Eighty-nine teams from eight countries submitted ideas to federal planning and parks officials for Memorials for the Future, a competition aimed at developing new ways for commemorating American people, events and ideas in and around Washington.
There was a loose set of rules but one thing was made patently clear: Don’t bring designs using the same old granite structures and columns that already populate the National Mall.
On that front the suggestions did not disappoint.
Compiled by specialists in architecture, engineering, anthropology, environmental science and oral history, the submissions break a lot of rules. Many of them envision structures or attractions that would be prohibitively expensive or controversial if actually proposed. Some are just, umm, different.
One suggests a series of fountains around the city that would swell as victims are struck down by gun violence around the United States. Another would create a skeleton of a “lost city” in the center of the Tidal Basin to raise awareness of climate change. Yet another suggests building an inverted pyramid in Tenley Circle as a “Memorial for Otherness” that would honor women, immigrants and other groups.
Breaking the traditional concept of a Washington memorial is the point. For years, officials at the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Park Service have been trying to better integrate memorials and monuments with parts of the city outside the National Mall, which is overcrowded and which Congress has deemed a no-build zone for new tributes. Building new memorials there requires millions of dollars and years of lobbying for approvals, sometimes even then to no avail.
Instead many of the ideas in the competition call for temporary or interactive ways of paying tribute, often in connection with people or places around the city. Sponsors of these new memorials would have to work with District residents and park officials to integrate their concepts around the city, said Marcel Acosta, executive director of the National Capital Planning Commission, the federal planning agency.
“Host communities are just as important as memorial sponsors as the discussion moves forward,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for place making in the various neighborhoods in our city. A lot of parks and memorials kind of co-exist today and a lot of this is looking at what is possible elsewhere…How do we construct a great memorial in these places but also a great place for the community?”
Design teams proposed ideas for locations around the city, including in Adams Morgan, beside Eastern Market, by the Lincoln Memorial, on mobile phones and on existing infrastructure like bus stops and sidewalks. They were encouraged but not required to consider four locations that will likely be considered for future memorials: A waterfront parcel within West Potomac Park called The Belvedere, Randle Circle in Southeast, Tenley Circle in Northwest or Hains Point, in East Potomac Park.
After receiving the 89 submissions, officials from the two agencies and the Van Alen Institute, a New York non-profit organization, narrowed the list to 30 semi-finalists that NCPC published Thursday. Each consists of about 150 words and one image, but a jury of professionals will now begin narrowing the field to four finalists, each of which will receive a $15,000 stipend to advance their plans further. After those ideas go on display a winner will be selected in September.
Though the ideas are experimental they could well shape future memorials. The Park Service is celebrating its 100th birthday this year and is sometimes criticized for being behind the times when it comes to meeting more current demands of park goers. Regional director Bob Vogel said the competition was creating ideas that could help change that.
“The traditional way we do memorials takes years and are centered around events that happened a long time ago and that’s very important and powerful. But what’s exciting about this is maybe we can be more spontaneous and relevant to current events,” Vogel said. “Hopefully we can implement some of these ideas. There are lots of questions about what it would take to do that but we’d like to see how we can apply at least one or two or three of them in some way.”
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