Sept. 4, 2011Reflecting Absence
By Patrick Sullivan
When the National September 11 Memorial is unveiled in New York City this
week, a Traverse City grad will get to show off his work.
Robert Jamieson grew up in TC and went to high school here. But he has
spent his professional life on the East Coast. Jamieson currently lives in
Philadelphia where he is head of store design for the upscale retailer
In 2001, Jamieson worked as an architect in New York City and out of the
Sept. 11 attacks an opportunity arose -- a colleague won the design
competition to create the memorial at the World Trade Center site. That
led to Jamieson working on the design of the Memorial from 2004 through
Northern Express: Tell us how you came to work on the 9-11 Memorial?
Robert Jamieson: I worked at an architecture firm in New York called Kohn
Pedersen Fox and one of my colleagues there, Michael Arad, had left the
firm a couple of years before and was working for the New York City
After 9-11 he entered the design competition for the World Trade Center
Memorial. It was an open competition and over 5,000 people from all over
the world entered. He surprisingly, kind of miraculously, won it.
He basically entered it as one guy out of his small New York apartment. So
the large firm I still worked with took him back under their wing to help
take his diagram, or competition entry, and try to work with the realities
of the site. I was available, and began working with him on that initial
realization of the project. Soon afterwards, he became a partner at
another New York City firm, Handel Architects, and at that point I left
the firm and went to work with him on the Memorial.
NE: What kind of work did you do on the Memorial?
Jamieson: It clearly was Michaels vision and design, but I was, I guess
you would call it, project architect and I was in charge of managing the
design team and other project coordination duties. Basically developing
his vision -- coming up with designs of individual components of the
project and then helping to present that with him in design meetings with
We collaborated with the architect of record, Davis Brody Bond, also from
New York, who did the construction drawings on the project. We were also
partnering with Peter Walker Partners out of Berkley, California, the
NE: How do you think the Memorial turned out?
Jamieson: I think its amazing. I think it does everything that Michael,
in his original vision, set out to do, which is, of course, to memorialize
the victims of the disaster.
I also think it makes everyone that goes to that site understand the
enormity of what was lost, not only in lives, but in buildings. Its sort
of a place in our city that now is a void which once was this huge, built
up area in lower Manhattan. The Memorial design creates a real experience
for visitors that transcends anything a typical building would do.
NE: Where were you and what was your experience on 9/11?
Jamieson: I was actually outside of the city. I was vacationing in
Portland at the time and I was supposed to fly back that morning. I was
getting ready at the hotel, packing my bags, and I had the TV on in the
background and then, of course, the rest is history. I saw it as everyone
else did. So I was kind of marooned in Portland.
I think it was for about an extra week before they were allowing flights
to go back in. Or it seemed like a week -- maybe it was about five days or
something. We flew in and it was nighttime and I remember, the flight was
actually very sparsely populated, which seemed odd considering that nobody
had been able to travel and people were all trying to get back.
The pilot announced that we were flying over Manhattan and he told us to
get over to the right side of the plane. So the first time that I saw it
was from the air. It was just really amazing and everyone had a solemn
moment on the flight, as we flew over this still-smoking ruin below. Soon
after I was back, I went down there and it was raining but I felt like I
had to get down there and see it for myself. I got as close as I could and
at that time they hadnt really removed any of the structure or anything,
so you could still see everything.
NE: When you see a photo of the site, the pools dont look so large, but
I imagine they are huge in real life.
Jamieson: They are. Each side is about 186 feet long, which is almost one
city block. So when youre standing there, seeing this void thats
essentially one city block square and theres two of them sort of
side-by-side where the original towers were, and then each of those pools
is literally ringed by five rows deep of names, around the whole thing,
that are only about an inch high, you really understand the enormity of
both the lives lost and what was physically lost.
NE: Around the time you worked on the Memorial you designed a home on
Lake Michigan in Northern Michigan. How did you enjoy that and have you
Jamieson: Thats the only project Ive done in Northern Michigan. Ive
kind of worked at all scales throughout my career and residential design
and architecture is really one of my favorite things to do because you are
working with an individual client, trying to shape something in the way
that they want to live. Its a very personal experience as opposed to
working on large-scale projects with a corporate client.
NE: Tell me about your background and growing up in Northern Michigan?
Jamieson: I grew up in Traverse City. I lived there all my life until
college. I went to Central High School -- I graduated before they split
it up. I really loved growing up in the area and definitely took
advantage of the beautiful surroundings.
I always tell people its so great to grow up in a place where you can go
to the beach everyday in the summer and go skiing everyday in the winter.
To live in a house where, well, its probably changed now, but we never
locked the door or anything. Much different than New York.