As of June 30, 2004
The media comments on the National World War II memorial:
"The memorial was dedicated just last month, and looking at it one can't help but wonder: Close to 60 years have passed since the war's conclusion. In that time, couldn't we have come up with something better?"
"Still, one can imagine that someone could have designed something that would blend into what was already there. Unfortunately, that's not what happened. This is a monument on steroids - vainglorious, demanding of attention and full of trite imagery. Walking around it, one is reminded of an obnoxious guy who tells an obvious joke and then sharply pokes you in the ribs with his elbow, asking, "Get it?''
By Thomas M. Keane Jr., The Boston Herald (June 25, 2004)
"It's a bad sign when a memorial needs a big inscription to let you know that it is, in fact, a memorial. Uninformed visitors looking at the World War II Memorial from a distance might not realize what they are looking at. Standing on the grounds of the Washington Monument and looking west, you see a sunken plaza with a big pool and a pair of vertical water sprays, along with two semicircular arrangements of free-standing pillar-like blocks flanking pavilions at the north and south ends of the plaza. The words "Atlantic" and "Pacific" inscribed on the pavilions provide a clue. But the elms surrounding the memorial site dwarf the pillars, partially obscuring the pavilions and diminishing their scale."
"This anti-monumental camouflaging of the World War II Memorial will be even more accentuated when the elms at the east end of its site are mature. We shouldn't exaggerate the point. The World War II Memorial does look like some sort of ceremonial venue, even from a distance."
Catesby Leigh, The Weekly Standard (May 31, 2004)
"The designer chose to render his pillars and arches in what is informally known as stripped-down classicism, an architectural style that became popular in the '30s. It was promoted by people such as Paul Cret of Philadelphia, who saw it as a way to resolve the artistic conflicts between classicism and modernism. You see it used for dozens of post offices, including our own at 30th Street. Unfortunately, this pompous style was also favored by Hitler and Mussolini."
"St. Florian does not use the style as the Fascists did, to instill awe in the viewer and make us feel insignificant. But the heavy use of white granite does have a hats-and-gloves formality - clearly separating it from the antiestablishment black, polished granite used in the Vietnam memorial. I suspect St. Florian chose the style for its mediating qualities: It satisfies Washington officialdom while retaining a link with modernism."
Inga Saffron, Philadelphia Inquirer (May. 28, 2004)
"Altogether, one gets the feeling that the memorial's designer, faced with an overpowering assignment, simply relied on numbers and tinseled vocabulary to get the message across. Yet what else could the poor fellow do? How else could he have preserved the memory of something that ripped up half the planet, killed millions of people and took six years to run its course?"
Gardner Botsford, New York Times (May 31, 2004)
" The new National World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington seems to want to be majestic, but it's really an opulent, overbuilt civic plaza."
" There is a deep, unresolved contradiction at the heart of this project, and it emerges from the specifics of the site. On the one hand, the Mall is a great public space, as essential a part of the American landscape as the Grand Canyon. It has to be respected. On the other hand, a war memorial is serious business, and honoring four hundred thousand dead and the millions who served with them is not the sort of enterprise that naturally takes on a low profile. It is fundamentally at odds with the right way to use this piece of land."
Paul Goldberger, New Yorker (May 31, 2004)
" Rising higher than the flanking, eye-level granite spillways, the wall of stars denies plaza visitors the opportunity to perceive the visually continuous swath of space linking the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, the spillway, the Rainbow Pool and the Washington Monument. Lowering or tilting that wall of stars, perhaps incorporating it in the fountain, would have visually captured the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool and made them a powerful and integral part of the World War II Memorial's composition."
Roger K. Lewis, Washington Post (May 29, 2004)
"The completed memorial has been receiving mixed reviews, but on balance, its good points outnumber its faults by a long shot. In contrast to, say, the Vietnam memorial, the design evokes respect rather than a gut-wrenching memory of the suffering and sacrifice caused by the conflict. This is partly because the war itself is by now on the very edge of the collective consciousness. But the monument itself also is at fault: For many, the severity of its lines and the rigid formality of its layout fail to stir the emotions."
"Moreover, despite modifications in response to early concerns, the memorial still echoes the triumphalist granite and white marble constructions of Mussolini's Rome. (The EUR district and the Foro Italico come to mind.) Given the architect's choice of style, the parallel was probably unavoidable, but it is hardly appropriate."
Roland Flamini, The Washington Times (May 29, 2004)
"The World War II memorial has just opened, and it is indeed a failure. The good news is that the Mall survives. The bad news is that for all its attempted monumentality, the memorial is deeply inadequate -- a busy vacuity, hollow to the core."
" This wall has the feel of a bureaucratic compromise between commemorating every individual (as does the Vietnam Memorial) and representing loss as a whole (as do tombs of the unknown soldiers). The solution -- take 400,000 and divide it by 100 -- is nothing but sheer imaginative laziness."
Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post (May 28, 2004)
" The memorial does more or less okay by the honoring part, just by virtue of where it sits. We've let the memorial join an exclusive Middle of the Mall club whose only other members are the Capitol, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. How much more clearly can we signal the importance that we give to it? You could stick a concrete slab on that site and people would know you intended something big by it."
" Our little thought experiment proves just how generic the design of this memorial really is. Take away the written explanations, and you're left with a memorial that could be for almost anything. Columns marching in a circle, bronze wreaths, gold stars, spurting fountains, big bronze birds of prey, sculpted reliefs of historic scenes -- what martial effort couldn't be evoked by symbols like that? This is all stock celebration, not true commemoration -- there's no true calling to mind of what the war meant, and then committing it to memory."
Blake Gopnik, Washington Post (May 23, 2004)
"The National World War II Memorial has the emotional impact of a slab of granite. If it tells any story at all, it is so broad as to be indecipherable. Nowhere does it honor the great war's transformational role in our history: There is no hint of how Americans of different regions, ethnicities and classes came together to fight evil and save freedom. There is barely any gesture toward the home front, the stirring story of sacrifice for the boys abroad."
"I had feared that this memorial would be the hodgepodge of cliche and Soviet-style pomposity that it is. But the damage this installation has done to the nation's ability to express its democratic emotions is worse than any critic had imagined."
Marc Fisher, Washington Post (May 4, 2004)
" One need only look out from the memorial toward the capital's familiar touchstones-Henry Bacon's Greek temple to Lincoln, Robert Mills's obelisk to Washington, or John Russell Pope's Roman-style Jefferson Memorial - to see how far short St. Florian's effort at stripped classicism falls. At least it is likely to be the last such blemish on the Mall, since the World War II project led to a congressional moratorium on future memorials on a public space that should remain as unencumbered as possible.
Michael Z. Wise, Architecture (May, 2004)
" There is, to be sure, something a bit stiff about the memorial's classically inspired design. A whiff of the academic informs the relentless mirror-image march of semicircular stone pillars -- 28 to a side, each ornamented with a pair of bronze wreaths -- that define its central plaza."
"More telling, perhaps, is the possibility that the great paved plaza, measuring 337 feet north to south, lacks a true center of gravity, a place where the enormity of the war and the sacrifices made to win it undeniably grasps your heart. The intention is there in the wall of 4,000 gold stars, each signifying 100 military deaths, centered between two low waterfalls at the western edge of the plaza. But this wall, noble in intent, does not possess quite the emotional force one might have expected or wished."
Benjamin Forgey, Washington Post (April 25, 2004)
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