The pandemic continues to crowd the mind these days.

Architect’s Journal discloses England’s plan for a Covid-19 Memorial to stand at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral. The Cabinet Office is in talks with British designer Thomas Heatherwick, famed for his copper cauldron sculpture that climatically opened and closed London’s 2012 Olympics.

Monumental idea

Prime minister Boris Johnson is quoted saying that it’s the “nation’s solemn duty” to honor the lives lost to the pandemic, and that the cathedral in the capital city is the perfect place for reflection.

But Dezeen, an international architecture and design magazine, points out that the British government’s talks amount only to “an informal discussion.” As a Cabinet Office official told the publication, while a memorial to the country’s “immense struggle” is worthwhile, the immediate concern is to protect lives.

Made in America

Would a Covid Memorial in the U.S. be worthwhile? If some three-dimensional declaration of the 600,000-plus lives lost would move the 100 million unvaccinated Americans to take the pandemic seriously, I vote yes. And in that case, there can only be one architect for the job. (More about who in a moment).

What should a memorial that stands for the “immense struggle” look like?

Last year, NPR described how the parking lot outside the Queens Museum in NYC was transformed into a "loving salute to health care workers" with a 20,000-square-foot mural of a doctor in a surgical mask. Whether a painting or sculpture, the commemoration needs to say that the struggle isn’t over, but without looking despairing.

The last thing the world needs is a latter-day Burghers of Callais, Rodin’s six figure-sculpture that suggest they’re walking to their doom (the result of the 100-year war between England and France).

That goes double for anything operatic. I’m thinking of Rodin’s rhapsodic single kneeling figure with arms thrown to the heavens.

While a Covid-19 memorial should speak of suffering, it shouldn’t make the scene suds and dash all hope.

This is a tall order, and there’s but one architect who has a proven record for achieving this kind of commemoration. If you’re looking for a work that gives space for reflecting, Michael Arad, designer of the WTC Memorial is the architect of choice.

A better idea

When Rudy Giuliani was NY’s mayor, he said he wanted “a soaring monument” on the site of the lost towers. Arad had a better idea. Two black holes – the towers’ footprints – below-ground reflecting pools surrounded by waterfalls that start above ground. He calls it “Reflecting Absence.” After his idea was accepted, he told me why he didn’t want to see the towers replaced: it would have suggested that the attack didn’t happen.

Arad later expounded on the waterfall to the press, saying that as the waterfall spills over the edge, it speaks to the collective loss.

Arad’s idea was picked from more than 5,000 entries. If our government opts for a Covid memorial and wants to avoid the staginess of the Burghers of Callais, it should skip a competition and give the WTC Memorial architect the job.