aspects that have challenged us personally and professionally that it’s hard to imagine other projects like this in the future. I certainly think it’s a legacy project, and it will always be a huge part of our life. It’s what we devoted ourselves to,” says Murdoch.
Paul Murdoch is founder and president of Paul Murdoch Architects, with more than 30 years of experience in the design and management of a variety of building projects. He has worked in Los Angeles with AIA Gold Medalists Arthur Erickson and Charles Moore, and in Philadelphia with AIA Firm of the Year, Geddes Brecher Qualls and Cunningham. Murdoch’s firm has designed public libraries, university and college facilities, and civic buildings. He’s taught at USC’s School of Architecture and has spoken extensively on the critical role of design in improving life through sustainable development, ecological urban planning, building re-use, and the poetics and practicality of recycling.
“The arts empower. The arts give a voice to the voiceless. The arts help transform American communities and, as I often say, the result can be a better child, a better town, a better nation, and certainly a better world. Let’s champion our arts action heroes, emulate them, and make our communities everything we want them to be.”
—Robert L Lynch, President of Americans for the Arts