Martin Luther King Memorial and its Garden-like Setting

Happy Martin Luther King Day, everyone!  And to honor the day, how about a quick tour of the new memorial in his name along the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.?  It opened in the fall but if you haven’t seen it yet,you might wait until the spring when the new landscaping around it starts to dazzle.  Unlike the monuments to Jefferson and Lincoln and the new World War II Memorial, the MLK is a landscape-style memorial, so the plants are important to the overall effect.

In the words of its designers, “the entire MLK Memorial is conceived in a landscape tradition, characteristic of other recent memorials, such as the FDR and the Vietnam Veterans War Memorials. This approach, which utilizes the contouring of the earth, the shaping of the site and natural elements to convey meaning, is exceptionally well fitted to a memorial for Dr. King, who was inspirational in his oratory and extensive use of metaphorical reference to the American landscape.”

I’m a big fan of the new landscape tradition for memorials, which has become so popular with reviewing agencies and the public since the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was unveiled in 1982.  As controversial as it was at first, The Wall has become the most visited memorial in town.  Another superb example of this style is the FDR Memorial, which opened in ’97 and is my personal favorite.

But let’s get to the MLK, shown below in the designer’s drawing.  The site is perfect – near the Lincoln and directly facing the Jefferson across the Tidal Basin.  (And if you’re wondering, this IS the first memorial on the Mall honoring a non-president.  Much less an African-American.)

Because the memorial consists of one long wall for quotations, one statue, two large blocks of stone (the “Mountain of Despair” through which you walk to get to King’s statue) and 158 cherry trees, it certainly qualifies as a landscape-style memorial.

Despite the extensive landscaping, the statues are still the dominant feature here – the one of King himself rising to 30 feet (compared to Lincoln’s at 19 feet).  But I’m a gardener and I know to come back next spring when all the cherry trees are blooming, and again several years from next spring when they’re full-size and blooming.  Landscapes take time.  And it’s January now, after all.

Here’s a short video of memorial in all its cherry-blossom-flowering glory.

Top two photos and artist’s sketch by the ROMA Group.

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