Thirty projects wanting to reinvent the presentation and experience of memorials have been chosen as semi-finalists for “Memorials for the Future,” a design competition initiated in April by the National Parks Service (NPS) and the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), in Washington, D.C., and the New York-based nonprofit Van Alen Institute. The competition aims to generate fresh ideas regarding how the nation’s capital recognizes and memorializes the country’s multifaceted background and citizens.
“We saw a huge variety of projects and approaches,” says jury member Mark Gardner, AIA, principal of Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects in New York, on the submissions. “The competition called for diversity, and I think the designers really answered that request.” Such attempts include mobile technology, traveling projects, integrative landscape architecture, and digital displays that would allow visitors to interact with the memorials.
The competition garnered proposals from 89 teams, comprising 390 participants with disciplines spanning design, art, architecture, anthropology, engineering, landscape architecture, environmental science, and oral history.
While half of the submissions were site-specific to Washington, D.C., the rest were more open ended and could be hosted in other cities. “The benefit of having certain memorials be mobile is that there are different experiences within other settings,” says Jessica Lax, associate director of competitions at the Van Alen Institute. “Some peoples’ stories are not always heard, so in bringing the memorial to them, that can be achieved within that setting.”
These finalist designs spoke to multiple perspectives. "In a way, Washington, D.C., is a collective memorial that tells the story of the country's history, and represents a number of people and their stories," Gardner says. "This competition is an opportunity to provide a voice for the changing population of this city," he continues, commenting on how the bronze statues or massive, granite, marble, and limestone memorials throughout the historical city may not resonate with its modern, increasingly more diverse population.
The organization's belief is that a singular, anchored object can be stagnant, both in relevancy and in its ability to speak to an ever-changing audience. Instead, flexible and mobile constructions may be more effective.
Several teams used this opportunity as a means of creating an advocacy tool. “We saw several projects that concerned climate change and how it’s affecting the world, but there were also more personal approaches. For instance, there was one project that touched upon sacrifice and loss,” Lax says.
Finalists will be announced on June 8, and will each receive a $15,000 stipend to fund their project's research and design. The overall winner will be announced in the fall, and the Van Alen Institute will lead the development of the final design.