Fred A. Bernstein

A Brief History of the Twin Piers: What Might Have Been

Published in, January 25, 2007

Soon after 9/11, I began thinking about how to create a memorial that would remind people of the enormity of that day's events. Such a memorial, I believed, would have to extend beyond the 16 acres of Ground Zero. (There never was, and never will be, enough room at the site for a proper memorial AND millions of square feet of office space.)

So I turned to the idea of a memorial in New York Harbor. I proposed building two piers, the precise size and shape of the World Trace Center towers (212 feet by 1368 feet), projecting out into the harbor. One would point to the Statue of Liberty (the symbol of our freedom); the other would point to Ellis Island (the symbol of our diversity). Each victim's name could be inscribed approximately where he or she died. The size of the piers ensured that, like the Twin Towers, the memorial would be visible from land, sea and air.

In February of 2002, I posted renderings of the Twin Piers at On the last page of the website, I acknowledged several people, including Charles Upchurch, who had helped with the design.

Over the next few months, the Twin Piers received a good deal of attention. Timothy Noah, writing in Slate, said "the Bernstein memorial would be inexpensive to build; it would integrate itself well with other meaningful tourist sites in the area; it would sidestep current controversies about whether and how to rebuild on the World Trade Center site itself; and it would convey the scale of the World Trade towers in a bracingly direct way." My website received more than 100,000 hits, and I received thousands of e-mails. Many were from people who had never been to New York City. Some wrote that, having missed the Twin Towers, they would come to New York to see the Twin Piers.

In 2003, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation announced a competition for the 9/11 memorial. The rules called for a memorial confined to the World Trade Center site. Because I didn't think the Twin Piers had a chance of winning, I began working on another idea. That memorial, called Listen, would have used advanced audio technology to project the voices of each of the victims of the 9/11 tragedy to designated spots within a giant memorial grove.

My partner, Charles Upchurch, was disappointed that I had decided not to enter the Twin Piers in the competition. At the last minute, he asked if he could enter the Twin Piers in the competition, and of course I said yes.

To our surprise, the jurors, who reviewed over 5,300 entries, selected the Twin Piers as one of nine finalists. Chuck was contacted by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and he immediately told them the truth -- that the design of the Twin Piers was mine. Clearly, there was no desire to deceive anyone.

The lawyers at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation swung into action. (As later events would prove, they were concerned not about a minor rule violation, but about the possibility of a memorial that didn't conform to their well-publicized site plan for Ground Zero.) They decided that I had entered the competition twice. That would have been a violation of the rules, had it been true. But it wasn't true.

Nonetheless, the Corporation's lawyers told the jurors that the Twin Piers had to be eliminated from consideration. Chuck initiated legal action against the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, not on his own behalf, but on behalf of the idea: After all, the jurors, who had yet to pick a finalist, were being deprived of a chance to consider the Twin Piers along with the eight other designs they had chosen.

After a disappointing preliminary ruling by a judge, Chuck and I decided he should drop the case. He might very well have won -- the LMDC's assertions were false. But we didn't want to be known as spoilers in the competition. The LMDC went on to announce the other eight finalists. The New York Post published an expose by William Neuman (now of the New York Times) in which he referred to the Twin Piers as the "Missing Memorial." I have since learned that Maya Lin, one of the most respected designers of our era, fought hard for the Twin Piers during jury deliberations.

Since then, I have watched as the chosen memorial -- by the very able Michael Arad -- has escalated in cost and generated controversy that the Twin Piers would have averted. (Among other things, the Twin Piers solve the problem of where to put each victim's name.) I estimate that the Piers could be built in four months, at a cost of about $50 million. The current memorial, though already severely compromised by cost-cuts, is still expected to run at least half a billion dollars.

It's hard to avoid thinking about what might have been.

-- Fred A. Bernstein

October 2006

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