Mathematician has been a member of the faculty since 1980 and department head since 2004.
"The Reflecting Wall at MIT," a 12-by-25-foot wooden replica of a fragment of the wall of the World Trade Center installed next to the MIT Chapel, was dedicated last Friday afternoon when 400 students, faculty and staff laid roses, candles and notes on the structure.
It was conceived as a temporary space where people may pause to reflect on the more than 5,000 people who died in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania after terrorists piloted hijacked airplanes.
The request for a temporary space for reflection was first voiced during the MIT-wide community meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 12 in Killian Court. It was translated into a proposal by a committee of staff and faculty in consultation with representatives of the undergraduate and graduate students. The committee was assisted by Helene Lipstadt, a visiting associate professor of architecture who studies monuments and their effects on people.
The committee and student representatives worked side by side with Assistant Professor of Architecture John Fernandez, who was studying the blueprints and structure of the 30-year-old buildings the day after the disaster.
Fernandez proposed an actual-size wall fragment, abstracted to wood rather than aluminum, of "the icon of New York" in memory of all victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist actions. At the dedication ceremony, he said one of the images that stayed in his mind was that of the people inside who pressed against the skyscraper's windows, trying to escape the flames.
"This is the first project I've ever worked on that I wish that it had never been built," Fernandez said. "But after Tuesday, it had to be built."
One feature that wasn't in the original wall are the slots below the window ledges, which were requested by students for letters, notes and memorabilia.
The structure was measured, sawn, nailed, filed, sanded, painted and installed in less than 30 hours by the MIT Facilities Department, under the general supervision of Joe Vella and Robin Arena, and project supervision by David McCormick.
Carpenters working on the project were Gerry Cellucci, Tim Donaghey, Rick Hadge, Bob Stewart, Ken Winn and Ed Moore. Metal shop work was done by Neil Cunningham; Paul Desharnais and Carlos Pereira were the painters.
The dedication ceremony at the Reflecting Wall by the walkway to the chapel began at 5:15 p.m. on Sept. 14, just over 48 hours after the request was first voiced.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 19, 2001.