"We Will Rebuild:" Answering Our Nation's Call at the Pentagon Memorial
No day is more eternally etched into the American conscious than 9/11. And since that day, this nation has demonstrated the unassailable nature of the American spirit. And in perhaps no action is that spirit more palpable than in our ability--yes, even our dogged will--to rebuild. Addressing Congress just days after 9/11, then President George W. Bush emphasized a theme that would define a generation: “As a symbol of America’s resolve, my administration will…show the world that we will rebuild.” Those three words, equal parts proclamation and promise, would be repeated by countless politicians and citizens alike as a country yearned to heal. But even more, to seek out hope wherever it could be found, whether in the image of a flag faithfully raised or in each new brick purposefully laid.
For our teammates in the nation’s capital, many of whom stood just miles from the site where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, the President’s words would become a sacred and very personal call to action. In the aftermath of the attacks, an impromptu memorial to the Pentagon victims was even erected on a hill at the Navy Annex, but a collective nation longed for a more permanent tribute, and none more so than teammates at Balfour Beatty, who understood the very real sense of place and belonging that a well-planned and constructed edifice could provide. The Pentagon Memorial, first introduced in 2002 to chief innovation officer, Mark Konchar, as a small, $10M project with unique and complex situational aspects, would grow to become one of the most challenging missions our teammates would execute over their careers. Even more, it would leave an indelible sense of purpose and pride for the hands who built it.
Then unknown design team, Kaseman Beckman Advanced Strategies (KBAS), was first selected for their restorative vision of the land that once served as the Pentagon’s helicopter port. The memorial concept was comprised of trees, plaques, walking paths, and 184 stainless-steel Memorial Units or benches that emerge from the ground and then cantilever over a pool of water in a pre-cast, concrete basin. Each of the Memorial Units includes five pieces of granite forming the top seating surface. The Memorial Units are arranged according to the victims’ birth years, forming “age lines” that begin with the youngest victim, three-year-old Dana Falkenberg, to the oldest, John D. Yamnicky Sr., 71. In the memorial’s arguably most personal tribute, each Memorial Unit is inscribed with a victim's name; if a visitor faces the sky to read the name, the victim was on Flight 77. Likewise, if a visitor faces the Pentagon, the victim was inside the building. The Balfour Beatty-led, design-build team was inspired to bring this vision, as evocative as it was tranquil, to life.
The high-profile nature of the project inevitably attracted attention and competition from contractors around the world. As Mark explains, “Much like the design team, we went into the pursuit as the underdog. We were up against significant competitors, which, at the time, possessed much more substantial design-build resumes.” With the odds seemingly against the selection of Balfour Beatty, Mark and his associates formulated a strategy to demonstrate what they knew in their hearts to be true: Balfour Beatty was the right partner to answer their nation’s call.
Our strategy included:
- Studying the nature of the work and the concept design, and custom building an integrated team;
- Leveraging the expertise of a local, conceptual landscape architect rather than a traditional architect;
- Forming partnerships with several instrumental trade partners who already had significant building and utility experience at the Pentagon; and
- Developing a very transparent R&D plan that detailed how much research and material development would be required to get key park elements piloted, tested, and procured – such as the epoxy matrix seat caps, the cast metal Memorial Units, and the hidden dedicated water system to feed 184 individual pools.
When Balfour Beatty was awarded the Pentagon Memorial project in August 2003, Mark admits it was with a “healthy mix of surprise, elation, excitement, and nervousness as the enormity and emotional significance sunk in.” Because of the project’s never-before constructed elements such as the Memorial Units, our team was charged with adapting an R&D program to a design-build project where public opinion, fundraising, property challenges, and relationships with surviving family members representing the Pentagon Memorial Fund would emerge. Before our team even mobilized onsite, we spent two years of exhaustive planning, which also included building close relationships with project partners as well as the families of the victims, who were instrumental in the entire process. Inspired by the strength and commitment of these families to see the memorial constructed, Balfour Beatty began supporting fundraising efforts for the project. Ultimately, as the concept design and the property constraints were explored, the project grew in scale and scope to nearly $30M, a sum funded entirely through donations, including a $100,000 contribution from Balfour Beatty.
Each aspect of the construction process – from the time the design was a mere dream to the day the footings were poured and even until the project’s dedication on September 11, 2008 – our team exemplified an innate understanding of the eternal responsibility with which they had been entrusted. It was a commitment observed and commended by those close to the project like Bradley Provancha, deputy director at the Pentagon, who made these remarks after a site visit: “I was impressed by the work crew. I've been on sites where safety was lax, music was blaring, and there was horse-play going on, but that was definitely not the case on the Pentagon Memorial site. The workers…seemed to be serious and focused on their work. [The project manager] told me the workers were hand-picked from other jobs and had to earn the privilege of working on the Pentagon Memorial project. It was apparent that they had good leadership.”
James Laychak of the Pentagon Memorial Fund concurred. "I can say unequivocally that the people I worked with from Balfour Beatty are some of the finest people with whom I have ever worked. They are a company with great project team leaders, excellent technical skills, and an unyielding commitment to customer service. Balfour Beatty, as an organization, focused on outcomes, and they were relentless in their pursuit to identify and bring the best resources to work on this special project."
It was only fitting that Mark, along with members of the project team, were in attendance on the seventh anniversary of 9/11 to commemorate a day that, imbued with personal, political, and historic significance – was also in a very real sense the realization of the rallying cry, “we will rebuild.” For Mark and the entire Balfour Beatty family, the dedication was as special as it was somber. “Seeing the family members come and visit the site where they had lost their loved ones was highly emotional,” he recalls.
Today, an estimated 225,000 people visit the Pentagon Memorial each year, and Mark, who remains close friends with both the designers and members of the Memorial Fund, makes it a regular habit to go back and visit the site himself. “This is something I will always remember. It has touched me personally and professionally. It shaped my views of our business and what is possible in our industry.”
In recognition of the care and precision Balfour Beatty brought to the memorial’s construction, the project received the Design-Build Institute of America’s 2011 Design-Build Excellence Award in the civic category. Though Balfour Beatty has been entrusted to build some our nation’s most important structures, none has carried with it a greater sense of honor than to help memorialize both the living and the fallen victims of that day, to quote President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the Pearl Harbor tragedy, which “will live in infamy.” If building is indeed a symbol of the American spirit and dream, then the Pentagon Memorial stands as a testament to our ability to emerge from the depths of fear and tragedy, united under the banner of freedom and unyielding defense of this, our great republic.