Dear Mr. Vogel:
In its meeting of 21 June, the Commission of Fine Arts reconsidered the site selection for the proposed National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial. Citing the persuasiveness of the analysis supporting the sponsor’s preferred site at the southwest corner of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, NW, the Commission approved this site with the following comments.
The Commission members commented that the previously approved site—the Belvedere at the historic Potomac River terminus of Constitution Avenue—continues to present a very desirable location for a memorial, but one that may depend on the future improvement of the existing tangle of nearby roadway infrastructure. Expressing appreciation for the clear presentation, they recognized the challenges inherent in the Belvedere site, particularly the difficulties of pedestrian access and its physical setting adjacent to heavy traffic. They acknowledged the distinct benefits of the preferred site on the National Mall at 23rd Street for its easier accessibility and adjacency to other attractions and commemorative works. However, while understanding this area’s appeal for memorial sponsors, they continued to cite the larger concern about the proliferation of military memorials at the Mall’s west end, suggesting that the National Park Service should address the pressing issue of balancing the commemoration of military conflicts with a landscape that more broadly expresses our collective national identity and ideals.
In their approval of the 23rd Street site, the Commission members expressed optimism that an appropriate design could be developed based on the presented materials; however, their guidance remains that this location in the foreground of the Lincoln Memorial necessitates a low, landscape-oriented solution rather than one that projects vertically. They cautioned specifically against the use of large freestanding sculptures or arrays of flagpoles, as illustrated in the presentation renderings, commenting that the introduction of vertical objects within the design will detract from the experience of this memorial landscape. Instead, they emphasized that the new memorial should convey its commemorative message through its landscape elements without introducing such objects, and narrative artistic elements such as sculpture should be incorporated into landscape walls. They advised that the design should be developed in conjunction with improvements to the larger panel—which includes elements such as the remnant allee of trees on Constitution Avenue, the future landform of the elevated levee, and the uncompleted ring of trees around the Lincoln Memorial—and that new trees should be planted at the same time to ensure a coherent overall landscape setting for this memorial.
The Commission of Fine Arts looks forward to the review of this important national memorial, whose subject illustrates a significant moment of transition from the post-World War II geopolitical order to that of the current century, and which honors those who served and sacrificed in the Desert Storm and Desert Shield conflict. As always, the staff is available to assist in the development of the design for this memorial.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Robert Vogel, Regional Director
National Park Service, National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: Skip Graffam, The Olin Studio
Scott Stump, National Desert Storm War Memorial Association
Marcel Acosta, National Capital Planning Commission