Soldier Field Memorial
Concept and Design:
A finalist proposal for a competition, the Veteran's Memorial at Soldier Field was viewed as an important humanist opportunity for the people of Chicago. While the Veteran's Memorial was to be broadly conceived to commemorate all members of the Armed Forces serving in all American wars, conflicts and peacetime, our design was intended to be responsive to the unique qualities of its site.
The site of the Veteran's Memorial—an austere wall along an open passageway—links Soldier Field and the Field Museum. The public would encounter the Memorial upon emerging from the underground parking structure, or by approaching it from the museum or stadium.
Related to the present realm of Action, the stadium symbolizes Battle and Athletic Spectacle. Related to the past realm of Artifact, the Field Museum (located across the street) symbolizes Society and History. All battles and conflicts instigate or preserve important societal legacies - Freedom of Speech, Due Process, Voting Rights - which define American society and constitute our cultural history. Thus, there is a sequence from left to right, from stadium to museum, from Present to Past, from Action to History.
Considering the primary approach to the Veteran’s Memorial--up through the underground parking structure--it was important to juxtapose the vicarious experience of a Citizen with the direct experience of a Soldier--the world of routine versus the unpredictable world of conflict. It was our primary objective to heighten the empathy that a member of the public--a Citizen--feels for the experience of being a Soldier.
Thus, elements of our proposal included water pouring over the surface of the wall to symbolize the threat of Annihilation, while sculptural elements extending above the wall could symbolize overcoming the threat, thus enabling the Preservation of American ideals.
Mapped onto the wall itself, thematic concepts were expressed in a number of ways. Defined as the realm of Direct Experience, an orderly pattern of abstracted military tools—Connectors--covers the upper wall, each with a person’s name inscribed above--Maria, Joseph, Petra, Sun-Joo, Sophia. With water flowing over, they are submerged in conflict and in our collective memory.
Where the water flows over the bottom edge in a waterfall, Personal Roles--Brother, Father, Friend, Sister--are inscribed on the back-slanting surface. The water fell into a trough through the text—the locations of battles throughout American History--Inchon, Pearl Harbor, Lexington, Basra, Iwo Jima. At the very edge of the wall, inscribed in the plaza, are the Societal Legacies that benefit American Society--Freedom of Speech, Due Process, Voting Rights.
To embody and dramatize the role of soldiers, a symbolic sculptural form--a Standard--was proposed, to be inscribed with American Ideals--Freedom, Liberty, Equality, Justice--and with individual character traits of soldiers--Strength, Loyalty, Honor, Bravery. Each of these was connected by cable to a number of Connectors, suggesting the interdependence of soldiers in battle.
During our schematic design phase, we explored many alternative forms that the Standards could take. These inscribed Standards suggest the landscape of battle--perilous territories claimed with markers which proclaim core American Ideals--Autonomy, Opportunity, Freedom, Assembly. These primary inscriptions are not visible from an oblique view. They are gradually revealed only as the viewer approaches. The letterforms are guarded and sheltered by the form of each Standard. The vertical blades are inscribed with the individual characteristics of Soldiers--Sacrifice, Belief, Courage, Pride. It is the personal qualities of individual soldiers that uphold our collective American Ideals.
As a viewer looks down the entire length of the Veteran's Memorial, the Standards—delicately connected to the wall--suggest the interdependence of soldiers, and appear to be outposts in a barren landscape or seascape, the lonely expeditions of soldiers in hostile territories.
The Connectors on the upper wall will activate the water flow, suggesting physical and psychological turmoil in the realm of direct experience. As the water flows over the edge, it creates an emotional veil through which we experience personal connections and grief--My Brother, My Friend, My Sister, My Neighbor. The water will fall into the trough through a stainless steel or bronze grill with text cut into it--the locations of battle--Pusan, Omaha Beach, Gettysburg, Khe-san.
At the edge of the trough, inscribed into the pavement are the Societal Legacies that benefit American society; the rights and common understandings we share as citizens--Justice for All, Emancipation Proclamation, One Man-One Vote, Probable Cause.