The Making Of A Memorial

The Design

Interpreting the vision and conveying it as a design can create a strong and powerful message.

A design should be a simple statement, plain enough for a clear message of honor, contribution, and remembrance to take place, but abstract enough that the connection between the viewer and the memorial becomes personal.

A design should be interactive and involve the visiting public in the work itself.

The veterans’ memorial used black polished granite as well as a semi-transparent screen to allow reflections of viewers and visitors moving through the memorial as an element of the site architecture itself.

An additional element is the ability to leave a personal memento. As viewers of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., know, there is no stronger emotional statement than that of a flower, teddy bear, or dog tag carefully placed by a loved one or a “brother in arms.”

The veterans’ memorial has incorporated art elements, designed by local artists Shala Dobson and Jim Dault, that feature an open screen to allow and encourage personal mementos. Doing so, however, entails the need to catalog and even store artifacts as they accumulate. This, too, makes the memorial a “living” one.

Incorporating elements that speak directly to those who know and understand sacrifice can have a strong, emotional pull.

For example, in designing a firemen’s memorial, railings were constructed of ladders, adding a graphic element that immediately got the attention of firemen. In the same memorial, five pegs were provided on the wall for “turnout gear”–coats and head gear were hung on the peg with boots placed below. During ceremonies that honored a fallen comrade, the middle peg featured black turnout gear, a marked contrast with the brown gear on the other pegs.

The Construction

Often, memorials are constructed with volunteer labor, a workforce in training, or donated labor. It is important that the memorial be designed to recognize the abilities of the labor force.

For a Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial, an artist developed an “artistic vision” for the memorial. While as an art piece it was admirable, the complexity of walls required a tremendously difficult framing system for the forms and greatly increased costs.

Also, with respect to that project, the artist had developed interpretive material that required modification when re-development took place. Because art is legally protected from alteration without consent of the artist, the acquisition of replacement pieces for the re-development was very expensive, and required legal negotiations with the artist.

When artwork is incorporated into memorials, a clear contract needs to be entered into, both with the landscape architect/designer and the artist, clearly spelling out ownership, proprietary rights, and maintenance/repair issues.

The Dedication

The “ribbon-cutting” for a memorial is a gratifying and emotional experience. For many members of the community, this may be the first time they feel that life-long sacrifices are truly recognized. The sight of the ranks of firemen in full dress, led by a color guard into a new memorial, is a striking experience not easily forgotten.

A memorial becomes a new home to many people, a place where the spirit may rest, whether in honoring the decades-old struggle for rights, the remembrance of firefighters who preserve life, or the recognition of the sacrifice of the uniformed services for our nation. And the design of that home is as challenging and rewarding as any project a landscape architect can ever conceive.

Wm. Dwayne Adams, Jr., FASLA, is a Fellow with the American Society of Landscape Architects and Manager of Planning and Landscape Architecture at USKH Inc., a multi-disciplined design firm with offices in Alaska and Washington. He has been the facilitator and project manager for multiple memorial projects in Anchorage, including the Anchorage Veterans’ Memorial, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Anchorage Fireman’s Memorial.

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Related posts:

  1. Making A Place For A Memorial
  2. Flight 93 Memorial Opens
  3. Design Incorporates MLK’s Vision
  4. MLK Memorial Dedication
  5. Memorial Honors Flight 93

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