Traditionally, memorials incorporate an object, such as a statue, monument, or fountain, to commemorate a person, group of people, or an event. Though erected for the public as a point of reflection, these memorials often are located in a busy town center or roundabout and become objects to be viewed rather than quiet destinations.
Also, the memorial is often placed in a location with minimal thought given to the surrounding landscape design.
However, designers do have an opportunity to use principles from urban green spaces to create memorials that are engaging and transformative. Urban green spaces provide much-needed respite areas that incorporate nature, allow people to connect with one another, and enhance a sense of community or peace, even amid busy day-to-day life and the bustling urban landscape.
As green space, memorials should be designed to draw people in and encourage them to return. Landscape architecture firm Mahan Rykiel Associates in Baltimore, Md., has designed a number of open, interactive, and contemplative memorial spaces that honor local, regional, and global figures. Creating a memorial in a space where people feel grounded yet connected to the greater whole contributes to the introspection inherent in a commemorative display.
Using the surrounding landscape as an integral part of a memorial creates a thoughtful plan that should capture the vision of the donors and client. Using an object–a statue, fountain, or simply a plaque–as the centerpiece, the resulting space is an experiential place of solitude.
Memorials as places–with or without a focal object–incorporate some common elements, such as pathways through gardens, seating areas, inscriptions along the path, informational markers, or meaningful plantings.
The way in which a memorial is conceptualized and funded can have a significant impact on its design and implementation. Whether by single donor, a group of private individuals, or a municipal body, funding may occur through a single gift or over many years–factors that may affect the actual layout of the memorial or how construction is phased in over time.
Sponsored by his family and inspired by his life and legacy, Pierce’s Park in Baltimore, Md., is a memorial to Pierce Flanagan III. Known as a successful businessman and patron of the city, the park is a celebration of his life-long interests in nature, sailing, music, and literature.
His personality and the interests of the family formed each aspect of the memorial. There will be only one sculpture naming the garden and its donors. The memorial to Flanagan is not an object, but is seen in the symbolic designs incorporated in the space.
The family was involved in selecting items to create their vision for a unique open space that engages children and families as part of the Inner Harbor landscape. Additionally, local groups and individuals were invited to support the project by donating goods, services, and funding.
To make this truly a community space, a variety of elements within the park from the gabion basket benches to the willow tunnels will be built and installed with help from local children and organizations.
In the Gold Star Peace Garden at Memorial Park in York, Penn., the primary donor provided direction and motivation for the project through her personal experience and commitment. Working with the city to acquire the land, her vision for a premier garden took shape.
The entry plaza for the garden will be used as a presentation area for the city’s veterans’ events and incorporates some additional veterans’ statues already on the site.
Acting as a framework to guide visitors through the memorial, well-designed circulation creates an opportunity for visitors to interact and connect with the space–focusing attention on specific design elements.
In Baltimore, the Pope John Paul II memorial garden’s pathways guide visitors along a high wall bearing inscriptions of quotations from the pope and some of his prayers. A larger-than-life statue of the pope on a marble pedestal is the focal point of the garden.
Designed to inspire civic pride, the city of Newport News’ Martin Luther King, Jr., Garden in Virginia was planned as a catalyst for economic development in the surrounding neighborhood. Located along one of the historic corridors, the park is dedicated to King’s life and legacy.
Community members may pass through or visit this space during lunch or in the evenings. A nationally acclaimed sculptor created the centerpiece of the park–a bronze bas relief of King and other marchers carved into the park’s monument wall. A linear thread of bluestone paving begins at King’s foot and extends out toward the city to signify the continuous journey that carries his message of civil rights and equality.
A key element of the King sculpture is its accessibility; the likeness is approachable on a human scale, not as an overblown figure. His face is the only one recognizable in the sculpture that is the cornerstone of this garden. Using various materials to symbolize King’s marches and the “rough road” he walked, visitors interact with the space simply by walking through.
Subtle, Layered Interaction
Careful selection of plant species, materials, inscriptions, and other elements add layers of interest to a memorial. How the landscape changes through the seasons–obscuring or revealing certain design elements, or choosing elements with multiple purposes–adds layers of meaning for the visitor to keep the experience fresh over time.
Separated by the “Ribbon Walk,” Pierce’s Park includes two non-traditional playground spaces for city children. One area attracts older children to an unstructured play area that includes landscaped berms, and an open green with a custom, interactive sculpture. The other area is designed for younger children, and contains a living ”willow tunnel” and two additional interactive sculptures.
The fence around the second play area provides peace of mind for parents as well as engaging children as the fence produces musical sounds when tapped. Benches provide rest areas for parents, tourists, and visitors. Plant selections speak to the park’s harbor-side location, and create a natural setting within the urban context.
The manner in which a memorial incorporates community involvement, spatial relationships, and subtle layered interaction of specific elements enhances the meaning for visitors. Incorporating guidance and design elements from healing gardens and urban parks, a memorial becomes a place of healing, nurturing, and relaxation.
Mahan Rykiel Vice-President Scott Rykiel notes, “Whether the space is a park, garden or plaza, utilizing the landscape as part of the memorial creates rich design opportunities to create a memorable experience.”
Carrie Ann Miller is the Business Development Director for Mahan Rykiel Associates, a landscape architecture, urban design and planning firm, headquartered in Baltimore, Md.
Design Honors Marylanders Lost On Sept 11, 2001
Few things stir more emotion than the memory of September 11, 2001, so creating a memorial in Baltimore, Md., to honor those who lost their lives on that fateful day is no easy task.
With Ziger/Snead Architects taking the design lead, Mahan Rykiel Landscape Architects helped to site the final memorial design which, includes a piece of mangled steel from the north tower of New York’s World Trade Center.
This steel beam will lay horizontally across a marble base inscribed with the names of the Marylanders who lost their lives during the attacks. The piece is laid horizontally in repose to symbolize peace for the victims of 9-11.
The composition will function like a sundial with the Baltimore World Trade Center casting a shadow on the memorial. Every September 11, the shadow will cross inscriptions exactly at the time of the events that fateful morning.
The names and birthdates of all the Marylanders who lost their lives will be inscribed in the marble base but will never be in complete shadow, symbolizing that even in terrible times, there is a glimmer of hope and light. The victims range in age from 3 to 71.
Limestone pieces from the Pentagon’s west wall will also be integrated into the design, and though artifacts cannot be obtained from the Flight 93 site near Shanksville, Penn., that site will be represented in the memorial with three large pieces of polished black granite.
To echo the simplicity of the landscape are 15, 44-inch tall stainless-steel planters that will be planted with hornbeams to create an aerial hedge along Pratt Street. The raised hedge serves as a portal and creates a sense of enclosure which people pass through to the monument. Visitors to the memorial can come right up to 22-foot, 2-ton section of twisted steel and touch it if they wish.
The memorial was dedicated on September 11, 2011, by Governor Martin O’Malley.