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Memorial winner tells of fits, starts

Victory in design contest led to elation, despair for WWI project, UA grad says by Jaime Adame | April 4, 2019 at 3:13 a.m.
Image courtesy UA "The design has always been relatively simple and straightforward, even through its many iterations," architect Joe Weishaar says of the World War I Memorial he's designing in Washington, D.C. "Everything in the design needed to look and feel timeless to help the memorial feel relevant even in 200 years, so we've gone with materials that are very timeless themselves: bronze, granite, water, etc."

FAYETTEVILLE -- The elation of winning a design competition for a national World War I memorial at age 25 turned at times to cynicism as unexpected obstacles emerged in the months after, architect Joe Weishaar said Wednesday.

"There were times I thought about leaving this project entirely," said Weishaar, a 2013 graduate of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

The team of Weishaar and sculptor Sabin Howard was selected from more than 350 entries to design the privately funded National World War I Memorial.

In what is sometimes known as the Great War, 116,516 U.S. soldiers died, a total that includes 53,402 battle deaths, according to data published by the Congressional Research Service. The World War I Centennial Commission offered the design competition.

Weishaar talked at UA about the trials that followed the January 2016 design competition win, including an unanticipated push to preserve Pershing Park in Washington, D.C., where the memorial is expected to be built. Backers hope to have the project complete by November 2021.

About 70 people in attendance saw Weishaar present images of 16 designs that he said were worked up and presented to agencies as part of the lengthy approval process. Ultimately, the updated design was approved in July, Weishaar said.

"From time to time, this design process leaves you sort of incredibly cynical and maybe even a little bit feeling snarky" Weishaar said.

In meetings, groups would "nitpick" aspects of the memorial, Weishaar said. Comments led him to redo the work.

But the result ended up being a kind of "wonderful sort of experimentation process," Weishaar said.

In 2017, Weishaar's design came under question from some members of the National Capital Planning Commission, a body established by Congress to guide the review of projects in what's known as the National Capital Region.

One issue involved integrating the memorial design with Pershing Park, described by the National Park Service as covering a 1.76-acre, trapezoid-shaped area.

Initially, "we were taking over the entire park" with the memorial, Weishaar said.

The design now involves restoration of the historic park, Weishaar said.

"That compromise is sort of what helps get us through, though I don't think that we've lost anything," Weishaar said.

A key feature remains a 58-foot-long wall with relief sculptures that express a narrative of battle and then returning home, Weishaar said. The location of the wall -- described by Weishaar as "the largest bronze free-standing relief in the Western hemisphere" -- plays off an existing statue in the park that honors Gen. John J. Pershing, a key military figure in World War I.

With the planned wall sculpture, "we gave the general his troops on the other end of the park," Weishaar said, calling it the "key thing that has endured" after design tweaks.

About $25 million has been raised for the project and an additional $9 million is being sought in hopes of starting construction in July, Weishaar said.

Metro on 04/04/2019

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