UMass graduate student creates 9/11 memorial

By Patrick Hoff

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Although Sept. 11 happened over 12 years ago, the effects of the terrorist attacks can still be felt around the country and around the world.
UMass PhD student in regional planning Soroush Farzinmoghadam designed an installation, currently in the lower level of the Campus Center, to memorialize the tragedy and all who died. Farzinmoghadam is also studying for his masters in architecture, with the UMass 9/11 Intervention is his master thesis project.

Farzinmoghadam is an immigrant from Iran and he was in his first year of college when 9/11 occurred.

“One thing that was very shocking, surprising for me was the different reaction that I got in my community,” he said. “Some people were shocked and they went over and turned on a candle in some major square in Iran. But others … One was my classmate, (and) he said he was happy. It’s kind of odd. For me, I couldn’t accept it.”

As time passed after the attack, Farzinmoghadam realized that the attack had many consequences on the world, and “started feeling like that wasn’t just a moment … there are many consequences.”

“I tried to just show that it did not just affect one community – I think that it’s something that affected all the communities,” Farzinmoghadam added. “It’s a small effort, a very small effort, but I tried to bring two sides together somehow to talk because … the consequence affected all of us and the people on the other side (are) affected (just the same as in) the U.S. It’s created more hate between two sides and I think that some type of these artistic … works could actually break the ice between those two sides and help to (facilitate) communication and talk.”

The installation encompasses two different elements: the structure of the frame and the fiber optic cables hanging from it. The frame, comprised of seven columns, has dimensions that signify the date of the terrorist attack. The seven columns also represent the four planes and three buildings that were attacked on 9/11.

The fiber optic cables represent the 3,000 victims in the attack.

“Soroush’s biggest concern was having everybody, every individual represented, every single human being because we are dealing with human beings. Every single human being is something that’s unreplaceable, the loss is something great,” Mostafavi said.

He added, “We’re not just dealing with a simple explosion or something. We’re dealing with people who are facing tables with an empty place at the dinner table or something. They’re big losses, so it has to be effective. … They’re intertwined and … their paths sometimes cross and sometimes they don’t as a sign that people from different places and different ages, their paths sometimes cross during their lives and sometimes they don’t.”

The original intent was to have the installation prepared for last September, but due to finances and the time it took to obtain permits, it became impossible. The permits were very time-consuming, Farzinmoghadam said, because of the strict safety regulations in Massachusetts.

With the help of many people, the project overcame the obstacles.

The project also had to be modified from its original idea. Originally, the installation was a linear exhibit to show the effects before and after 9/11 but the budget did not allow for that and it had to be slimmed to its current design.

“I think this process somehow helped the progress of this thing,” Farzinmoghadam said. “When I started thinking about this, there wasn’t that much detail, (but) this whole process helped us make that.”

In order to complete the project, Farzinmoghadam received help from many people, including his friend Nariman Mostafavi, a PhD student in construction and technology. Since both Mostafavi and Farzinmoghadam are PhD students, they spent a lot time in the same office and were able to quickly tweak ideas on the fly.

The design process began in September 2012, starting with the idea that Farzinmoghadam wanted his project to be an installation on campus. After thinking about the subject of his project, he settled on 9/11, and began the process of review with faculty members.

Mostafavi praised Farzinmoghadam on his persistence to complete the project.

“There are too many master theses for architectural students that don’t actually get built but this guy wanted to do it and did it,” Mostafavi said.
In addition to a Kickstarter campaign to raise money and a variety of financial supporters, Farzinmoghadam had to put money from his own pocket into the project to complete it.

“He was determined, so he did it,” Mostafavi added.

One of the biggest concerns was how to represent the tragedy without crossing any lines or being too explicit.

“There were people who had this incident actually had something to do with their lives,” Mostafavi said. “You couldn’t be very solid or too flagrantly show what had happened so we couldn’t become a very unsettling experience for some people who actually had been affected by this. We had to make things as abstract as possible.

“Also … one of our concerns was that maybe people don’t want to see such a thing. Like when you’re going to work, for example, and actually that was a concern of some people, that ‘I don’t want to see something sad or something that reminds me of something sad that belongs in the past and I’m maybe kind of trying to forget and I don’t want to be reminded of such a thing.’ So that was also an issue, how to reduce that impact for somebody who might see this.”

Mostafavi said that at one point, the project was on hold and almost didn’t get completed until one of their friends revealed that her uncle had been one of the pilots and she was willing to help them with the piece. Mostafavi said that her willingness to help was “big motivation for us to really kick off and think about a way to do it.”

Farzinmoghadam and Mostafavi had help from many sources, but in particular the duo was particularly thankful for faculty member Daniel Pepin, who helped them with his knowledge of woodworking and the use of his wood shop, and Kathleen Lugosch, a faculty member who aided Farzinmoghadam. She helped a lot with the process, Farzinmoghadam said, and was open to many new ideas.

“She lets you try and if you couldn’t do it, she says ‘oh, you couldn’t’ but she never stops you at the beginning,” he said.

After the installation is removed from the Campus Center at the end of February, it may be moved to a location where Farzinmoghadam has better control over the lights, but the two of them were unsure of an exact location. They don’t want to put it in a gallery, he said, because it relates to daily life and Farzinmoghadam wanted to make sure that it is visible in people’s lives and make sure people realize what the installation says.

“This is here to say we are all human beings, we all have feelings, we all get sad for the same things, we all get happy for the same reasons a lot of times,” he said. “The similarity between us … deserves a lot more attention. We were just trying to address that, to fill in the gap that sometimes we forget that we go through the same pains and we all have to struggle to make the world a better place for the whole human race.”

Patrick Hoff can be reached at [email protected]