- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2015

Students, architects and even amateur designers who have a vision for what the national World War I memorial should look like will get their shot this summer, according to the body charged with honoring those who served in the Great War.

The World War I Centennial Commission will unveil a design competition next Thursday for anyone interested in transforming Pershing Park — located mere steps from the White House — into a memorial for all those who served in the 1914-1918 conflict centered in Europe.

The two-stage contest will be judged by a seven-member jury of D.C. residents and government, military and arts experts. Design concepts will be due by late July, before the field is whittled down to three to five submissions and a final designed is selected by January.

People across the globe are eligible to submit their ideas, after the commission decided not to solicit concepts from just a small groups of well-known architects.

“We felt that an open competition was more democratic, in a way, and not just open it to the American public given the international character of the event,” said Edwin Foundation, vice chairman of the commission.

World War I is the only major 20th century conflict that is not memorialized on the National Mall, a glaring omission that’s irked historians, descendants of veterans and others. The path to selecting Pershing Park — a small block near the White House, D.C. city hall and the historic Willard Hotel — was a tortured one, after D.C. officials objected to “nationalizing” the city’s World War I site in a tree-lined section near the Lincoln Memorial.

Commissioners will be looking for a design that strikes the right balance — paying homage to its subject, while functioning as a urban park. It should also invite passersby, while screening off the hubbub from the busy intersection at Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street.

No federal funds can be used on the memorial, and the commission is looking to raise roughly $20 million to 25 million ahead of a targeted completion date of Veterans Day on Nov. 11, 2018, which would coincide with the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I.

“Admittedly, that’s an ambitious schedule,” Mr. Fountain said.

Stakeholders landed on Pershing Park as a natural fit, because it is named for famous World War I Gen. John J. Pershing. Yet some advocates said the memorial should be located on the main cross-section of the Mall with the other memorials to overseas wars.

A 2003 law, though, essentially banned new commemorative works on the strip of federal land, making it difficult to construct a new memorial after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened along the Tidal Basin.

With the site controversy behind them, the commission is hoping for a transparent process after in-fighting tripped up another project — the memorial to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower — that’s on its way to completion across from the National Air and Space Museum.

In that case, members of the former World War II general’s family, newspaper columnists and other critics had issues with the design by renown architect Frank Gehry.

“You’re not going to make everyone happy, but we hope by providing more visibility and opportunity for public engagement than may have been the case with the Eisenhower [memorial], people will at least understand how we got to the chosen design,” Mr. Fountain said.

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