Dear Mr. Vogel:
In its meeting of 17 May, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a revised concept design for the National World War I Memorial proposed for Pershing Park, located on Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets, NW. The Commission provided the following comments for the further development of the proposal.
The Commission members expressed their continuing support for a design that balances two works of art—the existing Pershing Park by M. Paul Friedberg and the proposed linear relief sculpture by Sabin Howard—as an appropriate way to commemorate World War I within a monumental and historic context. They identified the central dilemma as how to honor the exemplary design of this romantic, serene landscape centered on a large cascading fountain and a simple pool, while inserting an equally compelling monumental artwork—a heroically scaled “film in bronze” depicting the experience of a soldier through the war—within the park without compromising its essential character. They emphasized that the park as a historic landscape could reasonably accommodate some alteration, but they suggested that the conception of the sculpture appears to be unchangeable due to self-imposed constraints that are inhibiting a satisfactory resolution of the design. They reiterated their concerns raised in past reviews about unresolved issues that remain in the presented alternatives, particularly the scale of the sculpture wall, the wall’s relationship to the water, the change in the auditory and visual experience of the park landscape, and the inadequacy of the proposed treatment of the kiosk site within the overall composition.
Therefore, the Commission members again urged more flexibility and collaboration on the part of the sculptor and landscape architect to integrate the two works of art, involving an earnest reconsideration of the wall, sculpture, and fountain beyond what has been presented. They suggested that reversing the freestanding wall at the west side of the pool—placing the relief sculpture facing the west terraces for convenient viewing, and restoring a cascading fountain facing east—would help to resolve many of the issues, including eliminating the need for walkways through the pool which may eventually require obtrusive and undesirable handrails. This simple reorientation of the sculpture wall would have the welcome effect of using the east side of the wall for the cascade in order to maintain the established character of the park landscape, while creating a focus for commemoration and contemplation on the west. They also suggested other ideas that could help to resolve the design, such as letting the sculpture emerge past the ends of the wall, returning the sculpture around to the other side, or introducing water into the sculpture itself.
The Commission members continued to express dissatisfaction with the suggested treatment of the existing kiosk area, describing the proposal for a grouping of several flagpoles as lacking in monumentality and too weak for the importance of this location in Friedberg’s original design. They suggested developing a solution that could elaborate upon the memorial’s narrative of the sculpture wall, whether artistic or interpretive, which could create a stronger connection to the Pershing Memorial elements and help block noise and views of traffic to the north.
The Commission emphasized its continuing desire to assist in the creative adaptation of Pershing Park into a fitting national memorial to World War I. They encouraged further consultation with staff in the development of a revised design.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Robert Vogel, Regional Director
National Park Service, National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: Edwin L. Fountain, U.S. World War I Centennial Commission
David Rubin, Land Collective
Sabin Howard, Sabin Howard Sculpture