The Commission of Fine Arts yesterday took a look at "a fresh new design" for the proposed Korean War Veterans Memorial and once again turned it down. "You can say it wasn't approved," said J. Carter Brown, commission chairman, after the tie vote once again put the controversial plan for the memorial on hold. Though the commission members considered the design by Cooper-Lecky Architects an improvement, they still had reservations.
"We won't give up the fight," said Raymond G. Davis, retired Marine Corps general and the vice chairman of the memorial's advisory board, but the board yesterday was not ready to announce a specific strategy. The latest design, Davis said before the vote, "represents the limits of modifications possible without total abandonment of the basic concept ... which we cannot do without breaking faith with those whom Congress sought to honor."
With its original congressional charter due to expire at the end of this month, the board is expected to ask for an extension of its permission to build the memorial. The board also is expected to submit the new design to the National Capital Planning Commission and Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, who, along with the Fine Arts Commission, must approve the design.
Despite yesterday's rejection of the new design, Brown called it "enormously moving." It includes sculptures of 19 ghostly troops, wrapped in shroudlike ponchos and bent against a hard wind. In the background is a crystallized granite wall etched with depictions of military support troops. Their objective is a semicircular grove of trees and a crescent pool, centered by the American flag. The memorial is planned for West Potomac Park, between Independence Avenue SW and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
Architect Kent Cooper noted that the monument had been reduced in size -- 19 instead of 38 sculptures and a wall 180 feet long instead of 214.
The commission members were most impressed with the new sculptures. "The figures have a dreamlike quality," said Brown. "The soldiers look like ghosts coming out of a cemetery," said Robert Peck, "but this design does a better job of solving the problem of figures. We've said all along that they should be more abstract." George Hartman agreed: "The elements are increasingly compatible."
Even so, Peck said he was not satisfied with the way the elements worked together. "We need a fresh look on how to put it all together."
"This doesn't add up to a work of art," said commission member Adele Chatfield-Taylor.
Neil Porterfield abstained from voting because he is head of the landscape architecture department at Pennsylvania State University. Architects from his department who won the original design competition for the memorial are suing the commission and other government agencies, Cooper-Lecky and the Korean War Veterans Advisory Board for altering their design and for breach of contract.