The National Mall in Washington, DC is chock-full of monuments of various sorts and various levels of architectural quality.
At the top of my list are the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and of course the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, all of which obtain greatness by expressing defined meanings and ideas through tangible, architectural means. At the bottom of my list, by far, is the relatively new (2004) World War II Memorial, which is a disgustingly exaggerated and filthily official example of knee-jerk historicism.
Now a new memorial is joining the mix. Read on past the break to read about my opinions of the new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial.
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial will be formally dedicated this Sunday. Check out this article about it in The New York Times (admittedly, it’s not a fantastic article, but it’s good enough).
Now I haven’t been there, so all I’ve done is read news coverage of the memorial as well as a few criticisms, and seen the pictures. My first impressions? Not good. A pedantic, literal approach to a metaphor (In his famed I Have a Dream speech, King said, “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope”) is never a good method of design, and this memorial seems to be a case study in how to let a superficially simple understanding of complex issues and a key figure around whom they swirled take over a design. There may be some redeeming qualities, but there certainly don’t seem to be many in the pictures and descriptions that I’ve seen.
But hey, it could always be worse. It could occupy a spot directly between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, and it could use that prominent spot for a massive faux-classical civic plaza adorned with Roman arches and pillars, a large pool fully of flashy fountains and even some gold stars — because lots of gold stars probably symbolizes something and are so patriotic that they just can’t be a bad idea, right? So no, this new memorial is not nearly as bad as the truly horrible World War II one.
But that doesn’t mean I like it.