WWI monument must meet design, thematic, site challenges

Creating a memorial to those who served in World War I presents challenges that require a unique design approach, the leader of the effort to establish the monument said at a March 2 National Press Club Newsmaker.

All war memorials need to convey honor, respect, heroism, service and sacrifice, said Edwin Fountain, vice chairman of the World War I Centennial Commission established by Congress in 2013. But the WWI memorial has to do more.

“We are building a memorial that is entirely in memory to those who have come before, not in living tribute," Fountain said. "This has an impact on theme and style.”

The structure also needed to fit the site -- Pershing Park on Pennsylvania Avenue. Because new construction on the National Mall is prohibited by law, Congress agreed to the Pershing Park site in 2014.

It was imperative that the design preserve “a living, breathing park” on Pennsylvania Avenue, inarguably the most significant concourse in the United States, and integrate with the daily urban core of Washington, according to Fountain.

The memorial -- expected to cost about $35 million and open by Veteran’s Day 2018 to commemorate the Armistice Day centennial -- will honor the four million U.S. service members who fought and the 116,515 who died in what was called at the time the "war to end all wars."

At the Newsmaker, Fountain introduced the team who in January won the commission’s international design competition, Joseph Weishaar, an architect-in-training, and Sabin Howard, a classical artist who works with stone and metal.

Weishaar’s “The Weight of Sacrifice” was deemed the most harmonious memorial/park concept among 360 entries.

“It was simple yet restrained, elegant yet powerful,” Fountain said.

The Chicago-based Weishaar had never visited Washington before submitting his entry. Working from a clean slate enabled him to “just look at the problem,” he said.

Despite being only 25 and a recent graduate in architecture from the University of Arkansas who has yet to qualify as a registered architect, Weishaar has won previous competitions. One took him to Italy to study the ancient housing of Pompeii.

Howard is a seasoned sculptor. The New York Times has called him “a sculptor of immense talent,” reminiscent of Donatello and Rodin.

Working from a Bronx studio, he enlists human models to endow his works with realism and energy. He terms his products “art at the highest level.”

In a room filled with their conceptual designs, the team said that their sculptures and park design stress the resilience and enduring spirit of humanity over the glorification of war.

To meet the requirements of several review boards, they expect to complete many iterations in what Weishaar calls “an evolutionary design process” before finalizing plans.

As currently conceived, the memorial site will include a raised central lawn, framed on three sides by “The Wall of Remembrance,” a base relief in bronze that gives visitors a sensory and educational experience and depicts various war participants.

The wall will be enhanced by relevant quotations. Central to the lawn will be “The Wheels of Humanity,” a freestanding sculpture. An existing sculpture of Gen. John J. Pershing, who led the troops to victory in World War I, will remain in the park.

The monument is being funded by donations from private individuals and organizations. Photos of the Newsmaker are posted online.