I’m not sure there is anything more associated with Washington DC than memorials – the city is riddled with art honoring fallen soldiers, great leaders and more – just as a nation’s capital should be. But is there to be one more? Pershing Park is currently the National World War I Memorial – but that may change. According to Edwin Fountain, vice chair of the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission, a temporary federal agency chartered by Congress in 2013, the United States “lost more American servicemen in World War I than in Vietnam and Korea combined.”
Around May, the commission announced plans for a national World War I memorial in Washington DC. While that is exciting in and of itself, the truly exciting part is that they do not intend to finalize the design on their own. Instead, they are hosting a design competition. The competition is an open call – meaning it is open internationally to professionals, university-level students or basically any interested party. The commission speaks to the intent of the project, stating:
“The objective is to transform Pershing Park from a park that happens to contain a memorial to a site that is primarily a national World War I memorial, within a revitalized urban park setting with a distinct sense of place that complements the memorial purpose while attracting visitors, workers and residents of the District of Columbia.”
Currently, Pershing Park honors General of the Armies, John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. The new memorial would call for the demolition of Pershing Park, which is a questionable approach for some, since it is considered one of the most important surviving works designed by landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg. Currently, The Cultural Landscape Foundation has designated Pershing Park as a “landslide site,” meaning that they consider it to be a “a nationally significant work of landscape architecture that is threatened.”
The two-stage design competition formally began on May 21st of this year, with a submission deadline of July 21st, 2015. The first stage consists of a narrative description accompanied by graphic descriptions of a design concept. The finalists were announced on August 4, 2015, and according to the commission, judges will have until January 2016 to deliberate.
So, who are the judges? They are individuals representing government, military, art, and the District, hand-selected by the commission. Fountain is quoted again describing his vision and the purpose behind the project, saying,
“What the American people don’t understand about World War I is what a bloody, horrific and savage war that it was. They need to understand that American servicemen demonstrated the same valor and courage and heroism and feats of arms in World War I as they did in every other war this country fought in.”
The five finalist designs have been announced and shared with the general public, titled as follows (in no particular order):
- The “Plaza to the Forgotten War” by Andrew Cesarz and Johnsen Schmaling Architects
- “Heroes’ Green” by Maria Counts and Counts Studio
- “World War One Memorial Concept” by Devin Kimmel and Kimmel Studio
- “An American Family Portrait Wall in the Park” by Luis Collado, Jose Luis de la Fuente, Jose Luis Perezi-Griffo, Ignacio Espigares, Marta Bueno, Shoko Nakamura and STL Architects.
- “The Weight of Sacrifice” by Joseph Weishaar
For the project, selecting a design is merely a starting point. The City Lab reports that the commission will need to raise $20 million or more to build it. Onlookers have observed that none of the finalist designs seek to acknowledge the parks’s existing memorial. Kristen Capps questions the project’s momentum , commenting that:
“In selecting a final design, the jury has to ask itself an important question: Do any of these proposals improve on Pershing Park, a contemplative, modernist landscape memorial, the way it stands now? (That is, when it’s being responsible maintained)? If not, why should we spend so much more to achieve so much less?”
While the United States (and the District in particular) wait in anticipation to see what the jury will decide, it is interesting to consider what we know of the options. Does a war memorial have to be solemn? Could it be prideful instead? Commemorative, but intriguing? Either way, it is important to remember our history and the blood, sweat and tears that have propelled us to present day.
The finalists have already received $25,000 in prizes and are now required to work with professional designers and architects who can help bring their vision to the next level – through budget, regulations , aesthetics and more. Once a winner is selected, the committee has indicated that they will be ambitious in bringing the vision to reality with plans to complete the project in less than three years. Adding to the daunting nature of a project of this size, the commission will be entirely dependent on private contributions .