A new competition for interactive, temporary memorials in Washington D.C.

Architecture National Other
Janet Echelman’s sculpture 1.8 references the 1.8 microseconds that earth's day lost when the 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. Weather and wind affected the piece's color created by projections upon a rope fiber structure (Ema Peter)
Janet Echelman’s sculpture 1.8 references the 1.8 microseconds that earth's day lost when the 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. Weather and wind affected the piece's color created by projections upon a rope fiber structure (Ema Peter)

The National Park Service (NPS), the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), and Van Alen Institute have joined to organize a competition titled Memorials for the Future. The competition calls for interdisciplinary teams to propose a temporary memorial set somewhere in Washington D.C. that’s “adaptive, ephemeral, virtual, event-focused, or interactive.” The initial application period is April 11 – May 4, 2016; three winners will be selected on May 30th by a jury that includes Marcel Acosta, Executive Director of the National Capital Planning Commission, Jonathan Marvel of Marvel Architects, and other notable architects and D.C. officials. The three winners will receive $15,000 to help develop their proposals over two phases that will culminate in an exhibition.

Nele Azevedo placed 5,000 ice figurines in Birmingham, UK's Chamberlain Square for a piece called Minimum Monument. Their melting symbolizes the forgotten civilian deaths of WWI. (Courtesy of Steven Eggleton/Flickr)

Nele Azevedo placed 5,000 ice figurines in Birmingham, UK’s Chamberlain Square for a piece called Minimum Monument. Their melting symbolizes the forgotten civilian deaths of WWI. (Courtesy of Steven Eggleton/Flickr)

With the September opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which occupies the last major piece of real estate on the National Mall, the competition for temporary, flexible monuments couldn’t be more timely. However, it’s not just about D.C.’s packed landscape. David van der Leer, Executive Director of Van Alen Institute, told the Architect’s Newspaper that “I actually think the temporal aspect to me is exciting.” The winning proposals (if realized) could “also start to travel, reach different communities, spread the word.” Jessica Lax, Associate Director of competitions at Van Alen, added “It allows commemorative work within a shorter timeframe, decreased cost, and increased accessibility to who can memorialize.”

Along with the monument’s mobility, the organizers are seeking a more adaptable approach to commemoration itself. “How can [the memorial] be adaptable to different narratives?” asked Lax. “As times goes on, opinions change, how can we allow commemorations from different perspectives?

This interactive digital installation, titled Peace Can Be Realized Even Without Order, was executed by Japanese art collective teamLab. Holographic figures play music but are interrupted by the approach of a visitor; the figures also react to the noise played by other holographs. It's meant to reference the peace slowly gained after conflict. (Courtesy Arts Electronica/Flikr)

This interactive digital installation, titled Peace Can Be Realized Even Without Order, was executed by Japanese art collective teamLab. Holographic figures play music but are interrupted by the approach of a visitor; the figures also react to the noise played by other holographs. It’s meant to reference the peace slowly gained after conflict. (Courtesy Arts Electronica/Flikr)

The competition cites works like teamLab’s Peace Can Be Realized Even Without Order or Nele Azevedo’s Minimum Monument as examples of unconventional ways to memorialize. Partially or fully virtual projects are encouraged: “We always look for architects to participate,” says van der Leer, “but these days it’s always in a context of collaboration with other disciplines. We’re curious to see what of submissions we get, what type of disciplines participate.” At least one designer (e.g. architect, planner, urban planner) must be present on each team.

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