Thursday, December 1st was World AIDS Day, and New York marked it by dedicating a memorial in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood hard-hit by the health crisis that exploded in the late 1980s.
The memorial is the city’s first major monument which remembers the epidemic that took over 100,000 lives of New Yorkers who succumbed to the deadly virus.
Co-founder of the memorial project Christopher Tepper quoted an early AIDS activist, Vito Russo, when he said at the dedication, “With this memorial I hope we have given our dead and our leaders from our community a drop in the ocean of recognition they deserve.”
There were several hundred people present at the dedication, which took place at the site of the memorial, at the triangular intersection of Greenwich and 7th Avenues. Considered by many to be the Ground Zero of the AIDS epidemic, the memorial is directly across the street from the location of St. Vincent’s hospital. The hospital was the first in the city to open a specially dedicated AIDS ward, one of the only places which offered care and acceptance to those who were dying from the ravages of the frightening, and at the time, little understood, illness.
Although St. Vincent’s is no longer there, the memorial brings to mind its patients and the staff that cared for them. The monument, designed by the Brooklyn firm studio ai architects, is a white steel and aluminum structure poised in a way which evokes a delicate piece of origami art. The walls and canopy surround a fountain bubbling within.
The final design was altered from the original concept, which won a 2012 competition sponsored by Architectural Record because the size of the space dedicated to the memorial shrunk considerably from the time of the competition. With a price tag of $6.5 million, the finished sculpture was able to maintain its core ideas while still filling the reduced space.
“Our conversations with the memorial organization gave us the sense that we should create a room—a container where people could put their thoughts, their fears, and their memories of the people they lost,” says Esteban Erlich, who designed the pavilion with Lily Lim and Mateo Paiva. “But at the same time, we wanted it to be a place for people walking by and for kids to play—to remain open for everybody. There would be no gate, no doors.”
There is an installation within the latticed walls with excerpts from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” pouring across dark granite pavers creating a dizzying effect of spiraling text. The memorial will be complete when granite benches are added, allowing people to enter the memorial, sit down and contemplate the difficult past and the hopeful future.