American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial

Merit Award 2015

The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial is the first national memorial dedicated to the 3.5 million veterans living with permanent disabilities. As described by President Obama at the October 2014 dedication ceremony, “From this day forward, Americans will come to this place and ponder the immense sacrifice made on their behalf; the heavy burden borne by a few so that we might live in freedom and peace.”

The memorial Is located on a two-acre site adjacent to the National Mall, in full view of the United States Capitol. Forty-eight individual panels, made of five layers of ¾-inch Starphire glass, comprise three separate walls. The glass walls capture the voices of disabled veterans—personal stories of courage and extraordinary sacrifices made in the service of their country.

The project team gathered more than 700 veterans’ accounts, letters, quotations, and images spanning the full continuum of American military conflicts and organized them into four journey experiences: Pride of Serving, Trauma of Injury, Challenge of Healing, and Discovery of New Purpose. Panels were extensively tested and reviewed by the United States Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the National Park Service.

The montages are brought to life by changing day and evening light illuminating the bronze silhouettes and passing through the translucent glass to powerful effect. The threading of veterans’ voices and images, constantly shifting and further animated by reflections and shadows of visitors, captures a sense of loss and hope, struggle and strength. The integration of message, image, form, and movement creates a memorable experience for the visitor and serves as a powerful metaphor for the trials and triumphs of our disabled veterans.

Jury Comments: 

“This project is a powerful counter to the prevailing aesthetic toward abstract symbolism for memorials. The grittiness of the soldiers' images is heightened by the illusion that the figures actually exist in space. A deeply moving contemplative place.”

“This public installation does an excellent job of integrating message, image, and environment. The sensitive use of specialty glass panels to carry stories is a sophisticated demonstration of artful edit. One material, interacting with its environment, creates a “sacred place”—separate yet accessible. Incorporating water, fire, sky, and sound amplifies the visitor experience and supports the mission of this important memorial.”

Design Firm: 

Cloud Gehshan Associates

Client: 

Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation, Inc.

Location City: 

Washington, D.C.

Project Area: 

66,910,000 sq ft

Open Date: 

October 2014

Project Budget: 

$86,000,000

Photo Credits: 

Craig Collins, Shalom Baranes Associates

Design Team: 

Michael Vergason Landscape Architects: Michael Vergason (principal in charge), Doug Hayes (senior associate), Beata Corcoran (project coordinator)

Cloud Gehshan Associates: Jerome Cloud (principal in charge); Ian Goldberg (senior designer); Lily Chong, Matt Cavalier, Leslie Bowman, Sophie Xu, Steve Ricci, Kate Otte (designers)

Larry Kirkland Studios: Larry Kirkland

Consultants: 

Collaborators: Larry Kirkland Studios (bronze sculptures), Claude R. Engle (lighting consultant), History Associates Inc. (historic consultant, quotations), The John Stevens Shop (stone inscriptions), Fluidity Design Consultants (reflecting pool), Technifex (ceremonial flame)

Architecture & Engineering Team: Shalom Baranes Associates (architect), Eckersley O’Callaghan (structural engineer), Rummel Klepper & Kahl (site engineering), WSP USA (MEP)

Fabricators: 

Walla Walla Foundry (bronze sculptures), Savoy Studios (glass fabrication management), Hartung Glass Industries (glass panel cutting, tempering), Moon Shadow Glass (glass panel etching), Glass Strategies (glass panel lamination)

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