Wayzata’s 9/11 Memorial: Personal Reflections Within Public Spaces

Case Studies

wayzata 9/11 memorial

As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the City of Wayzata, Minnesota, and the Wayzata Conservancy are planning a memorial event in the recently completed Birch Grove within downtown Wayzata’s Lakefront Plaza. This event is not only the unveiling of a new 9/11 Memorial, it’s the culmination of a very meaningful project for many people—one that Civitas hopes will soon become very meaningful to many more.

The Personal Side of Public Placemaking

After years of working together on the Panoway on Wayzata Bay—a project that restores Wayzata’s natural connection to the Lake Minnetonka shoreline and revitalizes an urban district—the City of Wayzata called Civitas Principal Scott Jordan and asked how the firm could transform a section of the new plaza into a 9/11 memorial. They explained that the Aamoth family, with deep Wayzata roots, had lost their then-32-year-old son Gordy Aamoth Jr. in the attacks on the World Trade Center, and were motivated not only to honor their son as well as all others impacted by the events of 9/11 with a waterfront memorial but also to give the community a meaningful place to gather and reflect.

The Aamoth family had received several artifacts from the World Trade Center in Gordy Jr.’s honor and wanted to share them with the City. Yet they were steadfast in their mission to work with the community to create a public gathering space, not a private memorial. Peter Aamoth, Gordy Jr.’s youngest brother, is an associate at JDD Studio in Minneapolis and was a critical collaborator in the design process. This made the project even more personal.

Civitas Principal and Director of Marketing, Blake Jordan—who also happens to be Scott’s wife—immediately stepped up to get involved. 9/11 was personal to her too, after all, as she’d lived in New York City at the time of the attacks. She’d worked for NBC in their 30 Rockefeller headquarters and witnessed the second plane strike. Blake and Scott, who are parents themselves, had felt the gravity of the family’s loss in their conversations with Gordy Jr.’s mother, Mary Aamoth. They also felt the family’s strength and heartfelt resolve to contribute to the Wayzata community, and wanted to make the Aamoth family proud to have their name (literally) etched in stone. The initial phase of the Panoway project are already having a meaningful impact on the city and gaining national recognition. Here was a chance to take it to an even deeper level.

Designed to Endure

Civitas’ assignment was to honor Gordy Aamoth Jr. as well as the many lives impacted by 9/11 and to give people space to reflect in their own personal way. Numerous conversations with community, city and family stakeholders led to the creation of a space that is defined by nine paper birch trees and two large granite plinths that represent both the number eleven and the iconic silhouette of the twin towers. The granite was sourced locally and selected to represent strength, maturity and timelessness—the permanence of an event like 9/11 within hearts and minds.

Both plinths serve as benches that enable visitors to sit and reflect inwardly, or to look out over the lake. The north-facing section of granite features text that reads “We will never forget their sacrifice, dedication and countless acts of bravery,” while the other section is engraved with “Honoring victims, survivors and first responders.” This south-facing bench also specifies in smaller text that the memorial is given by the Aamoth family “In remembrance of Gordy McCannel Aamoth Jr.” —a subtle but intentional nod to the fact that Gordy Jr. perished in the World Trade Center’s south tower, and a detail that Civitas designers would not have known or understood without working so closely with the family.

wayzata 9/11 memorial

The World Trade Center artifacts are displayed within enclosures built into the granite plinths, bringing a tangible weight to the memorial—reminding visitors that these events were real and devastating. Space is also reserved for a temporary flagpole to be erected each year on 9/11, and for a flag to be flown that had once been flown over Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom by Aamoth family friend Lt Col Stuart Howell, USMC. Raising the flag only during ceremonies on 9/11 would hopefully remind people of the memorial’s purpose and unify the community around honoring those that were lost.

Blake’s background in communications paired nicely with Scott’s design expertise, and together they could create a timeless design that looks forward to a long-lasting legacy rather than lingers in the past. Even the unique perspective of designing a 9/11 memorial in 2020-2021, during another time of national trauma, brought the important role of “first responders” to the forefront—a reminder of so many volunteers who stepped up and chipped in twenty years ago.

Small Details Spark Big Emotions

Working closely with the Aamoths, these were the kinds of design details that were thoughtfully considered by Scott and Blake. It’s not a political statement nor a prescribed, scripted experience. It’s personal and emotional, and open in a way that allows each visitor to derive his or her own meaning. Scott reflects, “as we collaborated with many Wayzata community members through the design process, it was very meaningful to witness so many different people express different emotions. That inspired us to design an experience that is more inclusive and open. Each visitor can honor not only Gordy Aamoth Jr. but anyone who was impacted by 9/11, in their own way.”

“The design process was about finding the balance between intimate and open—personal and public,” Blake continues. “The space feels both sacred and secular. It’s also a tangible reminder of the collective strength and resolve of a community—a country—that comes together. And it’s intentionally sited within the Lakefront Plaza to demonstrate that Wayzata is that kind of close-knit community with wonderful charm and worldly sophistication.”

When Scott and Blake join the Aamoth family, the Wayzata Conservancy, and many Wayzata residents and visitors at the 20th anniversary event in the Panoway plaza, all will no doubt feel many emotions. The memorial’s message resonates today in 2021 just as it did twenty years ago. So much has changed in these two decades and yet we continue to learn and grow, and to remember.

  • Blake Booth Jordan

  • Scott Jordan