CFA 18/SEP/08-1


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial
Independence Avenue, SW at the northwestern rim of the Tidal Basin
United States

National Park Service
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial
Review Type
Previous Review


Dear Ms. Mendelson-Ielmini:

In its meeting of 18 September, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the final design submission for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial at Independence Avenue, SW along the Tidal Basin. The Commission members expressed their appreciation for the design team’s consideration of their previous comments, including the preparation of a comprehensive presentation of all of the memorial’s elements, which assisted the Commission in assessing the relationship of each part to the overall design. The Commission approved the final proposal with the exception of several components that must be submitted for further review.

The Commission approved the overall site and landscape design, the lighting, materials and details, and the design of the auxiliary building. Regarding the landscape design along the main entrance plaza, the Commission members approved the preferred alternative, which does not include maple trees. The Commission anticipates an on-site review of the material samples, requesting that particular emphasis be given to a mockup of the transition between the inscription walls, the water element, and the Mountain of Despair. The remaining items identified by the Commission for further review relate to the final design of the inscriptions and signage, perimeter security, and the sculpture of Dr. King, with comments as follows:

Inscriptions and signage. The submission included general information about the location and layout of inscriptions, which have been previously approved at the concept stage. The Commission anticipates a forthcoming submission that fully documents the selection, layout, and typography of the inscriptions as well as any other signage at the memorial such as identification text at the entrances.

Perimeter security. The Commission did not approve the submitted design for perimeter security, which was a new element that had not been included in previous submissions. Commission members characterized the bollards as contradicting the memorial’s broader symbolism and suggested that, if perimeter security cannot be eliminated, alternative design treatments be considered such as a barrier line near the street or further development of the berms and retaining walls in the landscape.

Central sculpture. The Commission reiterated its support for the memorial’s original concept of Dr. King and the Stone of Hope emerging from the Mountain of Despair, noting that the unity of the man with the stone invokes the great strength of the civil rights leader and his contribution to the nation’s history. The Commission members reviewed the submitted maquettes; they suggested continued refinement of the sculptural modeling to soften the transitions between the refined surfaces of the figure of Dr. King and the rougher areas of the background stone, as well as to reduce the prominence of the clothing, particularly when viewed from ground level. The Commission requested the submission of a full-scale sample of a portion of the sculpture, showing the proposed material and range of finishes; the location of this sample should be chosen to illustrate the treatment of the stone joints and the transition between the smoother and rougher surfaces of the sculpture.

The Commission appreciates the great effort of all those who have worked toward resolution of the final design of this prominent addition to the landscape of the National Mall and looks forward to review of the remaining components. As always, the staff is available to assist you.


/s/Thomas E. Luebke, AIA

Lisa Mendelson-Ielmini, Acting Regional Director
National Park Service, National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242

cc: Peter May, National Park Service