Architectural Politics: The Vietnam War Memorial

Architectural Politics: The Vietnam War Memorial

“Their monument sticks like a fishbone in the city’s throat.” The monument Robert Lowell had in mind when he wrote those lines was Augustus St. Gauden’s Civil War Memorial of Colonel Robert Shaw and his black troops, but in 1984 Lowell’s lines are equally appropriate to the newly erected Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In a city dominated by white marble monuments built on a heroic scale, the Vietnam Memorial, with its black granite walls that never rise above ground level, defies expectation. It raises questions, as no public building of the last decade has, about the role of modern architecture in American life. And beyond that, it asks whether we, as a nation, are capable of honoring the men who died in Vietnam while refusing to honor the war they fought.

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