Remembering to Remember

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Designer Joe Weishaar and sculptor Sabin Howard crafted a design that connects World War I to current and future generations.
Joseph Weishaar & Sabin Howard/Courtesy U.S. World War I Centennial Commission

The World War I Centennial Commission in Washington, D.C., announced January 26 that Joe Weishaar and Sabin Howard were the winners of the two-stage World War I Memorial Competition. After soliciting proposals to design a national WWI memorial for Pershing Park, the commission received 360 entrants, which were narrowed down to five in August 2015. The park was designated as a National WWI Memorial by the federal government in late 2014, but the park has not been redeveloped to reflect this new designation.

Weishaar and Howard’s design, titled “The Weight of Sacrifice,” is comprised of a 137-foot-long gradually sloping wall that surrounds a grass lawn and singular sculpture. The wall, constructed of darkened bronze, is animated with reliefs depicting the various roles of soldiers throughout the war. The cubic space encapsulated by the wall is also equal to that of the number of U.S. soldiers lost in the war—one cubic foot for each of the 116,516 lost. At the heart of the project is an intent to keep the site as a public park space. The project narrative reads, “The allegorical idea that public space and public freedom are hard won through the great sacrifices of countless individuals in the pursuit of liberty provides the original design concept for this project.”

 

Weishaar is a young designer currently working for Brininstool + Lynch in Chicago. A recent graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a Bachelor of Architecture, Weishaar is still working toward his licensure. Baltimore-based GWWO Inc. will act as architect of record as the project is refined. For those noting Weishaar’s young age—he is only 25 years old—it should also be noted that Maya Lin was only 21 years old when she designed the Vietnam Memorial, one of the nation’s most visited memorials.

After being shortlisted, Weishaar needed to find a sculptor to help realize his conceptual design and prepare for the final round of judging. “I started with the simplest way to find a sculptor: Google.” After searching for “Sculptor+United States” and hours of browsing web portfolios on the National Sculpture Society website, “I came across Sabin’s work and was instantly sold,” Weishaar explained to AN. “I sent Sabin an email immediately and had a phone call with him two hours later. He was on-board from the first minute and really brought a lot to the design.”

 

Howard is a New York–based classical sculptor who studied at the New York Academy of Art. The frieze he developed with Weishaar will include a diverse set of scenes from the frontlines to the efforts on the home front. In order to complete the planning for the piece, Howard worked with models in authentic World War I uniforms. With relatively few images of the war, Howard and Weishaar worked to compose a long narrative of the war that is read as visitors navigate the memorial.

 

The four other shortlisted offices included proposals ranging from contemporary rectilinear concepts to a neoclassical design reminiscent of a triumphal arch design. Each one was guided by ten design goals set forth by the World War I Centennial Commission. These included guidelines addressing enclosure, access, contextual considerations, and sustainability. The negotiation of what to do with the current park amenities and memorial was left up to the participants to address. The winning design proposes to keep the current General Pershing monument as it stands.

Though the park has already been designated as the National WWI Memorial, the park itself has also recently been named as being eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service. If the park achieves this designation, there would be a foreseeable conflict of redevelopment as the project attempts to move forward. The park’s current configuration was designed by landscape architects M. Paul Friedberg and Oehme van Sweden & Associates.

Weishaar reflected on the task of memorializing one of the world’s most devastating wars: “This is a memorial long overdue for this country. I tried as much as I could to create something that would be a simple yet timeless testament to a bygone generation that gave their courage and made a great sacrifice to secure democracy abroad.”

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