More on Pershing Park

Monuments, memorials, government, monuments, government, memorials – that is what most people think of when they think of DC. And while, arguably there is a lot more to this city than politics and artistic interpretations of honor and history, they are a big part of our backbone. Needless to say, the discussion surrounding Pershing Park and the soon-to-be newfound memorial for World War I isn’t over yet. If you didn’t read the initial post about the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission’s plan to host a design competition (which is already in action) with the object of transforming Pershing Park into a national World War I memorial, you can read about it here.

In summary, the committee plans to take Pershing Park, which currently honors General of the Armies, John J. Pershing, and revitalize it into something completely new. The open design competition has already closed and finalists have been announced, none of which intend to incorporate much of the current monument into their interpretation of a World War I Memorial. While a World War I Memorial is welcome with open arms, there has been some dismay over the dismantling of what is considered one of the most important surviving works designed by landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg. The proposal for the new memorial doesn’t necessarily call for the demolition of Pershing Park as-is, in fact the design brief even mentions reuse or alteration.

In an interview with Architect Magazine, Charles Birnbaum, president and CEO of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), expresses his viewpoint:

“I think when the competition package was announced, it seemed pretty clear that it was moving in a direction of wanting a new design, or a wholesale removal of what is there. And that is reflected in just doing a windshield survey of the 350 entries that have been receive to date. And what we believe, about any urban park design by a master landscape architect, is that there has to be an understanding of the significance of that design, and the integrity of that design, before making decisions of an outright removal of that design work.”

Architect Magazine also went on to pick Birnbaum’s brain on why originally, Pershing Park was a source of excitement for the city and now, so many are eager to see something different there. Birnbaum mentioned that the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC) has been eliminated since the creation of this park, resulting in “almost 20 years of incremental, diminished, and deferred maintenance.”

But, despite Birnbaum (and several others’) thoughts, it seems the show must go on – or more accurately, it is going to go on. Perhaps one proposal, which keeps most of the park intact, deserves a second look? Although left off the list of the competition’s finalists, a proposal by KAMJZ Architects seems like it could be a “best of both worlds” scenario.

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Their unique proposal leaves the park’s current seating areas, agora, and landscape unscathed. Then, it proposes an outer ring of trees to provide an “acoustic barrier from the noisy adjacent streets.”

Instead of touching the core of the park, the proposal intends to add something unique: a hovering lattice of stacked roofs over the entire park, which would create a “covered green area in the middle of city center.” The architects themselves describe their vision:

“The result is a subtle icon which does not try to compete with other important nearby-located American symbols, but at the same time is attached to the urban tissue by reference the form of adjacent building heights. By resembling a dissolved surrounding building, it becomes a representation of the impact of WWI on American society.”

The proposal is interesting to say the least. I cannot speak to the historical significance of Pershing Park; I don’t even have a very strong opinion of what a World War I Memorial should include. However, this does sound a little political to me…and if I’ve learned anything over the years about politics (I must have learned something) it’s this: you should always hear out both sides. So, what will Pershing Park look like come 2019, when the competition’s plans are intended to be over and done and installed and beautiful? Time will tell.

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