It’s not very often that an architect has the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy in a prominent, public setting. But that is precisely what happened to Michael Vergason, of Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, based in Alexandria, Virginia.
On Veterans Day in 2002, the Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation launched a design competition for The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. Twenty renowned architecture and landscape architecture firms were invited to participate. Michael Vergason Landscape Architects was selected the following July, based on the design concept that is now coming to life within sight of the U.S. Capitol.
Vergason, whose work can also be seen at the National Cathedral, the U.S. Supreme Court, Monticello, the U.S. Cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, and his alma mater, the University of Virginia, envisioned a hallowed place amid the bustle of the surrounding Washington streets. His design was meant expressly for its audience – disabled veterans, their loved ones and caretakers – who would now have a place for commemoration and quiet reflection within a grove of trees framed by granite and glass walls, punctuated by a ceremonial flame and a reflecting pool.
This approach to design is a hallmark of Vergason’s firm. Every project is process driven, beautifully detailed and seamlessly integrated into existing conditions, deriving inspiration from the uniqueness of a place and defining the salient characteristics throughout the seasons. Founded on the belief that landscape is a poetic, humanizing discipline responding to the fundamental human need for connection to the surrounding world, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects designs lasting places through the creative and rigorous study of the site and its context.
Given this guiding philosophy, the Memorial’s physical and symbolic centerpiece is a star-shaped fountain, embedded into a broad reflecting pool. Used throughout American history to honor, recognize, reward and represent our highest aspirations, this strong focal point structures the site. At its center, the ceremonial flame – the fire – embodies the elemental forces of injury, loss and renewal, and emerges from the water as a reminder of the hope that springs from perseverance in the face of adversity.
And then, standing sentry-like alongside the reflecting pool, are a grove of trees to provide dappled shade and comfort along the Memorial’s main paths. These paths are lined by the glass and granite walls of Vergason’s design, each representing the strength and fragility of the human spirit.
Experienced all together, these elements create a unique and respectful setting to reflect on – and honor – the great sacrifices of America’s disabled veterans…yesterday, today and tomorrow.
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