Oklahoma Ctiy Bombing Memorial
620 North Harvey Avenue
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Designed by Hans and Torrey Butzer with Sven Berg
This team won the architectural competition for the memorial for the 168 victims of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The memorial committee created a mission statement, including this goal: “May all who leave here know the impact of the violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.” The parameters required the creation of 168 objects to memorialize the victims and excluded representations of people and such kitsch as “praying hands.”
Hans Butzer grew up primarily in the U.S. with many of his summers spent with family in his parents’ home country of Germany. He and his wife, Torrey Butzer, designed the winning entry while living in Berlin in 1997, in collaboration with their colleague German architect Sven Berg. The design discussion among the three young architects focused on how abstract the design should be, as chairs were considered too literal by German architects. Yet, for Oklahoma City there had to be a way to engage the audience, and the abstract chairs were the solution.
The glass and bronze Field of Empty Chairs is set in nine rows to represent the nine floors of the building, and each chair has a victim’s name etched on the front surface of its glass cube. The chairs face a large reflecting pool and an elm tree that escaped the destruction. It is conceptually similar to the design Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, completed in 2005. Whether in daylight or lit up from within at night, it adds an elegant open space to Oklahoma City.