On December 16, 2012, two days after a gunman murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama offered words of comfort to families and members of the community at an interfaith vigil. “There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have—for our children, for our families, for each other.” An excerpt of his message that day will be inscribed on a stone wall in the entrance pavilion to a permanent memorial designed by the landscape architects SWA Group. The Clearing, as the plan is called, was selected last month after an almost year-long competition.
Conceived as a series of concentric circles, SWA’s design will draw visitors into the five-acre site near the new school, guiding them from a small parking lot (accessible via a gated entrance drive) to an open-air pavilion where they can prepare to meander through the memorial. “The path has no true beginning or end, allowing visitors to experience the space at their own pace and in their own way,” wrote the designers in their proposal to the Permanent Memorial Commission. “We wanted to acknowledge that the healing process does not end, but continues and grows . . . We felt a path would both represent and nurture this process.”
Intersecting walking paths, which include wood footbridges over two existing ponds, will lead to a central clearing, where a young American sycamore tree will be planted on an island in a 22-foot reflecting pool. Twenty-six panels of granite, each bearing the name of a victim, will encircle the water feature.
The 10-member commission, which was convened in September 2013 and includes three Sandy Hook parents, unanimously selected the scheme developed by Ben Waldo and Daniel Affleck, both of SWA Group in San Francisco, and Justin Winters of SWA/BALSLEY in New York. “We found their sensitivity to the land, and their use of pathways and seasonal plantings, very appealing,” says Alan Martin, vice chair of the commission, which received nearly 200 submissions. “The families are overwhelmingly in favor of it too.”
The commission will recommend the design to the Newtown Board of Selectmen for official approval on September 4. According to Martin, the goal is to break ground by spring, then dedicate the memorial on the seventh anniversary of the tragedy, December 14, 2019.
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