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Guest Thomas Hargrove

Wwii Memorial Designer Reflects On War

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Guest Thomas Hargrove

WASHINGTON - The Austrian-born architect who designed the National World War II Memorial doesn't have fond memories of the Good War.


Friedrich St.Florian was just 12 when elements of the U.S. Rainbow Division occupied his Austrian mountain village in the spring of 1945. War and its aftermath left much of Europe in economic chaos with widespread shortages of food and other essentials.


"What I remember are the Jeeps," St.Florian said while standing in his $172 million granite edifice on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. "I knew this vehicle was perfect for fighting in a war. There were the mounted machine guns on the front, the very high (radio) antennae with a little American flag. And then we made friends with the American soldiers, and I was introduced to chewing gum."


St.Florian, now 71 and an American citizen since 1973, said he came to know the importance of America's sacrifice in World War II while studying the bloody conflict in preparation for designing the monument. He beat 400 competing proposals.


"In World War II, democratic principals were confirmed on a global scale," St.Florian said. "Memorials are not built for veterans. They are built for future generations. The real benefactors have to be young people 100 years or 150 years from now who may not know much about World War II. Now they will."


St.Florian said he "struggled with form" when deciding how the newest memorial should look. He was not always complimentary Thursday while he scanned the Mall and considered the design vision behind some of America's most famous objects.


"Why (do) we commemorate our first president with an Egyptian obelisk? And why do we put Lincoln, of all people, into a Greek temple?" he asked. "It is OK to put Jefferson into the Pantheon because he loved Rome so much, and he was very knowledgeable about that."


St.Florian's 7.4-acre World War II memorial was unveiled to the news media on April 8 as part of a so-called "soft opening" before its official dedication during the Memorial Day weekend next month. Architects, engineers and construction workers assembled in a light rain to show off the newest addition to the Mall, often dubbed "America's front lawn."


"This may be a first in Washington," said Barry Ownby, project executive. "We are not only ahead of schedule, but under budget as well."


Yet the World War II memorial did not avoid controversy since Congress authorized it in 1993. Critics objected to its location between the Lincoln and Washington memorials, complaining any design would ruin the sweeping vista of the Mall.


The National World War II Memorial keeps a low profile, cut five feet lower than 17th Street along a gentle downward slope leading to the Lincoln Memorial. It has two 43-foot arched pavilions commemorating the Atlantic and Pacific war fronts, located along each side of the memorial.


The only structure in its center is a five-foot Freedom Wall with 4,000 sculpted gold stars to commemorate the more than 400,000 Americans who died in the conflict. This wall obscures the view of the famous Reflecting Pool, but not of the Lincoln Memorial.


"We probably gave more thought to the height of that wall than any other design aspect," St.Florian said. "There is only one moment when you do not see the Lincoln Memorial, and that is when you are in front of the field with the gold stars. That was done on purpose. When you are in front of the field of gold stars, you should focus on the field of gold stars."

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Guest Sam Balton

That's a very interesting article. Do you have any more regarding the WWII history or any other monuments? Thanks.



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