Fayetteville, Arkansas–based Marlon Blackwell Architects has been selected to design the National Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
According to the non-profit GWOT Memorial Foundation, the planned project commemorates “U.S. actions and operations following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, through the present day.” The foundation—whose executive leadership includes former President George W. Bush as honorary chairman—was established in 2015 to construct a memorial that would “honor, heal, empower, unite.” Following lobbying efforts by GWOT, in 2017 Congress approved a plan to aid the memorial’s construction by waiving the requirement (codified in the 1994 Commemorative Works Act amendments) that such monuments not be built on the National Mall Reserve until at least one decade after a major conflict has ended.
Architect Marlon Blackwell. Photo © Mark Jackson
The GWOT Memorial will be Marlon Blackwell Architects’ first memorial design. Speaking to RECORD, Blackwell disclosed his initial hesitation to pursue the project: “Having grown up in a military family, this felt really close and I was nervous about it,” he says. “But I kept coming back to ‘we have to find a way’ [to honor these veterans].”
“Our firm will create a place of reverence, reflection, and restoration which fulfills the Foundation’s vision and mission,” added Blackwell in a statement.
To inform the design process, which has not involved any visualizations thus far, Blackwell’s team will consult closely with a dedicated Design Advisory Council (DAC)—described as a body of Gold Star family members, veterans, and other Global War on Terrorism stakeholders—to help “ensure that the memorial reflects the experiences of all who have served and sacrificed in this ongoing conflict,” according to Michael Rodriguez, president and CEO of the GWOT Memorial Foundation.
This April, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, chaired by architect Billie Tsien, approved a future memorial site on the National Mall Reserve, in an area located opposite the Lincoln Memorial and between Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial and OLIN’s forthcoming Desert Shield and Desert Storm Memorial. Emphasizing opportunities for “connectivity” and “resonance” with these neighbors, the 2020 AIA Gold Medal–winning architect describes this prominent site as the area’s “missing piece” and notes that this intervention will likely be the last memorial on the National Mall. In 2021, the foundation—which is not seeking federal funding for the project—launched a capital campaign to raise $100 million in donations ahead of the memorial’s anticipated groundbreaking in 2025.
Planned location on the National Mall. Image courtesy Marlon Blackwell Architects
In addition to Blackwell’s eponymous firm, James Corner Field Operations, Kengo Kuma and Associates, Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers, and Oklahoma City–based Butzer Architects and Urbanism (BAU) were all shortlisted for the project, culled from an initial pool of 177 candidates over several rounds with input from the foundation’s board of directors and design advisory board along with executive architect Winstanley Architects & Planners and AECOM. (Peter MacKeith, dean and professor of architecture at the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, chairs the design advisory board.)
“Marlon’s proven track record as a world-class designer, combined with his personal experiences in a family with a history of military service will contribute to a design that serves as a lasting tribute to the courage and sacrifice of all who have served in the Global War on Terrorism—especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” Rodriguez noted in the press announcement.