With a ringing endorsement from Chairman J. Carter Brown, the design for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was approved yesterday by the Commission of Fine Arts. The 4 to 0 vote, with one abstention, ensures that the controversial $47.2 million memorial will be built.
The design, conceived more than a decade ago by San Francisco landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and changed somewhat in response to criticisms made at a commission meeting last April, comprises a long sequence of paved walkways and shaded exterior "rooms" running close to the southeastern edge of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. In addition to rough-hewn granite walls, fountains, pools and waterfalls, each room will contain sculptures and inscriptions dealing with aspects of Roosevelt's four terms as president.
Frances Campbell, executive director of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Commission, said the long-delayed memorial is now "on track" to be completed by 1995. In appropriating $5.8 million to begin the project, Congress last fall insisted that the design be reviewed again by the Commission of Fine Arts, which initially had approved it in 1979.
Senator Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), co-chairman of the Roosevelt memorial commission, yesterday made a strong plea for another approval of Halprin's work, noting that the efforts to build the memorial date back to the mid-'50s. Two designs for abstract monuments consisting of vertical steles were withdrawn after much argument during the '60s. Halprin's proposal had languished through the '80s for lack of congressional funds.
Brown, the only member remaining from the commission that approved Halprin's design 11 years ago, opened yesterday's discussion with a speech expressing unqualified admiration for the revised design.
"Given the scale of the whole monumental core, this is not an inordinate amount of terrain," he said. "The most important dimension in this design is not height, or breadth, or length, but it is time. ... This is a sequenced landscape garden experience that is cumulative and has to be given sufficient dimension to work."
Brown concluded his talk with an admonition: "I would just hate to have it on my conscience that I was responsible for missing this opportunity that we have."
After the vote Halprin commented that "what touched me most was Carter Brown's understanding of the choreographed sequence of spaces. That is what the memorial is all about. It will provide a sense of engagement not only as a memorial but as a contemplative place for people to enjoy as a garden."
Responding to the commission's complaints, Halprin greatly reduced the amount of paved surface in the memorial, from approximately 135,000 square feet to 76,000 square feet. He commensurately increased the amount of grass and the number of trees and other plants in order to heighten the "gardenesque quality" of the memorial. The site plan was also changed so that the entry sequence, which had been located across a meadow quite close to the Potomac River, is to be situated much closer to the Tidal Basin.
Commission members yesterday uniformly praised Halprin for these changes, and others. However, Adele Chatfield-Taylor, who abstained from voting, confessed a "terrific prejudice to this situation, which is an anxiety about something this hard-edged going into a landscape like this." Another member, architect George Hartman, said after the meeting that his vote was conditioned in part by his "due process" concerns about rejecting a design that had been approved by a previous commission.
Most commissioners urged Halprin to continue to seek ways to soften the edges of the memorial with additional plantings, which he agreed to do. Commission member Robert Peck again voiced his concern about the obstruction of views from the Tidal Basin to the Potomac, and asked the designer to ponder additional ways to enable visitors to peek through the walls. Halprin, who had added a grille in one of the walls for just this purpose, commented that he would "consider any other options," although he said he does not want the memorial "to become so naturalistic that it loses its sense of order."
Several commissioners admitted to worries about the quality of the construction and the high degree of maintenance necessary to sustain such a landscaped design. "The planting is the memorial," observed member Neil Porterfield, a landscape architect. A spokesman for the National Park Service assured the commission that the memorial would be well tended.
With these objections noted, the vote was taken, thus effectively bringing to a close more than a quarter of a century of contentiousness concerning the size, style and location of a fitting memorial to the 32nd president. The question of what is to become of the existing Roosevelt Memorial -- a simple block of white stone in a little park close by the National Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue NW -- remains.