WWI Memorial design concept gaining ground for Pershing Park
By Alyssa Carter
Since Congress designated Pershing Park a World War I Memorial in 2014, the Centennial Commission has been collaborating with Federal regulatory agencies to design an integrated park and memorial honoring the more than four million people who served in WWI. The international design competition in 2015 generated a design concept by Joe Weishaar, Phoebe Lickwar, and Sabin Howard that sought to align the current Pershing Park memorial elements with the rest of the park with additional memorial features, specifically a monumental bronze bas relief sculpture that displays the story of a Soldier’s Journey.
However, in 2016, government agencies found Pershing Park eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, which layered on even more challenges to the project. This required the Project and Design Teams to seek a more fine-tuned balance between the Memorial design and construction with park rehabilitation, restoration, and preservation.
On July 13, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) concurred with the direction of the Centennial Commission’s development of the WWI Memorial and voted unanimously to adopt the concept design, which makes three changes to Pershing Park. First, this design enlarges the current fountain at the western edge of the existing pool, which would be restored in its same size. The east-facing side of that expanded fountain will become the emotional center of the new WWI Memorial: an approximately 65-foot-long bronze bas relief sculpture with larger-than-life figures that will tell the story of the United States’ involvement during the war through the experience of a Soldier’s Journey. Second, this design will create a walkway over the restored pool for visitors and area residents to access and experience the sculpture and fountain through touch, sight, and sound. Third, the current kiosk will be replaced with a flagpole that will include other commemorative elements about the Great War.
NCPC’s decision followed the other unanimous concept approval on May 18th from the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), another regulatory agency reviewing the design. Mina Wright, representative of the General Services Administration, aptly described the balance of park preservation with Memorial construction and commemoration when she said, “It’s important to acknowledge the difficulty of this problem they’re trying to solve here, which has been imposed upon them. I’m empathetic because it happens an awful lot when two big ideas are put unwittingly or not on a collision course … this is a really difficult problem to solve: it’s serving a lot of masters.”
Other commissioners echoed those challenges. Peter May, representing the National Park Service, responded, “I think you have captured so much of the essence of this project … and the process we’ve gone through. There are elements of reinvention, and there are elements of preservation. We have this constant tension and evolution, and we’re trying to resolve so many things. The Design Team does deserve an awful lot of credit for their flexibility as they worked through this.”
NCPC commissioners also questioned several outstanding design elements not fully resolved yet, including how the restored pool and water feature could interact with the sculptural fountain; how visitor accessibility could improve across the park, specifically along the southern edge; how long the sculptural fountain should be; and how to treat the northern edge of Pennsylvania Avenue in alignment with views of The Capitol—all while respecting as much as possible the original 1980s design for the park. NCPC commissioners expressed other concerns including the readability and visibility of the text on the commemorative walls framing the statue of General Pershing. The Design Team acknowledged that these issues would be further studied during the schematic design phase through fall 2017.
The next round of regulatory reviews with the CFA and NCPC are slated for early 2018 with final design approvals anticipated by mid 2018. The Centennial Commission plans to complete the design and construction of the WWI Memorial at Pershing Park by 2019. For more information about the Memorial project and to donate to the Memorial design and construction, visit www.ww1cc.org/memorial.
Alyssa Carter is a Summer 2017 Intern at the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.