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Thread: National World War II Memorial

  1. #1

    Default National World War II Memorial

    National World War II Memorial



    Memorial Design

    The National World War II Memorial design recognizes that the site itself pays special tribute to America's WWII generation. The memorial design creates a special place within the vast openness of the National Mall to commemorate the sacrifice and celebrate the victory of WWII, yet remains respectful and sensitive to its historic surroundings. The vistas from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial and the site's park-like setting are preserved, and the double row of elm trees that flank the memorial have been restored. Above all, the design creates a powerful sense of place that is distinct, memorable, evocative and serene.

    Memorial Plaza

    The memorial plaza and Rainbow Pool are the principal design features of the memorial, unifying all other elements. Two flagpoles flying the American flag frame the ceremonial entrance at 17th Street. The bases of granite and bronze are adorned with the military service seals of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Army Air Forces, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. Ceremonial steps and ramps lead from 17th Street into the plaza. A series of 24 bronze bas relief panels along the ceremonial entrance balustrades depict America's war years, at home and overseas. Announcements of the memorial are located at the 17th Street ceremonial entrance.

    Curvilinear ramps at the north and south approaches provide access to the plaza for visitors walking along the existing east-west pathways between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. These ramps provide a gentle entry to the plaza. Granite benches follow the curvilinear rampart walls.

    Memorial Pavilions

    Two 43-foot pavilions serve as markers and entries on the north and south ends of the plaza. Bronze baldacchinos are an integral part of the pavilion design. Four bronze columns support four American eagles that hold a suspended victory laurel to memorialize the victory of the WWII generation. Inlayed on the floor of the pavilions are the WWII victory medal surrounded by the years "1941-1945" and the words "Victory on Land," "Victory at Sea," and "Victory in the Air." These sculptural elements celebrate the victory won in the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters.

    Embracing Arms and Pillars

    Fifty-six granite pillars celebrate the unprecedented unity of the nation during WWII. The pillars are connected by a bronze sculpted rope that symbolizes the bonding of the nation. Each state and territory from that period and the District of Columbia are represented by a pillar adorned with oak and wheat bronze wreaths and inscribed with its name. The 17-foot pillars are open in the center for greater transparency, and ample space between each allows viewing into and across the memorial.

    Commemorative Area

    Within a commemorative area at the western side of the memorial is recognized the sacrifice of America's WWII generation and the contribution of our allies. A field of 4,000 sculpted gold stars on the Freedom Wall commemorate the more than 400,000 Americans who gave their lives. During WWII, the gold star was the symbol of family sacrifice.

    Rainbow Pool and Waterworks

    The historic waterworks of the Rainbow Pool are completely restored and contribute to the celebratory nature of the memorial. The design provides seating along the pool circumference for visitors. Semi-circular fountains at the base of the two memorial pavilions and waterfalls flanking the Freedom Wall complement the waterworks in the Rainbow Pool.

    Landscaping

    Two-thirds of the 7.4-acre memorial site is landscaping and water, allowing the memorial to nestle comfortably within its park-like setting. The ceremonial entrance has three large lawn panels between the monumental steps. The double row of elm trees has been restored to their original splendor, and a replanting plan replaced unhealthy trees. A landscaped contemplative area is located at the northwestern corner of the site. Canopies of flowering trees augment re-seeded lawns.

    Materials

    The memorial is constructed of bronze and granite. Granite was chosen for its aesthetic appeal, superior strength, and durability. Water resistance was another important criterion. The two principal stones selected for the memorial are “Kershaw” for the vertical elements and “Green County” for the main plaza paving stone. “Kershaw” is quarried in South Carolina, while “Green County” is quarried in Georgia. Two green stones – “Rio Verde” and “Moss Green” – were used for accent paving on the plaza. Both are quarried in Brazil. "Academy Black" and "Mount Airy" were used to reconstruct the Rainbow Pool. “Mount Airy,” quarried in North Carolina, is the original coping stone of the Rainbow Pool. To enhance the aesthetic appearance of the water surface of the pool, an apron of “Academy Black,” quarried in California, were used for the vertical interior surfaces.

    Dimensions

    - Length (back of arch to back of arch): 384’
    - Width (back of basin behind Freedom Wall to bottom of ceremonial entrance): 279’
    - Plaza: 337’-10” long; 240’-2” wide; 6’ below grade
    - Rainbow Pool: 246’-9” long; 147’-8” wide
    - Ceremonial entrance: 148’-3” wide; 147’-8” long (curb to plaza)
    - 2 Arches: 43’ above grade; 23’ square
    - 56 Pillars: 17’ above grade; 4’4” wide; 3’ deep
    - Freedom Wall: 84’-8” wide; 9’ high from plaza floor; 41’-9” radius

    Copyright 2003 All Rights Reserved

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    CNN
    April 29, 2004

    World War II Memorial opens to public

    Associated Press

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- A national monument to the 16 million U.S. men and women who served during World War II opened to the public Thursday, giving veterans of that era a sense of recognition some say was long overdue but well worth the wait.

    "It is beautiful," declared World War II veteran and former Marine George Lynch. "To see this memorial after all these years is absolutely marvelous."

    The granite and bronze monument features waterfalls, fountains, and a curved wall bedecked with gold stars to represent the more than 400,000 who gave their lives in the war.

    On its opening day, under glorious sunshine, the memorial immediately helped introduce another generation to the heroism that brought victory to America and its allies.

    As the first visitors, hundreds of schoolchildren raced down two entrance ramps after receiving a stern warning from the U.S. Park Service not to throw any coins into the many fountains because they stain the granite.

    The children shouted and pointed, exclaiming "Oh, cool!" and "Look at that!"

    Zach Richter, 14, of Newtown, Connecticut, whose grandfather served in World War II, said he couldn't wait to get home to call him and let him know his grandson was one of the first visitors.

    "He's proud that people are finally recognizing him," said Richter, who was with 400 other 8th-graders from Newtown Middle School.

    Tribute to a generation

    The memorial has been almost two decades in the making. While the formal dedication ceremony is still a month away, project organizers raced to put the finishing touches on the memorial so the ever-dwindling number of veterans from that era can visit it.

    America's World War II vets are dying at a rate of 1,056 a day, the Veterans Affairs Department estimates. Fewer than 4 million will be alive at the time of the Memorial Day weekend dedication.

    Until now, veterans and tourists have only been able to peek at the memorial through wire fencing surrounding the site or from a small walkway on one end. Now that the fences are down, visitors can roam freely about the memorial, which sits prominently between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.

    Equal in size to the length of a football field, the memorial has two hulking 43-foot arches at each end. One is marked Atlantic, the other Pacific -- symbolizing the two theaters of the war.

    Fifty-six smaller granite pillars adorned with two bronze wreaths form the oval shape of the memorial and encircle a sunken plaza and pool. The pillars represent each state and territory from that period, and the District of Columbia.

    The $174 million project is the culmination of years of arm-twisting and fund raising by veterans, including former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole. From schoolchildren to corporations, more than $195 million was raised. The remaining money will be put in a trust fund for future use.

    The dedication next month is expected to draw a big crowd. Some 117,000 free tickets were snapped up in a matter of weeks, and there's a waiting list with 50,000 names on it.

    President Bush and all the living former presidents have been invited to the event.

    The Smithsonian Institution is planning four days of festivities on the National Mall to coincide with the May 29 dedication ceremony.

    "We certainly think this could be the largest gathering of World War II veterans in one place since war ended in 1945," said Jim Deutsch, program curator for the National World War II Reunion.

    At the "Tribute to a Generation," there will be two stages playing music from the 1940s from the Ink Spots, the Artie Shaw Orchestra and others.

    Eight tents will cover four blocks along the Mall. In one tent, veterans can reunite with old comrades. And under another, veterans will share their stories and experiences. Dole and former Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. George McGovern are among those expected to speak.

    "What we're interested in learning about is what World War II meant to members of this generation," Deutsch said.

    Copyright 2004 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.

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    April 30, 2004

    59 Years Later, Memorial to World War II Veterans Opens on Mall

    By MICHAEL JANOFSKY


    Without fanfare, the memorial opened on the National Mall a month before its official dedication.

    WASHINGTON, April 29 — As construction fences came down, the new World War II Memorial on the Mall opened on Thursday to thousands of visitors, providing an emotional backdrop for aging veterans who walked among its tributes to those who served.

    "I really didn't expect to see that many people out here on the first day," said Lee Schoenecker, 80, a Navy veteran from St. Paul who served on two aircraft carriers in the Pacific. "But I'm glad I got the chance to be here. I don't know if I'll ever see it again."

    The opening, coming a month before the dedication on May 29, was approved by the American Battle Monument Commission to give as many World War II veterans as possible a chance to see an effort that survived 17 years of legislative, legal and artistic entanglements. But only a fraction of the 16 million Americans who served in the war will see it. Government records show that fewer than 4 million World War II veterans are living, and that more than 1,100 are dying every day.

    It is a statistic that was not lost on many of the first-day visitors to the memorial, on 7.4 acres between the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the west. Dave Naley, 82, a veteran from Alexandria, Va., said he was shocked to learn how quickly veterans were dying.

    "It made me want to come down and look at this before I become a statistic," Mr. Naley said.

    The memorial was inspired by a veteran's question to Representative Marcy Kaptur, Democrat of Ohio, at a February 1987 fish fry near Toledo. Roger Durbin of Berkey, Ohio, who served under Gen. George S. Patton, wanted to know why there was no memorial on the Mall to honor World War II veterans.

    Before the year ended, Ms. Kaptur introduced legislation to get one, starting a process that would stumble along for years over heated questions about the site, design and scope.

    Mr. Durbin died of pancreatic cancer in 2000, at 79, but his simple question led to a memorial altogether different, in design and ambience, from the shrines that frame it. Unlike the obelisk that celebrates the nation's founding or the columned temple that celebrates its unity, the World War II Memorial was designed by Friedrich St. Florian of Providence, R.I., as a contemplative space, to commemorate the country's spirit and sacrifice in the war, the triumph of democracy and ultimately the human cost.

    Its central element is the Rainbow Pool, now with fountains, between arches symbolizing hostilities in Europe and the Far East. The arches are flanked by semicircles of pillars, one each for the states, territories and the District of Columbia — together, signifying national unity. Beyond the pool is a wall of 4,000 gold stars, one for every 100 Americans killed in the war.

    For many of the veterans on the first day, symbolism quickly gave way to 60-year-old memories of achievement as well as pain.

    Carl Orjala, 83, of Aitkin, Minn., sat quietly in a wheelchair, tears welling up. He served in a medical corps in the Pacific, tending to wounded soldiers at the front.

    "I can't describe it," Mr. Orjala said. "I'm happy because this is done even this long after the war. But it doesn't do it justice — the loss was just so great. I wish people could understand what it was like."

    As a resident of Washington, Edgar A. Edelsack, 80, said he had been following the memorial's progress for years and looked forward to showing it to his grandchildren. But he did not want to take a chance on missing it, Mr. Edelsack said, so he came by himself to have a look. "I have mixed emotions," he said, swelling with pride over his military service but wondering what the memorial could mean to younger generations.

    It was a valid question.

    Joe Knoth, 13, an eighth grader from New Paltz, N.Y., and grandson of a 79-year-old World War II veteran, tried to answer it. He was one of 145 students from New Paltz Middle School whose trip to Washington coincided with the memorial's opening. Some of the chaperones decided it would be worthwhile to visit.

    "It depends on who you are," Joe said, explaining why some children seemed less interested than others. "It probably doesn't mean as much to me as it does to World War II vets who lived through the war, but all these men saved our freedom. This is a good way to pay it back."

    "Thankfully, my grandfather is still alive," he added. "I can't wait to get home to tell him about it."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    I'm going to DC tomorrow to pick my sister up from college and will be there till Sunday. The memorial is on our itinerary when we go sightseeing.

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    Photos and full critique when you return, please.

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    No photos. In a stroke of genius I forgot my camera. ops:

    The monument is very neoclassical, and sometimes I was torn between whether it was "fascist" or not. The veterans whom I saw there did not act like they thought so, so I'll have to trust their judgment since many of them have seen Nazi Germany and I haven't. Either way, every war memorial in DC has been vilified for one reason or another; the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, now arguably the favorite among visitors, was considered "Orwellian" when it was completed. There are distinctly American touches, like the wall studded with gold stars on the Lincoln Memorial end, and the visitors trying to beat the heat by wading around in the central pool (it was REALLY hot out). Though I'm not certain whether this was proper decorum for a visit to a monument, it reminded me of the argument that the first real memorial to WWII was the generation that these men fathered, the future. Also, to unabashedly quote Daniel Libeskind, it was "an affirmation of life." So I'd say that it's more dignified than it is formal, whereas fascist or Stalinist monuments were meant to be focal points for propagandic rallies and parades, and not much else. Either way, the emotional toll that it takes on the visitor is undeniable.

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    From what I've seen, I don't care for it, but it doesn't matter. The family is going to DC this summer. Pop wants to be there with his grandchildren. The people this was built for won't complain that it's not a proper memorial. It's not their nature.

  9. #9

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    TLOZ: Thanks for your impressions. I will be eager to visit the next time I am in D.C.

    Zippy: Very true. To paraphrase Giuliani, what is most important is not how we remember, but that we do remember.

  10. #10

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    USA Today
    May 26, 2004

    A salute to the memorial for WWII troops

    By Craig Wilson

    When I was growing up, there was always a parade in town on Memorial Day.

    People would hang flags from their porches, the high school band would march, and the Cub Scout troop would trudge along, right behind the block of World War II veterans, who seemed ancient. They were probably 45.

    As a kid, none of it meant anything to me, other than a chance to get into town and see my friends.

    The parade would make its way up Main Street, down Maple, over to Eagle and back onto Main. The whole thing took about 15 minutes and would end at a park by the town waterfall, where a large boulder bears a plaque dedicated to local veterans.

    Every year a veteran would read In Flanders Fields, the band would play a patriotic selection, and three rifles would be fired into the air. And that was that.

    We would return home for the first hot dog and potato salad of the season.

    I'm sure this Memorial Day will be much the same across the nation, although here in Washington, D.C., the new World War II Memorial will be dedicated Saturday. Up to 1 million visitors are expected in town, many viewing the memorial for their first and only time. World War II vets are dying at a rate of 1,000 a day.

    I have written before about how my dad never talked about the war much while I was growing up. This despite the fact that he traveled around the world for four years with the Army Air Corps.

    So I'm not sure how he'd feel about the new memorial. Probably a bit proud and a bit embarrassed. But I have already seen the effect the site has on people who lived through what they affectionately call "the big one."

    My mom came to visit in March, a mini-vacation from the ravages of an upstate New York winter. She said the only thing she wanted to do while here was to visit the memorial.

    I told her it wasn't finished yet, that it was still a construction site, but that didn't deter her. She wanted to see it. So on a clear, crisp late winter's morning, we took a cab down to the Mall.

    The wire-mesh construction fences still surrounded the memorial, but from various angles you could see much of the just-over-7-acre site. And rising above the fence on opposite ends were the two towers marking the Pacific and Atlantic theaters of the war.

    It was then Mom said she thought she was going to cry. And she did.

    Many say the World War II Memorial came far too late. That it should have been built long before memorials to the smaller wars of Vietnam or Korea.

    Because so many World War II veterans are already dead, maybe they're right. In a few short years, there will be none left. Only the memorial will remain, testament to what millions of men and women did 60 years ago to save the world from fascism.
    It came too late for my dad, I know.

    He died eight years ago today.

    Copyright 2004 USA TODAY

  11. #11

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    USA Today
    May 26, 2004

    Parklike memorials lack symbolic potency

    By Deborah K. Dietsch

    Memorials have become "supersized" of late, stretching from singular shrines to sprawling parks with walls, pavilions, pools, trees and plants. Bigger, however, does not mean better.

    At 7.4 acres, the newly opened National World War II Memorial, which will be dedicated Saturday, is the Big Mac of memorials. This huge, oval plaza on the National Mall in Washington is layered with wreaths, stars and inscriptions. But the memorial fails as a powerfully moving tribute to our triumph over tyranny. The sunken, overblown design reflects the current trend to please as many people as possible by avoiding a single — and potentially controversial — symbol. As with several recent memorials, it has expanded from monument to civic park.

    But a park does not have the symbolic potency of a sculpture or even the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We've lost some of our conviction to commemorate and to inspire; so, instead, we build massive, landscaped grounds filled with inoffensive pools, benches and trees.

    The World War II memorial is a prime example of this trend to bigness and blandness. This stiff, granite plaza, anchored by giant gazebos and encircled by wreath-decorated pillars, looks like a civic park built in the past century. Visitors descend between grassy terraces to the rebuilt Rainbow Pool, a shallow basin filled with jet fountains at the center.

    Along one part of the perimeter, rows of stars, representing the thousands of Americans who were killed, are arranged like wallpaper. Lacking a forceful gesture, the memorial does nothing to stir our emotions or remind us that this was a war that changed the world. World War II was not a walk in the park, as noted by one veteran at a public hearing held several years ago about the memorial design.

    The effect of the memorial-as-park is to dull our emotions with calming, tranquilizer-like designs. A few examples:

    World Trade Center site: The 4.7-acre memorial design that was recently chosen requires visitors to go underground to find any symbolism related to the 9/11 attacks. Two square reflecting pools, corresponding to the footprints of the twin towers, will be set within a large plaza. Sound familiar?

    Ramps lead down to the memorial spaces where the pools will be surrounded by the names of those who died. To feel any impact of the devastating event, visitors must descend into a subterranean interpretative center displaying such artifacts as the twisted steel from the towers. Above ground, the memorial's paved plaza around the pool-filled footprints will be softened with trees and benches to create a benign urban park.

    Oklahoma City memorial: The 3.3-acre tribute to the 168 people who died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building also forms a park in the heart of the city. It, too, has a reflecting pool and a museum filled with artifacts. Like other recent memorials, its commemorative impact is hampered by too many elements aimed at pleasing the constituencies affected by the tragedy.

    For the victims, there are rows of empty chairs, one for each life lost. For the survivors, there's the elm tree that miraculously remained standing after the blast. Rescuers also have their own orchard of trees. A wall of hand-painted tiles is meant to help in the healing of children, and a memorial fence continues to display items left by visitors.

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial: At the 7.5-acre park in Washington, visitors pose for photos on the bread line — a row of sculpted figures symbolizing the Great Depression — without knowing what this grouping means, since there is no explanation. After pondering FDR's social reforms, tourists can shop for souvenirs in the memorial's gift shop.

    As memorials continue to proliferate as parks laden with indecipherable and ineffective symbols, their potency is waning. They have become more about ourselves — a pat on the back to our compassion, civic pride and political correctness — than the events and the individuals being remembered.

    In the place of some memorials, a museum would better honor our collective memory by explaining the gravity and complexity of calamitous events through didactic displays. Organizers of the Oklahoma City and World Trade Center memorials realized this by adding interpretative centers — at the same time suggesting that their memorial designs are too incommunicative to stand alone.

    But a memorial is not a museum; it cannot provide all of the details of the commemorated event, but must simply, and powerfully, crystallize the loss of life and urge us to remember the dead.

    We must know at least part of the story behind a memorial for it to gain significance.

    Bestowing purpose on violence, suffering and death through a memorial — no matter how big — is a difficult task indeed. Only a few succeed. The brooding figure inside the temple of the Lincoln Memorial and the black, name-encrusted walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are exceptions, not the rule.

    It takes a lot more than stone plazas and reflecting pools, as with the National World War II Memorial, to move successive generations to remember.

    Deborah K. Dietsch, a writer on architecture and design, helped organize opposition to the National World War II Memorial's location on the National Mall in Washington.

    Copyright 2004 USA TODAY

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    http://www.newyorker.com/critics/sky...31crsk_skyline

    DOWN AT THE MALL
    by PAUL GOLDBERGER
    The new World War II memorial doesn’t rise to the occasion.
    Issue of 2004-05-31
    Posted 2004-04-24

    Few war memorials evoke deep, gut-wrenching emotion. Maya Lin’s astonishingly simple Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington does, as does the U.S.S. Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor, and Edwin Lutyens’s Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, in France. But the majority of American memorials—for example, all those classical auditoriums, parks, band shells, boulevards, museums, and parkways dedicated to the dead of the First World War—are rather soft. Many of them were built for other reasons and then called memorials. That’s not such a bad thing. The implicit message is that the soldiers and sailors did not die in vain; they died to preserve the civic life that these structures represent.

    The new National World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington seems to want to be majestic, but it’s really an opulent, overbuilt civic plaza. The most important thing about it isn’t the design, which is a vaguely classical set of colonnades by the architect Friedrich St. Florian, but the real estate it occupies. The memorial is set between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. It is the first piece of construction to be placed on the great central axis of the Mall since those monuments were planned, more than a century ago.

    The decision to give pride of place to the World War II memorial was made in 1995 by J. Carter Brown, the former director of the National Gallery of Art and, for much of his career, the powerful chairman of the Fine Arts Commission. The Iwo Jima memorial, across the Potomac in Arlington, a bronze statue based on the famous photograph of marines raising the American flag, had served as a kind of de-facto memorial to all the men who had fought in World War II, but an idea took shape that the members of “the greatest generation” needed an official, all-encompassing memorial. They had fought the last war that had nearly unanimous support among Americans, and they were dying off. Brown was determined to make a grand gesture, and he rejected sites along the edges of the Mall, even after the American Battle Monuments Commission and the National Capital Planning Commission had agreed to put a World War II memorial in Constitution Gardens, a landscaped area near the Vietnam memorial. Carter Brown wanted it built around the Rainbow Pool, at that time a rather tired-looking body of water at the east end of the long Reflecting Pool, which extends from the Lincoln Memorial toward the Capitol. He usually got his wish as far as artistic matters in Washington were concerned, and the middle of the Mall it was.

    The architectural competition for the memorial was run by the General Services Administration, which treated the process more or less like the search for an architect for a regular government building and stipulated that experience would be a factor in the decision, all but assuring that an unknown designer with a fresh idea wouldn’t have a chance. The rule was eventually relaxed, but the die was cast. Applicants were told that designs had to work with the Rainbow Pool, which would be spruced up as the new memorial’s centerpiece, and this put a further brake on creativity. There were only some four hundred entries for the competition, compared with more than a thousand for the Vietnam memorial and more than five thousand for the Ground Zero memorial competition last year. St. Florian, a seventy-one-year-old architect and teacher who works in Providence, Rhode Island, won with a grandiose scheme that included fifty columns, each thirty-three feet tall; a set of embankments rising thirty-nine feet above the plaza surrounding the pool; and forty thousand square feet of underground space. The columns were arranged in two semicircles, one on the north side of the Rainbow Pool and the other on the south. St. Florian lowered the pool so that the memorial would not intrude too much on the views from the other memorials along the Mall, but that did little to reduce the overbearing quality of the design. Almost everybody hated it. A group called the National Coalition to Save Our Mall complained that it would overwhelm the vista between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, and Bob Kerrey, then a senator from Nebraska, persuaded more than a dozen other senators, including Strom Thurmond, to sign a letter objecting to the scheme.

    St. Florian was sent back to the drawing board and returned with a plan for something smaller. The embankments and the underground space disappeared, and the columns turned into metal shields with openings that made the design more transparent. It continued to evolve—in 1999, the shields became flattened pillars bearing sculpted bronze wreaths—but the tone of stolid, bland classicism remained. The version that got built has two semicircles of pillars, each representing a state or a territory, arrayed on either side of two forty-three-foot-tall arched entry pavilions symbolizing the European and Pacific theatres of the war. There is a formal entrance on the Seventeenth Street side, directly in line with the Lincoln Memorial, but most people will probably enter through one of the pavilions, walking under a ten-foot-wide bronze laurel wreath suspended from a bronze ribbon held in the beaks of bronze eagles set atop columns. From there, one descends a gentle, curving ramp to the level of the Rainbow Pool and the granite plaza. The pool is the focal point, not only because it is huge and occupies the center of the plaza but because its newly restored fountains give the memorial much of its visual energy—what there is of it. The fountains and the curving granite ramps and the sculpted granite benches beneath them overwhelm the most sober aspect of the memorial, Freedom Wall, on the west side of the plaza, which contains more than four thousand gold stars, each representing a hundred war dead. The words “here we mark the price of freedom” are engraved in a low stone panel in front of the wall, but the dead are not identified by name, and there are no images of war anywhere in the memorial, except in some small decorative basreliefs by the sculptor Raymond Kaskey.

    The bronze eagles, which were designed by Kaskey, are beautifully wrought, and the stonework—the memorial is built of silvery granite from South Carolina and Georgia—is stunning in its execution. In an age when cheap, thin veneers pass for real stonework, it is pleasing to see stone that has been treated like stone, and carved by craftsmen who know what they are doing. But the design, in the end, is banal and timid, overly concerned with being well mannered. And what, finally, is the connection between the states and the war? Soldiers fighting abroad were not grouped by states and did not, I suspect, particularly identify with them. And there is no connection whatsoever between the states that are attached to the Atlantic pavilion and those attached to the Pacific pavilion; the whole arrangement is a conceit, dictated by the desire to turn the names of places into the elements of a symmetrical architectural composition.

    During the design process, it was the memorial’s stripped-down classicism that seemed most likely to be a problem. A lot of critics, including me, fretted about Albert Speer and Fascist architecture. That turns out not to be an issue at all. Mussolini or Speer would have overpowered you, and this memorial is welcoming. But a memorial ought to tug at the emotions in some profound way. What strikes you when you stand in the center of the World War II memorial is the sweep of the vista from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol, which is exactly what was moving about being in this space before. That a chunk of the space is now paved in elegantly carved granite and has some handsome bronze sculptures and spectacular fountains doesn’t tell you much that you didn’t already know.

    There is a deep, unresolved contradiction at the heart of this project, and it emerges from the specifics of the site. On the one hand, the Mall is a great public space, as essential a part of the American landscape as the Grand Canyon. It has to be respected. On the other hand, a war memorial is serious business, and honoring four hundred thousand dead and the millions who served with them is not the sort of enterprise that naturally takes on a low profile. It is fundamentally at odds with the right way to use this piece of land.

    The Lincoln Memorial works as well as it does partly because it is at the end of the Mall, terminating the vista, and not near the middle, but also because the designer, Henry Bacon, had absolute clarity of vision. He didn’t want to make a user-friendly memorial. He wanted to make an inspiring one, and he did. Bacon wanted classical architecture to show Lincoln’s greatness and, through that, the importance of the Union. In Bacon’s temple, you have no choice but to think of what Lincoln meant. You don’t have a choice in Maya Lin’s memorial, either. The stark reality of more than fifty thousand names engraved on Lin’s stone wall is staggering, and the subtlety of the relationship between the wall and the landscape—we descend, then rise again, as if to return to the land of the living—is deeply moving. The descent to the Rainbow Pool doesn’t lend itself to that kind of experience. The memorial is a perfectly fine plaza, such as it is, and it has turned out to be far less damaging to the space than many people had feared. But it exudes a kind of well-meaning hollowness. The layout comes from the site, and from the desire to make a pleasant public plaza that will not overwhelm the great monuments on either side.

    The people who make decisions about architecture in Washington—government bureaucrats, members of the Fine Arts Commission, and city-planning officials—have never been particularly open to new kinds of architectural expression. As the years pass, the freshness and brilliance of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial seems increasingly like a lucky accident. A fear of modernism has led to weak and pompous buildings, like the Kennedy Center and the Rayburn House Office Building, which weren’t simply a consequence of trying to save money, the way bad buildings often are in New York and other cities. In Washington, the government usually pays top dollar. Of course, the fondness for watered-down classicism also brought us the Federal Triangle, an urbane collection of government buildings, erected in the nineteen-thirties, which knitted together several blocks of downtown Washington and gave it dignity. Classicism, even timid classicism, is a good urban tool. It creates a sense of coherence and order. But a memorial isn’t supposed to be part of a larger urban order. It is supposed to be a special place. The genius of the Mall is that it juxtaposes the monumental and the everyday. The World War II memorial throws things off balance. It tries to make the Mall more important and more inviting at the same time, and it ends up doing neither.

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