Arts panel seeks major changes in World War II shrine on Mall Design of memorial is deemed ill-suited for Washington site


WASHINGTON -- A federal commission demanded extensive revisions in a proposed World War II memorial yesterday, agreeing with critics who argued that the design was ill-suited for its site along the Mall.

J. Carter Brown, chairman of the seven-member Commission of Fine Arts, which must approve the design, avoided the words "rejected" or "disapproved." But he made clear that all board members had serious concerns about the winning design of Friedrich St. Florian. At the same time, the commission maintained its support for the location between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, despite complaints that the memorial would obstruct sightlines along the Mall's hallowed grounds.

"We should try to see how less can be more," Brown said after a nearly five-hour public hearing.

The commission's response, which was more negative than many had expected, means that St. Florian will have to rethink some of the core elements of his design. The panel found fault, for example, with his proposed facing semicircles of 25 marble columns each that would have anchored the structure.

St. Florian must produce a design that can win the acceptance of both the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission.

The fine arts commission's decision yesterday was a disappointment to advocates of the design, who included 27 veterans groups, including the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In response to earlier criticism from many urban planners and architects that the design was too expansive for the site, St. Florian had scaled it back. Interior space was cut by more than one-third, the height of the columns was dropped from 40 to 36 feet, and the memorial's overall size shrank by 10 percent.

Though the columns would be only half as high as the surrounding tree line, critics said the memorial would intrude on the large open spaces along the Mall that many regard as sacred. Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat and decorated Vietnam War veteran, has been outspoken in his complaints that the structure would spoil the sweeping vistas.

Testifying before the commission, Kerrey said he feared the proposed memorial was so vast that, for many, the Mall would "become the World War II mall."

Supporters of the design had argued that only a site along the Mall, near memorials to the Korean and Vietnam wars and to Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Franklin Roosevelt, would do honor to the historic role of World War II.

In defense of his own blueprint, St. Florian told the commission: "It will be an edifice that will blend into its surroundings. It will not upstage existing buildings around the Mall but will be a gracious addition to its centerline."

Also testifying in support of the design was Rep. Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat who was an original congressional supporter of the memorial a decade ago.

"What could be more appropriate as we stand at the crossroads of the 20th and 21st centuries," said Kaptur, a certified urban planner, "than to dedicate a memorial on the national Mall" to World War II veterans?

The site had been approved by both oversight committees before President Clinton formally announced the selection of St. Florian's design in January. The tops of its marble columns were to be cut flat -- a look of incompletion intended to show the number of lives cut short by the war.

Surrounding the columns were to be walls, which would support earthen berms. Underneath would be interior space for art and inscriptions. The center of the memorial would be the existing Rainbow Pool.

But commission members complained that the scope of the memorial was too vast and that the interior space would resemble a cave. They also criticized the columns, saying their purpose was not easily discernible.

"It just has these columns standing there," Brown said. "They don't say anything except, 'Here I am in Washington.' "

Pub Date: 7/25/97

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