- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - A Fayetteville native has been selected to design the nation’s monument to the Great War, the conflict that claimed 116,000 American lives and left millions of others dead.

The United States World War I Centennial Commission voted 8-1 Tuesday to give the assignment to Joseph Weishaar, a 2013 graduate of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas. Weishaar and New York sculptor Sabin Howard teamed up on the project, which they call “The Weight of Sacrifice.”

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1KFVBHz ) reports that a group of architects, architecture critics and historians had unanimously recommended Weishaar and Howard’s proposal over four other finalists for the project.

The competition drew more than 350 entries, officials said.

Tuesday’s announcement places Weishaar on a national stage and gives him the opportunity to leave a lasting mark on the Washington landscape.

Roger K. Lewis, a University of Maryland professor emeritus in architecture who helped organize the competition, said Americans will be viewing Weishaar’s work “for hundreds of years.”

“This is a very big deal for somebody 25 years old, just two or three years out of architecture school, to be selected as the lead designer for a commemorative work of this magnitude, of this importance, of this gravitas,” Lewis said. “A: He should be very proud of what he achieved, and B: This is certainly going to change his whole career. Or it should.”

Weishaar, who lives and works in Chicago, learned around lunchtime that he’d won the competition.

In an interview, he said he was “just amazingly surprised” when the phone rang in Illinois with news that he’d been selected.

It was “just incredible, easily the best phone call of my life. Hands down. There’s no way to describe that really,” he said.

Unlike the monuments to those who fought in Korea, Vietnam and World War II, the World War I monument will sit along Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th streets, near the White House.

The site is now a park honoring Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, the head of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.

Weishaar’s initial proposal includes a redesigned park with maple trees and an 81-foot-long bronze bas-relief sculpture. It will be attached to two bronze walls that will be inscribed with quotes about the Great War. A statue titled The Wheels of Humanity also is planned.

Officials said the design would change as various boards, agencies and commissions weigh in. Howard’s artwork will also evolve.

There will be several obstacles for Weishaar and the commission to overcome.

The group must raise tens of millions of dollars to pay for the project.

They’ll also face opposition from people who believe the existing park is historically significant and should not be drastically changed.

Edwin Fountain, the commission’s vice chairman, said he believes Weishaar’s “simple, more restrained approach” retains the best features of the existing park while also honoring the millions of Americans who served.

He also praised Weishaar for joining forces with Howard, saying the collaboration had been crucial.

Officials didn’t realize that Weishaar was a recent college graduate until after he was selected as a finalist. During the initial round of the competition, the jurors did not know the identities of the people submitting the entries.

There’s a precedent for a newcomer winning a contest of this type. The designer of the Vietnam Memorial, Maya Lin, was 21 years old when she won the competition.

Noting Weishaar’s youth, Fountain said, “The commission is pleased that someone from his generation is going to have this prominent of a role because our core objective is to raise awareness of World War I among the younger generations of this country.”

Before becoming a finalist, Weishaar had never been to Washington. He’s still completing the requirements to become a licensed architect.

“He’s just out of architecture school, and he just got the commission of a lifetime and he deserves it,” said Commissioner Libby O’Connell. “This young man brought a vision of elegance and simplicity to a national competition that really impressed the jurors who are true experts in their fields.”

Officials appreciated not only Weishaar’s ideas, but his attitude. Lewis praised Weishaar’s “humility.”

O’Connell highlighted Weishaar’s teamwork.

Initially competing on his own, Weishaar invited people with more experience to join him on the project after he was named a finalist.

“Joseph is not a prima donna. He’s open to working with people to create something that will truly speak to all Americans,” O’Connell said. “I’m so proud that this was the choice that was made, and I am really impressed by his ability.”

While the official announcement was made in Washington, it didn’t take long for friends in Fayetteville to find out about it.

When news arrived, during a campus meeting, that Weishaar had won, there was a round of applause and “cries of joy,” according to Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design.

“We here in the school are, of course, thrilled for him and proud of him,” MacKeith said. “This is big. It’s important.”

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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