Hurricane Maria memorial unveiled for Battery Park City

In The Lows

Hurricane Maria memorial unveiled for Battery Park City

The Hurricane Maria memorial is designed to be an international symbol of Puerto Rican resiliency. (Courtesy of Governor Cuomo's office)

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has released renderings for the new Hurricane Maria memorial in Lower Manhattan. Designed by Puerto Rico-based architect Segundo Cardona and Puerto Rican artist Antonio Martorell, the glass spiral aims to be a symbol of resiliency for the Puerto Rican community.

Located on Chambers Street overlooking Rockefeller Park, a multicolored glass curve will mimic both the spiral shape of a hurricane and a shell to represent protection against the elements. The iridescent panels will be painted with the words of Farewell from Welfare Island, a poem by Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos, written in New York City in 1953. The panels will fan to create the rotating star of the Puerto Rican flag.

aerial rendering of the memorial showing a star in the center of a spiral
The memorial is topped with the rotating star of the Puerto Rican Flag. (Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office)

“We felt committed to working hard to bring together architecture, art, and literature into one single powerful message that we hope will engage and invoke reflection on the fate of the many victims,” Cardona and Martorell said in a joint press statement.

rendering of colorful swirl paintings on sloped wall
Antonio Martorell’s colorful paintings will be inscribed with Julia de Burgos’ poem Farewell from Welfare Island. (Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office)

The 10-person Hurricane Maria Memorial Commission selected Cardona and Martorell’s design from among the 120 competition entries. The governor’s office announced the commission as the latest development in New York State’s support of Puerto Ricans since the hurricane, having dedicated approximately $13 million for over 11,000 displaced victims in New York.

“New York stands with Puerto Rico today, tomorrow and always–and we are proud to celebrate and further strengthen the connection between the Empire State and Puerto Rico,” wrote Governor Cuomo in a press release.

Community and even committee members pushed back against Cuomo’s site selection, citing the multiple monuments already located in Battery City Park. Critics have also voiced concerns that the memorial should be built in a neighborhood with stronger Puerto Rican ties.

Controversy over the memorial isn’t limited to its location in New York City but expands to its timing and appropriateness. Students from the University of Puerto Rico School of Architecture issued counterproposals following the competition launch in 2019. The students created photomontages depicting U.S. memorials overlaid with FEMA tarps and wreckage to make a statement about how the destruction of Hurricane Maria was still ongoing; the images suggest that it’s not time yet for a memorial in New York, but for renewed reconstruction efforts in Puerto Rico.

Montage of flooded, destroyed property on boardwalk with New York City skyline in the background
In place of a monument, one student imagined a damaged house sinking into the promenade at Battery Park City. Originally published on AN on August 23, 2019. (Courtesy University of Puerto Rico School of Architecture/Pablo Torrens)

Throughout 2018 and 2019, the state of New York sent 1,150 volunteers to Puerto Rico to rebuild 246 homes and over 1,000 people to restore power. No doubt this wave of humanitarian aid was necessary to the stabilization of Puerto Rico, but over two-and-a-half years later, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans are still without functional housing.

Despite pushback, the $700,000 memorial is set for completion in early 2021.