Italian city erects Aggie designed 9-11 memorial

Visiting A&M students asked to create
permanent tribute to man's resiliency

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a group of Texas A&M University architecture students studying in the small Italian town of Castiglion Fiorentino formed a unique relationship with their Italian hosts, who 60 years earlier had endured the ravages of World War II. United in sorrow spawned from tragedies decades apart, city fathers challenged the students to design a "9/11" memorial monument as a permanent tribute to man's resiliency and the spirit that triumphs over tragedy.

The Aggies - Whitney Skinner of Coppell, Lisa Andel of Channel View and Virginia Sternat of Houston - responded in grand fashion, and the 12-foot marble sculpture, "Memory," based on their design, is now a prominent modern landmark in this picturesque medieval town. The sculpture was dedicated June 2002 as part of Castiglion Fiorentino's Celebration of the Italian Republic (Italy's Independence Day).

On September 10, 2002 the Texas A&M College of Architecture opened a three-day exhibit showcasing the unique international effort behind the students' memorial design. The exhibit, created by the three undergraduate students who designed the 9/11 memorial, included a series of narrated panels and photographs illustrating the design and construction process behind the memorial. Additionally, a scale model composed of the same marble and granite stones used in the actual sculpture was displayed.

The memorial designers were in Italy for the spring 2002 semester participating in the College of Architecture's ongoing study abroad program at the Santa Chiara Study Center in Castiglion Fiorentino. A walled medieval village, Castiglion Fiorentino sits fortress-like on a hilltop amid Tuscany's rolling pastoral terrain, southeast of Florence and between the towns of Cortona and Arezzo. As a result of the school's intimate setting, the visiting students were quickly integrated into the everyday life of the town.

"The American students at Santa Chiara are part of our community," explained Paolo Brandi, the mayor of Castiglion Fiorentino who commissioned the memorial design. "On September 11th we read on the student's faces the commotion and dismay for what happened in New York. The people of Castiglion Fiorentino felt the wounds of this event deep in their hearts. The students' fears were our fears and their losses were our losses. Out of the event of September 11th was born the idea for a monument that would commemorate this tragic day and with it the thousands of lives swept away by hate and fanaticism."

Paolo Barucchieri, visiting professor of architecture and director of the Santa Chiara Study Center, coordinated the student designs for the memorial. His brother, Giovanni Barucchieri, photographed the entire process from the conception to the dedication.

"We began this project focusing on material transformation and the dichotomy between permanency and vulnerability as it is connected to memory," said Paolo Barucchieri. "Through the process of developing forms, the design studies subliminally reached and expressed the deep sense of participation that was felt by the students in reflection on the Twin Towers event."

In its final form, the monument shows how the built environment of Italy expresses collective memory of the past and gives richness to the present. It is made from several slabs of Travertine marble - one main piece with two, tower-like pieces cutting through. Each slab of marble contains dark granite inlays in a variety of geometric patterns and the entire sculpture sits on a black and gray granite base.

"The monument symbolizes memory and hope," explained co-designer Andel. "Memory of the history of Castiglion Fiorentino and all of those who have shared their lives there and hope for all that is going on in the world."

"The monument reaches upward as a symbol of hope for the future," added co-designer Sternat. "It is also a link between the American students and the people of Castiglion Fiorentino."

Skinner, the other student on the design team, echoed those sentiments.

"I see the design as a union of two periods of life" she said. "For the people of Castiglion Fiorentino, the memorial evokes memories of World War II, while American students will be reminded of the tragic events of September 11. In its totality, the design creates a union between us and them."

The memorial was dedicated amid a flurry of fanfare that included a brass band, local dignitaries, townsfolk, professors and students. Genevieve Wilcox, a Texas A&M liberal arts student participating in the Santa Chiara study abroad program, wrote a poem that was read at the ceremony and later posted on a plaque next to the memorial:


Memories fortify our fragile human existence. Without them, there would be no love, there would be no pain, there would be no growth. Hold dear your Memories for unlike other precious gifts, without Them, all would be lost.

- The End -

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