Gassed, a monumental 1919 painting by Anglo-American artist John Singer Sargent, depicts the aftermath of a chemical-weapons attack during the First World War.
Imperial War Museums Gassed, a monumental 1919 painting by Anglo-American artist John Singer Sargent, depicts the aftermath of a chemical-weapons attack during the First World War.

The drama over Frank Gehry's Eisenhower Memorial design has dominated the conversation about public architecture lately. Yet an equally important commemorative space is in the works in the nation's capital. The United States World War I Centennial Commission, created by Act of Congress in 2013, has organized an open competition for a memorial on a full block site along Pennsylvania Avenue, southeast of the White House. With more than 350 submissions now in hand, the commission is expected to announce a shortlist in a matter of days. Construction of the winning project is scheduled for completion by November 11, 2019, the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended hostilities on the Western Front.

All 350-odd entries can be viewed at the competition website. To spare you the effort of separating wheat from chaff, below we highlight some of our favorite submissions, organized by five prevalent themes. (But first, a few useful details about the competition.)

The Jury

Ethan Carr, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Maurice Cox, FAIA, planning and development director for the city of Detroit
Benjamin Forgey, architecture critic
Harry Robinson, FAIA, former architecture dean at Howard University and executive consulting architect to the commission
Brigadier General John F. Shortal (Ret.), chief historian for the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Allison Williams, FAIA, design director for AECOM, San Francisco
Jennifer Wingate, art historian and author of Sculpting Doughboys: Memory, Gender, and Taste in America’s World War I Memorials

The Site

The 1.8-acre Pershing Park in Northwest Washington, bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue (diagonally) on the north, 15th Street on the west, E Street on the south and 14th Street on the east. The site as it exists was designed by landscape architects F. Paul Friedberg and Partners and opened in 1981, as part of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation's improvements to Pennsylvania Avenue. At the southeast corner of the park stands a 1960s bronze statue of General John J. Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. Berms on the perimeter of the block enclose the Pershing Memorial and a sunken plaza, which has been used as a wintertime skating rink in the past. Not surprisingly for a site in Washington's monumental core, most of the surrounding buildings are variations of the classical idiom.

The Brief

There are several notable requirements in the brief: "Competitors should thoughtfully consider the range of appropriate enhancement strategies and transformation options—preservation, alteration, relocation, demolition—for addressing the Park’s physical elements and integrating the existing Pershing Memorial elements and new commemorative features into the site." In other words, nothing is sacred, but do find a spot for the Pershing statue. Furthermore, "the Memorial should be designed primarily as open space; buildings or conditioned indoor space such as a ranger contact station, public restrooms, bookstore, or concession pavilion are strongly discouraged." Interestingly, the brief also stipulates, "the Memorial shall not list names of individual servicemen and women who served or were killed in World War I," essentially giving the hand to one of memorial design's most ubiquitous tactics. The budget is given as $20–25 million.


Numerous competition entrants were drawn to the formal immediacy of battlefield landscapes, riven by trenches and bomb craters.

Liminal Space

Several submissions invoked the architectural metaphors of threshold or transition, with spaces intended to invoke the tension between life and death, war and peace, order and chaos.

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