Title: Oklahoma City National Memorial
Authors: Butzer Design Partnership
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Year complete: 2001
Description: Outdoor symbolic memorial on the former site of the Murrah Federal Building comprising of a reflecting pool, monumental gates, field of empty chairs, and the Survivor Tree and dedicated to the victims of the bombing of the Murrah Building in 1995.
In 1995, the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma was bombed in retaliation to the Ruby Ridge standoff and Waco siege, events that brought criticism to federal agencies such as the FBI and US Marshals. The bombing, which killed 168 individuals and destroyed the building, remains to this day the largest domestic attack in US history by US citizens.
Immediate calls for a memorial followed, which manifested itself for a short time as mementos left along the fences of the demolished site, a feature that was later transferred to the permanent memorial, the ritual continuing.
The monumental gates at the entrances to the site are inscribed with 9:01 (the last moment of peace) and 9:03 (the first moment of recovery), framing 9:02 as both the moment of destruction and the physical location of the site. Between the two, 5th Street was replaced with a reflecting pool.
The most emotionally loaded element to the memorial is the Field of Empty Chairs. 168 glass and bronze chairs are spread over the building’s former footprint. Organized in nine rows, the chairs represent the floor and location in the building that a person occupied when the bomb was detonated. Each is inscribed with the name of a victim with two sizes of chairs representing the adults and 19 children who died in the attack, as well as three unborn children represented beneath their mothers’ names.
The Survivor Tree, a shade tree that had stood in the building’s parking lot, was stripped and burned by the blast and assumed dead. However, in the weeks and months following the attack, the tree slowly came back to life and became a symbol of resilience for the mourners. In the memorial, it was surrounded by a grove of native trees in honor of those who came and assisted in rescue efforts.
The memorial, which creates an urban park on the former site of the building and its parking lot, seeks to educate visitors on the effects and repercussions of violence while simultaneously attempting to educate on the history and story of the attack and its victims. Here, visitors become as much a part of the event and history of the site as the people that it commemorates as they explore and interact with the many elements of the memorial. Here, the memorialized experience becomes one shared with everyone and part of the national memory of the event and its repercussions.