Interview with Tina Chee

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April 17, 2024

Celebrating World Landscape Architecture Month

This year we are recognizing landscape architects around the world and celebrating how they shape the communities in which we live.

The January 8th Memorial – “The Embrace”

A deeply symbolic landscape design by Chee Salette commemorates the victims and survivors of a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Located in El Presidio Park, the memorial's design is shaped by community engagement and historical context, and serves as a poignant reminder of resilience and healing. We had a chance to chat with Tina Chee, the lead landscape architect on the project, about the design:

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Interview with Tina Chee

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What is your favorite element of this project?

The Memorial form and its relationship to the context is my favorite element. And my favorite experience is the moment one traverses from the outer Living Wall and enters the abstract inner Memorial space where you see the color of life surrounding an abstract void representing the lives lost.


What are the unique design challenges involved in creating a memorial space?

The challenge in creating the Memorial space was how to create a very sacred and solemn space within a very public area such as a plaza and park and also how to honor the victims and survivors and first responders in a meaningful way without names.


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Tell us more about the research process and community engagement – how did that affect the design process?

The research and community engagement was instrumental in providing the inspiration for the Memorial placement, form, and meaning. We had the opportunity to meet with the victims’ families, survivors, and first responders as well as key stakeholders such as historians, representatives from the Tohono Oʼodham, City and Neighborhood Council Members, horticulturalists, and the general public over a period of 4 months.

We also visited a representation of the many spontaneous memorials and were very touched by the artifacts that were left. These engagements became the basis of the design. The Memorial represents the Embrace of the Community, full of life, protecting those who were injured and died. The values and characteristics of each victim and survivor are represented through symbols arranged in ways to create connections between victims and survivors which culminate around a central void representing the lives lost.


Is it common to be this intentional with every piece of a design?

I believe we design with very specific intent that can have multiple interpretations and meanings, depending on your point of view.


Tell us what you have observed/experienced regarding the community response and use of the space?

The tragedy happened 10 years before the Memorial was completed. I believe the completion of the Memorial gave the community a sense of closure as we saw moments of joy and relief mixed with moments sadness and tears. The Memorial has become a place of the celebration of life where friends reconnect as well as a place to honor those who have passed and were affected.