AUSTIN, Texas—Design plans for a memorial dedicated to the victims of the 1966 shootings at The University of Texas at Austin Tower were unveiled today (Jan. 6) to the Facilities and Construction Committee of The University of Texas System Board of Regents.
Landscape architect Eleanor McKinney and visual artist Jill Bedgood combined to produce the redesign of the Tower Garden, a tree-covered grassy area north of the university’s landmark Tower, and the memorial that will be placed in the garden.
Neal Armstrong, chair of the Tower Garden Design Selection Committee appointed in 2000 by President Larry R. Faulkner to develop recommendations for the memorial, said the redesign “preserves current uses of the site while providing a fitting tribute to the victims and others affected by the shootings.”
Fifteen people were killed and another 30 were wounded on Aug. 1, 1966, by sniper Charles Whitman, who fired from atop the Tower.
Armstrong said the proposed memorial design is focused on the middle pond of the three in the garden. The edge of the pond will be enhanced with sculpted objects created out of cast concrete and stone to communicate the emotional journey one takes in experiencing tragedy and healing from it as one walks around the pond.
On the north side of the pond will be three objects, each roughly 25 inches by 15 inches by 12 inches, with the words “Violence,” “Chaos” and “Loss” and sculpture on each that depicts the words representing the tragedy and loss that one experiences with an event like the Tower shootings. As healing occurs, one moves to “Reflection,” “Solace” and then “Hope,” the objects on the south side of the pond. Connecting the tragedy side of the pond on the north with the healing side on the south on the lower end is a bridge of stainless steel similar to the Tower observation deck screen engraved with the word “Transform” representing the transformation one experiences as healing begins to occur.
Beyond the “Hope” object, a second bridge, engraved with “Remember” connects the south side with the north on the west end of the pond and encourages one to see the past in light of the healing that has taken place. The artists said it is their hope visitors taking the 75 steps around the pond can experience the emotions and healing that take place with any tragedy. They added that “the circular nature of the memorial encourages the visitor to move from one zone to another, from one kind of emotion to another, from one level of emotion to another, to be transformed and to remember.”
On the south side of the upper pond will be a bench engraved with “Growth,” another healing word, and carved shells, leaves and other objects that are found on the Tower. From the north side of this pond one can see the “Remembrance” bridge and the reflection of the Tower and contemplate it as the primary symbol of the university.
In addition to the memorial, the Tower Garden will be encircled by a low wall to provide a sense of enclosure. Additional ornamental flowering trees and plants will be added and further improvements made to the south pond. Entrances on each side of the area will have touchstones with small figures replicating objects from the Tower, and the north entrance will be engraved with the date of the shooting and the south entrance with the date of the memorial’s dedication.
The university has committed about $200,000 to the initial phase of the project, Armstrong said, and another $820,000 will be needed from private sources to complete the memorial and Tower Garden renovation.
The Tower Garden was designated in 1999 as a place of recognition for those who died and those who were affected by the 1966 tragedy. Dedication of the memorial is planned for Aug. 1, 2004, the 38th anniversary of the shootings, if funds can be raised to complete the project by that time.
McKinney, a 1977 summa cum laude graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, is a renowned Austin landscape artist. Among the projects on which she has worked are the City of Austin Great Streets Master Plan, the Remembrance Gardens at Riverbend and landscaping for the new Austin City Hall. She also collaborated in the design and construction of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Bedgood also is a graduate of the university. Her prior public art commissions include projects at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the Austin Convention Center and the South Austin Senior Activity Center. Her work is now on exhibit at the Austin Museum of Art. She taught at The University of Texas at Austin during the fall semester and is a lecturer at Southwest Texas State and Southwestern universities. Bedgood was selected for the Tower Garden redesign project from among 22 artists who submitted proposals for the work.