Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial design proposal

We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived, and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.
- from the mission statement for the design competition

MEMORIALOKLAHOMA is about acts of heroic kindness, the bond, the unity, the community, caring and compassion, strength and courage. Not to an act of terrorism, but to acts in response to terrorism. This is the spirit to celebrate.


• Satisfy the human need to see and connect with a historic emotional event.
• Create a memorable, serene, and dignified destination for people to pay respects.
• Provide a tangible icon to represent the images familiar to our collective memory.
• Respect the personal passion, sacrifice, and emotional impact involved.
• Allow the visitor to participate and become part of the experience of growth and healing.
• Educate the visitor about the effects of intolerance, terrorism, and extremism.
• Honor all citizens involved: heroes, victims, survivors, donors, and volunteers.
• Elevate and celebrate the goodness of the human spirit in a positive manner.

• Remembrance: rebirth of sacred site sculptures and environment.
• Peace: white, water, nature, stability, alignment, geometric shapes, circle.
• Spiritual hope: pure whiteness, purity and cleansing of water, nature.
• Children: jungle gym sculptures, lawns, park, exhibits and activities in the Visitor's Center.
• Comfort: alignment, geometric shapes, mental connections, smooth transition from city.
• Recognition: Spire of Honor, names engraved, building entrance ramp.
• Learning: growth from green, water, soil, sky; healing connection with nature.
• Balance between: reality and symbolic, tragedy and goodness, past and future, despair and hope, man-made and natural, and destruction and rebirth.

Similar memorial concepts
People make pilgrimages, for emotional healing and education, to tragic, yet important, historic sites:
• The School Book Depository Building and Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
• Martin Luther King's room at the Loraine Motel in Memphis.
• Ford's Theatre in Washington DC.
• Civil War battlefields.
• USS Arizona
Thousands of Americans have already made the pilgrimage to the Federal Building site. The crowds were there for a reason: people need to connect with the reality of the tragedy. The main concept of MemorialOklahoma focuses on the skeleton of the buildings at the site. A precedent was set by these other memorials:

Hiroshima Peace Memorial, commonly called the Atomic Bomb Dome or A-Bomb Dome in Japan, is part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and serves as a memorial to the people who were killed in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
The first nuclear bomb to be used in war detonated almost directly above the dome. As Hiroshima was rebuilt around the dome, it became a subject of controversy; some locals wanted it torn down, while others wanted to preserve it as a memorial of the bombing. In 1996 the A-bomb Dome was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

Pavilions and bell tower surround the shell of a Romanesque church that survived Allied bombings. The USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Remnants of the World Trade Center. Many had proposed that parts of the WTC remain as a testament to the strength of the buildings and the country.


Sacred Site Sculptures
The centerpieces of the Memorial are suggestive stylized frameworks of the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building, the Water Resources Board Building, and the Athenian buildings. These sculptures represent the most recognized and most impactful icon that Americans will make a pilgrimage to see to connect and make the experience personal and impactful. The lacy structures suggest a child's playground jungle gym. The structures are bright white to represent the purity and innocence of the victims and the selfless sacrifice of the rescuers. They will be brightly lit during the night. They will be stark and new, yet familiar in the mind of the viewer who has made the pilgrimage to Oklahoma. Due to world-wide televised images, the Federal Building itself was a strong mental image. The community environment of buildings and surrounding streets allow survivors and friends to see it as their loved ones last saw it. Enter the ramp through the sculpture where the Murrah front door was: allows healing, purifying through the same entrance space that last went through. Provide solid masses to frame the Spire in the center of the outdoor room; encase and enclose yet open and be a part of the fabric of the city. Requires the visitor's imagination to fill in the structures to complete the image that they need to connect with from the videos; the visitor becomes part of the memorial by this connection and participation.

Entry points and streetscape
Planter entries create a sense of entry providing an easy transition from the city into the Memorial. The site allows people to approach gradually and see the structures from a distance. Drop-off and handicap parking is away from 5th street.
Fountains, Pools, and Waterfalls
At the ground level of each structure is a water feature of fountains and reflecting pools (preventing visitor access to these sacred grounds). Water is pure, cleansing, reflective, refreshing, and respectful. The rippling brook water beneath the Athenian Sculpture provides white noise of gentle ripples. The sounds of city traffic remind the visitor that this is an integral part of the fabric of the city.
Spire of Honor
The symbolic monument is a tapering cone within a circular truncated wall (mimics the nearby steeples). The basic geometric shape is communal, complete, and cyclic; enclosed and enveloping, yet open to the sky and the city. Visitor access to the inside is through narrow slits that require visitors to come in contact with each other.
Visitor's Center
An education and resource center dedicated to greater understanding and compassion will be built within the Journal Record Building. There will be a separate exterior entrance for 24 hour restrooms, water fountain, telephone, and interpretive exhibits for after-hours visitors. Inside: orientation entry, theatre, permanent exhibits, temporary exhibit space, reflection meditation rooms, counseling and grieving rooms, bookstore, restrooms, resource center and archives, and Memorial offices. Exhibits (maps, photos, mementos, videos) would include:
     Planning the crime
     Justice: search, arrest, and trial
     The Oklahoma Response: immediate offerings
     The Global Response: the outpouring of care and sympathy
     Tribute to the victims and survivors
     Homage to the heroes: rescuers, law enforcement, volunteers
     Terrorism, extremism, and anger: causes, effects, and solutions
     Outcome and issues to address: what we can learn from the tragedy
     Personal memorials and tributes: a chance to express feelings and emotions.
Memorial Bridge
This ramp of remembrance forms a bridge symbolizing the span from chaos to serenity, terror to caring, ruins to rebirth. Floating above the sacred ground, the bridge includes solemn, aligned, round altars and joins the visitor's center and garden to the plaza and the city. The concrete railings match the existing walls on the Plaza.
The Fence/Folk Altar
The Memorial will include a dignified place for visitors to add personal gifts and mementos to the Memorial, providing an opportunity to participate and become part of its growth. This altar, supporting the bridge above, will honor the tradition of tossing flowers and leaving mementos at the site. There is room for additional temporary fence altars for special occasions (4-19 anniversaries).
GSA Plaza
The plaza between the Federal Courthouse and the Memorial Sculpture will be a public urban park. The space would be used for outdoor activities and joyful celebrations of the caring human spirit and Oklahoma community.
Memorial Garden with the Survivor Tree
Serene meditation gardens surrounding the focal tree, with walkways through landscaped areas to allow the visitor to stroll in the city yet feel a part of nature; and benches to sit and contemplate.
Lawn of 168
The lawn stretching from the main entrance to the Visitor's Center to the Murrah Sculpture allows an openness of natural green lawn for serenity and peacefulness.
Zocolo forum lawn
The former fifth street area is unencumbered to convey the historic connection to 4-19-95 and provide a forum space that is open, unadorned; (a zocolo is usually in front of civic or religious structures) a solemn sacred public space.
Terrace gardens
Surrounding the sacred sites are native trees and grasses from each Oklahoma county to wave together in the Oklahoma wind.
The Name
MEMORIALOKLAHOMA represents the entire state: the victims were from over 20 towns and cities in Oklahoma, not just Oklahoma City. The rescue effort coined the phrase: the Oklahoma Standard. The single unit word conveys unity and strength of purpose. The logo is a stylized rendering of the Spire of Honor in front of the structure of the Federal Building, but the spire rises above the building.

We did not ask to be involved but we are and we should do what is best for the future of our city, our state, and our nation. We have an obligation, we owe it to the world, to show that Oklahoma can rise above tragedy and grow and educate.

MEMORIALOKLAHOMA will show the world that we will always remember the innocent lives lost on Wednesday, April 19th, 1995.

Foto of Jim Watson's submission to the OKC Bombing Memorial design competition


Aerial view

First proposal: The Oklahoma City April 19th Memorial

My first response in April of 1995 was to develop a multi-building Memorial and Education Center on 5th Street. I prepared a bound presentation and presented it to a state senator and those involved with the memorial planning.

This early version of a memorial contained the same components as the submitted version detailed above - the folk altar, the gardens, the education center, and the plaza. The main difference and primary concept was to leave the three buildings on site - the Athenian and Water Resources Board buildings and, especially, the bare structure of the Murrah Building and use that building as the centerpiece icon. The hanging debris would be removed and the structure would be reinforced, cleaned, and sealed and waterproofed. The entire structure would be painted bright white to represent the purity and innocence of the victims and the selfless sacrifice of the rescuers. It would be brightly lit during the night. It would be an abstract sculpture, stark and new, yet familiar in the mind of the viewer who has made the pilgrimage to Oklahoma City. Due to world-wide televised coverage, the building was the single greatest icon with which people want and need to connect to make the experience personal and impactful. It also became an icon of the unity and compassion shown by Oklahoma City.

McVeigh's detonation:April 19, 1995
First design proposal: 1995
Design competition submission: 1997

The Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial is a great example of bad design by Jim Watson
Jim Watson's personal account of the bombing.