This is a project I recently completed as an entry for the 2013 Evolo Architecture competition, a competition aimed at rethinking the skyscraper. The competition is right up my alley because the brief is exactly that simple - something tall - and allows for the freedom to challenge notions of program, determine one's own site, and rethink the typology as a whole. Many projects in the past have had a marked sustainability lean, with a few interesting and challenging projects each year. Above all, the representation has always been top notch among all the winners, and as a very large competition, only those that showed both phenomenal drawing skills AND conceptual clarity and uniqueness make the top entries.
I had the idea for this memorial about two years ago and am happy I finally got a chance to complete the project. The idea came from an interest in using architecture as a tool to give physical form to the sometimes incomprehensible loss and suffering that results from war, and to place this reminder at the very footsteps of the U.S. Capitol, where most of the decisions about the military and war are made.
The title of the project, "Another Brick in the Wall," refers to the broadest conceptual basis for the design - that each soldier lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be commemorated by a single, carved building block of stone. And unlike the spread of Arlington cemetery, which emphasizes this repetitious pattern through a horizontal aggregation, here the blocks would become vertical stones in an ever-growing tower, one which would continue to rise higher and higher as the wars in each respective country continued on.
The modules are carved from a single block of stone, measuring approximately 4' x 30" x 2'. The exterior of each module is sculpted in a skeletal form, providing an armature for a copper plate bearing the name, rank, date of birth and date of death of each soldier lost. The interior of the stone has carved into it a flower planter, ensuring that the interior of each tower is full of color and life; a stark contrast to the austerity of the exterior.
Here is a section through the tower and a perspective inside. The interior open to the sky and the elements, and is marked by floral plantings along the entirety of the interior walls.
Here you can see the integrated crane that raises the modules from the underground memorial chapel to their final place at the top of the tower. The cranes are built on a steel chassis, which allows the towers to perpetually build both the exterior stone wall and build up the interior steel frame/stairwell.
Here is the project narrative, taken from my submission boards:
"The first tower began its rise on January 4th, 2002, when Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Chapman was shot and killed by an Afghan sniper while directing troop movements from the back of a flatbed truck. To mark his death a white hexagonal carved stone was set into the earth, marking the first casualty in the Afghanistan war and the beginning of the tower’s rise. The second began when a bullet pierced the fleshy stomach of Marine 1st Lt. Therrel Shane Childers, ending the 30 year old’s life in Southern Iraq on March 21, 2003. Their deaths marked the first of a long list of casualties in wars which, to this day, continues to grow.
These wars are costly, and often horrific. Their consequences are felt by thousands of individuals and families across not only the United States, but also the rest of the world. The experience of war leaves individuals with scars, both physical and psychological, and too often cuts the lives of young men and women short. What remains tragic is that these wars are decided upon not by the will of the collective majority, but are rather voted upon and enacted by individuals mostly protected from the scars of war: members of congress and the United States government. And indeed few of these individuals have never born the horror of combat themselves: whereas almost 70% of congressmen in 1975 were veterans, the current number is much closer to 20%.
The cost of war thus come to these individuals not as the tragic stories of fathers, mothers, sons, or daughters; but rather as the quantified numerics of data: casualty lists, quantifiable costs - mere lines of text on a paper document. As Joseph Stalin once proclaimed: “One death is a tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic.” This sentiment illustrates a disturbing reality: that when tragedy creeps beyond the comprehension of one’s personal immediacy, it begins to lose its humanity.
This project is located on an vacant triangular lot immediately adjacent to the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.. The monuments consist of two towers - one each for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The towers are themselves simple constructs: an interior consisting of a structural steel truss and stair that winds to the top of the ever-growing memorial, and a monolithic exterior wall made of carved marble blocks. Each block is representative of a single life of a soldier lost in the war. An integrated crane at the top of each structure ensures that the towers continue their upward climb, raising and setting a stone for every fallen soldier. The towers began their ascent at the beginning of the war, each with the laying of a single stone."
The modules are carved, on site, each from a single block of marble. The exterior of each stone is adorned with a copper nameplate, bearing the inscription of the individual’s name, rank, birth and death. The outward facing half of the stone is skeletal, bare, and morose. The inside of each stone bears the same inscription, and also has a small integrated planter, creating on the interior of each tower a wall of red flowers. At night the tower is internally illuminated, creating a shimmering, perforated pillar form against the night sky.
This project seeks to give physical form to the cost of war; to create a monument that, in its perpetual construction, acts as the physical construal of each individual’s life and death. As the death toll rises, so do the towers, always climbing higher and higher into the sky with the perpetuity of war. "
Above is a chart/elevation of the time-based evolution of each tower. What surprised me the most about this is that the bloodiest, deadliest time in Afghanistan has largely occurred in the last 3-4 years, during which most of the American public has largely forgotten about the conflict's very existence. And while the death toll in Iraq has largely leveled out, the toll in Afghanistan has continued to rise.
Here you can see the four spaces that lie underground - two memorial chapels, which also act as the entrances to the interior stair of each tower, and two rooms dedicated to the fabrication and carving of each stone. In the center there is an open "void" to the sky, which connects the two ramps and two stairs that go below the reflecting pool from above.
Here you can see the section, showing the towers, underground spaces and the central void.
Overall this was a good, but sad project to complete. I personally have no military background and, apart from reading some books and stories of the lives of some of the soldiers, I have no immediate understanding of what war is actually like. It is hard to come to grips with the enormity of life lost and the sadness endured by those left behind, but I think it is important to reflect on that fact, no matter how difficult or unsettling it might be.
I do believe that each life is of value and that war has a troubling, unsettling cost. This cost can be quantified in numbers or can be built in bricks; but in either case, it is important to remember the enormity of the sacrifice and the true cost of war.