Dear Mr. Whitesell:
In its meeting of 17 April, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a revised concept design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial education center at Constitution Avenue, 23rd Street, and Bacon Drive, NW. Finding that the minor revisions have not sufficiently addressed the concerns identified in past reviews, the Commission was unable to support a motion to approve the revised concept, but provided comments for the development of the final design.
The Commission members acknowledged the great effort of the design team to create a beautiful project within the constraints of the authorizing legislation and the selected site; nonetheless, they reiterated that these constraints have resulted in a project that will inevitably be aesthetically problematic as an insertion into the National Mall landscape. They again noted the similarity of the proposed center—with an excavated plane sloping down to exposed vertical walls—to the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial which is created by the requirement for the center to be underground. They observed that, far from being nearly invisible, the center's visual impact will be quite perceptible: in addition to the extensive topographic depression flanked by masonry walls for the descent to the entrance, they also commented that extensive regrading and resodding within the broader site will likely result in a visually discontinuous landscape across differing soil and turf conditions.
In the spirit of finding a solution to address these issues, the Commission members requested refinements to the design focused on the entrance area, which they found to be particularly awkward within this sensitive context. They questioned the tight, inwardly focused elliptical configuration of the center's approach walks, finding that this figural design is inconsistent with the gentler open curves in the broader context of Constitution Gardens, as well as the linear geometry of the Lincoln Memorial setting. Instead, they suggested exploration of alternative alignments and grading for the sloping lawns and access walks by minimizing changes to the topography, eliminating the stairway, and developing further the landscape design within the entrance zone.
The Commission commended the design team for its diligent effort to resolve the programming goals in the context of this site on the National Mall, encouraging further study to develop a satisfactory final design for this important project. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Steve Whitesell, Regional Director
National Park Service, National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: Tom Wong, Ennead Architects