Project Profile: World War I Memorial
Scope of work: Construction of World War I Memorial and reconstruction of Pershing Park
BC&E Member companies involved: GWWO Architects
“There will be goosebumps.”
That’s the reaction that GWWO Architects Principal John Gregg expects many people will have when they visit the new World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C.
As the architect of record on the project, GWWO spent the last five years working to redesign the 1.76-acre Pershing Park and integrate a new World War I Memorial into the setting. The project came with the weight of needing to properly honor the 116,515 American soldiers who died in the war, and the 4.7 million who served. It also came with the challenge of accomplishing three things on one small site: install a new memorial, preserve the historic fabric of Pershing Park and maintain a functioning urban park for D.C. residents. On a practical level, the memorial, which would be located at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue and just one and a half blocks from the White House, would have to accommodate several million visitors per year.
Despite those challenges, the project “navigated the complicated D.C. review process and received approval faster than any other memorial in D.C. ever,” Gregg said.
The final design places the memorial — a 60-foot-long, 10-foot-high bronze sculpture entitled “A Soldier’s Journey” — at the center of the park beside two fountains and the revitalized reflection pool. New horticulture frames the memorial. New pathways support visitor circulation and preserve active space. The statue of General Pershing remains in place beside two interpretive walls, and a belvedere provides additional historic information and a place where visitors can stand and overlook the whole park.
“This is one of those projects you don’t ever expect you’ll get to do. But when they happen, they change you,” Gregg said. “We are talking about a war that changed history, yet it hasn’t received the representation it deserves, especially in our nation’s capital. Millions of visitors to this park will see the sculpture, the interpretive elements and QR codes will take them to more education online. All those things together will create a moving experience. Visitors to this site are going to take something meaningful away from the experience.”
Dignitaries will mark the official opening of the site in mid-April with a “first colors” ceremony that includes a military flyover, a performance by the U.S. Army’s “Pershings Own” Band and the raising of the American flag.