Dear Mr. Whitesell:
In its meeting of 16 February, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a revised concept design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center at Constitution Avenue, 23rd Street, and Bacon Drive, NW. In its continuing support for the project, the Commission noted the improvement of the design since its last review in April 2009 but reiterated its concerns regarding the impact and architectural character of the proposed underground building with the following comments.
As noted in their previous reviews of the project, the Commission members emphasized the role of the proposed education center as an insertion into the National Mall landscape; it should be subordinate to and supportive of the visitor's experience of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial itself, not an independent destination that attracts visitors through its expressive design. They also found that the combined effect of the building's gestures in the landscape–the entrance wall, the sunken courtyard, and the arrangement of triangular skylights–together create an impact of great scale that competes visually with the actual memorial and compromises the wider commemorative setting. They particularly questioned the random appearance of the skylights in the landscape, which may be suggestive of land mines in a field; while recognizing the desirability of natural light within the spaces of the education center, they observed that the courtyard and entrance glazing provides light into the lobby and again recommended the elimination of the skylights.
The Commission members expressed appreciation for the development of the entry elements– the materials of the walls, the gently curving path, and the elimination of the walkway from Constitution Avenue–as being less formally reminiscent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. However, they suggested that the length of the horizontal canopy and guard be reduced to minimize visual impact on the landscape and avoid association with the memorial's broad horizontal form. Likewise, they recommended refining the design of the retaining walls, seating, and lighting of the entrance ramp in order to orient these elements toward the entrance wall; the topography of the raised berm within the entrance loop should also be refined to minimize visibility of the architecture while maintaining the continuity of the existing land forms. They said that the design of the education center should reflect its role in the emotional experience of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, suggesting a calmer, softer character of fewer unrelated architectural languages. In addition, the Commission members requested that the National Park Service consider a better resolution of the accidental and unfortunate relationship of the education center to the existing food service kiosk immediately to the south of the project.
The Commission members expressed appreciation for the continued development of the design for the education center and look forward to further review of the project.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Steve Whitesell, Regional Director
National Park Service, National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: Peter May, National Park Service
Tom Wong, Ennead Architects