The Moving Wall

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands as a symbol of America’s honor and recognition of the men and women who served and sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War. By separating the issue of individuals serving in the military during the Vietnam era and U.S. policy carried out there, the Memorial Fund hoped to begin a process of national reconciliation.
— Description of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.[1]

Each wall is 126.2 ft. in length for a total length of 252.4 ft. — or slightly less than the length of a football field.
— Description of the Moving Wall[2]

kim_1 On May 1, 1981, a jury of architects, landscape architects, and artists plucked submission no. 1,026 — a set of moody pictures drawn in blue and green pastels — from a pool of more than 1,400 proposals for the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The drawings were accompanied by an evocative essay, handwritten on a single sheet of paper, that described the memorial’s proposed immensity: two walls, each more than 200 feet long and made of polished black granite, converge at a point, forming an expansive V. The names of more than 58,000 American soldiers, either killed during the war or declared missing in action, are carved in chronological order into the surfaces of the walls. “Seemingly infinite in number,” the essay stated, “[the names] convey the sense of overwhelming numbers, while unifying these individuals into a whole.… We, the living, are brought to a concrete realization of these deaths.”[3] The jury’s announcement of the winning proposal, designed by Maya Lin, ignited a public controversy that would last for the next several years.

Meanwhile Jean Baudrillard, the French social theorist, published the first edition of Simulacra and Simulation in fall 1981. In this pivotal work of postmodern theory, Baudrillard posited that our conception of the world is no longer “real” or “unreal” — but, instead, “hyperreal.” One’s sense of hyperreality, Baudrillard suggested, is constructed through the process of simulation, or the mass production of objects based on a “generative core.” [4]

One of Baudrillard’s primary claims was that the production of simulacra has supplanted a society’s efforts to produce copies, counterfeits, or replicas of idealized forms. Instead, reproductions exist through independent — and sometimes irreverent — relationships to an original model. “There is no more counterfeiting of an original,” Baudrillard wrote, “… only models from which all forms proceed according to modulated differences.”[5] Therein lies the internal paradox of simulation — while the production of objects may be inspired by a desire to replicate the model, the importance of the model falls away as reproduction occurs. Discrepancies between an experience of the original and one’s understanding of its reproductions are explained by Baudrillard’s notion of the generative core — the experience of the original model (as opposed to the thing itself) — that serves as the model for replication. Variations are the inevitable result, because the model itself is not a finite or known quantity.

Simulacra and Simulation can be described as a grand, sophisticated claim toward the power of subjectivity — or the notion that individual realities are constructed through signs of the real, or through the process of codification, rather than through an objective representation of the real itself. Baudrillard’s term for these newly constructed realities is “simulacra.”

A Strong, Clear Origin

kim_2
The Moving Wall in Bridgeport, Wash., October 25-31, 2003. Since 2000, Superintendent Gene Schmidt had imagined the hills behind Bridgeport Elementary School as the perfect backdrop for the Moving Wall.

The publication of Baudrillard’s theories on simulacra and simulation paralleled a spectacular effort to produce an object that would become the preeminent model for “proper” memorialization, not to mention one of America’s most recognized “originals.” Among architects and designers, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has set what some might call an inescapable precedent for the design of commemorative memorials. It is one of the most widely discussed memorials among historians, art and architecture critics, and cultural theorists, as well as an internationally circulated icon of America as a whole.[6]

Although the length of the design and construction process measured less than two years, it was defined by both internal and external controversies from the start. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, whose principal financiers included Texas billionaire Ross Perot, raised more than $8 million to fund the memorial.[7] When veteran Jan Scruggs founded the VVMF in 1979, one of the motivations behind the construction of a memorial was that it would help to quell the discord among veterans. But internal divisions were only deepened by Scruggs’s decision to effectively exclude the input of his fellow veterans, or the community for whom the VVMF supposedly stood. In November 1980, the VVMF — eager to push the plan through “Washington’s notoriously difficult architectural gatekeepers”[8] — appointed Paul Spreiregen, a prominent Washington architect, to oversee the competition and selection of jury members. The result was a panel that included a compilation of eight artists and design professionals — but no veterans, family members of dead soldiers, or, for that matter, women or minorities.[9]

On May 6, 1981, the VVMF had to subdue its own surprise in declaring Maya Lin, a 21-year-old senior at Yale, the winner of the competition. (One of the more memorable moments in Freida Lee Mock’s 1995 documentary A Strong, Clear Vision is Scruggs’s account of the awkwardness associated with first meeting with Lin in her college dormitory.) Nonetheless, the committee stood behind Lin — the author of what one juror described as “a simple and meditative design”[10] — as she was dragged into the national spotlight and forced to conduct a highly public defense of her proposal.

The perceived emotional coolness of her minimalist design, not to mention the unconventionality of its designer, had only intensified the furor harbored by a group of veterans who were already livid over their exclusion from the selection process. On Oct. 24, 1981, in a New York Times op-ed column, Tom Carhart — a veteran and Purple Heart recipient — characterized Lin’s proposal as “a black gash of shame and sorrow, hacked into the national visage that is the Mall.” At public hearings in the Capitol, Lin defended the simplicity of her design with an uncanny, unwavering resolve and, in line with a statement previously published in the Washington Post, rejected suggestions to change it in any way: “I don’t think anything should be done to the design that adds or detracts from its power. You could say, I guess, that I’m stubborn.”[11] In November 1982, the memorial — constructed exactly as Lin had envisioned it — was unveiled, in situ, on the Washington Mall. In 1984, however, a bronze statue of three servicemen and an American flagpole were added to the memorial site to appease some veterans’ objections to the original design.[12]

John Devitt Goes to Washington

kim_3
Installation of the Moving Wall in Bridgeport, Wash. Volunteers built a platform out of 2×4’s to create a level surface for the Moving Wall.

No sooner than the official VVM was unveiled had a plan for veterans to reclaim the memorial started to take shape. John Devitt, a former First Cavalry door gunner for the U.S. Army, sat among an audience of 6,000 at the VVM’s dedication ceremony on Nov. 13 (two days after Veterans’ Day) in 1982. Because he was unemployed at the time, Devitt’s trip to Washington had been sponsored by donations from members of his local community in San Jose, Calif. Devitt was aware of the controversy leading up to the memorial’s opening and shared some of the skepticism and resentment that had been publicly expressed by his fellow veterans — but he attended the ceremony nonetheless, grateful to his family and friends for their fundraising effort.

Devitt’s trip to Washington turned out to be life-altering. He returned to California deeply moved by his visit to “the Wall,” as veterans have nicknamed it, which he described as both healing and cathartic. “I walked up to ‘The Wall’ and felt this intense pride,” Devitt said in an interview with Jim Belshaw, a writer for Veteran magazine, in December 2000. “I hadn’t felt that since the day I left Vietnam. It was one thing nobody had mentioned in the twelve years I’d been home. Everybody talked about guilt. I had tried guilt and it didn’t work. I was very proud of the guys I was with and especially the ones who were killed. You can’t give more than that. I was so glad to see their names out there in the public.”[13]

In addition to a heightened sense of personal pride, Devitt felt charged with a mission to move the experience of the Wall beyond the arena of the Washington Mall. “When you think about it,” Devitt wrote, “two or three million people visit the Wall every year. There are ten or twenty times that many people who, for whatever reason, will never be able to make the trip to Washington.… I wanted them to be able to see and feel what I had.”[14] In other words, Devitt was not so much inclined to crystallize the power of his experience at the Wall as he was compelled to reproduce it.

The Original Copy

Installation of the Moving Wall in Zanesville, Ohio, June 9-15, 2000. Local carpenters built a special platform to create a tapering effect. At its apex, the base of the wall is 3 feet above grade, but at its respective ends, the aluminum panels sit directly on the ground.
Installation of the Moving Wall in Zanesville, Ohio, June 9-15, 2000. Local carpenters built a special platform to create a tapering effect. At its apex, the base of the wall is 3 feet above grade, but at its respective ends, the aluminum panels sit directly on the ground.

Devitt devoted the next 11 years to the development of a traveling half-scale version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, an object commonly referred to as a “replica” of the original. Although there are at least nine known copies, Devitt’s was the first. The traveling memorial, first titled the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Mobile) in 1984 — but now, in its third iteration, known as the Moving Wall — has visited nearly 1,000 communities in the U.S. during the past 20 years. Although most of the sponsoring communities can be classified as blue-collar or working-class, the Moving Wall has made several appearances in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and Atlanta. The Moving Wall has also traveled overseas: In July 1993, the Moving Wall was installed on sites in Guam and the Mariana Islands, where the United States maintained strategic military stations during the Vietnam War.[15]

The success of the Moving Wall has spawned the design of subsequent replicas — or copies of Devitt’s copy — further expanding the spiral of individual meanings. The VVMF developed a traveling replica, the Wall that Heals, in 1996. Coors Brewing and Service Corporation International (SCI) have also developed traveling VVM’s. Members of Vietnam Combat Veterans, an organization formed by Devitt in 1986, have referred to these replicas as “rip-offs,”[16] implicitly because Devitt has not been given due credit by these corporations as the inventor of the original copy. It seems that VCV looks more favorably upon the founders of a virtual replica, called the Virtual Wall, which can be visited at www.virtualwall.org or via a link on the Moving Wall’s website.

A Wall Moves to Bridgeport, Wa.

A volunteer polishes the Moving Wall’s reflective surface.
A volunteer polishes the Moving Wall’s reflective surface.

The Moving Wall was displayed on the soccer field behind Bridgeport Elementary School October 25-31, 2003. The installation was orchestrated by local residents Gene Schmidt and Ken Krugel, both of whom had visited the original VVM in Washington before the Moving Wall’s appearance in Bridgeport. Krugel, a Vietnam veteran, first visited the VVM in 1984, nearly two years after it opened on the Mall. He was hesitant to visit the memorial — as he claims many veterans were — and expected to encounter “a second-hand memorial.”[17] Like Devitt, Krugel was unexpectedly moved by his visit to the VVM. He recalled spending an entire day — and night — at the memorial, an experience that served as a template for his vision of the Moving Wall’s appearance in his hometown. “We had the perfect setting for the Moving Wall in Bridgeport,” he said. “I’ve seen it installed in other places, in city parks or on brown dirt. But we had it against the hills, and near an orchard. With the subdued lighting, the fog, and the trees, it was very much like the setting in Washington.”[18]

Krugel aided Schmidt, superintendent of the local school district, in assembling a team of 300 volunteers to help with the logistics of the Moving Wall’s setup and display. Since 1999, when Krugel and Schmidt began planning for the Moving Wall’s arrival, they had envisioned the school’s athletic fields as the perfect site for the installation — not only because it was both a picturesque setting and on level ground but because of the field’s location adjacent to the Bridgeport Cemetery, the burial ground for the five local soldiers who were killed in Vietnam. The volunteers erected an aisle of flags and several tents to display memorabilia — the flags, plaques, photos, and identification tags left at the Moving Wall, which are adopted as part of the traveling exhibition. They also monitored the computer terminals, where visitors looked up the location of specific names. Schmidt organized opening and closing ceremonies, a performance of “Taps” every day at dusk, and an oration of the 58,202 names inscribed on the wall that lasted four days. “People had their tissues out before they even got here,” Schmidt recalled. “And no one ran. It was apparent that this was a memorial, a commemorative scene. People stayed quiet and walked slowly.”[19]

From Mobile to Moving

Since 1984, two stewards have transported the memorial to over 1,000 communities throughout the U.S.
Since 1984, two stewards have transported the memorial to over 1,000 communities throughout the U.S.

When Devitt first conceived of the Moving Wall in 1982, his primary goal was to evoke an emotionally powerful experience, not to replicate the exact physical features of the original memorial. He modeled its physical form as a carrier for the 58,202 names that are carved into the original. For Devitt, the names “were what counted, the primary concern”[20] — the names, rather than an allegiance to the original memorial, were his main consideration in devising the traveling memorial. The names on the Moving Wall are arranged chronologically — as they are on the original — employing a design strategy devised by Lin to express a spatial connection between the number of U.S. casualties and the progression of the war. While the listing of names allows for the recognition of each individual soldier, the body of names, as a whole, communicates a wider political message about the immense scale of lives sacrificed to sustain U.S. involvement in the drawn-out war.

Devitt first attempted to reproduce the names photographically, but he found the polished granite surface of the original to be so reflective of its surroundings that the individual names became illegible in photographs. As a result, Devitt decided to silkscreen the names onto five Plexiglas panels, and the first moving memorial, the VVM (Mobile), was completed in time for Veterans’ Day 1984. Devitt recalled its immediate impact at its unveiling in Tyler, Tex.: “We hadn’t even put up the fifth panel when a Gold Star Mother placed a beautifully decorated candle at the base of the panel where her son’s name was displayed.”[21]

In devising a system to “carry” the names, Devitt’s main challenges were durability and portability. The VVM (Mobile) was retired after the 1986 tour because the Plexiglas panels had weathered so poorly; initially it was replaced by a kit of masonite panels laminated by a formica display surface for the names, with steel-tube framing for support. In 1988 the VVMF provided Devitt with photographic negatives of the names, a template Devitt used to have all of the names laser-engraved onto the surface. In 1990, Devitt constructed yet another moving memorial, this time out of 140 aluminum panels coated with a black polyurethane finish and supported by a kit of adjustable steel poles; it was also at this time that Devitt obtained a copyright for the moving memorial and changed its name from the VVM (Mobile) to the Moving Wall.

The Moving Wall is recognizable as an attempted duplicate of the original VVM, but in most senses its form represents a vast departure from that of its model. Because it is not sunken down into the ground and has little width or depth, the Moving Wall acts primarily as a two-dimensional display surface for the names and thus looks like a flattened version of the original. In addition, the Moving Wall’s aluminum panels are flimsy compared with the gravity and permanence imparted by Lin’s use of granite to construct the original. These differences, however, are what define the Moving Wall as a simulacrum. They point to the give-and-take relationship between Devitt’s desire to evoke his experience of the original and his determination to make the replica portable. And it is through these discrepancies that the Moving Wall becomes a memorial on its own — or, in Baudrillard’s words, an “emancipated sign, in which any and every class will be able to participate.”[22]

A Community Mobilizes

Opening ceremonies were held on October 25, 2003 in the field behind Bridgeport Elementary School.
Opening ceremonies were held on October 25, 2003 in the field behind Bridgeport Elementary School.

It took Gene Schmidt four years — and the help of a local senator — to successfully schedule an appearance of the Moving Wall in Bridgeport. Schmidt submitted Bridgeport’s first application in 1999 and was initially discouraged when the school district received no response from the Moving Wall’s headquarters in Michigan. But when he read about the Moving Wall’s appearance in Nespelem, Wa. — a rural town of only 200 people — Schmidt thought, “Well if they can do it, gosh, so can we.”[23]

Schmidt enlisted Krugel, the local postmaster, to help with logistics. The pair began fundraising well before the Moving Wall’s appearance in Bridgeport was even confirmed. “We got on the waiting list,” Krugel said. “But I didn’t know if we’d ever really get it.” Schmidt’s outlook was more optimistic: “I knew it would be just a matter of time before we’d get it. And in any case, we needed to start planning and fundraising as soon as possible. For a small town like ours, it was a major undertaking.”[24]

Relative to the tiny town of Nespelem, the city of Bridgeport may seem larger than it actually is — with a population of 2,000 residents, Bridgeport might be aptly characterized as a big small town.In a city where people struggle to make ends meet — half Bridgeport’s residents live with a median household income of $28,000 or less — Schmidt knew he could not rely on the community to make unsolicited donations to fund the Moving Wall display.[25] It costs about $4,000 to display the Moving Wall for one week — plus nine days’ worth of food and hotel rooms for the traveling stewards. All display fees are used by Devitt’s organization, Vietnam Combat Veterans, to cover the Moving Wall’s travel and maintenance costs. “This is not [an effort] to make the Memorial Fund of VCV, Ltd. rich,” the group’s guidelines state. “It is to ensure that The Moving Wall is not used or abused.”[26] In addition, local communities assume the costs of extras — everything from flags and marching bands to toilets and compensation for 24-hour-a-day guards.[27]

Schmidt and Krugel collaborated with local individuals and groups to raise the necessary funds. Through this process, which involved hundreds of residents, the Moving Wall became specific to the Bridgeport community, generating a level of significance and meaning well before the replica had even arrived. Schmidt and Krugel asked Sen. Maria Cantwell to write letters to John Devitt on the community’s behalf, and the pair procured the help of the Columbia Quilters, a group of Bridgeport residents who raffled off a quilt and donated the proceeds to the Moving Wall fund.

Schmidt also obtained financial support from Bridgeport’s veteran community. According to Krugel, the older World War II and Korean War veterans felt that the time had come to recognize the younger generation of vets who had served during Vietnam, many of whom were treated with hostility after returning from active duty. Krugel had experienced such disdain firsthand stepping off of a Greyhound bus in Los Angeles in 1969: “I wasn’t in uniform, but I had a military haircut. And someone spat on me three times. Obviously that is something I’ll never forget. There were stories of drug abuse, massacring children, and rape, all of which certainly happened. But not all vets took part in this — I certainly did not. To say the least, it was not a popular war.”[28]

Replicas — or Simulacra?

On the Moving Wall’s website, Devitt has posted the following statement to eliminate confusion between the original, not-for-profit version and other “so-called replicas” that have been sprouting up around the United States: “The Moving Wall is not just a generic name for any of the traveling replicas that copied The Moving Wall — it is a name that was given specifically to the nation’s first traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial during its fourth display back in February of 1985. The first visitors to the nation’s first memorial designed and built to be brought to the people were moved beyond words. Many expressed their thankfulness that absolutely nothing was expected of them — there was nothing for sale, no solicitations for money and no advertising. They found only the names on the wall and the memories that visitors brought with them. The Moving Wall is the only traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial that was actually designed and physically built by Vietnam Veterans with public donations.”[29]

But is the copy of the original Vietnam Veterans Memorial best characterized as such? Is “replica” or “copy” an accurate designation for the Moving Wall, which, at approximately half the size of the original, packs neatly into four large bins and travels the United States on a flatbed truck? Baudrillard and his postmodern bedfellows have overthrown the concept of the “true” copy, or the notion that exact reproduction is even possible; in Baudrillard’s view, there is no more interpretive distance between the “real” and the “imaginary.” As it follows, there are no more copies — just simulacra. Baudrillard’s view of social progress, a scenario in which “every order subsumes the previous order,” renders the idea of the replica, and any belief in the existence of a “true” copy, mere nostalgia. The first order of the simulacrum is embedded in the second order, which is then absorbed by the third, making a total regression back to the era of the counterfeit impossible.

Even if the Moving Wall is widely referred to as a “replica,” it functions more like Baudrillard’s definition of a simulacrum, with each installation existing independently of the original VVM and making up one part of a spiraling network of individual experiences. In August 2005, Krugel described the Moving Wall less as a copy and more as a simulation of an effect — similar to Baudrillard’s notion of a “generative [experiential] core”: “It’s not granite, and it’s not down in the ground. It arrives on a truck and [is] put together with screws and bolts. But it’s not just about the visual experience — it’s about the emotions. When I think of other monuments, they’re just there. This just happens to be one that moves.”[30]

As “Real” as It Gets

In Schmidt and Krugel’s estimation, approximately 8,000 people visited the Moving Wall in Bridgeport, some traveling from as far as 200 miles away — but only 2 percent of them had ever visited the original in Washington. “Even if they can afford the trip, many people don’t want to go. They feel nervous about confronting those emotions — especially in public. For those 20 and under, Vietnam is a lesson in history. But for those 40 and above, those are very real and oftentimes painful moments to remember.”[31]

The nearly 4,000 school children who visited the Moving Wall did so at a safe remove; for kids, the experience is mostly educational. But for some visitors, the experience proved to be painfully personal. While the Moving Wall was in Bridgeport, Krugel and his wife paid several visits to the parents of one of the five soldiers from Bridgeport killed in the war. “We sat in their living room for an hour until we could even tell them why we were there. And then, we talked to this couple for four hours. The mother started to bring out pictures, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia from the soldier’s high school days that she had never shown to anyone. They were so resentful that they were unable to talk to anyone for 30 years about the death of their son. Bridgeport is close to Canada, where many people fled to avoid being drafted — the majority of people from here didn’t volunteer. That says a bit about how this couple and a lot of Bridgeport viewed the war.”[32]

A few days later, Krugel accompanied the parents of the slain soldier to the Moving Wall, where they grieved and displayed their son’s honorary medals. “That memory alone,” Krugel recalled, “makes the whole operation worthwhile.”[33]

Krugel also viewed the effort to bring the Moving Wall to Bridgeport as an opportunity to symbolize the unification of the local veterans community which, like most organizations with members of different generations, has suffered from internal divisiveness over the years. “There’s a saying among vets,” Krugel said, “that goes, ‘Never again.’ As in never again will vets of one war not support vets of another.”[34]

“So Many” Memorials, So Many Meanings

Last April, in reference to the nine separate visits of traveling VVM memorials — including the Moving Wall — to southern Arizona, the Arizona Daily Star published an article, titled “Are They Too Much of a Good Thing?” In the feature, several local residents are quoted as agreeing that while traveling replicas like the Moving Wall were “a good idea,” there was the possibility that they could lose their meaning if the walls are displayed too frequently. Mike Brewer, a veteran living in Tucson, took a more equivocal stance, citing high public demand as the likely reason for the proliferation of the memorials. “If you look at the math,” Brewer told the Daily Star, “the war was 13 years long, 2.5 million served in Vietnam and 9 million were in the military during that era. The war touched a lot of people. And even with so many models on tour, they have not saturated the market.”[35]

With “so many” replicas, and the exponential meanings generated through their production and display, a theorization of the Moving Wall resists total comprehension. As the Moving Wall is continually located and relocated on sites throughout the United States, it effectively defies a singularization of its meaning, and interpretations become multiplied through the ongoing process of simulation. Although millions of people continue to visit the original VVM in Washington, Baudrillard’s writings on the process of simulation — as applied to the case of The Moving Wall — provide a framework with which one is able to de-emphasize its importance as a discrete object and, in turn, recognize the presence of “so many” memorials and an even greater number of individually constructed realities. The Moving Wall does more than gesture toward the absence of an objective reality; it can be thought of as a traveling figure that generates multiple meanings in the absence of a singular truth. Unlike many of the minimalist memorials that we see today, it does more than merely gesture toward this eternal void. Instead it highlights the presence of more realities than we can know or name.

Acknowledgement

This paper is an extended version of the research, writing, and discussions that originated in a graduate seminar, Architecture and National Identity, taught by Greig Crysler in spring 2005. I am grateful to professor Crysler and to my classmates, many of whom helped to shape the thoughts presented in this paper.

Endnotes

[1] Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, “The Memorial” [http://www.vvmf.org/index.cfm?SectionID=4], n.d.

[2] Vietnam Combat Veterans, Ltd. “Physical Statistics of The Moving Wall™” [http://www.themovingwall.org/docs/physical.htm], n.d.

[3] Maya Ying Lin, Boundaries (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), 4:05. Maya Lin was declared winner of the nationwide competition on May 6, 1981.

[4] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 56. Originally published in 1981. For commentary on Baudrillard’s reputation as a postmodernist, see Douglas Kellner, “Baudrillard en route to Postmodernity” [http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/pomo/ch4.html], and Kellner, “Jean Baudrillard,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/baudrillard/], 2005.

[5] Ibid.

[6] The extent to which the VVM has influenced the design of future memorials was evident among proposals to the recent Ground Zero (2003-04), Flight 93 (2004-05) and National AIDS Memorial (2004-05) design competitions. For an example of how the VVM is exported internationally as an icon of America, see http://travel.discovery.com/convergence/americanicon/vietnamvets/vietnamvets.html.

[7] Edward J. Gallagher, “The Vietnam Wall Controversy,” Lehigh University Department of English [http://www.lehigh.edu/~ejg1/vietnam/content/round1.htm] and [http://www.lehigh.edu/~ejg1/vietnam/content/round2.htm], n.d.

[8]Kristin Ann Hass, “Making a Memory of War: Building the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.” From Carried to the Wall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 12.

[9] Paul Richard, “Design Competition for Vietnam Memorial,” Washington Post, Nov. 11, 1980, B7. Archival footage of Lin’s testimony at public hearings in the Capitol can be seen in Freida Lee Mock and Terry Sanders’ documentary film A Strong, Clear Vision (New York: New Video Group, 1995).

[10] Wolf Von Eckardt, “Of Heart and Mind: The Serene Grace of the Vietnam Memorial,” Washington Post, May 16, 1981, B1.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, “The Three Servicemen Statue” [http://www.vvmf.org/index.cfm?SectionID=103], n.d.

[13] Jim Belshaw, “John Devitt: Travels With The Wall,” Veteran [http://www.vva.org/TheVeteran/2001_01/thewall.htm], December 2000/January 2001.

[14] Gerry Stegmaier, “The Moving Wall,” Among Friends[http://www.themovingwall.org/docs/stegmair.htm], n.d.

[15] See “History of The Moving Wall™ Displays,” Vietnam Combat Veterans, Ltd. [http://www.themovingwall.org/], n.d.

[16]Veterans Combat Veterans, Ltd. Replicas of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Suspected Misinformation/Disinformation [http://home.earthlink.net/~vcvltdvetnet/wall0602.htm], May 25, 1997.

[17] Ken Krugel in a telephone interview conducted by the author on Aug. 17, 2005.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Belshaw, http://www.vva.org/TheVeteran/2001_01/thewall.htm.

[21]Stegmaier, http://www.themovingwall.org/docs/stegmair.htm.

[22] Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant (London, Thousand Oaks, and New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1993), 51. Originally published 1976.

[23]Gene Schmidt in a telephone interview with the author, Aug. 16, 2005.

[24]Ibid.

[25]U.S. Census Bureau, “Summary of Census Data for Bridgeport, Washington” [www.ofm.wa.gov/census2000/dp58/pl/07870.pdf], 2000.

[26] Criticism of Jan Scruggs.

[27] Schmidt, Aug. 16, 2005.

[28] Krugel, Aug. 17, 2005.

[29] Vietnam Combat Veterans, Ltd. “Scheduling the Moving Wall™” [http://www.themovingwall.org/docs/skedling.htm], n.d.

[30] Krugel, Aug. 17, 2005.

[31] Schmidt, Aug. 16, 2005.

[32] Krugel, Aug. 17, 2005.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Carol Ann Alaimo, “Are they too much of a good thing?” Arizona Daily Star, April 16, 2005.

The World Trade Center Memorial Two interviews with Peter Walker

It has been more than a year and a half since exactly 5,201 entries for the design of a World Trade Center Memorial in the heart of New York City’s financial district were reviewed by a diverse 13-member panel comprising professional architects, landscape architects, and victims’ family members.

brooke_1 The widely publicized project was awarded in early 2004 to Michael Arad, an architect at the New York City Housing Authority, and Peter Walker, a Berkeley landscape architect and former chair of the CED Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning Department.

In February 2004, a mere month after the competition ended, I first spoke with Peter Walker at his office in Berkeley about the details of what could be considered the commission of a lifetime for most practitioners. The honeymoon glow of the design process was burning bright, and expectations for both the site plan and the memorial were riding high on a wave of media attention, public interest, and political clout.

Not all good things go exactly according to plan, however. While progress is indeed being made, it is largely invisible to those outside the circle of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Today, with the exception of the rebuilt PATH train station, Ground Zero remains largely unchanged since the cleanup ended in May 2003, with political interests, security concerns, design changes, and a less than robust market for new office space plaguing the project and testing the faith of even the most optimistic onlookers that the project will achieve the aspirations it laid out in 2001. Current estimates place the final build out for the site planned by Daniel Libeskind at about 2012 and include not just Arad and Walker’s memorial but a skyscraper dubbed the Freedom Tower, being designed by David Childs of Skidmore Owings and Merrill, a transit center by Santiago Calatrava, a cultural center by Norwegian firm Snohetta, and a theater by Frank Gehry.

Recently, after 18 eighteen months of design work for the memorial had been completed, and with likely enough negotiation skills to write a how-to book, I had the opportunity to speak to Walker again by phone (he currently spends at least half of his time in New York City) and revisit his thoughts on the project, the players, the politics, and the media coverage surrounding one of the best-known design projects in the world.

What follows are two interviews that present an interesting juxtaposition of viewpoints not just on a complicated, high-profile project upon which the expectations of a nation are hanging, but on the evolution of the design process itself. Here is Walker’s version of the ubiquitous roller-coaster ride that most designers are all too familiar with: the brief thrill of the conceptual design and its intoxicating potency, followed by the infinite endurance required to survive the critics, design changes, budget negotiations, and political roadblocks and to bring the project to fruition.

February 2004

brooke_2

Jennifer Brooke: Could you explain how you came to be on this competition team and what it has been like to work with Michael Arad, a relatively young designer?

Peter Walker: One of the questions Michael was initially asked about was the plaza, which originally he had left completely open. The jury also insisted that he put in some cultural buildings. The other area they asked him about was the park, and they said, Why don’t you talk it over with some landscape architect. When I got the call from Michael, I did not really know which scheme he represented. I had seen the competition schemes in the paper, but none of the names looked familiar. Once we found out which one was Michael’s, I told him we would be interested. We started to live by the fax machine and telephone, and we were feeding information back to the jury by answering questions verbally about our intentions, accompanied by a few [faxed] sketches.

Shortly after that the jury wanted to have a meeting with the two of us. I flew back to New York on Saturday and called him up and asked, How are things going? He said that the jury wanted a meeting on Sunday at 9:00 a.m. So I said, Fine, let’s meet at 7:00. You and I need to know what each other looks like. So we had breakfast and he brought his boards, and there we were in the hotel and we were down on the floor with his drawings. So we gathered them all up and we went up to Gracie Mansion, and the focus was on the park––we had worked like you do at school — producing thumbnail sketches. Fortunately the jury could deal with it. So that was a good meeting, though very short — 30 minutes.

I came back to Berkeley, and on Tuesday we got a telephone call regarding questions about some things the jury was still worried about, and whether we would be willing to resolve these things. When you are a petitioner, what are you going to do, say no? So we said yes. They said, Fine, we will send you a letter of understanding. Will you sign it? I was a little apprehensive, because we really weren’t very keen about some of the things that they wanted us to look at. So they faxed it, I signed it and faxed it back. Michael did the same. They called back an hour later and said, You have it.

We had more meetings in Berkeley and in New York with Libeskind and the agency. The public presentation with the governor, the mayor, and press from everywhere was on Wednesday morning. So we negotiated through that weekend with Daniel and finally found a place for the cultural buildings, and I think about 3:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon, not on paper but in sketches, we had our scheme. Michael did not have an office, not even a secretary. He was working out of his bedroom, and I was there without anybody from our office. If I had been smart about it, I would have taken someone. Late Sunday we got the model pretty well finished in terms of where the cultural buildings would go. All that afternoon and night I was working on the landscape plan at the scale of the model using yellow trace and rulers. The following morning they took my tracing, put it on the model, and drilled holes through the trace to show where the trees were. He destroyed the drawing while he was making the model. It was OK. It worked! It looked pretty good. Wednesday was the television day. We had our first TV show at about 7:30 AM and in between the jury, the governor, the mayor, and doing the presentation, we were wiped out.

model_memJB: Why do you think the jury chose this particular entry? What about it do you think pushed them over the edge in your favor?

PW: I like to think they liked Michael’s idea because it is quite somber and tomb-like. Many of the others were very theatrical and required tremendous amounts of maintenance. Not that this one doesn’t. But they were very complex. One of the problems in doing the park was to not lose the ground plane, which is the key to the voids. If the voids were going down through shrubbery, it would not work.

The last thing that I think appealed to the jury was this idea of moving from somber darkness to light, which is really talking about death, mostly, but extending the dimension of the scheme to something that was also living. When you come up, you should feel that life can go on. You should have this sense of life. Through the use of plant materials we are going to do things to dramatize seasonal change like we did at Saitama, Japan, and make that cycle of the seasons apparent.

JB: So what role is landscape playing in the overall concept of the memorial?

PW: In the original scheme, Michael had used a few pines to make it seem sort of bereft of life, to make it seem very, very still. But I think the mood was not quite right because they all looked the same. Michael got that. In the Eastern climate, you might use sycamore trees, and add some locust or flowering trees in order to get a little variety in throughout the seasons.

At Saitama [a Petwer Walker & Partners project in Japan] project in Japan] we used just one species of tree and it is remarkable. But we needed something more complex here. We are going to use several different ground covers: some mosses, and 80 percent grass because it is going to take a beating. The parapets are stone, and we are using stone paving in very long, narrow pieces because we have different geometries moving across the site. If you enter one way, you see a natural form of planting that contrasts with the form of the memorial, and if you enter from the other way, you see an organization of tree-trunk colonnades playing against the voids. So there are two different effects depending on which way you turn. We are trying to get a lot out of a little. There is a grassed glade for the families, who meet twice a year, in the spring and on Sept. 11.

JB: In the minds of many design professionals, the World Trade Center is not just the commission of the decade but perhaps the commission of the century. How difficult has it been thus far working under the intense media glare – the eyes of the world?

PW: From our standpoint the numbers of different people who are involved and the media essentially make it a very open process. It’s like everyone is in the room all the time. All the information is gathered by these agencies, and it comes out through them. It’s a completely different way of working. It’s more like being a politician, where you are constantly making public presentations in one form or the other. We are only a month into this. It’s got to calm down.

The difficulty with all the media attention is that when I’m in Berkeley, I sometimes spend half a day on interviews. The World Trade Center Memorial is nice in that everyone wishes you well. The New York Times did a series of articles that are just terrific, posing questions about how the water features in the project can actually be managed. They have asked questions about safety (not security in the terrorist sense). Currently there is a big issue about whether these memorial spaces are precisely over the tower footprints. What has happened is that the infrastructure has moved into the footprints, which makes it difficult not to slip over on either side. The question of the footprint is a real issue to a certain number of people and by getting it out, it’s like a public meeting — you may take the heat out of that particular issue. In other words, it raises the question early enough so that you don’t get blindsided later on. The media is very sophisticated, very knowledgeable about politics.

We have an awful lot of masters on the project, plus two of the largest agencies in the United States, plus HUD at some point, in addition to the governor’s office and mayor’s office, which are gigantic. The families are a tremendously diverse group, with many different points of view. The thing that holds them together is their grief, which is very immediate when you are in the midst of it.

911_memJB: The Vietnam Memorial changed the way people think about memorials. Do you think this memorial has the same potential to do that, or do you think it is at such a different scale that it is completely different?

PW: I don’t know. The Vietnam Memorial contrasts a sort of Olmstedian landscape against a minimal element. This memorial is really playing at a larger scale against a very urban landscape. So in this way they are very unlike each other. The WTC memorial spaces have a below-ground spiritual dimension that the Vietnam Memorial does not have. This memorial is entered by going down from light into darkness and out to the light again. It has a theatrical dimension. I think that lack of theatricality in the Vietnam Memorial is what is so great about it. The idea in the WTC Memorial is not like that. People are going to compare them, but they really are completely different.

JB: If a person could visit the memorial and walk away with one thing, what would you like that to be?

PW: I think it is like any memorial. You hope they retain some composite but distinctive image that will stay with them. You want to compete with the great monuments. You also want to have something that fits on a postcard so that you instantly know what it is. Something iconographic. I think that’s the strength of Michael’s initial scheme. I’m sure that’s what attracted the jury.

JB: Due to the significant role landscape plays in this memorial, do you think this will change the way the general public perceives landscape architecture as a profession. Do you think this project has the potential to do that?

PW: I think that there is a fair amount of lip service given to landscape architecture. People who live in cities really like their parks, but they are not seen as designed, even though they are. They are seen as historical expressions, like Bryant Park, or they are seen as expressions of nature, like Central Park. I think the artifice gets lost, and I think the proof of that is, when they cease to be maintained or cared for, no one complains. I don’t think they are seen in the sort of crystalline way architecture is seen, and I don’t think this is going to change much. It probably will change things for us as designers, because clients will show a willingness to do things that they would not have otherwise thought about. I can’t tell you how many times in this thing I have used Battery Park or Bryant Park as an example of what I was talking about and found that most people don’t think of them as specific artifacts. So I think this may add to the vocabulary. A vocabulary is obviously already there, but it’s not a vocabulary people are using to make policy.

JB: Given all the players involved and all the constituencies that have a vested interest in the project, how difficult is it going to be to get this built the way that you and Michael have sat down and talked about it?

PW: I think it is going to be difficult, but we have some power in the situation because the vision has been more or less accepted by everybody and if it is not realized, someone will object. I don’t believe there is anybody who really wants to get rid of the design idea. We have not heard of many who oppose the scheme. As I said, everybody has been really supportive. Even the people who have objections seem to understand the scheme.

August 2005

JB: At the start you knew that this would be a difficult project to realize as it was conceived by Michael Arad and yourself. Has it been more difficult than you expected?

PW: What has been more difficult than I imagined was the amount of time it takes to deal with the composite problem the memorial has posed. We had always assumed that it would be a big design effort, construction effort, and a technical research effort, as every project is. But we’re doing it all under intense public scrutiny, and because of the public scrutiny, there is a tremendous amount of political direction which we never could have imagined.

Put all these things together and it has consumed the office, every waking moment. We now travel a full four days a month, taking these chunks of time away from the office. We originally assumed that we’d be traveling east every two weeks through schematic design, and then perhaps every three weeks, but we didn’t expect a conference call every day. It has put the office in the position of having to turn away work. We’ve had to increase our staff more than we’d like, and it’s taking our upper-level management away from the office. The time requirements and their continuation are more than we expected. We always knew of the highly public nature of the project but didn’t think we’d be trying to design while under investigation. It’s like having two jobs. You have your daily job with the project, and then you have this other job dealing with the larger political and media issues.

JB: Where are you now in the design process for the memorial? Is there an end in sight?

PW: We’re moving forward. The last year has not been unproductive. This is probably the most demanding design project I’ve ever had. We are just now finishing design development on the project. We’ve got more than a typical DD package done; we also have our trees tagged, the pool plumbing worked out, and coordination with Calatrava and Snohetta underway. Much of the coordination is coming to a head. Many of the consultants started after us but have had an easier time. We’re in the position of having to do coordination like this while we’re in design development. It would have been a lot easier to coordinate if we had been able to do it earlier.

JB: Significant design elements for the memorial, particularly the ceremonial procession from above ground to below ground have undergone significant changes. How is the design team dealing with decisions to alter such an important aspect of the original design?

PW: When we first started with the conceptual plans as they were laid out in the competition scheme, we did not have a solution to all the problems. Many of these decisions have improved the project. We expected to do design alternatives. Our task was to produce a memorial that worked according to the conceptual direction of Michael’s plan, but also produce a public open space that didn’t destroy the memorial. Michael has really kept his eye on the memorial part of the project, while I’ve kept an eye on the public open space. The plaza must be respectful of the memorial and not destroy the mood. The mood is what needs to be balanced with all the suggestions for things such as concerts in the plaza. The mood is very important. Like we’ve done on other program-sensitive projects like the Nasher Sculpture Center, we’ve had to take some things that we don’t want to see, but that are still necessary to the functioning of the project, and make them invisible. The design process is the same as other projects in that there are ideas and you have to fight for some and let others go, but in this case we’ve had to take on all comers from all directions.

There will be 5 million people a year visiting this site, but they don’t all come at once! Even so, it should be possible to maintain the solemnity of the place despite its public nature by controlling the number of people in any space at one time and carefully considering the devices to control their behavior. Things like signage, buying tickets, the numbers of people moving from one space to another are all being specifically considered. Too many people in one room or location could take away from the mood of the place, so it is important to control movement with careful manipulations in the landscape materials. For example, movements of people going to and from work can be handled with pavement choices and barriers. We considered putting a wall around the site at the beginning — a low parapet, or even a hedge with one or two access points — but we wanted to be more subtle than that. It is different than the Vietnam Memorial, which sits in the park and works in relationship to it. In our case there is no park. We are the park. Parks are prized in a city such as New York. Park space in the city is at a premium, and the parks are beloved. The difficulty here is that there will be use restrictions, and we have to design for them. This park will not be able to be used the way people are accustomed to using other parks, for Frisbee, dogs, and shortcuts for commuters.

brooke_3JB: Have there been any pleasant surprises since you have begun? Things you didn’t expect?

PW: We’ve been able to accomplish things in the bureaucracies that we never expected. And the people! We have met people that have been extraordinarily helpful in cutting through the red tape, championing causes, addressing the more cruel questions that are constantly put to us. Some of these people will be friends for the rest of my life. These are people that are on the board, they are family members, they are agency members, and even one or two members of the press that have been very careful to tell the whole story and avoid looking for the most contentious bytes of information. The mayor and the governor of New York have also shown incredible support and dedicated interest in the project and that has been great.

JB: This isn’t really the kind of project you build, take photos of, and revisit a few years later. How does this project fit into the trajectory of your career?

PW: It might kill me! [Laughs] This project is different than most others I’ve worked on, because it is open to the public but is run by a foundation. It is also unlike many other projects I’ve worked on in that it is endowed. Unlike a project like a public college campus, where you finish and it gets turned over to the students and administration, a private group is running this. This will be a continuous operation, and I’m sure that we will continue to be involved. Our office will be on call in the horticultural sense but also with the people management. I’m sure there will be some revisiting of elements, and they won’t stay exactly the same. When you are dealing with landscape, plants deteriorate and need maintenance, and we will of course need to respond to things that happen that no one could anticipate.

I’ve never had a client like this, one that was both knowledgeable and eternal. I think about Le Notre and Olmsted and the skills they had in dealing with large institutions similar to this, and I just wish I had more years to work in this part of my career. I should have had clients like these years ago! Some landscape architects reach this point earlier in their life. Most landscape architects have to slog through the smaller and less interesting projects that it takes to get to something like this. Now, because of this project, we have more projects of this caliber in the office, not memorials necessarily but projects that I just wish that I had 20 more years to work on.

Martin Luther King Memorial

By Bonnie Fisher MLA  ’80 / ROMA Design Group

In 2000, ROMA Design Group won the international design competition for the Martin Luther King National Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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.

fisher_1The 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.

fisher_2This 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