Greater Greater Washington

Public Spaces


Grassy triangle will become a plaza and Ukrainian memorial

A small, empty grass triangle just west of Union Station will soon be a new memorial. Victims of the Ukranian Manmade Famine of 1932-1933 will get memorialized, and residents and workers will get a usable plaza. The back side of the memorial, however, will turn a mostly blank wall to F Street.


Final design for the memorial. Images from NCPC.


The triangle today.

The National Capital Planning Commission sees most empty triangles like this one as spots for future memorials, and Congress likes to authorize memorials, like this one. These spaces are also part of a city, whose people need spaces to sit outside, eat a snack, run around, and more.

Fortunately, the two don't have to conflict. A number of memorials work well as public spaces at the same time. An oft-cited example is the Navy Memorial, at 8th and Pennsylvania, NW. It's an attractive fountain which sports a mast with naval flags, quotations from famous commanders, a map of the world's oceans, and more. Plus, it's a great spot to sit outside on a nice day and eat lunch.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial isn't bad. Others do little; the memorials to Samuel Hahnemann (founder of homeopathy) and Daniel Webster (statesman and orator) in the triangles next to Scott Circle are just large statues in the midst of some grass and paths; their presence doesn't create any usable public space. Some of the fears around the proposed Eisenhower Memorial involve design elements that could detract from people actually using the square.

The Ukranian famine memorial will sport a 6-foot bronze wall, with a bas-relief facing Massachusetts Avenue. In front of the wall will be a plaza, open to Mass. Ave. and with benches on 2 sides.


View of the memorial from F Street.


View along F Street with the memorial.

NCPC, DC historic preservation officials, and the Commission on Fine Arts all pushed the memorial designers to improve the way it backs onto F Street. The original submission lacked any design for the back of the wall along F, and tall cylindrical trees might have "create[d] a large vegetation wall that might overwhelm pedestrians."

In response, the designers moved the wall farther from F Street, reducing its visual size from the sidewalk, added some texture to the back, and changed the trees to ones that will leave open space at eye level. It's still not ideal; it's still a blank wall with some ground cover in front, but it's an improvement and the whole wall is not very large.


"Tear Drops on a Wheat Field" concept.
The whole design is definitely better for public space than the "Tear Drops on a Wheat Field" finalist design, which would have filled the whole site with tall vegetation and plopped some big glass bubbles in the center.

More memorials will keep coming. Congress has authorized an Adams Memorial to the two presidents and the rest of the Adams Family. NCPC, preservation boards, and residents can work to ensure that that memorial not only avoids being creepy, kooky, mysterious or spooky, but also serves to enhance the urban experience instead of detract as it also helps people remember.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

Comments

Add a comment »

I agree that the focus on only side (Mass Ave)limits the potential of this memorial. I was actually intrigued by the alternative, the "Shooting Hands", because it uses a more open design. A combination of a central pillar and the original bas-relief I think could make a wonderful compromise.

Thanks for the detailed reporting!

by UrbnGrdnr on Sep 5, 2012 3:08 pm • linkreport

Congress has authorized an Adams Memorial to the two presidents and the rest of the Adams Family. NCPC, preservation boards, and residents can work to ensure that that memorial not only avoids being creepy, kooky, mysterious or spooky

I see what you did there

by Steven Yates on Sep 5, 2012 3:13 pm • linkreport

Anything being done to accommodate the fact that this area is now bustling with food trucks at lunchtime? Some seating and better groundcovering would be nice...

by andrew on Sep 5, 2012 3:26 pm • linkreport

It's an improvement, but it's a little unfortunate it doesn't have any content on the back side.

by Neil Flanagan on Sep 5, 2012 3:37 pm • linkreport

@andrew
Anything being done to accommodate the fact that this area is now bustling with food trucks at lunchtime? Some seating and better groundcovering would be nice...

LOL why would we want to have any public space in DC be enjoyable for actual people to use it when we can turn it into a monument?

by MLD on Sep 5, 2012 3:46 pm • linkreport

LOL why would we want to have any public space in DC be enjoyable for actual people to use it when we can turn it into a monument?

Right on.

Memorials that make for nice and versatile public spaces (like Dupont Circle, for example) are no more - now all must be a quasi-mausoleum or some other sacred ground.

I would argue that all of these parks-as-memorials have a dual mandate - first, to be public parks, and second, to memorialize their subject matter. If the second part interferes with the first, then we have a problem.

by Alex B. on Sep 5, 2012 3:55 pm • linkreport

Are there monuments to American tragedies in Kiev?

by Steve S. on Sep 5, 2012 4:01 pm • linkreport

and why do have a memorial for this?

by charlie on Sep 5, 2012 4:01 pm • linkreport

theres still something creepy about eating lunch at a memorial to victims of a famine.

NYC has a memorial to the victims of the Irish potatoe famine - does anyone eat their lunch there?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 5, 2012 4:03 pm • linkreport

I'm torn b/c I think we need places to sit in the area of this pocket park (I work across the street) but the reality is that the homeless people in the area would likely take over any seating area and render it just as unusable as this moument does. As it is, this memorial does offer some places to perch and despite the irony it will be the setting of the consumption of many overpriced food truck lunches.

by grumpy on Sep 5, 2012 4:34 pm • linkreport

Why is there a Ukranian memorial in DC in the first place ?
If we are doing memorials for other countries I nominate one for the Indian Ocean Tsunami and the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

by kk on Sep 5, 2012 4:53 pm • linkreport

This will be DC's second Ukrainian monument. There is a statue of Ukraine's most important poet, Taras Shevchenko, on P Street, NW between 22nd and 23rd.

by Vadranor on Sep 5, 2012 5:07 pm • linkreport

NYC has a memorial to the victims of the Irish potatoe famine - does anyone eat their lunch there?

Yes they do, and there's nothing creepy about it. Can you please explain why it is creepy? That's not even an issue. Some people are against Holocaust memorials too. The Holimidor ultimately was a vast crime of violence against millions of people that most Americans have never even heard of. But go ahead and get pissy about a memorial because of something about food trucks and homeless people or something. Like there isn't enough public space in DC for this.

by andrewi31 on Sep 5, 2012 5:15 pm • linkreport

One block northwest on Mass. Ave. from this location is the Victims of Communism Memorial, which seemingly duplicates the subject matter (assuming one attributes Stalin's genocidal infliction of the famine on Ukraine to his Communist vision), albeit at a higher level of abstraction.

Assuming the robust food truck carnival on this block continues, it will make a nice capitalist/caloric counterpoint to the two memorials!

by Arl Fan on Sep 5, 2012 5:16 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Realist on Sep 5, 2012 5:20 pm • linkreport

It is important to separately understand and recognize the Ukrainian famine. This has to do with the victims themselves, you know, those who are memorialized, not an ideology. In reality, the Victims of Communism Memorial has ended up being primarily for Baltic people. It was rejected by most other victims, Russian, Chinese, etc. This will memorialize millions of Ukrainian murder victims and it is a very good thing to build.

And for goodness sakes, nobody cares what a few people think is "ironic".

by andrewi31 on Sep 5, 2012 6:10 pm • linkreport

Yet another "drive by" memorial.

by tour guide on Sep 5, 2012 6:13 pm • linkreport

So which version of the Addams Family will be memorialized? I prefer Anjelica Huston's depiction of Morticia.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Sep 5, 2012 8:30 pm • linkreport

andrew, I am not saying there should be no memorial to the ukrainian famine, just expressing my visceral reaction to eating there. I have been to holocaust memorials, and seen no eating there. The cafeteria at the USHolocaustMuseum is in a seperate building on the side.

Thank you for letting me know about the NYC memorial. I was unaware people ate lunch there. People are human, and I do not consider that a reason to not build memorials. Though its also would be nice to have SOME monuments that are more upbeat. I guess we have exhausted the civil war generals?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 5, 2012 10:13 pm • linkreport

@geoffrey

I liked Anjelica Huston's depiction of Henry Adams, myself.

Seriously, we need a memorial to John and John Quincy (is there one in Adams Morgan?) Maybe not Charles Francis or Henry.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 5, 2012 10:17 pm • linkreport

Re the "blank wall" for F Street -- isn't a Bikeshare rack thereabouts? It could tolerate a blank wall.

by Turnip on Sep 5, 2012 10:40 pm • linkreport

grumpy: Assuming for the moment that the ideal human solution to the homeless problem is to let them die in the gutter...

Rather than allowing your hatred of the homeless population to extinguish all desire for any public amenities (parks, libraries, stairwells...) , why not "drown out the homeless" by building more benches than they can possibly use?

It's possible to hate the homeless and still build a city we'd like to live in. We can do this. Who's with me?

by anonanomie on Sep 6, 2012 12:12 am • linkreport

Though its also would be nice to have SOME monuments that are more upbeat. I guess we have exhausted the civil war generals?

In DC, memorials are our form of public art. Other cities have sculptures, fountains, murals, etc, but we have monuments and memorials.

The problem is that most parkland in DC is federally-owned, which means that it's difficult for the city to control its public spaces so that they work for the people who actually live and work here. Instead, the public spaces are controlled by Congress, many of whom have never stepped foot in front of some of the memorials they have voted to commission. Instead, they view our city as a blank slate for their experiments in diplomacy.

by Scoots on Sep 6, 2012 12:56 am • linkreport

There already is one Adams Memorial in Washington, and it is one of the most haunting, moving, and important sculptures in the world.

It's in Rock Creek Cemetery, commissioned by Henry Adams for the grave of his wife, who took her life.

The Augustus Saint-Gaudens statue, commonly called "Grief," is well worth a visit, and it's a safe bet that no Adams Family memorial will compare to its beauty or significance.

by Mike S. on Sep 6, 2012 2:19 am • linkreport

This whole insipid, excessive "monuments everywhere" thing is completely out of control. The Eisenhower family objects to the memorial design,, wasting $125 million. The entire Lincoln Memorial was $3 million. The WWII Memorial, $250 million, while our vets are homeless and denied medical care! Martin Luther King,,,his own neice said "this is too much, MLK was a simple man". Roosevelt Memorial is just ridiculous. The memorial for the 9 dead in the Metro crash is going to spend $1 million while we have a beautiful grove of trees at the Brookland metro stop,, a perfect place for a "living memorial". NO, NO,NO,, TOO SENSIBLE!! But the DC govt. and WMATA want to waste the money and are getting ready to cut down and build over the trees at Brookland -CUA with thousands of new housing units and total urbanization surrounding the metro station which is already flooding during storm. Can't leave a stick of natural mature trees and any open space with real soil,,pathetic! "Smart Growth", what misuse of the word. Where has the judgement of our leaders gone?

by Daniel Wolkoff on Sep 6, 2012 5:31 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Daniel Wolkoff on Sep 6, 2012 5:33 am • linkreport

While I normally think the complaints about the feds here are just whiney, Scoot's comment is spot on. It is very easy to buy off some interest group with a small corner for a statue, and it would be far better if those small corners be turned over to the District.

by charlie on Sep 6, 2012 8:21 am • linkreport

This is great use of the space. The world turned their backs on Ukraine as Stalin murdered millions of Ukrainians to cement his power and further his empire.
I suggest on the backside a brass reliefe depicting the victims of the Holodmor - people being foribly expelled to Central Asia, Farms being burned, etc.
I remember seeing a very moving memorial in Ukraine that was a simple sculpture of a woman and child fleeing from the famine.
As for why we have memorials to non-us tragedies (beyond the fact that we are a nation of immigrants)- perhaps so we can understand them and can respond to prevent future and current attrocities - Syria anyone?

by andy2 on Sep 6, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

That blank wall with a vegetated bed will be a perfect place for homeless people to bed down or linger throughout the day while the shelter is closed. With the overhead shade in the summer and morning light in the winter, it will be a welcoming spot conveniently located near the future Gales school shelter.

If the designers don't want their memorial to become a camp spot for the homeless, I'm with David in recommending a redesign of the F street frontage.

by Will on Sep 6, 2012 11:05 am • linkreport

I don't understand the Fed/DC land distinction point. A third of the US is federal land, including most of the western United States. Maybe there is some kind of process for private or state leasing and acquisition for energy tycoons, or if you and your Councilmember have great ideas like for a cat park, cupcake outlet store, food truck fueling station, or Marion Barry statue. The planners did use the National Capital Planning Commission for site selection (for whatever that is worth).

Serious concerns or other feedback would also be interesting to Rep. Sandy Levin D-MI. It's mostly privately funded, just so you know. If you are interested about it I highly recommend courageous readers to straight to the relevant chapters in Timothy Snyder's 'Bloodlands'.

by andrewi31 on Sep 6, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

"There already is one Adams Memorial in Washington, and it is one of the most haunting, moving, and important sculptures in the world.
It's in Rock Creek Cemetery, commissioned by Henry Adams for the grave of his wife, who took her life."

oy. so much for upbeat. But fascinating - the one Adams to actually suicide was one who was NOT genetically an Adams, with the family inclination toward something (maybe bipolar disorder?)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 6, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

wait, someone else had the same idea

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adams_Memorial

though I predict the more controversial views of Henry and Brooks are going to come up

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 6, 2012 2:57 pm • linkreport

Yeah, I was a little confused about that.

Whether the Adamses should have a memorial, where it should go, and what it should comprise are all excellent questions, but I don't see why it shouldn't happen because Saint-Gaudens knocked it out of the park with the tomb of his great-granddaughter-in-law.

by Tim Krepp on Sep 6, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

McMillan Park was a memorial to the Senator who planned gracious green space and parks around DC in an "emerald necklace". The federal govt. sectioned off The Mcmillan Sand Filtration Plant and promenade from the rest of the reservoir system. DC has made a complete mess of this gracious urban space. We need the federal govt. to take this back and recreate the park our previous generations enjoyed. The reservoir is fenced off by DC,, unlike the Central Park Reservoir in NY which is a marvelous jogging walking path, enjoyed by thousands, 365 days a year.
Mcmillan was intended as green space but DC govt. has fenced it off,, wasted the $9 million and spent $250,000 a year since th 1980's on lawn care behind the fence. These are the same govt. officials who want to over urbanise it to raise revenue!! We need parks in central DC, with a pitiful 20% the parkland as upper NW. We need a Glen Echo type historic restoration, art, performance, gardens, orchards, cultural park. We can train our youth and underemployed in useful trades like masonry, carpentry, as they restore the park and create artist in residence like Glen Echo. Fiernds of Mcmillan is struggling to show the DC govt. a sensible and needed park for the whole city and the tourist industry. Miriam Gusevich, the professor of planning at CUA has designed a "world class" site plan that includes sunlighting the underground stream into an urban sand beach, and brilliantly designed a "City Market" in adaptive reuse of multi ACRE underground galleries. The city that has no interest in the value of the past, is sure to get the valueless shlock of the future!

by Daniel Wolkoff on Sep 6, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

To make it clear, the U.S. government is not providing anything other than land; the government of Ukraine and private donors are paying for the actual monument. New monuments proposed for the District must go through an extensive, 24-step review process per the Commemorative Works Act; this is intended to keep the number of new memorials to a minimum.

An added irony to the site, besides the numerous lunchtime food trucks, is that the proposed F Street wall will hide a view of two thriving Irish pubs. Kelly's Irish Times even paraphrases "The New Colossus" above its door: "Give me your thirsty, your famished, your befuddled masses."

(Don't take the NIMBY-crank troll bait. Don't take...)

by Payton on Sep 7, 2012 4:22 pm • linkreport

Sell the lot and build condos with retail at ground level. 50 stories tall.

by adrian on Sep 10, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or

Support Us

How can our region be greater?

DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC