- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001


Construction of a World War II Memorial on the Mall is on hold due to litigation, and ground will not be broken for weeks, or more likely, months. But the memorial will almost certainly be built at this site. If carried out according to the existing design, however, it will be mediocre at best.
The memorial's sunken plaza, which will include a somewhat shrunken Rainbow Pool, is hardly the ideal centerpiece for a heroic memorial. Architect Friedrich St. Florian's scheme incorporates two 42-foot-tall pavilions at the north and south ends of the plaza, which symbolize victory in the Pacific and the Atlantic. Mr. St. Florian calls these structures triumphal arches, but that's hyperbole. Imbued with the familiar horror of glorifying war, he has, in fact, produced a design that is altogether too subdued and funereal.
How to change that? How to glorify the heroes, living and dead, who confronted the horrors of the 20th century's greatest war to preserve the liberties we children of a more fortunate era enjoy?
The first step is to recognize that because of the Rainbow Pool site, whose selection was a mistake, the sunken plaza is a done deal, and a landscape-oriented design such as Mr. St. Florian has produced is inevitable. In this context, the pavilions are an appropriate architectural counterpart to the plaza. Their design should be improved.
The second step is to recognize that Mr. St. Florian so far has merely parodied the classical idiom he is attempting to employ. The bizarre capital-less, pseudo-classical columns that figured in his initial, abandoned design for the memorial; the slitted, see-through pillars and piers that figure in his present scheme these are nothing more than gimmicks.
In the completely subjective, ephemeral realm of modernism (which is where Mr. St. Florian is coming from) gimmicks are the order of the day. But when you move into the classical world of enduring, objective forms, there's no room for them.
Mr. St. Florian should scrap the 56 17-foot-tall pillars that extend from the pavilions in semicircles. These slitted pillars provide little more than visual clutter. Using the eight massive stone cheekblocks on the memorial plaza's perimeter as pedestals for sculpture then could serve to animate the design. Elliott Benfield's drawing, at left, shows how such an arrangement could create a dignified framework for the memorial.
Fortunately, the sculptural decoration of the World War II Memorial has been entrusted to Raymond Kaskey. His magnificent bronze figure of Justice, with its tremendous forward thrust, looms over the entrance to the Albert V. Bryan U.S. courthouse in Alexandria, testifying to a mastery of human movement very few contemporary sculptors command.
For the World War II Memorial, Mr. Kaskey has so far modeled an elaborate decorative composition for the interiors of the two pavilions that will consist of bronze columns, eagles, and a great wreath suspended from ribbons the eagles clutch in their beaks. Mr. Kaskey also has been assigned the task of producing 24 bronze relief panels which will portray the national war effort at home and abroad.
Mr. Kaskey should be put in charge of an expanded sculptural program, a program involving studios other than his own. The program should involve a combination of idealized figures of Victory, Peace, angels, and the like with realistic figures in the round of soldiers, sailors, and airmen.
The American Battle Monuments Commission, the memorial's sponsor, is being pressured to settle for a torchlight or water-jet or some similarly threadbare gesture in the pool in order to minimize impact on the Mall's central axis. The pool, in fact, must be decorated with a figurative work of sculpture that will endow the memorial with a symbolic focus.
Finally, Mr. St. Florian should enhance the architectural and ornamental treatment of his stripped, ersatz-classical pavilions in a manner consistent with Mr. Kaskey's decorative scheme. If its sculptural program and architectural features are improved, this memorial could celebrate the triumph of America's heroes without ignoring the dark tragedy of war.

Catesby Leigh has written about contemporary memorial design in The Weekly Standard and The American Enterprise.


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