Making A Place For A Memorial

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.

Memorials often serve as urban green space.

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.

Meaningful Landscapes

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.

Community Inspiration

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.

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