Constitution Avenue and 23rd Street, NW
Dear Mr. Lawler:
In its meeting of 17 May, the Commission of Fine Arts was pleased to comment on the schematic design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center proposed for Constitution Avenue and 23rd Street, NW. The Commission had previously given its conditional approval to the site subject to the demonstration that a design could be developed that would meet a number of criteria that resulted from the highly sensitive context of the project, with particular concern about the project's relationship to the nearby Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial. After viewing the alternative proposed designs, the Commission members remain concerned about the size of the project and its impact on the sensitive setting; despite the emphasis on subterranean space, the project's large scale seems out of character with the context. The Commission members acknowledged the difficult design challenge of the program and site, and they encouraged the design team to continue working to find an appropriate solution.
The Commission members expressed a preference for the third of the alternative designs that were presented, which included an extensive sloping ground plane from Constitution Avenue and Bacon Drive downward to the building entrance. The openness of the visitor approach to the building was seen as preferable to the more constricted access shown in the other alternatives. However, the Commission members commented that this solution also presents considerable design problems: the excessive site area devoted to entrance paths; the necessity to excavate the ground plane in contrast to the generally flat context; the uncomfortable similarity between the entrance ramp and the nearby Vietnam Veterans Memorial; and the fourteen-foot-high entrance facade that is taller than the Memorial wall itself. The members also expressed concern about the character and scale of the courtyard space. They recommended that any anticipated night-time lighting of the project should be studied in relation to existing ambient light and the lighting of nearby features such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the proposed U.S. Institute of Peace.
The Commission appreciates the opportunity to comment on the project at this early stage and looks forward to a formal submission of the design concept at your earliest convenience. The members requested that the submission include a more complete response to the previously adopted design guidelines.
As always, the staff is available to assist you.
Thomas E. Luebke, AIA
Joseph M. Lawler
Regional Director, National Capital Region
National Park Service
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: John Parsons, National Park Service
John Polshek, Polshek Partnership Architects
Jan Scruggs, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund