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WWI group seeking national memorial designer

The National World War I Memorial — currently a forlorn park near the White House that contains an empty concrete pad and a statue of Gen. John J. Pershing — needs a makeover.

And its new designer could be you.

The World War I Centennial Commission launched an international competition in May to design a monument to the Great War "on the National Mall," or in this case, on neighboring Pennsylvania Avenue.

Professionals and students have been encouraged to apply, but anyone with a concept who can sketch, explain their idea in 250 words and pay a $100 fee can enter.

Commission members say the goal is to transform the landscape from its status of "park with a memorial element tacked onto it" to a "national World War I memorial" that doubles as green space for the surrounding district of hotels, theaters and residences, most notably 1600 Pennsylvania.

"We feel [Pershing Park] lacks a lot of the emotional power, the inspiration, the opportunity for grief and reflection" that other Washington memorials have, said Edwin Fountain, commission vice chairman. "What we are hoping to do is enhance that memorial and bring these aspects to the memorial site."

The current plaza, which opened in 1981, was designed by modernist landscape architect Paul Friedberg and contains a monument to Pershing created by architect Wallace Harrison.

But the park rarely has been used as intended — an urban oasis of flowing fountains in the summertime and ice rink in the winter.

Instead, it has fallen into disrepair, a victim of high maintenance costs, a lack of a water filtration system and a below-grade esplanade that attracts the flotsam and jetsam of urban living — plastic bags, snack wrappers, cigarette butts — and little else.

After years of lobbying Congress for a national World War I memorial, two were designated in the 2015 Defense Authorization Act — the existing World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Pershing Park location in the nation's capital, which will be redesigned at a cost of $21 million to $25 million using private funds.

More than 4 million Americans served during World War I, and 116,000 died — more U.S. troops than lost their lives in Korea and Vietnam combined.

Commission members want the new memorial to honor those individuals, to recall the memory of the people who left their homes to engage in the country's first large-scale overseas war.

"I think there is an aspect that is forgotten from World War I, and that's the people who served in the war … the mothers and fathers, the sons and daughters who went off to fight America's first big crusade," commission chairman, retired Army Col. Robert Dalessandro said at a press conference on the design competition.

The July 21 deadline is fast approaching, but competition organizers say there is still time for professionals, students, teams and individuals to craft and submit entries.

A jury will choose three to five of the best to proceed to the competition's second phase where each will be required to partner with a U.S.-based design firm for final consideration.

Those selected for the second phase also will receive a $25,000 honorarium.

The last American World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died in 2011 at age 110. The former Army corporal served as honorary chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation, lending his name to the effort to restore the District of Columbia War Memorial on the National Mall, an elegant marble bandstand erected in 1931.

The commission hopes to announce finalists Aug. 4, with the winner declared in January.

Groundbreaking is planned for Veterans Day 2017.

"We have memorials to these other three wars [World War II, Korea and Vietnam], but none to the one that started the 20th century, [none] to the war that directly or indirectly led to these later conflicts," Fountain said.

For more information on World War I and details on competition, see the commission's website.

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