Pershing Park, Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets, NW
Dear Ms. Mendelson-Ielmini:
In its meeting of 18 April, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a submission of refinements to the concept design of the National World War I Memorial within Pershing Park, located on Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets, NW, addressing several components of the project, including lighting and the central commemorative sculpture wall. The Commission approved the proposed revisions, providing the following comments for the further development of the project.
In general, the Commission members expressed strong support for the development of the design, including the revised location of the pedestrian walkway leading to the central plaza, and they commented that the sculpture has continued to improve with each submission. Citing the importance of using a larger-than-life scale for the human figures in the high-relief sculpture, they endorsed the corresponding proposal to slightly increase the height and length of the sculpture wall. However, they raised concern that the design of the sculpture wall’s base remains unresolved and does not successfully integrate the bronze sculpture with the stone wall. Noting the simple, monolithic quality of the existing granite walls at the Pershing Memorial, they recommended eliminating the stone shelf with vaguely classical detailing immediately below the sculpture, thereby simplifying the number of design elements into a coherent relationship between only two: the modeled bronze tableau and the rough stone wall. In addition, they said that the best solution would likely have the water cascading from directly below the base of the bronze sculpture rather than being set off by an intermediary stone base beneath the base of the sculpture.
For the proposed lighting, the Commission members commended the functionality and general design strategy, characterizing the hierarchy of background, pathway, and feature lighting as sophisticated. However, they continued to question the proposal to remove the twelve historic multi-globe light fixtures at the upper walkway, emphasizing that these lighting elements were designed to play an important role in the shaping of a coherent spatial experience. Noting that the argument for their removal focuses on the presumed impact of nighttime glare from the six lights that would be located behind the sculpture wall, they questioned whether this would be any more problematic than glare from the areas surrounding the park. They also found that using a single lighting type for multiple conditions compromises the geometric structure and spatial clarity of the plan, particularly along the upper walkway where the multi-globe light fixtures—flanking the seating exedras—are replaced with the type of fixture that is used more randomly within planted areas to provide general lighting. They emphasized that the success of the memorial project lies in the sympathetic melding of the new design with the historic park and its contributing elements, and they noted the progress already made by the project team to achieve this goal.
The Commission looks forward to the review of the next submission of design refinements. As always, the staff is available to assist you.
/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: Libby O’Connell, U.S. World War I Centennial Commission
David Rubin, Land Collective
Sabin Howard, Sabin Howard Sculpture
Joseph Weishaar, UU+ Designs