Chicago architects among finalists to create WWI memorial in DC

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Chicago architects have been selected as finalists to create WWI memorial in Washington, DC. (WLS)

Chicago's very own STL Architects and an independent intern are among the finalists to design a national World War I memorial in Washington DC.

More servicemen died during that conflict than the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.

The war was 100 years ago, so connecting the past to the present was critical for the owners of STL Architects.

An image of a young person looking at the past moved them to create their design called "An American Family Portrait Wall in the Park."

"It really became the gateway for the role of the United States as the leader of the free world, it really started there," said finalist Luis Collado of STL architects.

"So our vision for the park was to transform it into a living room, into America's living room, so visitors could share the stories. . . Our focus was on people, on collective, groups of people, on the sacrifice. And that's why we named it a family," said Jose Luis de la Fuente, also a finalist with the group.

The highlight will be 86 photographs, sprinkled between three plazas throughout the park.

"When you are looking at a photograph, particularly a large photograph, you are there. It's a frozen moment in time. It touches you at an emotional level," Collado said.

That was Joe Weishaar's goal too. He's the second Chicago finalist. He made his design on his own time as an intern at another firm.

Weishaar says that, as an intern, hearing the news was among the best moments of his life.

His design is called "The Weight of Sacrifice." It will have a raised lawn, surrounded by three bronze walls which will feature various scenes in reliefs, or sculptures, designed by an artist in New York City. Visitors could touch the artwork.

"Suddenly, the war isn't this distant thing anymore because you're having your own sensory experience, sight and sound and touch and you're creating your own memory of that event," Weishaar said.

Whether it's Weishaar or the STL team, the winner will be announced Tuesday. They say that regardless of the outcome, this project has changed each of them.

"There are things I wouldn't have gotten to do in anyway, if I had just stayed at my desk and kept working," Weishaar said.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that two firms from Chicago were short-listed. I think it speaks a lot about our city," Collado said.

Organizers say construction will begin next year, and the dedication will be held in 2018.

There is one other Chicago connection to the project; the Pritzker Military Museum and Library is the founding donor for the privately-funded project. They donated $5-million. The project is expected to cost about $30-million.
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