The Three Best Entries in the World War I Competition are Classical

THERE’S STILL no resolution to the war in Washington over Frank Gehry’s design for a memorial to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many who love Gehry’s work hate the memorial design,* which the Eisenhower family rejected. But Kansas Senator Bob Dole and Kansas Congressman Pat Roberts (What’s The Matter With Kansas?) are calling in favors and pushing to build the monument while there are veterans of the war alive to see the monument.

Meanwhile, all the entries in the first round of a competition for a national World War I Memorial in Pershing Park have been put online. The three best, in my opinion, are all Classical.

The most “innovative” and “inventive”—both favorite words in architecture today—of these is called Remembrance and Honor. An empty sarcophagus is lifted high and ringed by a crown of honor held aloft by Classical columns. The tower turns from the Washington grid to face the rising sun on Armistice Day:

Remembrance and Honor-smBrothers in Arms might seem less innovative to the architects on the jury than Remembrance and Honor, which has an unusual deconstructed entablature, and a vertical form unlike any Classical building I’ve seen before. But the Park of Remembrance has a beautiful rotunda and a procession that could be quite moving:

WW1 Memorial References

The Park of Remembrance is the most conventional and the quietest of my top three—which doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of winning. I’ve stressed innovation and invention in this short post for two reasons: because I think the first two memorials are both innovative and inventive, and because that is what both the architects invited to judge competitions and the architects who enter competitions often stress today—as they did in the recent Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition for an “innovative, multidisciplinary” museum. “The Guggenheim Helsinki must represent a new museum paradigm,” says the first line of the Concept Narrative for the winning entry, “Just like every Guggenheim museum has been before.”

WW1 Memorial References

A friend calls Park of Remembrance “undercooked,” but perhaps it’s appropriate for a block in the center of the city (Maya Lin’s competition-winning Vietnam Memorial alongside the Washington Mall is also very quiet, but that came during a quieter time in architecture). Remembrance and Honor is more attention-grabbing. After the ideological battle lines that were drawn over Gehry’s Eisenhower memorial (less by the critics than Gehry’s supporters), it will be interesting to see how these three fare. I don’t see any other entries in the competition that are as good.

Like most of the critics, I think Gehry could design a great memorial—but he hasn’t (he prides himself on his experimentation, and sometimes experiments fail). Similarly, we shouldn’t exclude these three World War I designs just because they are Classical. All should make it through to the next round, when selected entries will be further developed.

The website does not make it easy to comment—you have to go here, and then you have to know the title of the entry you want to vote for. Here are the titles for the three I like:

0296-WWI_Memorial_Proposal (Park of Remembrance)


*Critics who oppose the Gehry design include the Boston Globe‘s Robert Campbell, who wrote, “It’s way too big. It’s too cartoony. Someone should scrub the design and start over.”

Architect and critic Roger K. Lewis opposed the design in two separate articles in the Washington Post. Alexandra Lange tweeted, “New (?) Eisenhower Memorial design reveals FOG doesn’t know the difference between a memorial and a diorama.”

DC Fine Arts Commissioner Alex Krieger, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and a friend of Gehry’s, said during a Commission meeting that if we judge the design by the standards of a “traditional first-semester architecture exercise… this would fail.” And each new version of the design has made it worse, Krieger added.

About John Massengale

Architect, Urbanist, Author, Educator
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