In September 2017, Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm, which caused massive amounts of damage, flooding, monthslong blackouts, and thousands of deaths. The state of New York will soon pay tribute to the victims with a memorial located in Battery Park City in Manhattan, on Chambers Street overlooking Rockefeller Park. The Hurricane Maria Memorial Commission received 120 submissions from artists and architects, and Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced the selection of the design by Puerto Rican architect Segundo Cardona and artist Antonio Martorell as the winning entry.
The design features a glass spiral topped with the star of the Puerto Rican flag. “We felt the memorial needed to be visually strong and sensitive to the site, and wanted it to enfold the observer, thus we used a basic mathematically derived spiral shape, which also blended with the existing curvature of the memorial site’s lookout,” says architect Segundo Cardona. “The spiral has a formal relationship with the shape of both hurricanes and shells, and shells are by nature a protection for living organisms against a hostile environment such as extreme weather.” Benches are built into the design and provide a spot for rest or reflection.
The spiral’s glass panels will be painted by Martorell and will include the poem “Farewell From Welfare Island,” by Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos, written in colorful calligraphy. Written in 1953 while Burgos was living in New York, the verse was the only one the poet composed in English. “Martorell and I had just collaborated on a project in Puerto Rico where we used silk-screened glass to create canopies for an urban park,” Cardona says. “This medium struck us as ideal for the memorial, as glass, in its transparency and translucency, could be made to evoke the ethereality of air, wind, and water.”
The memorial is estimated to cost $700,000 and is scheduled to be completed in early 2021. The project faced early criticism from some members of the local community, who felt there were other locations that would be better suited to host the memorial. But for the architect and artist, collaborating on the design was a chance to make a gesture of thanks to New York state, which provided relief efforts and support following Hurricane Maria and a series of earthquakes in early 2020. It was also an opportunity to reframe their experience of the hurricane and its aftermath. “Although my professional practice in the last several years has been characterized by projects of a larger scale, I did not hesitate to take on this project with the same enthusiasm because it offered the wonderful opportunity of transforming a sad memory into something positive and beautiful that could bring solace to all,” says Cardona. “Also, Martorell is well renowned as an artist engaged in social causes, which are an integral part of his oeuvre. Our shared vision of transforming adverse circumstances into something positive and poetic was the driving force for the design.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest