Architect Friedrich St.Florian visits Kenyon Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 4:10 p.m. to address the creative journey that led to the unveiling of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C..
St.Florian will present “Democracy in Action: Designing the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.” in the Community Foundation Theater in the Gund Gallery. A reception will follow the talk, which is free and open to the public.
The memorial’s design competition, launched in 1997, attracted more than 400 plans, with St.Florian’s concept declared the winner. St.Florian will address the evolution of his design and the “very complex and sometimes contentious process” of responding to special interests, including those of artists, politicians and war veterans.
“They all have very strong opinions about what is beautiful and what is not beautiful and about what is right and what is wrong, and that is how democracy operates,” St.Florian said. “And to sort it out and to bring about the consensus in the end is a very beautiful thing. But sometimes for the architects and designers, sometimes it’s painful.”
St.Florian said he believes his plan to lower the site of the memorial to preserve an unobstructed view between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument clinched his win. The memorial features two pavilions symbolizing the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, 56 granite columns with bronze wreaths representing 48 states, seven federal territories and the District of Columbia, and a pool in the center.
St.Florian’s design attracted mixed reviews.
“Since the first American monuments were installed on the National Mall, the commemorative process has been quite complicated,” said Professor of Art History Melissa Dabakis, who discusses the World War II Memorial in a seminar she teaches on monuments and memory. “This monument was really forced to address an enormous number of issues and different constituencies who experienced the war in very different ways. How does one visualization then address all those different experiences of the war?”
St.Florian also will share his thoughts on “the meaning of memorials in our time,” such as the more recent movement toward what he calls “healing memorials” — exemplified by the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum — a sentiment that also comes into play with war memorials.
“One of the difficulties I had as the designer of the World War II Memorial was exactly this, that it was not meant to be a memorial that simply, exclusively celebrates the victory of democracy, so to speak, in mid-20th century but also talks about the horrors of the war,” St.Florian said, adding that this concern for the human cost of war was virtually nonexistent in memorials erected before the 20th century.
Professor of Classics Carolin Hahnemann invited St.Florian to Kenyon, and his talk is sponsored by the Department of Art History and the Center for the Study of American Democracy, in conjunction with the Robert O. Fink Memorial Lecture Fund and the Gund Gallery.