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Reaching for the Sky

Architect Keith Moskow loves fanciful ideas and playful concepts. That may make him seem an odd choice to create, with partner Robert Linn, a most solemn work: the 9/11 memorial at Logan. But their design says otherwise.

Sure, he's a 46-year-old architect working in a downtown Boston office tower. But as he welcomes a visitor through the halls of his firm, Keith Moskow has all the spirit and wonder of a 6-year-old in a treetop clubhouse. Here on this wall is his design for a vertical parking garage that would spit out cars like a Pez dispenser. Down the hall, sketches of his "urban hookah" – a vision of a heated sidewalk refuge for those poor nicotine addicts you see shivering outside skyscraper lobbies as they devour midwinter cigarettes. Over there, a sidewalk bike-storage system inspired by the motorized racks of a dry-cleaning shop (it recently won a London design competition and may become a reality). And at the reception desk sits a phone-book-thick dossier of personality questionnaires (What's your favorite movie? . . . favorite indulgence?) filled out by most every visitor to Moskow Architects' Broad Street offices in the past four years. "Someday we'll figure out what we're actually going to do with this," Moskow says, laughing.

Since founding his firm in 1990, he has designed everything from office buildings to teapots, piling up more than 30 awards in the process. But for an architect who has never lost his love of whimsy, what may prove to be Moskow’s enduring legacy is profoundly serious.

In September, Moskow and partner Robert Linn beat out nearly 40 other submissions as the winners of a Massachusetts Port Authority design competition for a $4 million, 2-acre Logan International Airport memorial to commemorate the Logan community’s response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Construction at the site, which is set to open in summer 2008, will begin next fall. Logan’s connection to 9/11 is more than a little fraught. Both of the jets that brought down the World Trade Center in New York took off from Boston. Though not a single aviation security protocol then in place was violated, the deaths of more than 2,700 people will never really clear the conscience of many who were working at Logan that day. For them, the pilots and flight attendants who died were close friends: John, Amy, Tom, Betty.

Moskow, who has designed dozens of homes and commercial and institutional buildings – including award-winning contemporary Martha’s Vineyard cottages, new offices for Boston’s Conservation Law Foundation, and the redevelopment of a tannery complex in Newburyport – unquestionably has the energy and the confidence to take on the daunting challenge of building a fitting memorial. Energy, in many ways, defines the man. Surfing and windsurfing are top hobbies, and over the past year, he and his wife have become foster parents, adding two children to their family of two teenagers.

What Moskow and Linn also have, members of the Logan design committee agreed, are abiding patience and the sensitivity needed to deal with the airport community’s turbulent feelings about 9/11. The site Massport made available wasn’t an easy one to work with: a long slice of land wedged between an airport roadway and the Hilton Hotel parking lot, partly shadowed by a garage walkway. To get a fuller sense of what they had to accomplish, Moskow and Linn engaged an "interpretive planner" who interviewed 40 Logan workers – "the whole gamut, from baggage handlers to the CEO," says Moskow, whose own Boston-tinged speech and regular-guy mien feel a lot closer to tarmac baggage slinger than design snob.

One theme that emerged was the memorial needed to reflect the idea that no one would ever look at the sky quite the same way again. Another was that it needed to be uplifting. Not just metaphorically, but physically. There’d be no descending into the ground, Moskow determined, as at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, the Ground Zero memorial in New York, or the Holocaust memorials in Berlin and Paris.

Moskow and Linn imagined a site that will slope slightly up to a central point, where there will be a 400-square-foot single-story glass enclosure called the Place of Remembrance. Inside will be two panels, accessed through separate doors, commemorating the passengers and crews of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175. From the open ceiling, pieces of laminated glass suspended on steel wire will shimmer when jostled by the breeze, evoking a fractured sky.

Before starting his firm, Moskow, who grew up in Newton and studied architecture at Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania, worked for the legendary Robert A.M. Stern firm in New York and at Barton Phelps, an avant-garde Los Angeles practice. The glass structure, Moskow says, drew freely on places he has seen and built over his career, including the small copper disks dangling behind the podium at MIT’s Kresge Chapel by Eero Saarinen and a conference room at Moskow’s CLF building downtown, whose inward-canted walls lead the eye inexorably to a skylight.

Peg Ogonowski, a Dracut flight attendant and the widow of John Ogonowski, who was piloting American Flight 11, served on a memorial advisory committee and loves the plan. "The idea of your eyes being drawn up to that fractured sky, I think that’s an amazing design element," she says. Architect David D. Dixon, a principal at Goody Clancy who led the selection committee, says one of the greatest strengths of the Moskow-Linn memorial – and a tribute to the depth of their creativity – is that it doesn’t tell people how to respond. "It’s a glass chapel," he says, "a chapel of all faiths and no faiths toward which people can journey by any means they choose."

Fifty years from now, it can be simply a tree-lined lunchtime oasis for airport workers or a sanctuary for flight-delayed travelers who scarcely remember 9/11. And yet, Dixon predicts, it will hold an eternal power for those who never want to forget.

Peter J. Howe is a Globe staff writer, covering airlines and energy. E-mail him at

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