NYC AIDS Memorial Park Design Competition…And the Winner is…what do you think?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION NYC AIDS Memorial Park Design Competition…And the Winner is…what do you think?

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    This is the winning submission for the NYC AIDS Memorial Park Design Competition just announced this morning. I know there are at least a few who participated in this competition and I’m dying to hear the uninhibited critique of the winning design by fellow designers.

    Feel free to post your own submissions as well. I will hold my own opinion until later.


    Ok I cant wait.

    I think this design pretty obviously won on one pretty rendering.

    There are so many flaws in the design I’m not sure where to start. The concept goes completely against every fundamental principle of public space design I can think of. Here’s a bullet list:

    1. Enclosure from Street- The design completely encloses the park from the street with 15′ black slate walls. Perhaps compelling, the walls from the street side could be considered imposing and intimidating from the pedestrians point of view.

    2. Security- I’m not a huge advocate for security design, but enclosing a space this large in a busy urban setting seems like it’s asking for trouble.

    3. Do people really like to stare at themselves in the mirror, really giant mirrors?

    4. The Fishbowl Effect- Imagine how it might feel sitting eating your lunch in the middle of the park by yourself, reflecting, only to realize you are surrounded on every side by windows focused solely on you. Kind of like a small fish in a big bowl.

    5. Seamless Integration of Subgrade space- The original brief called for ‘seamless integration of the existing basement space as repurposed art gallery.’ The chosen design clumsily (imo of course) utilizes stairs and ramps inside the wall structures to access the lower space. Hypothetically, daylighting will occur via skylights at the top of the 15′ walls. WIll sufficient daylight really find its way to the space below in this instance?

    6. Stark and Inflexible Park Space- The original design brief called for a ‘park akin to the existing neighborhood park just blocks away…with space for active and passive uses.’ I dont know what the designers have planned for the park because they didnt include a plan or elevation (as requested in the brief) but I could assume from the perspective that they are planning a sea of gravel interspersed with concrete benches and a bosque of birch trees (birch?).

    Overall, I’m just disappointed that the jury seems to have chosen the ‘best design’ based on a single stylish image. Understandably this is historically how these things work, but as a designer the more I look at this project the more it seems like putting a silk hat on a pig. I try to imagine what this proposal would look like rendered in pen and marker..second year student project comes to mind.

    Regardless of what I think, I congratulate the winning team if for nothing else, than having a keen sense of how to compel a jury. I have much to learn and looking forward to the next one!

    What are your thoughts?

    Trace One

    looks like a nightmare place for the trees, for starters. and there is something un-imaginative about the mirrors..literal mirrors..

    It looks like Ivana Trump’s closet..

    so little context, provided, in the design..seems to have nothing to do with the state of the AIDS epidemic, at all…I think there should be someplace for people to contribute money  for family planning efforts in Africa, since it has become evident that Bush’s concentration of all the money on AIDs while not allowing even the mention of contraception has resulted in a minor population explosion among the poorest africans..

    Thanks bush.


    Designs like these always look so good in a perfect 3D Studio Max environment but the reality of the design, constructability, durability and sustainability are nearly always flawed. The idea seems nice, an infinite forest using mirrors. Here’s what I see from a Landscape Architect, Contractor and Facilities Maintenance point of view.

    Flaw:  Mirrors break, get dirty, kill birds and create intense heat islands.  Not to mention what a mirrored room does to person with disabilities including vision impairment. (Oh, and did you see what happened to Bruce Lee in the mirror scene from ‘Enter the Dragon’).

    Flaw: The park sits on top of a basement structure.  The root system of the trees shown on the rendering will be stifled.

    Issue: Drainage of the site above the structure and leaf clutter/maintenance.

    Issue: As the site appears to site above a structure, HVAC units and other mechanical items relating to the structure below will need to be accommodated in the space.  This is not addressed in the design.

    Issue: Exterior granite walls are intended to be written upon with chalk.  Whose chalk is being used?  What colors are allowed?  How does the City’s code enforcement relate to a wall intended for essentially grafiti?

    Concept: I see nothing in the landscape relating to the AIDS epidemic.  This park could be a part of any downtown art museum, hipster housing project or residential backyard.  The creativity is lacking.  I shouldn’t have to ‘read’ what the park is about.  It should be obvious in a few well-thought out sketches.

    This is a classic example of ‘artists’ trying to do our job and poorly at that.

    Tosh K

    “infinite forest” is a nice sell, not sure how it’ll work-  maintenance might be a bear, but the holocaust memorial in boston would seem like it’s got a lot of potential problems but has held up well.

    Overall it seems predictable and a one liner – translucent high reflective glass on at least a couple sides would seem to allow for a more “secure” environment while engaging the city while maintaining the intent.  I suppose the simplicity may be powerful, but it better get built flawlessly; a shift in the flat planes of mirrors could ruin this all too easily.

    I would have thought the text would have been more compelling, just thinking of Maya Lin’s evocative essay for the Viet Nam memorial.

    slate wall?  here’s one that works (sort of, has had censorship issues)

    Rob Halpern

    So let me understand this:

    A park that cannot easily be seen from outside, so at night things can get interesting

    A landscape of birches (what is it with the birches all the time????) located not in the cool environment they prefer, but in a stone bed surrounded by mirrors. Good times in July

    A new and extensive vehicle for graffitti

    This is like a joke that needs explaining. It can’t stand on its own but if you could only grasp the profound layers of meaning………


    This is where it gets really weird..check out the ‘honorable mentions.’!prettyPhoto

    Tanya Olson

    The granite art walls are really compelling – I love the graffitti art movement and think it could be really cool. Plenty of other problems as everyone described from constructability to terrible security. Overall a bizarre, potentially nightmarish and narcissistic design with a meaning I can’t comprehend being related to AIDS.

    On the other hand, I think it would be a very interesting installation piece as an experiential sculpture, but that seems like a very different purpose than a memorial. It could capture the inescapable fear and stigma of being trapped in your body with an uncureable disease….??? How does the concept of the infinite forest memorializes people who died of AIDS or expresses the loss and grief of their survivors? Or how our relationship has changed with HIV and AIDS over the past 25 years from a pronouncement of certain death to a somewhat shortened lifespan, but overall similar quality of life (if you have access to meds that is.)?

    AIDS has not been a random killer, like influenza or cholera, it has been very specifically spread through preventable means – whether via transfusion, fluid contact or ignorance (and I don’t mean that in a judgemental way, but in a literal lack-of-education way). The best memorial to AIDS in the US is the play Angels in America – a profoundly moving spiritually transcendent reflection of who we were when people started getting sick and how we found compassion around a very scary disease. Really, the film based on the play recast Bethesda Fountain as the AIDS memorial for our generation.

    This memorial has nothing to do with what is happening with the AIDS epidemic in African countries and almost seems to purposely ignore that decimation – inwardly focused, literally reflective of our incredible relative wealth and fortune as if it says ‘oh poor us’ with no way to see beyond our own multiplicitous reflection…when I think of it that way it almost seems cruel.

    Overall – while I think the design could be sublime with some other subtext and in another context, it doesn’t fit the feeling of loss and helplessness very particular to AIDS. The fear, yes. But who wants to spend time in a park infused with fear?


    Clearly, architects have no clue what it takes to create a meaningful, spiritual outdoor space.  Why do architects believe they can do every other discipline’s job better than they can?  Oh wait, I know….huge egos are a job requirement for them.


    My edit disappeared, but I was going to say the honorable mentions look like a third year architecture student went nuts with 3D Studio Max. Some of these literally look like they started as a joke.

    I will do another competition when the right one comes up. I’ve learned that one really strong image goes alot further than a complete package…heck the winning entry didnt even include the required drawings per the design brief (lesson learned).

    To be clear, some of them I really like, and I like some aspects of the finalist and winning concepts.


    In the designer’s defense regarding security, the memorials of this status in NYC tend to have security milling around or nearby keeping watch via video cameras.  I can think of others, such as the Irish Hunger memorial, that are not entirely visible from the street.  If it was open to the street, it would be noisier and less conducive to contemplation.  I didn’t check the location, but if they wanted to block out busy streets, walls are the simplest option in such an urban setting.  I like the fact that they used the spaces bound by the walls to support skylights to bring light into the basement space.  Maybe that’s where the more obvious memorialization takes place.  The only conceptual idea with the mirrors that occurs to me is that you are supposed to see yourself in those being memorialized, that they are your brothers, sisters, neighbors, cousins, etc.  Yeah, it goes against a lot of the dogma for succesful public spaces that we know, but maybe they don’t want to attract crowds enjoying smoothies and sandwiches.

    That said, maybe landscape is an insufficient medium for memorializing such a weighty and complex subject.  Why have so many memorials taken this form in recent years?  I’m into built environments that are imbued with meaning, but there has been a trend in making it so heavy and serious.  I’d really like to see some more cheeful, light-hearted stuff.  I wouldn’t want to be remembered with somber feelings.

    Jason T. Radice

    Mirrors? REALLY?? This is horrible on so many levels.


    Two words: Deep Fryer.

    Trace One

    Well said, Tanya!!! Like button!!


    Out of all the other entries, the winning concept is presented as a quiet and calming space, which memorials need to be. Though in reality, a house of mirrors may be too chaotic…

    The idea that the space is the memorial and not some sculpture is interesting, but as mentioned already, it looks like any other plaza. Something has to be added to make it more memorial-like. Perhaps quotes relating to the struggle of aids can be engraved on the mirrored walls.

    I like the idea of the outer chalk wall where people can be creative, but again, something has to tell people that the wall is about aids, not just a wall for random graffiti.

    The subdued rendering style may have won them this competition, the feeling is there, but it needs adjustment so that it doesn’t look like a common plaza.


    This is what illustrator Guillarme pautrel (sp) has to say about competitions. Not that we didn’t know that ‘illustrations win competitions’ but imagine what kind of reaction this proposal would get rendered in pen and marker or even just linework. It might be laughable. I’m really disappointed this jury went for such an obviously thin concept. Like someone said earlier, it was a good sell.

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