The Three Soldiers (right) by Frederick Hart caught us off guard two falls ago when we walked up the rise after taking in Maya Lyn's once controversial but now much loved polished marble Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Wall on the Mall in D.C., engraved with all the names of the war dead (left). Overcome with emotion as we followed the three soldiers' gaze back to the wall, we recalled our elitist disdain from years before when we first heard that the pristine wall would be "contaminated" by a realistic grouping. How wrong we were. The lifelike but universal soldiers breathe life into the cool, abstract wall with their humanity, and the wall, in turn, lends historical resonance to the immediacy and concreteness of the soldiers. The whole, never anticipated by individual planners nor artists, was so much greater than the sum of its parts. Landscapes are like that. Their evocative power grows over time.
What do you do when your blogging heroes reveal their feet of clay? Captain Ed, for example, in his latest take on the Flight 93 Memorial project:
Nothing about this rather beautiful, beatific design reflects that courage and intrepidity. It instead insists on new-agey windchimes and areas of contemplation, which would have been excellent had the centerpiece of the memorial still recalled the valiant courage of the people who fought back instead of merely contemplated their fate. What do we have in place of that? A centerpiece that, inadvertently or not, invokes the religious symbol of the terrorists who used their religious fanaticism to rationalize their acts.
Captain, Sir. That's not it at all. Please listen to the architect's own words in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interview yesterday and try to put yourself in that vast, desolate field surrounded by wooded hills and listen for the spirit of the place:
We understood there was wind always coming across the site. The last contact that many families had [with the deceased] was through their voices, on cell phone calls. We wanted to do something with sound that somehow acknowledged that. Because the wind was there, we thought of wind chimes that would continue to resonate in the place and carry a living memory of the passengers and crew. And we found how important the sound was [at the site]. You can sit in the temporary memorial and listen to the wind go through the flags and walk through the hemlock grove and hear it in the trees.
As far as recalling "the valiant courage of the people who fought back," listen again to the architect's words:
We wouldn't try to re-enact what happened on 9/11. We wouldn't try to reveal the violence of that. We always felt that story should be told in the visitors' center, the interpretive center. The memorial would be the place where all of that is contemplated and everybody would be doing that on their own terms and in their own way.
"A proper war memorial stirs to anger and action," asserts Michelle Malkin in her latest column. Really? Name one. Every one we've ever visited or studied in terms of spiritual placemaking properly invites contemplation. We think that you and Michelle and the other leaders of this blogospheric attack on the architects' and landscape architects' motives owe it to us, your admirers and faithful readers, to give the designers a chance to tell their side of the story before giving in to what looks to us, from our own landscape architectural perspective, like a hysterical rush to judgment.
Designer Paul Murdoch said he is "somewhat optimistic" that the spirit of the design could be maintained.
"It's a disappointment there is a misinterpretation and a simplistic distortion of this, but if that is a public concern, then that is something we will look to resolve in a way that keeps the essential qualities," Murdoch, 48, of Los Angeles, said in a telephone interview.
"The controversy, however, is not over," asserts Michelle, apparently determined to micromanage the project to her personal specifications, and the jury be damned:
Some are insisting that the "topography of the land" dictates that the crescent remain. But several other finalists did not use a crescent or arc in their plans. Murdoch should give them a call.
"Topography of the land" in scare quotes? 'Guess Michelle never took a grading course in grad school.