Louisiana Avenue at 1st and C Streets, NW (Reservation 727)
Dear Ms. Mendelson-Ielmini:
In its meeting of 21 March, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a 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. Expressing support for the general idea of the memorial, the Commission approved the concept and provided the following comments to be addressed in the development of the design.
The Commission members commented on the promise of the design—featuring sculptural benches terminating in overscaled human hands that create a gesture of embrace surrounding a plaza paved with a map of the world, as well as an array of posts supporting colored glass blades forming a backdrop to the site—as potentially very beautiful. In particular, they expressed great enthusiasm for the ethereal quality of the watercolor renderings in establishing a compelling character for the memorial. However, they raised concern that the presented documentation does not yet convey how this character will be achieved, and they advised that many details of the overall design require considerable development in order to realize this potential as an appropriate commemoration of international service and understanding.
In their discussion, the Commission members commented that the memorial’s symbolism should be understood as consistent with the values and spirit of the Peace Corps, and they cautioned that the physical forms proposed may be subject to misreading. For example, they observed that the line of posts may seem like a tall fence intended to constrain human movement; that the glass blades may appear like weapons; that the red and yellow palette of the glass blades could be associated with particular political regimes; and that the enormous hands could appear intimidating as much as welcoming for some visitors. In order to address these potential problems of unintended meanings, the Commission members made the following specific comments regarding the elements proposed for the memorial:
Site design: They commented that the small site is very tight, especially behind the canopy posts, and they recommended increasing the dimension of the planted border between it and the adjacent streets so that the entire composition is spatially comfortable within the triangle. They also requested further exploration of the memorial as more open from all sides rather than as a composition meant to be viewed and approached only from Louisiana Avenue.
Plaza benches/hands: They expressed appreciation for the organic form of the benches in general, but raised concern about the surreal quality of the hands, suggesting perhaps a more abstract approach to the sculpted ends of the benches. They also suggested reducing the number of benches from three to two, and encouraging pedestrian movement past the benches into the north and west edges of the site.
Canopy structure: Observing that the overall effect of the posts together is to create a barrier, they recommended refining the shape and spacing of the canopy posts to make the array more visually open and less fence-like, possibly allowing pedestrians to pass through it. For the glass blades supported by the posts, they recommended making these larger and more flag-like, with a billowing gestural effect and more range of color. They also recommended greater consideration of the array from the north and west, suggesting that the canopy’s glass and lighting be extended outward in order to allow the memorial to present itself in all directions.
The Commission looks forward to further review of the refinement of the concept design for this important addition to the commemorative landscape of the nation’s capital. 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