Fulfilling a vision that dates back to the 1920s, a veterans memorial commissioned by the city of San Francisco will be erected near City Hall. A sketch from the archives shows that the original concept was quite traditional (think “man on pedestal wielding sword”), but the contemporary proposal by Los Angeles architect Susan Narduli and San Francisco landscape architect Andrea Cochran, winner of a national competition, is in keeping with today’s more subdued approach to memorial design. The other finalists were Norman Lee + SWA Group; and Larry Kirkland & J. Douglas Macy.
The 2,500 square foot, $2 million memorial will be located in the courtyard that lies between two of San Francisco’s Beaux Arts icons, the War Memorial Opera House and its twin, the Veterans Building. The space is very formal, with gilded metal gates at its ends and a row of sycamores along the sides. At the edge of the lawn facing City Hall, concrete pavers form a large circle and octagon, representing heaven and earth.
Working with those existing shapes, Narduli and Cochran’s design will feature a round reflecting pool with an octagonal monument rising five feet above street level. The basalt-encased monument will be split in two, allowing visitors to walk into its center along a steel mesh walkway, suspended over the water.
“I wanted the memorial to be understood physically when you entered it,” said Narduli. The long lawn will become a forecourt, gradually sloping down to a depth of 30 inches (the maximum before a guardrail is required), and the rammed-earth retaining walls will double as seating. “The slope was our way to resolve how to create something that can stick up out of the ground, but doesn’t block the views,” said Cochran.