Monument proposal draws criticism Design's appearance called similar to that of Nazi architecture

June 22, 1997|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - What stung was hearing critics say that his design for the National World War II Memorial had a fascist look - like something the Nazis might have dreamed up.

"This is very painful," said architect Friedrich St. Florian, speaking last week as the American Battle Monuments Commission mounted an offensive to win public support for its World War II memorial plan.

In recent weeks, St. Florian's design for the official national monument to be built on the Mall here has become the subject of rising criticism.

Such criticism is cause for concern within the battle monuments commission for two reasons:

The commission has to try to raise $100 million, mostly from private sources, if the project is to be completed by 2000 as scheduled. John P. Herrling, the retired Army major general who chairs the commission, said he hoped that "inappropriate criticism" would not hurt fund raising.

The design, chosen in a competition that drew 403 entries, must be cleared by two boards with veto power - the federal Fine Arts Commission and the National Capital Planning Commission - both of which are to consider the plan next month.

President Clinton unveiled St. Florian's winning entry at the White House in January. Since then, the criticism has grown slowly, although the volume of criticism is still far less than that generated in the early 1980s by the now universally praised Vietnam Memorial.

Location also faulted

The nay-saying has at least as much to do with the location - midway between the Washington and Lincoln memorials - as it has to do with the design. But the design has its critics as well.

In a recent issue, Architecture magazine described St. Florian's drawings as resembling the work of Albert Speer, personal architect of Adolf Hitler. The Cleveland Plain Dealer agreed with that assessment - and called it "a deeply ironic twist for a World War II memorial."

Some critics have suggested that the 50 headless columns of St. Florian's design - one for each of the 50 states - are what resemble the Speer designs. But the architect noted that the Nazis used square columns, not round ones. The tops of his columns, he said, are cut off to symbolize the "truncated" lives of those who died in the war.

The monument commission required design competitors not to block the view from the Washington to the Lincoln monuments. As a result, Florian's monument plaza is set nine feet deep in the ground.

Since January, when the design was unveiled, there have been changes. To address continuing concerns about site lines, St. Florian reduced the height of the proposed columns from 35 feet to 33 feet.

Theater eliminated

A proposed 400-seat theater - where visitors might have learned the story of World War II - has also been eliminated. This was partly in response to complaints that a constant flow of tour buses might clutter the area. Even with the changes, Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat and Medal of Honor recipient in the Vietnam War, objects to the site.

"It interferes with the vista of the mall," Kerrey said in an interview. "And in order to make it less objectionable, they have tried to make it interfere less. It still interferes - but now it's smaller and less significant than it ought to be."

The Mall site was one of seven locations considered by the battle monuments commission. It was chosen partly because it was so central - a reflection of the central role that World War II played in the life of the nation.

Others sites that were looked at included the Capitol Reflecting Pool at the far end of the two-mile-long Mall; Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th streets; and Constitution Gardens in the vicinity of the Vietnam Memorial.

The arts commission and the capital planning commission have approved the site. Their reviews will focus on the design only, Herrling said.

! Pub Date: 6/22/97

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