- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

One of the challenges of designing a memorial for a city where they abound is the need to be different from all the others. In this, architect Friedrich St. Florian has succeeded. His National World War II Memorial on the Mall differs significantly from Maya Lin’s astonishingly simple Vietnam Veterans Memorial, from the Korean War Veterans Memorial and from the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

Set between the Lincoln Memorial at one end of the Mall and the Washington Monument at the other, Mr. St. Florian’s recently completed design is a neoclassical structure solidly constructed in silvery granite from Georgia and South Carolina and consisting of two semicircular colonnades linking two tall, square pavilions. Incorporated into the center of the plaza enclosed by the pillars is the Mall’s Rainbow Pool, somewhat reduced in size.

The $174 million project, begun in 1995, will be dedicated today. Mr. St. Florian was commissioned to create it after winning an architectural competition that had some 400 entrants. But over the years, his winning design has undergone major changes.

The completed memorial has been receiving mixed reviews, but on balance, its good points outnumber its faults by a long shot. In contrast to, say, the Vietnam memorial, the design evokes respect rather than a gut-wrenching memory of the suffering and sacrifice caused by the conflict. This is partly because the war itself is by now on the very edge of the collective consciousness. But the monument itself also is at fault: For many, the severity of its lines and the rigid formality of its layout fail to stir the emotions.

Moreover, despite modifications in response to early concerns, the memorial still echoes the triumphalist granite and white marble constructions of Mussolini’s Rome. (The EUR district and the Foro Italico come to mind.) Given the architect’s choice of style, the parallel was probably unavoidable, but it is hardly appropriate.

That said, Mr. St. Florian’s design has sweep and grace. The north and south arched pavilions, representing the Atlantic-European and Pacific theaters of the war, respectively, form solid anchors for the memorial and serve as forum entrances to the enclosure. Overhead in each pavilion are four beautifully wrought bronze American eagles, each holding a ribbon in its beak. From each ribbon hangs a 10-foot-wide bronze laurel wreath that looks as if it is floating in the air. All the bronze work is by sculptor Raymond Kaskey.

The two semicircles of 28 stone flattened pillars on either side link the space between the two pavilions. Each pillar carries a pair of sculpted bronze wreaths, front and back. Each pillar also bears the name of a U.S. state or territory, a puzzling — even unnecessary — addition because the war effort was a national effort and the U.S. military is not formed on geographic lines by state.

The importance Mr. St. Florian attached to being different extends to the fact that the memorial does not include the names of the 400,000 American servicemen and -women killed in the war, an omission that is sure to disappoint some visitors, and perhaps reduce their numbers. Instead, the memorial includes a wall emblazoned with 4,000 gold stars, each representing 100 dead. This recalls a moving but long-forgotten detail of life in World War II. Families of service members who died on active duty put gold stars in their windows.

Carved quotations from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower (his D-Day message) help to establish time and place.

The Washington firm of Leo J. Daley supervised the design, and the construction required the combined efforts of William V. Walsh Construction, Grunley Construction and Tompkins Builders.

The memorial has been a long time coming, and many of the participants are no longer alive to see it. But in these days of undeclared wars, limited conflicts and peacekeeping operations, a monument to the largest conflict civilization has known acquires a new significance.

Roland Flamini, United Press International’s chief international correspondent, has written about architecture for Architectural Digest, Town & Country, and UPI.

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