This letter is in regards to the recently-unveiled World War II Veterans monument on River Street. I would like to express my disappointment at the outcome and the precedent that this project sets in the downtown community.
In the haste to erect this monument it appears that many elements were fast-tracked and low-bid. Though the rapid design development and construction schedule was implemented for admirable reason - that living veterans may visit the monument and pay their respects - the result is a less-than-desirable monument. It is, in my opinion, an unsuitable testament to both the magnitude of the World War II conflict and the memory of its Savannah- area veterans.
More broadly, the monument makes an ill-fitting addition to the public realm of historic River Street and downtown Savannah, whose urban design is renowned for its timeless and elegant combination of functionality and aesthetics as well as the quality and durability of the materials that make the city, such as brick, stone and tabby.
Upon visiting the monument for the first time in December I was immediately struck by the overall appearance of haphazardness in its scale and organization and the cheapness of its materiality.
While the concept, "a world divided" (expressed as a halved sphere), is simple and poetic, its literal execution as a globe rendered with geographically "accurate" coastlines, bespeaks a low confidence in the viewing public to bring their own interpretation or sensibilities to their experience of the monument.
The city has numerous excellent examples of conventional monuments. What it needs, today, is to accept into its fabric memorials and monuments that are in keeping with contemporary modes of expression and experience.
Savannah must continue to draw meaning from the past while simultaneously renewing itself, so that the city does not become obsolete or inauthentic.
Materially, the primary feature of the monument - the globe - is meant to appear constructed of a substantial shell of semi-precious metal, but is in fact quite flimsy and thin upon closer inspection. It reveals itself to be an artifice.
The pedestal, meanwhile, is covered in a veneer of cheap stucco or some similar surfacing of the sort that one may find in a motel lobby.
The inner walls of the halved-sphere are conceived as the verbal "narrative" of the monument, memorializing the names of the veterans and the branches and divisions of the military under which they served.
While this name-recording is a necessary part of the memorial, the significance of both the individual and collective contribution of the veterans is lessened by the material and visual trappings - superfluous signage representing the branches of the military, and an access panel at the base of the sphere which, bafflingly, appears to be nothing more than a piece of painted plywood.
As a former member of the Historic Site and Monument Commission that oversaw and nominally approved the final design of the monument, I must express my disappointment that those responsible for designing and erecting the monument were not more concerned about the materiality and durability of their project.
The modernist adage "less is more" was also ignored in their approach.
Recommendations from the Historic Site and Monuments Commission to consider the timeless qualities and interpretive subtleties that have marked successful precedents, such as the widely-admired Vietnam Veterans' Memorial on the National Mall (itself not without controversy during the time of its construction) went unheeded by the creators of the present memorial.
Thankfully, the site that they had originally intended to host the monument - Oglethorpe Square - was refused by the City as a suitable venue.
Those responsible for the design seemingly failed to understand the greater importance of the public realm - the spatial scale, experiential qualities, and materiality - of historic downtown Savannah that trump the imperatives of any special interest group, even one as significant as the veterans of World War II.
I hope this letter will not be misread as unpatriotic or disrespectful of the veterans in the community. On the contrary, both of my grandfathers fought in the War.
My mother's father, who was born and raised in Bulloch County, served two tours in the U.S. Navy and engaged in combat in numerous theaters of battle, including at Normandy where so many of his fellow soldiers gave their lives.
I am deeply grateful for the sacrifices that our fathers and grandfathers made for this country during World War II and for their principled resistance to tyranny and fascism in the world.
My grandfather, who was a carpenter before the war, spent his life afterwards as a respected building contractor in the Statesboro community, where he prided himself on the quality of his built projects. He has since passed away, but if he were still alive I would be curious to know his reception of this monument to the memory of his fallen brethren.
As this monument fades - and trust me, it will not age well and will require expensive, ongoing maintenance facilitated by the City and the veteran's group in order to prevent it from disintegrating - I hope that the citizens and decision-makers responsible for implementing monumental projects in Savannah's public realm will carefully consider the material, aesthetic, and contextual qualities in addition to the cultural significance of all proposed monuments.
One such way to ensure a range of design ideas and proposals is to host competitions, by invitation or open to the general public. The City, in conjunction with the Historic Site and Monument Commission, may also wish to revisit its criteria for acceptable materials and construction methods, which are evaluated during the approvals process.
While I hope that many surviving veterans of World War II and other visitors have been able find meaning and value in the present monument on River Street, I, for one, remain critical.
I believe that public questioning and discussion of such projects - even an acceptance of a certain political agonistic pluralism, where we may find it necessary to agree to disagree - is the best way to both refine and reinvent Savannah and its and civic spaces.
Ryan S. Madson
Thanks for GMO attention
I was thrilled to see that Ursula Tischner wrote about GMO food and the monster that Monsanto is. They are pushing through foods that even rats won't eat - gene modified tomatoes specifically! But, we are supposed to eat them with tons of RoundUP in every bite!
Gladly there is now a full scale movement to stop them before it's too late - as in organic is gone for eternity! Join millionsagainstmonsanto.org and let your fellings be heard.
We are mobilizing to let the rest of the world know that RoundUp does not work as superweeds have already sprung up that are resistant to it, and what is Monsanto's answer to that? Pour more toxic chemicals on the new superweeds that bend farmers machines! Where will it stop?