West Potomac Park at the southwest corner of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Dear Ms. Mendelson-Ielmini:
In its meeting of 21 November, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a second concept design submission for the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial, proposed to be located near the southwest corner of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. The Commission approved the general concept, providing the following recommendations for the development of the memorial’s thematic elements and details.
The Commission members commended the progress made in resolving the memorial’s overall configuration as a spiraling progression through a dynamic, asymmetrical composition of dune-like forms as well as the general direction of the symbolic, artistic, and narrative elements of the design. However, they identified several significant conceptual issues that remain to be resolved in order to complete the concept design phase. First, they observed that the historical narrative of the military intervention’s purpose and the location in Kuwait is weakly expressed or absent in the design, and they recommended elaborating this, perhaps through information on the largest dune wall or through a map at the center. They also questioned the overall design of the memorial’s center, which features an elevated table-like fountain presenting the names of the countries supporting the military coalition in the conflict; they suggested that the center could be conceived instead as a place of gathering, and that the idea of an oasis within the desert landscape might best be expressed as water emerging from the ground. They suggested further study of the appropriate design for this element—such as relocating the coalition names to one of the walls, retaining the elevated table form, adding a contextual map to the center, maintaining the symbolism of the shield—to ensure the success of the memorial’s symbolic program. In addition, they recommended reconsidering the thematic expression of the “Pivot” wall, which they commented may seem primarily focused on how the military views itself rather than on the larger, global themes of the memorial. They criticized the proposal for the three freestanding, realistic figures in front of this wall, finding them to be strangely informal in pose, facial expression, and attire—and therefore inappropriate for the gravity of the memorial’s subject. They cautioned that these statues appear to be incidentally placed and may elicit undignified behavior by visitors, and that their overly realistic depiction may invite public criticism regarding the demographic representation conveyed; they therefore strongly questioned whether these should be included in the design, suggesting that the message represented by the figures could be expressed elsewhere in the memorial.
For the development of the elements of the memorial, the Commission members identified several details to be explored, particularly regarding the design of the dune forms. In general, they cited the rich opportunity of the two-sided forms, which may be articulated as contrasts of gentle or steep, textured or smooth, grass or stone; they suggested introducing some irregularity in this expression, particularly at the crests of the walls. They identified the sloping stone surfaces of these walls as the best place to present the historic and narrative themes of Desert Storm / Desert Shield, and they recommended a more flowing, cinematic approach to the series of bas-relief images, rather than the framed vignettes as shown. They expressed support for the sculptures of the falcon and eagle associated with these walls, although they questioned the great scale of these figures and how they would reasonably be structurally supported within the artistic composition. Finally, they suggested studying the character of the lower, arcing planters and associated seatwalls toward the center of the memorial, questioning whether these should be defined by the same details as the higher honorific walls, or be treated differently.
The Commission appreciates the constructive responsiveness to its previous advice and looks forward to reviewing a revised concept submission that incorporates revisions to this concept design addressing these comments. As always, the staff is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Lisa Mendelson-Ielmini, Acting Regional Director
National Park Service, National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: Skip Graffam, The Olin Studio
Scott Stump, National Desert Storm War Memorial Association
Marcel Acosta, National Capital Planning Commission