Not long ago I wrote of an open competition for a national monument for World War I to be built at Pershing Square. The square has honored Gen. John “Black Jack” Perhsing, commander of U.S. forces in Europe, for decades. Near the Mall and the White House, it will soon commemorate the broader war with the addition of a suitable (one hopes) monument. The contrast between this design competition and the competition of 2011 “won” by Frank Gehry for a memorial to Dwight Eisenhower is eye-popping. Now the WWI entries, apparently running into the hundreds, have been made public.
The design above, one of a score or so of entries fashioned as traditional monuments, will strike many as unusual. It features four twin sets of columns rising from a ziggurat sitting atop a tall quadrangular base. Each set of two columns supports an ornate classical cross-beam, or entablature, forming two squares that, laid atop each other, form an eight-pointed star. Here is how its designer puts it:
An empty sarcophagus commemorating all who served and died is lifted high, ringed with columns: a tholos, the ancient shrine of heroes. The columns raise a crown of honor over the sarcophagus. The cenotaph yokes together both halves of a divided tower, which turns to face the rising sun on Armistice Day.
A year or so ago, New Urbanist Andres Duany offered an unusual design alternative to Gehry’s Ike memorial. To me it seemed too like a fortress, and arrayed its classical elements with too much heaviness for my taste. The WWI memorial pictured above is equally unusual but seems more uplifting than downcast. It has, in its verticality, a more traditional air to its novelty.
There can be little doubt that this competition features more than its share of novelty, especially from modernists. The competition is open, and the entries are from all corners of the architectural spectrum. For modernists, novelty has long been the lodestar over beauty, and even over meaning. It’s usually hard to tell what a modernist monument means because modernism has yet to develop a legible architectural language.
Let’s hope the judges this time display a prejudice in favor of beauty and understanding. If they do, one of the classical entries could stand a very good chance of winning.
Readers should comment on the entries through the competition’s website. I will post a list of links to the best traditional entries immediately. The jury meets over the next few days and will have access to public comments.