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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

September 2008 Issue

Private Grief, Public Place
The Columbine Memorial raises fundamental design questions.

By Kim Sorvig


Private Grief, Public Place

Memorials make strange landscapes—personal and social, sorrowful about the past yet aimed at inspiring the future.

Bob Smith, FASLA, partner at Denver’s DHM Design, has worked on memorials ranging from Mount Rushmore to military tributes. Starting in 2000, Smith led the design team for the Columbine Memorial, commemorating victims of the notorious 1999 Littleton, Colorado, school shooting. Dedicated in 2007, that project changed how Smith and his colleagues view the purpose and process of memorial making.

Smith’s office is filled with black-and-white photos of 10 often-controversial years at Mount Rushmore, redesigning public access to that beloved monument. The Columbine Memorial, however, raises fundamental questions that go well beyond the familiar. Those questions are multiplying across America: what a memorial should be, what kinds of events should be memorialized, and when.

In recent years, landscapes have increasingly replaced statues and obelisks as vehicles for grief, tribute, and remembrance. Another trend: Memorials are increasingly begun within months of the tragedy. The Columbine Memorial is emblematic of both trends. The issues that make Columbine different affect memorials as diverse as Oklahoma City, Kent State, Flight 93, even the will-it-ever-be-built World Trade Center proposal.

After working on Columbine, says DHM landscape architect Denise George, ASLA, “I don’t think I’ll ever look at memorial design the same.”

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