By Bonnie Fisher MLA ’80 / ROMA Design Group
There were more than 1,000 competition entries, and members of the design jury included Ricardo Legoretta, Charles Correia, the designer of the Gandhi Memorial, and Randy Hester, professor of Landscape Architecture at UC Berkeley, amongst others. The design team members included ROMA Design Group partner Bonnie Fisher MLA ’80, Dipti Garg MUD ’03, Joel Tomei MArch ’67, and Carl Baker BA Arch ’99. After winning the competition, ROMA formed a Joint Venture with the Devrouax & Purnell in Washington, D.C. for the implementation of the design. Construction is expected to begin by November 2006 and be completed in 2008.
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial is designed to increase our awareness of Dr. King’s message regarding human rights and civil liberties and to help build an understanding of his role as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and his legacy in shaping the meaning of democracy in America. The project is conceived within the environmental tradition that characterizes more recent memorials such as the Vietnam War and the FDR memorials, rather than the single monument or commemorative building of previous eras. The King Memorial utilizes landscape elements — water, stone, and trees — to heighten the experience of place and to evoke the kind of emotional response that Dr. King conveyed in his poetic use of language. It contributes to the larger Olmstedian landscape of the National Mall and is located on a four-acre site that will be created by the relocation of the existing West Basin Drive. The site strengthens the axial relationship between the King, Jefferson, and Lincoln memorials and expresses the evolving message of democracy through the continuum of time, from the Declaration of Independence to the Gettysburg Address to the Civil Rights speech Dr. King delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
This memorial is not designed to be experienced in a single way, with a single message, but rather to have a broad accessibility that appeals to all of the senses, with diverse, repetitive ,and overlapping themes. The introduction of an arcing berm into the dominant horizontality of the site creates a complexity of spaces suitable for moving, viewing, sitting, meeting, speaking, and congregating in large and small groups. The circular geometry of the memorial juxtaposed with the triangular configuration of the site engages the tidal basin and frames views to the water, creating a space that is peaceful and expansive and that, in its form, nurtures inclusivity and a sense of community. Within the space, the words of Dr. King are incised on a curving wall of water, heightening visitors’ sensory experiences and adding to the understanding of his message of freedom, justice, and peace. The memorial engages the visitor by revealing the struggle of the movement and the promise of democracy, with the “Mountain of Despair” (the twin portals of stone flanking the entry) opening onto the “Stone of Hope” (a solitary monolith hewn from the two entry pieces). The image of Dr. King emerges from the “Stone of Hope,” standing vigil and awaiting delivery of the promise “that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
This is a memorial that celebrates Dr. King’s hope and optimistic spirit, as well as the value he placed on active citizenship rather than complacency and submission. It is not intended to be a eulogy, nor to focus on death or enshrinement. As Dr. King said, “Death is a comma, not a period.” When the cherry trees blossom in the springtime marking the season of his death, they will celebrate Dr. King’s life and achievement. The memorial is intended to be personally transformative for visitors, building a sense of commitment to the promise of positive social change and higher levels of achievement related to human rights and civil liberties.
The Joint Venture project team is led by Paul Devrouax, Managing Principal; Boris Dramov, Design Principal; and Bonnie Fisher, Landscape Principal (M.L.A. ’80).
Key staff of ROMA Design Group’s current effort include Mimi Ahn, Craig McGlynn, Jim Leritz, Joel Tomei (B.Arch., and M.Arch., ‘67), Dipti Garg (M.U.D., ’03), and Robert Holloway.
Key members of the design team for the competition include Boris Dramov, Design Team Leader, Bonnie Fisher (M.L.A. ‘80), Burton Miller, Robert Holloway and Carl Baker (BA in Arch., ’99). In addition to ROMA, other key members contributing to the design competition include Christopher Grubbs (illustrator) and Dr. Clayborne Carson (historical consultant).
All images courtesy ROMA Design Group. Renderings by Christopher Grubbs Illustrator