OVER THE PAST FOUR YEARS, MATT Pearson, a Virginia Tech alumnus and architect, has carved a unique niche, using the tools of his trade to recount the experiences of U.S. military heroes.
Pearson’s second monument design, unveiled on Sept. 11 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, honors the work of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron—an elite U.S. Air Force Special Operations unit that solves air and ground problems across conflicts and crises.
After extensive research into the unit’s mission and history, Pearson ’00, an architect at RATIO, in Raleigh, North Carolina, drafted plans for a circular monument, measuring 80 feet in diameter and constructed with 80,000 pounds of laser-etched granite. The granite display will feature photos and words that describe the squadron’s history and evolution.
Other sections of the monument will recognize those killed in the line of service and those who served with distinction. The focal point of the monument, designed as a gathering place for memorials, retirements, and special occasions, will offer a space for reflection.
Pearson estimated that the $1 million monument will be completed in about 18 months.
“It’s incredibly important to connect emotionally with the viewer and with those who move in and around the space,” said Pearson, who designed a Navy SEAL Monument in Virginia Beach in 2017.
One of the materials used in the monument holds particular significance. A piece of a steel beam recovered from the World Trade Center Towers in New York City following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will be incorporated into the design. A small portion of the steel will be melted down and recast into the 24th Special Tactics Squadron’s logo, visible upon entering the monument.
In August, Pearson, along with representatives from the Air Force, received the 36,000-pound piece of steel during a dignified transfer ceremony that also included members of the New York City Fire Department.
“The importance for us is to never forget,” said Mike Rizzuto, executive director of the special operations unit. “We have some unit members who were very young; some were toddlers when 9/11 happened.”
Pearson has a personal connection with the military. His father is a retired Navy captain, and Pearson grew up on three military bases, including one in Iceland. He said his connection to the armed forces makes his memorial work even more important.
“These monuments, you have to take them very seriously,” said Pearson, whose monument design work is pro bono. “You’re using architecture to carefully and thoughtfully tell a story to your fellow Americans.”
Pearson credits his education in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies as a key to his ability to understand and use different art forms and materials and appreciate how people move through space. He also learned to approach design with reason and logic.
“Virginia Tech was instrumental in being able to talk intelligently about your work,” said Pearson, who is married to a fellow Hokie and architect, Jessica Pearson ’96. “Without a doubt, the architecture program is one of the best in the world.”