A woman from a nearby office enjoys a cup of coffee, a student is immersed in reading, a man in his late-60s pauses for a few moments to remember a fallen comrade. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza on Chicago’s Riverwalk is a unique commemorative space. Unlike many public memorials, which enjoin passers to stop, look up and remember, the memorial plaza invites them to remember within the space. The plaza focuses on a memorial fountain with a slab of black granite bearing the names of almost 3,000 Illinois servicemen who died in Vietnam, arranged chronologically. The fountain is flanked by a terraced lawn where Chicagoans, descending the stairs from State Street, or strolling along the Riverwalk, can stop, and rest, and choose for themselves how, and whether to remember. It is a powerful, contemplative space, and it is unique among American memorials. It echoes Maya Lin’s design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, while simultaneously evoking the “memorials for use” – parks, schools, bridges – built in the 1940s and 1950s to mark the memory of the Second World War. Yet this was accidental, or at least it was not by design. The memorial fountain was originally located in what the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic Blair Kamin called “a glorified traffic island on Wacker Drive,” a location at the confluence of Wabash and Wacker with “all the serenity...Read More
Author: Matthew Friedman
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