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.