Oyler Wu Collaborative’s Orbits wins Cold War Veterans Memorial design competition

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Oyler Wu Collaborative’s Orbits wins Cold War Veterans Memorial design competition

Design rendering of Orbits

The Chicago-based Pritzker Military Museum & Library has announced Oyler Wu Collaborative’s Orbits as the winner of an international design competition for a planned memorial honoring members of the United States Armed Forces and civilian personnel who served during the Cold War. The memorial will be realized as a major element of the Pritzker Archives & Memorial Park Center (PAMPC), which is currently under construction in the village of Somers in Kenosha County, Wisconsin.

Oyler Wu Collaborative, a Los Angeles-based experimental architecture and design firm led by Dwayne Oyler and Jenny Wu, was the sole U.S. entrant to advance to the competition shortlist, which was revealed in September of last year after the competition launch that April. The three other finalist design proposals were submitted by designers hailing from Italy, Jordan, and Japan.

In a press release announcing the winning design concept, Col. Jennifer Pritzker, founder of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, noted that “each submitted design was remarkable and very inspiring. The final decision was tough, but after much discussion, we believe that the Orbits design will truly resemble a place where everyone who contributed to the Cold War will be honored,” she said.

Described as a design that “draws from a range of meaningful artifacts and imagery from the era to create an immersive experience—evoking a range of cultural associations organized as a set of circular ‘orbits’ through the landscape,” Orbits pays tribute to those who served and sacrificed during a tense, decades-spanning geopolitical event; a conflict, one with renewed salience today, with vast cultural touchstones that means different things to different generations. Designing such a memorial presented unique challenges, Oyler and Wu explained to AN.

“What makes the idea of the Cold War Veterans Memorial so interesting is the broad cultural meaning that it evokes,” said Wu. “The Cold War means so many different things to different people, so somehow containing that meaning in a single architectural moment is especially challenging. In many ways, it was that multiplicity of meanings that drove the design work.”

“One significant challenge in the design of any memorial is in finding a balance between the desire to create a collective public experience—one that might be found in an iconic image, for example, versus a more intimate moment of reflection,” added Oyler. “It’s our belief that the two are not mutually exclusive, and we put much of our effort towards finding a balance between the two.”

aerial rendering of a proposed memorial
(Oyler Wu Collaborative/Courtesy Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

As noted in the most recent competition update shared by the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, Oyler and Wu’s design “envisions a memorial that embodies the ideals and mission of the Memorial Park, making more tactile a context that can’t be measured in a single name or event—only in glimpses of history. Within these glimpses is a layered timeline of both personal and collective experiences that are emblematic of the Cold War—a paradigm that rebalances the interconnected narratives of American innovation and service.”

“From its formal structure to its shaped surroundings, the memorial emerges from the ground to become an architectural tribute to veterans, embodying the dedication, optimism, and hope that is emblematic of their enduring spirit. Collectively, the memorial unifies these complex narratives through juxtaposition, recognizing its interconnected history; one of sacrifice, triumph, and innovation.”

Jurors for the two-stage Cold War Veterans Memorial design competition process included, among others, Moshe Safdie, landscape architect Thomas R. Oslund, and Harvey and Gina Pratt, founders of the Pratt Studio. The selection of Orbits as the design for the Cold War Veterans Memorial marks the second major triumph for Oyler and Wu over the past 12 months. Last April, the duo, who are also both faculty members at SCI-Arc, were among the winners of the 2021 Architecture Award bestowed by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

As previously reported by AN, the larger PAMPC project is a multiphase, 10-year effort that commenced with the construction of the JAHN-designed Pritzker Military Archives Center, which will house the collections—books, artifacts, and other historical materials—of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library while “providing workspace for the continued curation for future exhibits.” A nearly 10,000-square-foot gallery will also be part of the complex. Other major elements of the 288-acre PAMPC campus, located roughly 60 miles north of Chicago, include a state-of-the-art commercial archives facility available to private collectors, businesses, museums, libraries, and similar institutions; a center specializing in firearms education and training, and a large swath of community green space set to include 7,440 linear feet of publicly accessible walking and cycling paths.

The Archives Center is slated for completion this November while work on the Cold War Veterans Memorial is expected to kick off in 2024.

Established in 2003, the Pritzker Military Museum & Library describes itself as a non-partisan, non-governmental organization that aims to “increase the public’s understanding of military history, military affairs, and national security by providing a forum for the study and exploration of our military—past, present, and future—with a specific focus on their stories, sacrifices, and values.” A member of Chicago’s prominent Pritzker clan, founder Jennifer Pritzker is a billionaire investor and philanthropist, a retired lieutenant colonel from the Illinois Army National Guard, and transgender American. She is the daughter of Robert Pritzker—one of three sons to attorney and real estate investor A.N. Pritzker—and first cousin to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.