Louisiana Avenue at C and First Streets, NW
Dear Ms. Mendelson-Ielmini:
In its meeting of 19 September, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a revised concept design for the proposed Peace Corps Memorial, to be located in the triangular park reservation bounded by Louisiana Avenue and First and C Streets, NW. The Commission expressed general support for the artistic ambition and potential of the memorial but did not take an action, providing the following comments to be addressed in the development of the design.
The Commission members expressed appreciation for the responsiveness of the project team in revising the proposal, including the changes in the canopy design to reduce its barrier-like appearance and to modify the color and character of its blades. However, they continued to raise fundamental concerns about the memorial’s conceptual and formal framework, and they found that the design still lacks coherence, with the elements of canopy, benches, and landscape remaining dissociated from each other. They identified a fundamental tension between realism and abstraction in the proposed design—exemplified by over-scaled stone hands encircling a map of the world, juxtaposed with an array of hovering colored glass blades—which creates an undesirable confusion, with both elements competing to convey the same message of international harmony and cooperation. They also noted that the realistic hands emerging from long, rough stone benches suggest arms cut off at the elbow; the canopy of glass blades recalls the form of a traditional park structure but provides no shade. More generally, they observed that the site is an edge to the larger landscape of the U.S. Capitol Grounds, and they commented that this edge should be defined using the established language of this landscape, rather than by the imposition of a vertical built element.
Because of what they identified as a lack of clarity in the conceptual design, the Commission members recognized a concomitant lack of consensus in their comments. In their discussion, they found the canopy to be alien and artificial in the landscape without a logical relationship to the central gathering plaza, and its proposed form more suggestive of a playful neighborhood park structure than a commemorative element of a national memorial; however, they acknowledged that it may be necessary to keep some kind of vertical element to announce the presence of the memorial. If the canopy is retained in the design, they recommended rethinking its scale and materiality, as well as its location at the edge of the composition, suggesting that it could be a more central element, possibly a more organic form that visitors can walk beneath. For the plaza, they questioned its overly resolved elliptical geometry, suggesting that a less rigid spatial form—perhaps one created by looser curving elements—could improve the design. They also recommended reconsidering the scale of the plaza, which they observed may be too large for conversation, and may attract unanticipated uses such as skateboarding. For the site generally, they recommended reconceiving the role of trees as a greater focus of the memorial instead of merely as background elements, and they recommended that any inscriptions should be studied as part of the experience of visitors as they move toward and through the memorial.
In summary, the Commission members advised that the design team be more rigorous in finding a convincing logic for the memorial’s constituent elements, and they strongly recommended deeper collaboration between the artistic and design disciplines to resolve these issues.
The Commission looks forward to review of a revised concept design that addresses these concerns. As always, the staff is available to assist you in the development of the next submission.
/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: Larry Kirkland
Michael Vergason, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects
Alan Harwood, AECOM
Roger Lewis, Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation