West Potomac Park at the southwest corner of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Dear Ms. Mendelson-Ielmini:
In its meeting of 15 November, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept proposal for the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial, to be located near the corner of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. Citing the great progress made in commencing the design process for this memorial, the Commission made several recommendations for its development.
In general, the Commission members expressed support for the potential of the curving walls, reminiscent of barchan dune forms, to convey a sense of meaning and physical definition within this site on a foreground panel of the Lincoln Memorial. However, they raised concerns that the proposed plan is rigidly axial and that the central space—which should be the most important and meaningful public space—seems empty. They emphasized the need to proceed with the design process as a collaboration between the landscape architect and an artist to infuse the central focus of the memorial with meaning related to its form—whether a water element, a grove, or a metaphoric table suggesting collaboration among thirty-four nations—to create the strongest message for this project.
Regarding the proposed configuration of the memorial, the Commission members criticized the scale of the curving passage that bisects the space as detracting from the memorial’s potential intensity. Instead, they suggested strengthening the dialogue between the outer dune-like walls by moving them closer together, introducing asymmetry and tension into the static geometry of the plan, and using these elements to suggest a more dynamic, pivoting gesture. For the dunes, they emphasized the importance of articulating the outer walls—not merely as conventional curving enclosures, but more forcefully, with associated berms, to recall barchan landforms. In addition, they recommended pulling the northeastern wall of the memorial further to the southwest, allowing the existing allées of trees on Constitution Avenue and 23rd Street to remain; these could perhaps be understood as converging as a grove in the center of the memorial. Accordingly, they expressed support for the general direction of an alternative plan presented at the meeting showing a more concentrated configuration and set back farther from the intersection. Given the sensitivity of the context of the National Mall, they reiterated their prior guidance to avoid vertical elements within the memorial, and they suggested developing further the stated intention to orient the memorial to outward views, perhaps by using a less symmetric configuration.
The Commission looks forward to reviewing the next submission of the concept design that addresses these comments for this important memorial. As always, the staff is available to assist you with future submissions.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Lisa Mendelson-Ielmini, Acting Regional Director
National Park Service, National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: Skip Graffam, The Olin Studio
Scott Stump, National Desert Storm War Memorial Association
Marcel Acosta, National Capital Planning Commission