'Insane Schedule' Begins for WWI Memorial Design, Construction

WASHINGTON -- If you ever wanted to design a war memorial with the possibility of having it built, now's your chance.

The National World War I Memorial Design Competition officially kicked off Thursday. It's open to all, and there's a $25,000 cash prize for each of the designs selected as finalists in the second round of the contest.

The winning entry will be used to erect, for the first time in the nation's capital, a memorial to honor the 2 million-plus Americans who served in WWI.

Officials with the WWI Centennial Commission overseeing the project plan to have the monument completed by Nov. 11, 2018. That date will commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which initially marked the close of WWI but now is referred to as Veterans Day in the United States.

Some have called it an "insane schedule" said Edwin Fountain, vice chairman of the Centennial Commission and lead manager of the project. But he argues the timetable is feasible, noting that it took just 28 months to design and construct the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which he likened to "lightning in a bottle."

Fountain acknowledged, however, that the regulatory and review processes for such projects in Washington have become much more elaborate since 1982, when the Vietnam memorial wall was completed.

To overcome any regulatory hurdles, Fountain said the commission has "greased the skids" by engaging with a host of agencies – to include the National Park Service, National Capitol Planning Commission, and the Commission of Fine Arts – to ensure all requirements for the project's approval are known up front.

Participants have a two-month window to enter the contest. The deadline for entries in the first-round of the design competition is July 21. Submissions must come with a narrative and graphic description of a concept that meets stated design goals. But elaborate design features are not expected until the second stage of the competition, for those who make it that far.

Because millions of combatants from roughly 50 nations fought in WWI, the Centennial Commission felt it was appropriate to accept design entries from the international community. The commission is also inviting donors from around the world to help raise the expected $20 million to $25 million needed to build the monument. Although the U.S. government authorized the creation of the commission as a temporary federal agency to promote the centennial anniversary of the "Great War," no federal money has been allocated for the monument project.

Pershing Park, which features a statue of WWI Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing one block from the White House, has been selected as the site for the new memorial. The small enclosure has a concrete basin that in better days served as an ice-skating rink in the winter and as a shallow pool the rest of the year. Because of deteriorating plumbing conditions, the rink and pool have not been used for several years.

The commission will announce on Aug. 4 the three to five submissions that a panel of judges will select to go on to the second round. In that stage, design participants will be paired up and licensed with a professional architectural firm to further develop their design concepts.

After several mid-course and compliance reviews, the finalists will submit their designs for public exhibition in December, and a panel of judges will consider each work in early January.

Fountain predicted that the winning design, to be announced on Jan. 20, 2016, will stir some controversy, no matter which one is selected. He added that some people "want all our memorials to look like the Lincoln Memorial … Other groups say classicism is stale, dated, done, that we have enough of it in Washington. They want something new, like the Vietnam memorial. Those two groups are never going to come together."