In honor of Veterans Day, we share a design recently entered in the National World War One Memorial Design Competition.  Kellen Krause, of Historical Concepts, collaborated with friend and fellow classicist Rodrigo Bollat Montenegro of Ferguson & Shamamian Architects on this conceptual design entitled A New Memorial and Park.  We asked Kellen to share some thoughts on the design and its significance.

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HC:  It’s not surprising that your design for a World War One Memorial in Washington, D.C. incorporates traditional and classical motifs.  Can you tell us more about your vision, as well as the symbolism and ideals that you sought to convey?

Kellen:  In terms of architecture, the monument itself is a celebration of liberty and the valor demonstrated to protect our freedoms during World War I.  Lady Liberty triumphantly crowns a podium defended by all of the stakeholders in the war: citizens themselves, including nurses, soldiers, and children.  It is classical in character to both relate to the surroundings, as well as lend an appropriate prominence to the memorial as a culmination of architectural knowledge.  What the monument represents is so incredibly important, we wanted the design to be in keeping with the best of a millennia-old tradition, rather than a fashion which won’t be “in vogue” a few years from now.  It is composed to motivate us to protect and preserve our freedoms.

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HC:  The site for the World War One Memorial is the current Pershing Park, a 1.8 acre parcel situated between the Capitol and the White House.  How did this prominent site and its context affect your design approach?

Kellen:  We looked at it as multi-faceted opportunity and gave equal consideration to urban design and architecture, which we wanted to fit like hand and glove –  to each other and to the original ideals upon which our capitol was designed.  In other words, it was our goal that the urban design and architecture complement one another, a relationship critical to the overall composition of a successful design.

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More specifically, our design is centered around an oval-shaped park.  This form allows each major axis from the memorial’s surrounding to be addressed, whether coming from the grounds of the White House at the northwest corner, the hotel across the street, or down the street from the Capitol.  Placing a monument on axis provides wayfinding as its most basic function, and a clear hierarchy of cultural importance.  It’s why our best towns have communal buildings such as churches, courthouses, and post offices on the top of hills or terminating the vista of a street, rather than a big box store.

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HC: The World War One Centennial Commission, which sponsored the design competition, called for a modest design and asked that the existing statue of General Pershing be somehow incorporated.  Tell us about your concept.

Kellen: The title of our submittal, A New Memorial and Park, signifies that our design is not just about creating a monument but providing for a public space that pays homage to the veterans of World War One.  Every part of the design is meant to be spatially contained.  Sense of containment is a key element of urban planning.  Without it, we do not enjoy a public space.  Consider how one experiences a walk through a parking lot at the superstore, for example, compared to strolling through a courtyard.  The existing statue of General Pershing was relocated to the northwest corner entrance, facing the White House and announcing the entrance to the lawn.  Providing a visual link between the two statues, Pershing stands in the threshold between these two spaces (entry plaza and lawn).  In a transitional space, emphasized by its trapezoidal shape, the existing statue hierarchically defers to Lady Liberty.

The oval lawn is a hybrid between a formal and structured space and an urban park; one may not necessarily be able to tell it is an oval when standing inside, but they still perceive an edge which makes one aware of its overall shape.  We envisioned this space to be bordered by trees, similar to the Great Lawn in Central Park but on a smaller scale. Access to the monument and the lawn that celebrates it is through smaller passages than the adjacent space, and the progression of each entry from the “wide street” to the “garden foyer” to “the lawn” achieves interest and a natural redirection towards the monument.  This clear edge with a sculptural element in one of the oval’s centers points to the hierarchy of the monument and what it represents. The monument serves as the keystone for the urban composition: it not only crowns the urban design, but if it were to be taken away, the whole composition and walking experience would fall to pieces.

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 HC: While your design is conveyed in one dimension, your drawings hint at layered detail.  What materials would you choose to express the design?

Kellen:  We saw local ashlar masonry as the predominant material, and ornamented it with bronze figures and symbols representing not the despair at lives lost, but the bravery and most noble fight for our country’s freedoms.  Stone in particular is inherently durable, requiring little maintenance and embodied energy especially when compared to artificial materials.  It is fitting that a memorial which represents timeless virtue should be as lasting.

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Learn more about the World War One Memorial Design Competition, view the submittals and the finalists.