Back in July 2015, I submitted a design for a World War 1 Memorial Design Competition sponsored by the World War 1 Centennial Commission. Sadly, my concept did not progress further. Of the 300 or so valid entries, five were shortlisted to progress through to Stage 2. Somewhat surprisingly, the shortlisted concepts were all from US-based designers. Given that an open competition tends to draw as many entries from other countries as it does from the home country, one could be forgiven for being a little skeptical about the process. Anyway, earlier this week, the winning proposal – The Weight of Sacrifice – was announced for the memorial to be constructed in Pershing Park, Washington DC.
Of the five shortlisted designs, ‘The Weight of Sacrifice’ was easily the best of those on offer. For me, none of the other concepts even came close. Designed by young architect, Joseph Weishaar, the memorial creates a raised central lawn propped up on three sides by walls featuring bas-relief images of American soldiers and quotations. A sculpture, Wheels of Humanity, designed by veteran sculptor Sabin Howard occupies centre stage on the upper plaza. The memorial to General Pershing, part of the original park designed by landscape architect, M. Paul Friedberg in 1981, has been retained. The goal is to complete construction of the memorial in time for the centennial anniversary of Armistice Day 2018.
In all likelihood it will be a long and bumpy road ahead to complete the memorial. It will not only take time to navigate through the obligatory regulatory processes but also to negotiate the minefield that is public opinion. It will not be an easy task. Already there is strong opposition to the construction of a new memorial on the site. In particular, Founder and President of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, Charles A. Birnbaum, has been very vocal in arguing for the preservation of the Friedberg designed park. On the same day as the winning design was announced, The Cultural Landscape Foundation also released the following statement:
“Should the design be executed as proposed, it would result in the demolition of Pershing Park, which was designed by landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg with a planting plan by landscape architects Oehme, van Sweden and which National Park Service (NPS) has determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The decision comes despite reservations and concerns registered by the Commission of Fine Arts (VFA), the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPCO and the District of Columbia State Historic Preservation Office (DCSHPO), all of which must approve the project. More recently, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post critic Philip Kennicott wrote: ‘All five of the designs obliterate the Friedberg park, rather than building on it,’ adding that, ‘None of the proposals, selected in July from 360 entries, rises to a standard the commission should champion.’ Commissioner Thomas Moe from Ohio, in the course of a conference call announcing the decision, panned the winning design as ‘unremarkable’.”
Naturally there will also be those who are unhappy with the chosen design and if past experiences with war memorials are anything to go by, they will be very vocal in their opposition. Hopefully, however, detractors will not prevail and the memorial will be completed without too much modification to the original concept and in time for Armistice Day 2018.
Lead Designers: Joe Weishaar and Sabin Howard
Larger Team: GWWO Inc., Phoebe Lickwar Landscape Architect, Henry Adams LLC, Keast & Hood, VHB
Click here to see the concept in more detail.
For those of you who might be interested, the following are some of the renderings for my proposal as submitted for Stage 1 in 2015. To see the full submission, click here.