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BY KIM O’CONNELL / PHOTOGRAPHY BY SAHAR COSTON-HARDY, AFFILIATE ASLA

Three new landscapes in Washington, D.C., honor the common soldier and fill gaps in the capital city’s memorial narrative.

FROM THE JUNE 2021 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

On the National Mall, it’s unusual to feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a secret, sacred space. The nation’s history is an open book on this great expanse, a story told in granite and marble, if somewhat unevenly, through dozens of memorials to significant events and people. War is the dominant theme, with monuments that speak of large-scale sacrifice in places like the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Other Washington, D.C., memorials revere larger-than-life figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and Dwight D. Eisenhower, the latter being the subject of a massive new Frank Gehry-designed memorial just south of the Mall, one of the most recent to undergo the multiyear, many-layered process of creating public space in the nation’s capital.

So it is somewhat surprising to come across one of D.C.’s newest memorials in a tree-lined grove set in a wetland—and that it is focused on a simple steel circle rising above the earth. Situated just beyond the famous cantilevered roof of the National Museum of the American Indian, this is the National Native American Veterans Memorial, which opened last fall to honor the long and underappreciated tradition of Indigenous military service. Although the memorial shares some traits with others in the capital city, where it’s not uncommon to see elemental shapes and enduring materials used as symbols, it’s part of a new wave of veterans’ memorials that seek to speak as much to the present and future as they do to the past.

Significantly, three recent memorials—the Native American memorial, the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, and the just-opened national World War I Memorial—also have things to say about the role of landscape architecture in elevating the voices of often-forgotten groups of people. They each focus on the common soldier’s experiences while making important civic connections to their surroundings. (more…)

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