Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, September 11, 2015

Finalist for the National World War One Memorial Design: Plaza to the Forgotten War

Over the next five Fridays Roads to the Great War will be presenting each of the finalists for the design of America's long-awaited World War One Memorial. Over 350 concepts have been reduced to five outstanding concepts. In the next stage of the competition, the finalists will work in consultation with the Commission, public agencies with ultimate approval authority over the design, and other stakeholders to further develop and refine their initial design concepts. At the end of Stage II the jury will make recommendations to the World War I Commission, which expects to announce a winning design concept in January 2016. 

During that process, however, the selection jury will be soliciting public comment. In order to encourage that commentary, Roads to the Great War will be sharing details about each of the designs with our readers. We will be including pieces of the original submittals and commentary from the jury and other designers. The designs will be presented in the order the were originally filed with the Commission. We begin with:

0013 "Plaza to the Forgotten War," submitted by the design team of Brian Johnsen, AIA; Sebastian Schmaling, AIA,  and Andrew Cesarz, at Johnsen Schmaling Architects, in Milwaukee, WI.

Major Design Features:

  • Grid of 1,166 illuminated bronze markers. (one for every 100 U.S. war deaths)

  • Terraced, gently sloping landforms with tree-lined paths and secluded spaces

  • Colonnade of memorial pillars with inscribed text with historical accounts of the U.S. involvement in the war

An American Cemetery in France: Inspiration for the Illuminated Markers

Daytime View of Intersection of a North-South Path and the Promenade
(Note Illuminated Markers and Informational Columns) 

Jury Comments: Situated on a seam between the National Mall and the dense urbanity of downtown DC, the Plaza to the Forgotten War commemorates the service of World War I American forces by creating a place that devotedly holds on to the memory of the tragic losses endured by the United States. The concept is simple, elegant, and open with a strong and integrated form and meaning that reveals itself in layers. The memorial message is clear and there is great potential for the creation of an outstanding park. The field of lights presents a technological challenge that will need to be resolved and the Pershing statue and walls will need to be integrated in the evolving design.

Night-time View of Colonnade on Main Promenade

Detailed Plans of Illuminated Markers and Pedestrian Pathways

We also invite commentators to share your observations with your fellow readers below.  MH


  1. This was not one of my favorites when I saw the full list. I guess it was too modern. But in the weeks since the finalists were announced, I've come to accept it more. Still hope it doesn't win, but I could live with it.

  2. The main problem is the name WW1 is no more a forgotten war than the Civil War.

    1. It sure as hell is. Go to any bookstore and compare how many WWI books there are to Civil War. The CW and WWII have the lion's share of everything.

  3. Agree with CJ. Too modern, too impersonal for my tastes. From a practical perspective, maintaining the illuminated markers could be a big challenge. My own preference is something ties directly and cleanly to the war period. The WWII monument/plaza manages to do this by focusing on the state by state contributions.

  4. Agree with John. Over time the illuminated markers will break and no one will bother to fix them. I don't like the "informational columns" either. This is supposed to be a memorial, not an outdoor museum.

  5. I have to agree that I also thought this one "too modern" and "too informational". Is bronze cast out of the question? Its old fashioned- and I think should be. Bronze statutes have a certain heroicness about them. A resolution. This war was a long time ago- we have been a bit remiss in this memorial being done. Most other countries directly involved did theirs in the 1920s and 30s. Still better late than never and why not heroic bronze cast. - good enough for many other fantastic memorials. .

    Memorials should, I think, lie more in the path of inspirational. And somewhere in all this has to be Doughboy's- actual monuments that look like the soldiers themselves. Doughboys should be a major central theme. Just my opinion. But I can't but feel it needs to be said. It is their memorial. The Doughboys. So that we would always remember them- as they were.

  6. I like both the name and the ways in which the design attempts to invoke American military cemeteries in France. However, my personal preference is always for something figural vs. symbolic (I prefer statues to columns or walls, for example).

  7. I like both the name and the ways in which the design attempts to invoke American military cemeteries in France. However, my personal preference is always for something figural vs. symbolic (I prefer statues to columns or walls, for example).

  8. Speaking as a son of a WW I veteran who has discussed these options with other WW I veteran families, this memorial (like the Vietnam Memorial), at least speaks to the cost of the war with its crosses... and the informational colonnade explains the war and the reasons for the crosses in ways that mere statues cannot convey.

    Statues without information are a dime a dozen in Washington, DC, gathering pigeon droppings, as disinterested people walk by them without a glance with no knowledge of the significance of the person honored or symbol displayed.

    Like the 58,000 names on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall, the 116 crosses representing 116,000 WW I war dead, really underlines the cost of WW I in human terms (twice the war dead of the 10 year Vietnam War...killed in Europe and the United States mostly in six months, from June 1, 1918 to November 11, 1918).

    Like at the Vietnam War Memorial, the sheer numbers of casualties should silence spectators and make it a very reverential, quiet, and honoring place dedicated to the 4.7 million WW I veterans and their families who want to make it hallowed ground. It should be a place for veterans of other wars to salute these doughboys, as well as ordinary Americans to come to the WW I Memorial to try to honor these veterans and understand this largely forgotten war.

    The designers of all these memorial proposals need to find a way to deaden the noise of honking cars and street traffic on the street surrounding this WW I Memorial (the site is on an island in a sea of cars), which really detracts from creating such a quiet space of honor and reverence that it would have had if it had been placed on the Mall.

    Most of the other options on the website seems to start with trying to make another city park in DC, rehabilitating a poorly maintained Pershing Park. There is no "wow factor" here that just gets your attention in most of these designs. They all look like places where people walk their dogs with "pooper -scoopers," eat a noon hour bag lunch on a bench, chat with friends or take a smoke break and kill time watching pigeons "do their thing" on General Pershing's statue (and any other statues that would be placed there). There is nothing in the environment to bring "a hush of hallowed ground to your heart," just people strolling by in conversation or sitting on park benches with cars driving by honking their horns in the any other city park on a nice day.

    You see none of this kind of above-mentioned activity or disrespectful behavior in front of the Vietnam War is instead a place for solemn reflection and is the quietest, most reverential space you can visit in Washington, DC. Nobody sits down at "the Wall" and eats a "Big Mac" or "Whopper" hamburger in front of The Wall or take a smoke break among those who come to remember a loved one or fallen Vietnam Veteran. It is a respectful place where visitors quietly honor those who grieve or are lost in their memories of a veteran who served in that war. We should expect no less for the World War I Memorial.

    As a Vietnam era vet I'd like the kind of memorial that Vietnam veterans have, for the 4.7 million WW I vets like my dad. I think most of the WW I veteran families feel the same way for their loved ones.

    This memorial, turned into a park, should not be a place to walk your dog or eat your lunch. It is a place of reverence, to pause, get quiet, and reflect upon the sacrifice and service of these 4.7 million WW I veterans and the 116,000 servicemen and nurses who made the ultimate sacrifice, with about half of them being killed in combat (53,000) and the other half (52,000) dying of The Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 with the AEF (21,000) or at sea or in CONUS training bases (31,000). It should be hallowed ground...not common ground!

    1. But this isn't going to have 116 crosses, right? There are going to be bronze markers and lights to stand in for them.

      As to the rest of your post, I respect your comments though I largely disagree with them. Almost none of the other park designs (picked as finalists or not) were just rehabilitated parks. They were nearly all park sized memorials that would dwarf all the current ones on the National Mall in scope, if not effect.

      (I also disagree in that the Vietnam Memorial, as elegant as it is, is not my favorite of those on the National Mall, but everyone has different taste)

  9. I stand corrected, it is not crosses but 1,166 bronze lighted markers representing every 100 of the 116,000 American servicemen and nurses who made the ultimate sacrifice in WW I.

    Unlike yourself, I like this design and the fact that we take time to remember the true cost of war in human terms during The Great War. Others may like some other emphasis for different reasons...and that's time, it all will get sorted out without our input or help.

    It's just my opinion what I shared on this you have shared your opinion. A lot of this is a matter of taste, not worthy of serious argument. I'm glad, whatever choice is made, that finally we are doing something to recognize WW I veterans nationally.

    My perspective of honoring the dead in this design is colored by working with a lot of families who have lost loved ones in our wars..and I have a sensitivity to this loss issue as a retired military chaplain.

    In Minnesota where I live the state neglects to honor on its MN WW I Memorial at the state capitol over half of all the 118,497 MN WW I veterans who served... and goes on to exclude over 2,175 WW I veterans who died mostly of the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 in CONUS Army and Navy training camps in WW I (which is 60% of the MN war dead in WW I).

    So, from that experience, I find myself attracted to a national memorial design that makes a strong effort to "remember" those who lost their lives in The Great War, because I have seen how easily those who lost their lives in WW I can be forgotten after this war.

    Neither of us is on anyone's speed dial who will treat seriously our opinion or preferences about any of this. Just like someone else chose where to place the WW I Memorial without consulting the American people in open hearings in Congress, they will likewise choose a design that will ultimately go there without our help...and we will either like it or lump it...and we then can contribute toward building it... or not.

    You misunderstood me about parks. This setting, of which one of these designs is going to be placed was an effort to rehabilitate Pershing Park in Washington, DC which had fallen into disrepair and neglect. Anything positive they do with it with any design will be an improvement. I did not mean the suggested park designs were rehabilitated designs...but rather, they were designs to rehabilitate a run down park in Washington, DC.

    1. I knew you meant that they would be rehabilitating Pershing Park. It took your tone to be that it would JUST be a rehabilitation - nothing special. I vehemently disagree with that.

      Quick side note...I am no professional, but a friend of mine who can draw and I, submitted a design. We obviously did not make the finalists.