Louisiana Avenue at C and First Streets, NW
Dear Ms. Mendelson-Ielmini:
In its meeting of 20 February, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a new concept submission for the proposed commemorative work honoring the mission and ideals of the Peace Corps, to be located in the triangular park reservation bounded by Louisiana Avenue and First and C Streets, NW. Citing the continuing lack of conceptual clarity in the design, the Commission did not take an action on the submission and provided the following comments to be addressed in the development of the proposal.
In general, the Commission members expressed concern that the two major elements of the design—the arcing pergola of glass fins, and the stone bench-hands embracing a map of the world—remain conceptually, aesthetically, and materially dissociated from each other. However, they noted the potential of the large stone hands to enliven the design, announce the commemorative work on the site, and present its central symbolic meaning. While acknowledging the pergola's artistic appeal and its intended role in marking and shaping the site, they found that its strong aesthetic image does not convey a recognizable meaning but may instead attract other interpretations having no relationship to the principles of the Peace Corps; they cited the odd similarity of the hovering array of glass fins to the skeleton of a large aquatic creature in a museum exhibit. They also noted the limited capacity of the glass-finned, roughly fifteen-foot-high pergola located on the northwestern side of the site to provide useful shade. They therefore recommended either eliminating the pergola altogether, or reconceiving it as a subordinate, space-defining, and shade-giving element to the bench-hands and world map, deferring to the primary and more legible symbolic meaning that these convey.
For the development of the site design, the Commission members noted that although the location of the site is prominent, its highly exposed quality is problematic for the intended commemorative purpose, and they recommended conceptually constructing the site to create a sense of place within this small, vestigial triangle park. This spatial definition could be achieved with the pergola, if it is to remain, or through the location of a distinctive grouping of trees; they expressed support for the proposed addition of ginkgo trees at the north and west edges of the site to help shape the commemorative precinct. They suggested that the benches could be configured in a more open way, possibly more asymmetrical or linear, one-sided in relation to the map, or extending further along the path toward the edges of the site; they also suggested considering disconnecting the hands from the benches to promote their artistic expression as independent from the functional need for seating, as well as studying the rendition of the hands to avoid gender specificity. For the world map on the central plaza, they recommended careful consideration in selecting an appropriate cartographic projection in order to avoid distortions that could be interpreted as favoring certain regions over others. Noting the site's sensitive location at the edge of the U.S. Capitol Grounds, they recommended against any lighting of the pergola if it remains in the design, possibly lighting only the hands as the central symbolic feature.
The Commission looks forward to further review of a new concept design submission that addresses these comments. 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 Director
Region 1–National Capital Area
National Park Service
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: Larry Kirkland
Michael Vergason, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects
Roger Lewis, Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation