Memorials for the Future

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Memorials for the Future

May 4, 2016 @ 12:00 pm - 11:55 pm EDT

The National Park Service (NPS), the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), and Van Alen Institute are collaborating on Memorials for the Future, an ideas competition to reimagine how we think about, feel, and experience memorials.

Memorials for the Future calls for designers, artists, and social scientists to develop new ways to commemorate people and events that are more inclusive and flexible, and that enrich Washington’s landscape while responding to the limitations of traditional commemoration. As the NPS celebrates its centennial in 2016, Memorials for the Future creates new ideas for honoring our diverse histories, heritage, and culture. Three teams will be selected to participate in a research and design process, working closely with the competition partners to develop site-specific designs for memorials in Washington, DC that are adaptive, ephemeral, virtual, event-focused, or interactive. The teams’ proposals will advance a framework for the design of 21st-century memorials and provide future memorial sponsors with fresh approaches to commemorating their subject matter.


Memorials enshrine what we as a society want to remember. But the places, people, and stories that we memorialize, and the audiences who engage with them, are in fact constantly changing. A memorial tells its story through subject matter and design. This story is often complex and multi-dimensional as a memorial’s interpretive elements embody ideas of identity, culture, and heritage, and each have intensely personal interpretations for every individual. As a national capital, Washington is a place of collective memory. The wealth of monuments sited throughout the city take on heightened significance as they reflect relationships among nations, of national remembrance, and of many important events and figures in our history. Often the traditional and fixed nature of memorial design does not allow for adaptation and redefinition over time, or encourage more than one interpretation of a given narrative.

The traditional approach to developing memorials in Washington has resulted in a commemorative landscape that is thematically similar and increasingly land-intensive, which poses challenges for Washington’s urban park system, and has long-term implications for the potential uses of a memorial’s surrounding park setting. The planning and design process is often costly and time consuming, which limits opportunities to groups or individuals with significant resources. Current trends raise a number of questions about the future of Washington’s memorial landscape and the ability to provide space and resources for future commemorative works.

The competition proposals should be based on specific places or areas in Washington, DC. Proposals may take a physical form or may be virtual. Preference will be given to teams that propose a site or sites outside of the National Mall. The following locations are suggestions reflecting typical opportunity sites for new memorials in Washington: Near the monumental core: The Belvedere Within a residential area: Randle Circle or Tenley Circle Around a natural setting: Hains Point For more information on the types of sites in Washington, DC, and these sites specifically, please
visit the project website -

The following provocations are meant to fuel and direct the competition submissions. Concepts that address several of these provocations are more likely to meet the competition’s goals.

• How can we commemorate events or acts with long time frames that are still occurring today?
• How can memorials be adaptive or temporal rather than permanent?
• How can a memorial’s narrative continue to evolve as new generations evaluate its significance within the larger context of our ongoing national history?

• How can memorials advance dialogue around contemporary social, economic, health, or ecological problems that have historical roots?
• How can memorials look forward while acknowledging a historical event or person?
• How can memorials contribute to a more inclusive and more representative national narrative?
• How can memorial designs encourage more, rather than fewer, sponsors?

• How can we memorialize, while also balancing the need for active public space?
• How can memorials engage more diverse audiences, in more flexible and interactive ways around a given narrative?
• What unconventional physical or digital forms could memorials take?
• How can memorials respond to various neighborhood contexts and scales while also commemorating national events or serving the national interest?

The competition partners invite participants to propose additional questions. The goals of the competition are to create new approaches to and forms of memorializing:

• That advance a framework for the planning and design of commemorative works in the 21st century.
• That demonstrate how temporary, mobile, interactive or adaptive displays can provide powerful and memorable experiences that are cost-efficient.
• That develop ways to commemorate that are inclusive of multiple narratives and have the potential to be flexible as perspectives change.
• That honor the scale, context and national significance of Washington, DC.

The competition results will be displayed online and at an exhibition in Washington, DC, published in an illustrated report, and inform NCPC, NPS, and their partners on future design and policy opportunities.

The deadline for registration and electronic submission of the request for concepts is 11:59 p.m. EDT on May 4, 2016 at the competition website.


Van Alen
212 924 7000
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