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Design Unveiled for Shanksville, PA's Flight 93 Memorial

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Images Courtesy National Parks Service

Organizers of the Flight 93 National Memorial, dedicated to the forty passengers and crew of a United Airlines flight who sacrificed their lives on September 11, 2001, gathered in Washington, DC on September 7 to announce the selected design. “Crescent of Embrace” by Paul Murdoch Architects of Los Angeles, California, with Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects of Charlottesville, Virginia was selected from among five finalists.

The announcement marked the conclusion of a one-year competition, a first for the National Parks Service, which oversaw the selection. A 15-member jury made up of design professionals, community leaders, and family members selected the design, which will be located in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the flight crashed in an open field. The design will be submitted to the Secretary of the Interior for final approval.

The title of the design, “Crescent of Embrace,” refers to a central element in the memorial – a curving landform that formally reinforces the naturally occurring bowl-shaped topography surrounding the crash site. An allée of red maple trees that is flanked by forty groves together form a landscaped zone that further protects the bowl while forming a walkway that leads to the sacred ground.

Other elements of the design include the “Tower of Voices,” a concrete structure with 40 white aluminum wind chimes located at the entrance to the memorial and a black slate plaza at the sacred ground with a white marble wall along its western edge that will be inscribed with the forty names of passengers and crew who died.


In explaining the project title, Murdoch prefers to place the “emphasis on embrace…a collective gesture to bring people together within the bowl.” This sentiment was echoed by government officials and family members. Joanne Hanley, Superintendent of the Flight 93 Memorial for the National Parks Service, described the design as “a memorial which meets all of the goals of the project….which all families embrace and will embrace the families.”

Shortly after the winning design was announced, the use of the red crescent in the design drew criticism from some religious groups and online blogs. As noted on the conservative blog Zombietime. “The winning design chosen to memorialize the heroes and victims of 9/11’s Flight 93 is in the shape of a red crescent that looks–either accidentally or intentionally–remarkably like an Islamic crescent.”

When asked about the controversy, Murdoch characterized it as an “unfortunate misinterpretation.” Murdoch explained that the term “crescent” should be interpreted on a “universal level” and that it also applies as a technical term meaning a “curving form, part of a circle or ellipse.” The jury report anticipated the possibility for misinterpretation, and had recommended that the design team “Consider the interpretation and impact of words within the context of this event. The 'Crescent' should be referred to as the 'circle' or 'arc' or other words that are not tied to specific religious iconography."

While no official project timeline has been established, the goal is to complete the first phase of construction on the memorial for the 10th anniversary of the crash of Flight 93.

Jennifer Lucchino