A winner was announced yesterday in the competition to design a national memorial to women veterans of the Vietnam War -- two winners, in fact, reflecting a familiar division between those who like their memorials to be realistic and readily comprehensible, and those who prefer a more distant, symbolic point of view.
One of the designs selected by a nine-member jury features a bronze figure of a female soldier holding a helmet on her hip, the other a figureless 3,000-square-foot pad of white marble equipped with nozzles to emit a continuous evanescent mist.
The intention of the jury, said competition adviser Michael Pittas in a ceremony at the National Building Museum, was not to choose competing entries but rather to produce an "enhanced version" of the two designs. The "finalists" -- sculptor Eileen Barry of Long Island and landscape architect Robert Desmond of Massachusetts -- will be asked to submit a collaborative design when the jury reconvenes in January.
This result is yet another unusual twist in the campaign to attain more explicit recognition of women's contributions to the war effort than already exists in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Constitution Gardens. Begun six years ago, this campaign initially proposed the addition of a bronze figure of an Army nurse. The statue was rejected as unnecessary by two federal reviewing agencies, but the idea of honoring women veterans was revived by Congress, which adopted bills in 1988 and 1989 favoring the addition.
The concept of combining figurative with abstract elements mirrors the design finally developed, after much tribulation, for the existing memorial. Originally consisting solely of artist Maya Lin's competition-winning conception of a V-shaped wall inscribed with the names of Americans who died in the war (including those of eight women), the memorial was altered following a bitter political struggle to include a standard bearing the American flag and sculptor Frederick Hart's bronze statue of three infantrymen.
Yesterday's announcement seemed to reflect precisely the makeup of the jury, composed of five design or arts professionals and four female officers who were veterans of the war. According to juror Raquel Ramati, an urban designer from New York, shortly after deliberations began on Friday morning at the National Building Museum, "it was very clear that there were two strong points of view" -- the veterans being "committed to" a figurative monument and the design contingent favoring "a more abstract solution."
In two days, Ramati said, the jury reached a consensus that the two finalists were the best among the 317 entries. But each proposal had its weaknesses, she said: Barry's figure possessed great "dignity and inner strength" but was very much in need of the "sense of place" considered to be the strong point of Desmond's design; Desmond's paved landscape, however, needed the identifying presence of the statue. The winners will share a $30,000 prize, combining the sums allotted for first- and second-place finishes in the competition.
Barry, who arrived in mid-ceremony after an overnight drive from Upstate New York, expressed her willingness to collaborate. "I'd work with the Devil himself to put this memorial up," she happily quipped. Such a collaboration will be "an exciting challenge," responded Desmond in a telephone interview. "It's an interesting process and I hope the result with be a wonderful one," he said.
Barry told how she had spent "many hours" over the past eight years interviewing women about their involvement in the military, which was a factor in her decision to submit four entries to the Washington competition. Her previous works include bronze sculptures for the Women Veterans Monument at Veterans Memorial Plaza in Rockaway Beach, N.Y., dedicated last year, and the Gold Star Parents Monument in Holbrook, N.Y.
Desmond received his master's degree in landscape architecture from the Harvard University design school in 1988. His concept of a continuous mist for the Washington project is "very practical," according to Pittas, who said the nozzle technology was developed in California as a "low-maintenance, high-efficiency" method of crop irrigation.
The women's memorial is to be located southeast of the angle of the wall, in an open glade framed by existing pathways and shielded by handsome stands of trees. Its completion is anticipated in 1992 -- exactly a decade after the dedication of the existing memorial -- according to Diane Carlson Evans, head of the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project and one of its founders in May 1984. The campaign has been "like trying to push a boulder up a mountain," she said with a smile.
The jury's decision has already been endorsed by the board of the VWMP, Evans said. By law, the final design must be approved by the National Capital Memorial Commission, the Fine Arts Commission and the National Capital Planning Commission.
Five honorable mentions, with prizes of $1,000 each, also were selected. These were submitted by Brock Simini Architects of Washington (William Gaffney and Sarah McCoubrey, principal designers); Theodore Clausen, of Cambridge, Mass.; Deborah Lynne Copenhaver Fellows, of Big Fork, Mont.; Glenn Goodacre, of Santa Fe, N.M.; and Suzi Marzvola, Bruce Bruebaker and Peter Waller, of Berkeley, Calif. All 317 entries will remain on public view through Thursday at the National Building Museum, on F Street between Fourth and Fifth streets NW.