This past Fall, ROMA Design Group proudly announced the completion of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington D.C. In 2000, ROMA won the international design competition among nearly 1,000 entries. ROMA Design Group worked for several years to develop the design. The memorial has now been built and was officially dedicated by President Obama on October 16, 2011.
Architect: ROMA Design Group
Location: Washington D.C., USA
Illustrations: Christopher Grubbs
Photographs: Courtesy of ROMA Design Group
The memorial is located on a significant four acre site adjacent to the Tidal Basin and on axis with the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. The relationship between the King, Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials expresses the evolving message of democracy through the continuum of time, from the Declaration of Independence to the Gettysburg Address to the Civil Rights Speech which Dr. King delivered on the steps of the nearby Lincoln Memorial in 1963. The memorial is designed to increase our awareness of Dr. King’s message regarding human rights and civil liberties, to help build an understanding of his role as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and his legacy in broadening the meaning of democracy in America. The memorial is conceived within the environmental tradition of more recent memorials, such as the Vietnam War and the FDR Memorials, and utilizes natural elements – water, stone and trees – to heighten the experience of place and to evoke the kind of emotional response that Dr. King conveyed in his poetic use of language and reference to the American landscape.
“There are three aspects that are key to the design concept of the memorial. The first involved the shaping of the earth and creation of an embracing form that would engage the Tidal Basin and the cherry trees. We believed that this aspect of the design would reflect Dr. King’s pursuit of inclusivity and equality for everyone. Second, we wanted to heighten the awareness of visitors to the axial relationship between the Lincoln, Jefferson and King Memorials, as well as Dr. King’s important role in broadening the meaning of democracy in America. We did this by locating and shaping the main elements – the Mountain of Despair and Stone of Hope – to reflect this axial relationship and to punctuate its meaning. Third, we sought to create an environment that would recall Dr. King’s magnificent oratory in its cadence and crescendo effect and thus emotionally involve everyone in his message.”
“We wanted the experience of the memorial to be one of discovery and thus become more personally engaging to the visitor – building commitment to the pursuit of civil rights and social equity in America. Entering the memorial, the visitor would take in the Mountain of Despair, note the central missing piece, walk through the tight portal space and in doing so, glimpse at the Jefferson Memorial. Then, the visitor would see the Stone of Hope, wrested from the Mountain of Despair beyond towards the Tidal Basin. Upon approaching the Stone of Hope, Dr. King’s image integrally carved into that stone would emerge as if awaiting delivery of the promise of democracy.”
“These basic elements were carried through from the beginning to the end of the design. Although we developed the design further following the competition, there were certain elements of the design that were not within our control or under our guidance. Ultimately, the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation exerted exclusive authority over the selection of the sculptor and the quotations and there were differences from our original design in the way in which these elements were ultimately realized. On the other hand, we feel that the ultimate execution of our design by the Design Build Contractor realized our original intentions. Overall, the integrity of the design has remained intact and we believe that the strength of the design concept still provides a powerful and, hopefully, meaningful experience to those who visit the memorial.” – Bonnie Fisher, Principal of ROMA Design Group FASLA
Text provided by ROMA Design Group