Design for a WWI memorial

One entry among a score with classical or traditional monumental sympathies. (worldwar1centennial.org)

One entry among a score with classical or traditional monumental sympathies. (worldwar1centennial.org)

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.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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6 Responses to Design for a WWI memorial

  1. lux says:

    An argument for “form follows function”

    I was recently censured for offering my opinion in your recent World War I memorial blog. While I have never backed away from a good debate I chose not to respond to my critic who went so far as to put words in my mouth never uttered.

    A central thesis in my opinion was that “Architectural style should serve the reason, not be the reason, for the memorial.” I would now, respectfully, like to amplify on this point by providing an object lesson from which the WWI memorial might benefit.

    You are, I’m sure aware of the Bomber Command Memorial dedicated in 2012 by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles. It is a magnificent piece of architecture honoring the more then 55,000 airmen (compared to our own 8th AF’s heavy losses of 26,000), who sacrificed their lives flying missions over Germany during World War II. Equally magnificent is the heroic statuary contained therein depicting 7 pilots and their aircrew gazing skyward in perpetuity.

    There is, in my opinion, something discordant about the memorial, despite the magnificence of the statuary and its perpetual situs, a classical Greco/Roman Temple. There is no rational nexus between the aircrew statuary and the temple which will forever be their home. One can imagine that the aircrew are enshrined in a skyward gaze searching for their comrades in arms, 55,000 of whom will never return. That they will perpetually search the vaulted ceiling of a Greek Temple seems to miss the raison d’etre of the Memorial. The last home these aircrews lived and died in were their beloved (we aviators love our planes, just look at the nose art) Lancaster and Wimpy heavy bombers which were blown out of the sky and strewn over the German countryside. Surely it is not asking too much to place these lost souls in a venue they, and future generations, would recognize and connect with their heroism.

    Much to my delight, another memorial, the “International Bomber Command” has taken flight. This new memorial also features a temple of sorts which will be immediately recognizable by surviving aircrews, their families and future generations of visitors. However, this temple in in the style of the dihedral wing of a Lancaster Heavy bomber. The memorial is punctuated by a soaring spire patterned after a Lancaster Bomber’s wing. It is sited in view of the church that bomber crews used as a landmark on their missions. I for one hope that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles extend the same reverence and admiration at the dedication of the International Bomber Command Memorial as was bestowed at the RAF Bomber Command Memorial in 2012. Despite the mission, their sacrifice deserves respect.

    You may view both Memorials at the following links.

    https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/green-park/things-to-see-and-do/memorials,-fountains-and-statues/bomber-command-memorial

    http://internationalbombercommandcentre.com/memorial

    Lux

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    • This comment about the Bomber Command Memorial is, so far as I can tell, among published comments. You may not see it because it is too far down since it was published on Aug. 3. But I see it in my Dashboard segment on published comments.

      In any event, first, the dome of the Bomber Command Memorial has a large opening in the roof so the men are indeed looking at the sky. A Greek temple is fitting because it has come, in our western civilization, to be easily read as a “place of honor.” As for the International Bomber Command Memorial, my impression from looking at its website is that you have overestimated the extent to which the spire reflects a bomber’s wing. Maybe it is one of those loose modernist metaphors that are not intended to be representational and hence often do not work very well. I do not believe it will be “easily recognizable” as such by surviving aircrews, their families, or anyone else, now or in the future. Either way, that memorial is, I think, less effective than the one in London, partly because, as I’ve said, modernism has not developed a vocabulary that is accessible to most people.

      This reply to your post brings to mind a comment you made on another website regarding Shubow’s description of the Gehry Ike memorial design. You said that the sculpture of Gehry as a boy sitting on a wall never existed. But yes, it was part of the early versions of the design and was removed in response to criticism that it was undignified. Just want you to know that people do read your stuff, and quite closely. Though I disagree with most of what you say, your comments are very intelligent and worth reading. I would never think of not approving them – but, as I say, WordPress does not require me or ask me to approve most comments, only those it thinks are spam.

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      • lux et veritas says:

        David,

        To be kind, I don’t know why my post was blocked but it was until I made mention of it today. Only then was it unblocked within 15 mins. The blocking language about awaiting moderation was directly off your site. You say it wasn’t you, fair enough, but it was neither spam nor did it contain any “dirty words” a suggestion I reasonably find insulting especially in an open forum before other readers who won’t or haven’t read my post because it’s now old business.

        As to your suggestion that I got the “boy sitting on a wall” having never existed in the Eisenhower Memorial – I NEVER SAID THAT. In fact what I did say was that contrary to the myth invented and perpetuated by Justin, THERE WAS NEVER A SCULPTURE OF A BARE FOOT BOY in the Eisenhower Memorial. Shubow invented and then used this false narrative to great effect in denigrating the memorial.

        Like

        • Lux, I did not block your comment. I don’t know the workings of WordPress’s moderation of comments, but the first time I was aware of your comment about the Bomber Command Memorial was when you told me it had been blocked. Most comments are not blocked. Now and then I get an email requesting moderation, and I may not have seen the email regarding your comment, so the issue was not resolved until you mentioned it to me, but I have no idea why the request for moderation was made in the first place. Maybe it was the length.

          There was a barefoot boy. Maybe he was not literally barefoot, but Gehry (or his sculptor) took the image from a speech Ike made describing himself as a barefoot boy. Whether he was actually barefoot or not, the statue was of a young boy sitting on a wall. I’m not sure it was there from the beginning, but it was there early on. Whether he was literally barefoot or not is immaterial to the point, which Justin got right. The little boy was controversial because he was not a man, not because he was barefoot. Justin has not perpetuated a myth here or used a false narrative.

          Like

          • lux et veritas says:

            David,

            First you deny my post was blocked. Then you didn’t block my post, someone else did. Then you suggest to your blog followers that I might have used “dirty word(s)”. Then you tell me it may have been the length of my post which was no longer then other posts. Then after responding to my comments on the International Bomber Command Memorial you bring up a completely unrelated topic accusing me of saying things about Shubow and the Eisenhower Memorial that I hadn’t said at all. Let me clear, I don’t lie nor do I use profanity in my postings here or elsewhere. Unlike Justin I’m on no one’s payroll, I answer to myself. What I have said about the “bare foot boy statue” myth is absolutely accurate it never exited, “literally” or otherwise, but that didn’t matter to NCAS or Shubow who used the fiction to bludgeon Ike’s memorial.
            In my prior post i tried to lower the temperature, not a bad idea I think. Perhaps an explanation of why WordPress is censoring your posters might be a good place to start.

            Like

  2. Robert says:

    Almost as nice as the current National WWI Monument in KC. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9b/Liberty_Memorial_2008.jpg

    Like

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