Design Solution

Bonfire Memorial more than symbol,
it is an experience, says designer

The construction of the Aggie Bonfire Memorial was more than just the creation of an object — it was the creation of a shared experience, said Robert L. Shemwell, lead architect of the design team responsible for the memorial.

“This is one of the very unique things about this memorial — it requires active participation. You inhabit it. It doesn't become complete without you there,” said Shemwell, a principal with the San Antonio-based Overland Partners, Inc., during a program, “The Story of the Bonfire Memorial,” held at Rudder Auditorium the night before the memorial’s Nov. 18, 2004 dedication.

The multimedia presentation provided insight into the process of designing and building the memorial, including how the concept for the design came about, various unique design and construction innovations and the symbolic elements of the memorial.

Comprised of three main elements — Tradition Plaza, History Walk and Spirit Ring — the Bonfire Memorial honors the lives and dedication of the 12 Aggies killed and the 27 injured in the tragic collapse of the 1999 Bonfire.

Shemwell said the project had three design objectives: commemoration of the tragedy, celebration of unity and reflection of the Bonfire history. He added that the memorial could not have reached its full potential without the participation of the families of the lost Aggies. The families, he said, were the key to putting a lot of power and authority in the design by allowing themselves to be vulnerable along with the design team.

Selected from nearly 200 entries in a year-long international competition coordinated by faculty in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning of Texas A&M's College of Architecture, the memorial design was the unanimous choice of a jury whose members included leading design professionals, family representatives and Texas A&M student, faculty and alumni representatives.

Some of the unique design challenges of constructing the memorial, Shemwell explained, was to develop a simplistic form of design that said what needed to be said and nothing more. The memorial also had to address two seemingly opposite scale issues. It had to be large enough not to be consumed by the vastness of the Polo Fields, where it stands, yet still remain approachable and encourage participation of its visitors, he added.

“The memorial,” he said, “requires visitors to invest themselves in it completely.”

George Rogers, co-chairman of the Bonfire memorial committee, also spoke Wednesday evening and noted, “The Bonfire Memorial helps us understand how the darkest day in Aggie History has become one of our most extraordinary moments.

“The Bonfire Memorial is a story of innovation and leadership, teamwork and commitment, dedication to excellence and the Aggie community … in short, it is like the Aggie Spirit itself.”

After his presentation, Shemwell participated in a panel discussion that included Stephen Daly, sculptor and consultant for the bronze portals; Richard West, architect and father of Scott West, who was killed in the collapse; and Michael Wesp, foreman of the construction project headed by Madison Construction, Inc.

— The End —

January 10, 2005

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