Pershing Park, Pennsylvania Avenue, between 14th and 15th Streets, NW
Dear Mr. Vogel:
In its meeting of 19 July, 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 thanked the memorial design team for its diligence in developing alternative configurations for the memorial’s central features, approving Option A as a development of the concept design approved in May 2017 and providing the following comments for the refinement of the proposal.
In their approval of the revised concept, the Commission members commented that the presentation demonstrated that the new commemorative purpose and the preservation of the historic park are not antithetical goals, and that the insertion of the freestanding sculpture wall at the western end of the central pool would successfully reinterpret the existing landscape. They also endorsed the project team’s preferred configuration of creating a large paved area or viewing platform within the historic pool, bordered by a significant perimeter of water. However, they recommended studying the extension of this water along the pool’s eastern edge, and they expressed concern about the necessity and appropriateness of the scrim water feature proposed on the platform. To advance the review process, they advised that a series of related details must now be developed—including the edges of the platform, the depth of the surrounding water, the location of walkways to the platform, the presence and character of the scrim, and potential safety features such as handrails.
For the design of the sculpture wall, the Commission members reiterated their prior guidance that the high-relief artwork and the wall should be understood as a single, powerful element rather than a discrete work of bronze sculpture mounted onto and framed by a masonry wall. They emphasized that the refinement of the design details—such as reducing the thick stone frame at the base and eliminating it at the top, wrapping the rough stone finish of the rear onto the sides, and raising the source of the fountain water at the front—will create the most successful and seamlessly integrated design for the sculpture. They cited the dramatic projection of the sculptural figures from their background in Option C, which they suggested could inform the development of the sculpture in Option A to further emphasize the silhouettes of the high-relief figures extending into surrounding space, unconstrained by a frame. They also recommended a strong textural treatment of the sculpture’s bronze surface on the extensive areas of empty background between the figures.
Regarding the development of other elements within the park, they expressed support for the proposed location of the flagstaff in the northwestern corner, and they continued to recommend the kiosk site as a strong opportunity for interpretation of the memorial and park as a whole. Noting the number of potential commemorative and interpretive elements within the design, they did not support the introduction of additional elements, such as the presented field of vertical metal panels proposed for the northeastern part of the site.
The Commission of Fine Arts looks forward to continuing its review of this important national memorial to World War I and the enhancement of historic Pershing Park. In order to advance the project through design development toward final approval, the Commission requested that the applicant team present the various components of the memorial design in clusters of related topics, as is typical for other commemorative works of this scale, complexity, and prominence. These components will include such topics as: the refinement of the detailing of the pool and sculpture as described above; inscriptions and interpretive elements; the selection of stone and other materials; landscape plans and specifications; and systems of signage and lighting. Please consult with the Commission staff for guidance on these future submissions for the continued review of the memorial design.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Robert Vogel, 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