By Janet Preus
Just over a year ago, the Spanish royal family inaugurated a memorial to honor the victims of the March 11, 2004 terrorist bombing attack at three Madrid train stations. The blasts took the lives of 191 and injured 1,824 more.
One might ask how it is possible to adequately represent the sadness of so many affected by the horrific devastation of that day. Nevertheless, the task was assigned to a Estudio FAM, a group of young architects in Madrid, and named “Monumento Homenaje a Las Victimas de Los Atentados Del 11M.” What they designed recognizes the deeply personal individual tragedies, while making a powerful statement on behalf of a world brought together in sorrow.
An underground passageway provides access to the memorial. Only after the outer door is closed will the inner door open to a square chamber directly underneath the structure, made of special glazing blocks. The oval cutout in the chamber’s ceiling opens up to the glass tubular structure above the ground. On the inside of the tube is a single layer of ETFE foil scrim printed with some of the thousands of messages, spontaneously left at the stations, in the days that followed the tragedy.
Visitors standing in the chamber below can read and reflect upon the messages, which seem to hover overhead and spiral into the light. The seemingly delicate form intentionally communicates the fragile, fleeting nature of human life. Yet the transparent structure itself is powerfully built from 15,100 curved glass blocks. The specially manufactured form allowed the glass blocks to be laid in circular rows to create the oval tower. The glass blocks were jointed with a transparent liquid-acrylic adhesive that was hardened by ultraviolet lamps. It took 30 foil sections in all, welded together, to form the transparent lining to the glass tower.
“The whole group of messages were printed out with a special plotter into the foil,” says Miguel Jaenicke Fontao from FAM Arcquitectura. The pressure-stabilized ETFE foil was chosen, he says, because its lightness and transparency enabled the architects to realize their vision of floating the messages in space.