View Full Version : Designing a war memorial — balancing honor with healing

05-24-09, 08:14 AM
Designing a war memorial — balancing honor with healing
Sunday, May. 24 2009

How do you commemorate the sacrifice of those who have given their lives for
their country?

If you do so in solid form, as a memorial, how do you also make it a healing
experience for survivors of the conflict, their families and the larger

For a site in suburban Detroit, Anna Ives had an idea what the answers should
be for a memorial to Marines killed in Iraq.

"We didn't want the memorial to be static. That was the first idea. No statue,
no stone with names," Ives said at Cannon Design's new offices in downtown St.
Louis, where she is an architect. "We wanted to create a site that people will
come to and use. It will have a large grassy lawn, where families can gather
and even picnic if they want to."

The memorial, which has not yet been built, is a modest project, with a
$100,000 budget, half of which has been raised so far. It will be built in
Mount Clemens, Mich., for the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, which has lost 22
members in the war.

Above all, Ives said, the goal is to make the memorial "accessible and


Ives, who has been with Cannon Design for three years, created the project with
Nicholas Watkins, a researcher she met there. Watkins, who was in St. Louis for
a year and a half, is now director of research at the New York City office of
locally based architectural behemoth HOK.

Ives and Watkins, who created the memorial independently of their employers,
faced the problem that all contemporary designers face: how to balance the need
to honor the fallen with the need of survivors to process their grief.

They spent time listening to veterans. Some wanted a statue — something like
the famous Iwo Jima memorial — or the currently popular composition of a
helmet, pair of boots and rifle.

Ives said she and Watkins faced a basic decision: create such a literal
military memorial, or something more universal. They went with universal,
although they left space for additions, if desired later.

The memorial, to be built at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base, is a
90--by-90-foot square walled courtyard, with a fountain that takes the form of
a table as its focal point.

Watkins, who has extensively studied the healing function of memorials,
explained in a telephone interview why those choices were made.

The courtyard, for example, is "intentionally reminiscent of an Iraqi
courtyard," he said. "We wanted to evoke positive memories of the war among the
surviving veterans. When we talked with them, they repeatedly said that the
best experience they had in Iraq was the appreciation expressed to them by
average Iraqi families in the privacy of their courtyard houses."


The image of the table set with plates inscribed with the names of the 22 dead
— plus one to allow for any future losses — comes from the historic tradition
of setting an empty table in the mess hall for those who have died.

The water that flows between the plates and down the front of the table into a
pool symbolizes, Watkins said, innocence and redemption.

Watkins said the goal was to balance the needs of all those involved with the
sacrifice: the deceased, the living and the families.

"I've studied how people use memorial places to recover from their wounds, how
they consolidate their trauma and loss," he said. "The important thing is to
get the survivor to relive the traumatic experience through sight, touch,
hearing — through the senses."

The leading model for a healing memorial is Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans
Memorial in Washington, where visitors can touch the stone, scan the thousands
of names carved into it and see their own reflections.

Whereas the design was controversial at first, the memorial has become a prime
example of how to honor the fallen while also creating an opportunity for
survivors to have a healing experience.

Watkins said the byproduct of such memorials was to get people talking.
Veterans who might have held in their feelings after the war say they opened up
to their families after visiting the Vietnam Memorial. They also often talk to
strangers there.

"They get the validation for what they did that they didn't receive when they
returned home from the war," Watkins said.

The idea of a healing memorial followed the cataclysmic events of the 20th
century — two world wars and the Holocaust. Before then, memorials tended to be
monuments — triumphant statements about victory in battle.

"Since World War II, particularly in Europe and the United States, memorials
invite people to emote," Watkins said. "Memorials acknowledge that people are
still trying to process the experience."