On Tuesday, the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission revealed the winning concept in the controversial design competition for the National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C. The competition's controversy, architecturally speaking, stems from the project's intended site: Pershing Park, a 1.76-acre downtown space designed by M. Paul Friedberg and Oehme, van Sweden.
The winning memorial design, "The Weight of Sacrifice," does remove at least part of the park, dedicated in 1981. Selected from five finalist concepts announced in August, the design calls for a central lawn framed by the "Wall of Remembrance," which includes bronze relief sculptures. Another sculpture, "Wheels of Humanity," is sited on the central lawn. The existing memorial to General John J. Pershing—as The New York Times points out—is preserved in the design. "The design is meant to work with the existing park as much as it possibly can," says Joseph Weishaar, one of the two lead designers on the winning concept.
Weishaar, a project manager at Chicago architecture firm Brininstool + Lynch, developed the winning design with New York sculptor Sabin Howard. Weishaar tells ARCHITECT that he found Howard through the National Sculpture Society website. He also says that he worked on the project in his own time, and that Brininstool + Lynch is not involved. He and Howard have partnered with Baltimore-based firm GWWO (the project's architect of record), landscape architect Phoebe Lickwar, Washington, D.C.– and Baltimore-based engineering firm Henry Adams, structural engineering firm Keast & Hood (which has offices in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Charlottesville, Va.), and U.S. engineering firm VHB.
"We were thrilled by the quality and creativity by all the submissions in this competition," said commission vice chair and memorial project lead Edwin Fountain in a press release. "This selected design concept reflects a high level of professional achievement."
The park as it stands today has its problems. Philip Kennicott, The Washington Post's art and architecture critic, writes: "The Friedberg park design isn’t much loved today. Its street furniture looks a little 1980s shopping mall to contemporary eyes, and part of its charm — a sense of isolation from the city once you’re inside it — is created by a forbiddingly tall green berm that runs along its south face. But the principal culprit is the National Park Service, which has allowed the space to fall into shameful disrepair. The park’s central feature, a large pool that once served as a fountain in the summer and an ice skating rink in the winter, hasn’t been operational in years. Around it is cracked concrete, a shabby and abandoned gazebo, and sad-looking plantings that haven’t been properly maintained or replenished."
The Cultural Landscape Foundation, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., issued a statement regarding the design selection, which notes: "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 (CFA), the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and the District of Columbia State Historic Preservation Office (DCSHPO), all of which must approve the project."
In an interview with ARCHITECT back in August, the foundation's CEO and president Charles Birnbaum spoke about the impact of this memorial project on the existing park design. "We’re not purists here, saying that this design has to be restored exactly," Birnbaum said. "We really believe that this design has a carrying capacity to be both a memorial [and a park] without destroying it."
To be funded by private donations, the memorial is expected to cost between $30 and $35 million. The commission is aiming to break ground by November of next year, and open in November of 2018.
Visit ARCHITECT's Project Gallery for more information and images about "The Weight of Sacrifice."