You have two weeks left to design the World War I Memorial

On May 21st, the US World War I Centennial Commission announced that they were opening a design competition for a World War I Memorial to be built in Washington, DC. Every other war of the 20th century has a memorial on the National Mall or environs except for World War I in which 53,402 US servicepeople died in battle and 63,000 more died from disease and accident. More than 200,000 veterans came home wounded and had a damned hard time of it too. World War I is the third bloodiest war in the US history after the Civil War and World War II, but the only monument that comes close to paying respects to the many dead from that war is a memorial dedicated to General John J. Pershing, the commander of American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. A bronze statue of the general and two small granite walls inscribed with maps and quotes describing the American effort stand in a corner Pershing Park, a 1.8-acre urban park a block from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue.

In December of 2014, Congress authorized the World War I Centennial Commission to expand the current Pershing memorial into a national World War I Memorial. It won’t just be in the corner of the park with the statue and walls, however. The entire park will be transformed. It’s in dire need of a new purpose, too, because the main feature of the park was a shallow sunken concrete basin that held water for an ornamental pool in the summer and an ice-skating rink in the winter. When the pool’s mechanics failed a few years ago, they weren’t repaired so the park is now dominated by an eyesore of a useless concrete slab taking up the bulk of its area.

Here’s your chance to make all your Sim City/Leslie Knope visions come true. The competition is wide open. Anyone — students, professional architects, WWI history nerds from around the world — can submit an entry.

The memorial should honor and commemorate the service of American forces in World War I with sufficient scale and gravity that the memorial takes its place within the larger network of memorials and monuments situated on and around the National Mall. At the same time, designers should forge functional and perceptual linkages to the pathways, streets, and civic spaces and architectural landmarks around the site. Design and landscape elements should contribute to the park composition and strengthen the park’s relationship to the larger urban context, while complementing, and not detracting from, the meaning of the commemorative elements (whether new or pre-existing) within the site.

It seems like a tall order for anyone who is not an accomplished architect or designer, but remember, Maya Lin was still an undergraduate when she submitted her design for the Vietnam Memorial in 1981. She got her BA later that year and went on to graduate school where she got her Master of Architecture degree in 1986, four years after the wall was built. So there’s a very important precedent for someone with a great vision but no architecture experience to win a memorial design competition.

The deadline for submissions is July 21st. Memorial Design Competition website has tons of information and resources for anyone interested in taking the plunge. Get started by downloading the competition manual here and the Pershing Park site plan here. If turning a sad little blighted park into a worthy memorial is outside your skill set, you can contribute to the project by donating here. The memorial cannot be funded by Congress so it relies on private donations to raise the projected $25 million necessary and there’s a long way to go.

5 thoughts on “You have two weeks left to design the World War I Memorial

  1. Easy task: We redesigned the park as a system of trenches that slowly but steadily turns into a field of poppies. Linkages to the pathways, streets, and civic spaces and architectural landmarks around the site. Blood-red poppies that sprang up in no man’s land, where fields were torn up by artillery, got immortalized in the poem In Flanders Fields.


    “In Flanders fields the poppies grow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields here down below.

    Remember our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If you break faith with us who die
    In Flanders fields, where poppies grow.”

  2. I imagine the grandchildren of American soldiers killed, wounded and missing in WW1 are outraged that every other modern war has a memorial on/near the National Mall except for WWI. The 1914-18 War was the war to end all wars, arguably the most destructive event in human history.

    Why would there be no WW1 monument until now? Was there a long-held sense of humiliation that the American government didn’t declare war on Germany until April 1917? Did the population truly believe in isolationism and therefore resented sending American men to Europe?

    The final design of the memorial should reflect this dilemma.

  3. Whoa! 😮 I had no idea that the U.S. didn’t have a national WWI memorial! Had always thought that my favorite memorial on the Mall ( was the national WWI memorial. Thank you for making me go look it up and realize that it was only for D.C.

    Definitely an oversight to be fixed. The men and women of WWI deserve a unified U.S. monument.

    *Drafting table.*

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