The Commission of Fine Arts yesterday rejected a controversial design for the Korean War Veterans Memorial, requesting that it be revised to reflect greater "concentration, condensation, containment and focus."
"We'd like to see a design that had been through Slenderella somehow," advised Chairman J. Carter Brown, summing up a meeting devoted mainly to harsh criticisms of the design forwarded by Cooper-Lecky Architects and backed by the Korean War Veterans Advisory Board and the American Battle Monuments Commission.
In response, Col. Frederick Badger, director of engineering and maintenance for the American Battle Monuments Commission, said the ABMC would ask its architect to "propose steps necessary for modification."
Cooper-Lecky's design comprises three principal elements: a column of 38 figurative sculptures, reflecting the activities of American ground forces in Korea, moving toward a circular platform for the American flag; a curved, 10-foot-high granite wall upon which would be etched pictorial representations of the war, focusing on the efforts of women and other noncombat personnel; and a memorial grove of linden trees, also circular in form and framing a quiet pool of water.
Both the size and the complexity of the design attracted negative attention yesterday morning when, before the meeting, the commission visited the site in Ash Woods, between Indiana Ave. SW and the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. Commissioner George Hartman said he was "amazed" at the height of the wall and other elements, which had been staked out by the Army Corps of Engineers in accordance with instructions from the commission. "I suspect it's too big and much too high," Hartman commented. "It could be done with two-thirds of what is there."
"Our memorials seem to be turning into outdoor museums," said Commissioner Robert Peck, comparing the design to that for the memorial to Franklin Roosevelt, a sequence of "outdoor rooms" approved by the commission last year for a site in West Potomac Park. "A memorial with one idea is more impressive than a memorial with 20 ideas," he said.
Brown objected to the amount and kind of earth berming proposed by Cooper-Lecky, comparing it unfavorably with the artificial "rolling ground plane" of Constitution Gardens. The landscaping design, he said, risks "overstatement to the point of bombast."
The character of the sculptures also troubled the commission. All are to be depicted in great detail to display rank and service, and several are shown responding to hostile fire. Brown suggested that the "Disney World approach where one is being instructed and one is into info-tainment" is inappropriate to the "authenticity" of the Washington environment. So realistic an approach, said Peck, could produce an effect remindful of "the infantry museum at Fort Benning."
Unfavorable comparisons were drawn between the curved "mural" wall and the V-shaped wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located in Constitution Gardens. Hartman said he did not "see how anyone could follow that act -- I would divorce myself from it as quickly as possible." Brown observed that "trying to warm up the leftovers" of artist Maya Lin's Vietnam wall design "would be fraught with dangers."
The commission's action yesterday was taken, Brown said, "with great hope" and with knowledge of the $15 million memorial's impending deadline. Congressional authorization for the memorial will expire unless a design is approved and sufficient funds are raised by October. The design also must be approved by the National Capital Planning Commission, whose members accompanied the CFA on its site visit.
Although it was not presented again at the meeting, the original, competition-winning memorial design by a team of architects associated with Pennsylvania State University was on the minds of several commission members. Although it also "had too much going on," said Adele Chatfield-Taylor, the original possessed "great integrity." Likewise, Hartman praised it for its "authenticity and simplicity." The authors of that design last month filed suit in federal court for damages and an injunction halting work on the Cooper-Lecky design. The suit is still pending.
Shortly after completing action on the memorial, the commission considered a design for a coin commemorating the Korean War. The silver dollars, to be sold for about $30 each, were authorized by Congress last fall as a means of raising $7 million to help pay for the memorial. Ironically, objections to the coin were similar to those concerning the memorial itself. "Not to sound like a broken record," said Chatfield-Taylor, "but there's too much going on" in the coin design. It was approved with the understanding that it would be simplified.