Brown University War Memorial Competition


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Memorials are a special kind of monument. Like all monuments they are unique objects in the environment that stand out against their background; they mark a place, they engage the passerby, and they invite reflection. "Engagement" and "reflection" are the aspects most strongly emphasized in the memorial, as they serve its very precise function: they remember an absence or, more important, they make forgetting impossible. The site is presently confused by the poor site planning of the buildings on its north edge; yet, it is possible to organize and improve the site because there are strong elements in the surroundings that we can use to its advantage. We are referring to the east-west axis that links the Marcus Aurelius statue, the Soldiers Arch, and a flight of steps at its west end. We reinforce the axis and resolve site problems by means of extending over the terrain a ground of pavers and grass, axially placed and filling the emptiness among the unrelated buildings; this 'carpet' of sorts, this garden-like surface, is approximately 40 by 70 yards. The ground creates a new, gentle slope up to the steps on the north side of the site and 'erases' or 'mends' the unsightly slot between the Library and the CIT building; South of the axial walkway the plaza adepts itself to the topographical changes presently there. On the plaza there are three elements, as follows: a 50 foot high flagpole; the memorial proper; and a stepped seating platform, symmetrically placed across from the memorial. This amphitheater-like platform is an area for viewing the memorial, serving as a setting for formal events and also inviting spontaneous open air activities. Consistent with the previously stated preference for an American "realistic" aesthetic, our memorial is characterized by an assemblage of four emblematic objects resting on top of a "block". These objects have been decontextualized, transformed, and re-presented, and the resulting piece communicates clearly and poetically. The memorial can be described as a perfectly horizontal, granite "block" inserted in a void. This void has, in turn, been carved out of the sloped ground of the plaza we have created on the axis of the Manning walkway. The void is approximately 65 by 40 feet and its vertical sides are veneered in corten steel; the granite block is approximately 60 by 38 feet; the floor space between void and block is covered with gravel. On the top of the stage-like block rest the four objects: a granite section of floor remains around them, geometrically cut; the remaining floor area is covered with grass.

The emblematic elements of the memorial are: "The Fence": it is made of wrought iron and is typical of New England; its arrow-headed finials are of stainless steel -- a departure from tradition to signal the specialty of monuments, the specialty of this place in particular. The fence is interrupted twice to allow easy movement through the memorial. Iron grills connect the block to the plaza around it and act as doorsteps. "The Bench": it is a transformation of the customary monumental bench in the tradition of the sculptor Saint-Gauden; it seems to be carved from a solid eight foot long granite parallelogram (it is, in fact, granite veneer over a steel frame); the seat proper is polished while the remaining surfaces are roughly finished, suggesting a coarsely cut solid rock ("en rocaille"). "The Tombstone": it is an aggrandized version of a typical tombstone, of solid granite, approximately five feet wide and eight feet high. It displays, incised, all the names to be remembered and the Brown University seal on top (If more deaths were to occur, more tombstones could be placed along side, making a casually arranged space). "The tree and its apron": the tree is a weeping willow that can be planted mid-sized or fully grown. This species has been selected because it continues the tradition established by the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and by many examples of the iconography of cemeteries and mourning, such as seen in the Currier and Ives lithographs of the 1830s. The apron surrounding the tree is made of granite (it is part of the block's top) and is seven feet in diameter and four inches high and it is right for seating under the tree. Again, this departure from the conventional tree grate material signals the symbolic specialty of this tree. The tree is located inside the precinct in such a position that it obscures the most visually negative part of the site as seen from the axial walkway. The everpresent granite floor to be found under the four emblematic objects -- fence, bench, tombstone and tree -- presents them in all of their uniqueness and underlies their power. in this fashion a memorial landscape is produced: unique, site specific, serene, contemporary, symbolically intense, and legible to all. This memorial offers a place of engagement, reflection, and enjoyment.

Year: 1988
Client:
Brown University
Location:
Providence, RI

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