Revised World War II memorial would present a lower profile Redesign addresses worries that structure would dominate D.C. Mall

May 13, 1998|By Anne Miller and Edward Gunts | Anne Miller and Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Responding to criticism that the original design for a World War II Memorial was too expansive and ostentatious to fit comfortably on the national Mall, architects unveiled a pared-down design yesterday that envisions a memorial less obtrusive but no less powerful.

In the new design, the 50 proposed concrete columns are gone, the walls are much lower and there are no enclosed rooms to serve as exhibit space. Elm trees already on the site will be preserved as a border.

The changes are meant to appease critics who feared that the memorial's previous design would intrude on the the Mall's treasured sightlines extending from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.

The new concept retains the central feature that helped its architect win a 1996 competition for the memorial -- a sunken oval plaza that would become a new public gathering spot beside a reconstructed Rainbow Pool.

Representatives of the American Battlefield Monuments Commission, which selected the original design, said they hoped the revisions would help the proposal win approval from federal and local oversight agencies so that construction can finally begin.

"We feel that it is an improved design, and it has great strength," F. Haydn Williams, chairman of the World War II Memorial Site and Design Committee, which sponsored the design.

Williams said the monuments commission had hoped to dedicate the completed memorial by Veteran's Day 2000 but is now hoping to break ground by then, with completion by 2003.

Friedrich St.Florian, the Rhode Island architect who won the competition over hundreds of others, said he loved the original design but is equally proud of the revision. "Its power is in its serenity and its purity," St.Florian said. "It is more of a landscape design. The refinements fully respect the memorial's historic surroundings, the magnificent vistas and the site's parklike setting."

The memorial, planned for a 7.4-acre site at the east end of the Reflecting Pool, halfway between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, is intended to commemorate America's role in World War II and the war's impact on the nation.

The original design was rejected by the Commission on Fine Arts. St.Florian and his associates responded by reducing the scope of the memorial.

Instead of columns, they created a curving wall with 56 see-through metal "shields." Instead of earth berms rising above the Mall, trees will frame the plaza. The plaza itself has been reduced.

The most prominent elements will be two arches that will rise 36 feet and provide entry to the plaza. The walls encompassing the memorial unify the design as they symbolize American unity during the war, St.Florian said. The arches will be flanked by curving walls of metal and stone etched with inspirational messages.

The committee has raised $23 million of the $100 million in private donations needed to begin construction. Williams said the design will be presented to the Commission of Fine Arts on May 21. After that, it will go to the National Capital Planning Commission and the Interior Department.

Some who criticized the first design said yesterday that they had not yet seen the revision. But a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars said the VFW supported the latest concept.

"The comments I've received have been quite favorable, from both World War II veterans and veterans from other wars," said Bill Smith, the VFW's director of public affairs.

Pub Date: 5/13/98

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