It took 17 years of artistic debate and legal wrangling to come up with a
design for the memorial. Its location on the National Mall between the Lincoln
Memorial and the Washington Monument raised concerns that it would interrupt
the grand view along the mall that begins on Capitol Hill. Friedrich St. Florian
came up with a solution that won him the contract to design the memorial.
"Of the 400-some entries, we were the only one to have thought of lowering
the memorial plaza gently into the ground, " Mr. St. Florian said. "By lowering
the plaza, we instantly do not block any views. That was the winning design
and concept. The views thus go across the memorial. That was the winning design
and concept. We were given a magnificent site by the way. Exactly two-thirds
is water and landscaping-shrubs, groundcover, and grass. Only one-third is
Mr. St. Florian, a naturalized citizen who was born in Austria, designed
the new World War II Memorial as a space for contemplation surrounding an existing
pool and fountains with arches representing the war fronts in Europe and Asia.
The arches are linked by semicircles of pillars for each of America's states
and territories. There is also a wall of four thousand gold stars, one for
every hundred Americans who died in combat. Although his design was chosen
from more than 400 proposals, Mr. St. Florian says he still had a number of
battles to fight to get the memorial constructed.
"Even though we chose the classical [design] language, I still wanted it
to be abstract, without ornament and decoration and without too many inscriptions," he
said. "Every time at the memorial, when I go and visit it and see a vertical
wall with no inscriptions, that means I had won a big battle. Stone has the
ability to 'speak' for itself. Stone is silent by nature, but if you're a good
listener, stone can speak as well."
In the weeks leading up to the dedication, Mr. St. Florian has had a chance
to see for himself how his new memorial was being received by the public.
The reaction from the veterans was very consistent. I observed them. I saw quite
a number of veterans with tears in their eyes," he noted. "And I spoke with a
number of them because they recognized me: my hard hat has my name on it. They
came over and congratulated me. It wasn't a matter of approval of this particular
design. It was gratitude: gratitude to their country that finally they were given
a memorial on the National Mall."
The designer of the new World War II Memorial also took note of reactions
from younger visitors.
"They are removed from World War II; they learn about it in their history
classes. There's not the kind of immediacy in responding to it," he added. "They
were curious and looked around. They ended up putting their feet in the Rainbow
Pool. That's fine. I didn't think that, in itself, was disrespectful. From
day one, when we started the design, we celebrate that we are a free people
in a free country. We can behave in a way that's freer."
Ultimately, Mr. St. Florian hopes that the new World War II Memorial will
simply be accepted as a logical part of the Washington landscape.
"I remembered the late J. Carter Brown, the former chairman of the Commission
on fine Arts. He always said, 'Friedrich, your design is inevitable,'" he recalled. "It
took me awhile to understand what he meant. What did he mean, inevitable? What
it means is that [the memorial] is meant to be. Once you see it, you can't
think of any other resolution to it."