The benefits of random are equality and insignificance. Both attributes contributed to Michael Arad’s theme of “Reflecting Absence,” in his random display of victims’ names at the World Trade Center Memorial. For Arad, random represented the “the haphazard brutality of the attacks.” But random costs findability, making it difficult to locate one name among thousands. Arad’s solution was an index, like the index at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
Even with an index, many family members and their organizations objected to the random arrangement. For them, random symbolized desperate missing person fliers and spontaneous walls of memory. Random recalled failed searches that for many did not even provide the remains of a body. Arad probably did not consider the symbolism of findability.
His theme is absence not missing persons and, as an arrangement novice, he missed the shattering unintended consequence.
Of course, findability is easily solved by replacing random with alphabetical order, a solution immediately suggested when the controversy erupted. Alphabetical order is almost a variation of random. Every name is equal. Placement has no meaning other than the accident of letters. Of course, it is not haphazard, a primary focus of Arad’s theme, and would have decreased the impact of absence. But at least you could find each name. No need for an index. The whole Memorial is an index.