Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on Mall Nears Construction

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

I thought it fitting to use this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to post a brief update about the memorial planned for the National Mall. Of course, Washington, D.C. already has one memorial to King — our public library.

The National Mall memorial location is at the north east corner of the Tidal Basin, just steps from where he delivered his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

"Stone of Hope"The elegant design guides visitors through a “Mountain of Despair” into a semi-circular water wall inscribed with King quotes. A monumental “Stone of Hope” featuring a partial sculpture of King overlooking the Tidal Basin lies at the heart of the memorial. On the back side of the wall of quotes lies 24 niches along the upper walkway, some commemorating individuals who gave their lives during the civil rights movement, some remaining unfinished and undedicated, “deference to the unfinished nature of the movement.”

Twelve years since it was first approved by Congress, the private foundation overseeing the project continues to work with federal officials on finalizing the design. Despite a ceremonial groundbreaking in 2006 and an announcement one year ago that construction would commence last spring, the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts found plenty they didn’t like when a revised design was presented at their November 15, 2007 meeting. Martin Luther King, Jr. MemorialThe noted the Mountain of Despair and the Stone of Hope had “grown since previous submissions” by several feet, described the paving as “inappropriately domestic,” suggested significant changes to the proposed floodlights, and requested the bookstore and restroom be reduced in height and size, among other criticisms. The commission requested a scale model of the Mountain of Despair and Stone of Hope, as well as samples of the stone, masonry techniques, and text and typography of quotes planned for the next submission.

The memorial foundation has started a construction blog where Executive Architect Dr. Ed Jackson Jr. will answer questions about the memorial’s design and construction. So far the only content is a post explaining their selection of a Chinese sculptor to create the Stone of Hope, a decision that has sparked some controversy among those who thought the honor should go to an African American or American sculptor. The blog hasn’t been updated since last March, so I hope it will resume once construction begins.

This fundraising video from the foundation building the memorial offers a glimpse of the ROMA Design Group’s winning design.

> Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Foundation
> NPR: King to Soon Stand in Nation’s Capital
> ABCNews: King Monument Criticized over Artist

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. Frankly, I’m a little surprised these types of things that the Commission has asked for had to be asked for at all — indicating the types of materials you would use, and the proposed typography is standard practice in exhibition and memorial design — it’s something you’d have to have prepared for funders if nothing else. Some places might even ask for a things like a scale model for the EIS (San Francisco asks for things like sunlight studies for large buildings as part of the process), so how does anyone presenting before the Commission not know these things?

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