PLAN 90: Article
Sean Collier Memorial Dedicated

A Community Effort involving Family, Faculty, Students, Staff and Administration

A memorial to Sean Collier, the MIT police officer who was killed in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing two years ago, was dedicated on the MIT campus April 29.  Designed by J. Meejin Yoon, head of SA+P’s Department of Architecture, the memorial is the culmination of a community effort involving family, faculty, students, staff and administration. 

In addition to Yoon, the development of the memorial included contributions by architecture professor John Ochsendorf, who analyzed the structure’s stability, and a construction crew featuring Collier’s brother Rob Rogers, who helped manage construction for Boston-based Suffolk Construction.  The Memorial Committee was co-chaired by Provost Martin Schmidt and John DiFava, director of facilities operations and security.

Yoon considered many concepts for the design, but a breakthrough occurred after the committee provided her a dossier of suggestions from the community about potential forms for the memorial, consisting of over 100 ‘very thoughtful ideas’, many from people who knew Collier.  The resulting design called for 32 massive pieces of polished granite in a shape akin to an open hand, representing the many connections Collier built with the MIT community, as well as the sense of service he brought to his job.

Ochsendorf and several MIT students analyzed the design to determine whether each ‘finger’ of the structure would hold — no trivial question, since the amount of force in each ranges from 20,000 to 50,000 pounds. Using computer simulations and a fabricated model, and testing the design even in simulated earthquakes much stronger than anything New England has ever experienced, Ochsendorf’s group came to the conclusion the design would work.

A quarry in New Hampshire was chosen as the source of stone, and Yoon led trips there every three weeks to see if the granite being produced could be cut to size. Eventually, they found 32 suitable pieces, then had them shipped to the Quarra Stone Company in Madison, Wisconsin, for specialized, millimeter-level precision cutting, by hand and by robot. The size and shape of some stones proved so demanding that Quarra worked on some for a week straight, 24 hours a day.  

Sited at the location of Collier’s death, the memorial consists of five radial walls and arches converging at a keystone above an open space.  The empty space in the middle is in the precise shape of one specific stone — from a cairn built in tribute to Collier by MIT’s Outing Club, a hiking group of which he was a vital part.  It is, said Yoon, ‘a place where we can all pause to reflect upon Sean and his service.’