The National Veterans Memorial and Museum began with a vision from the late Senator John Glenn to carefully preserve not only names, dates, and battles but the intimate memories, personal belongings, and painful losses of our nation’s veterans. Memorials and museums dedicated to specific servicepeople, military branches, and theaters of conflict exist throughout the country, but the proposal for one all-encompassing destination telling the whole story of the veteran experience was unprecedented.
From the earliest planning stages, the landscape provided an opportunity to create a verdant public realm and cultural campus. Densely planted with native grasses, perennials, shrubs, and trees native to the Hocking Hills region, this landscape significantly increases the biodiversity of flora and creates new habitats for a variety of wildlife, functioning as the area’s “green lungs.” The selection of over 200 trees and 500 native shrubs and a significant number of native meadow species installed at the museum contributes significantly to a bird-friendly landscape that affords shelter, food, and a considerable ecological footprint in a city with a very low overall tree canopy.
The design concept for the museum and grounds emerged as a series of spiraling paths, pulling the street grid of Downtown Columbus and the adjacent Franklintown neighborhood into, around, and through the site. The elliptical form weaves landscape and building together into a unified composition. It begins to inform the circulation of paths throughout the landscape, into the museum building, and around the building’s exterior, culminating in a rooftop garden and amphitheater with extraordinary views across the river and back to Downtown. With more than half of the roof dedicated to the meadow, this part of the landscape contributes significantly to the site’s stormwater management goals. This strong connection between the building and landscape, references the veterans’ narrative of sacrifice, resilience, and remembrance. Careful attention was paid to creating accessible sloped paths, abundant seating, shade, and shelter for the many elderly or injured veterans who come to find peace, pride, and community among sometimes painful memories.
While the entire landscape serves as a living memorial and sanctuary for visitors to reflect upon the stories told within the museum, the central component of the design is the Memorial Grove. It is planted with an impressive grove of American Elms, a tree that sheltered returning American veterans and their families since colonial times and in every region of the country. The Memorial Grove is a ceremonial oval lawn planted with four different varieties of American Elm. While all Elm species were chosen from disease-resistant cultivars, selecting four different cultivars ensures the survival of the grove if any one cultivar succumbed to disease. As the trees grow to stately vase-shaped maturity, they will create a cathedral-like experience that references the sacred groves found in many cultures worldwide. In the fall, the Elms’ golden hue contrasts exquisitely against the reds and browns of the surrounding woodland palette of neighboring native Ohio tree species. Sweeps of Scilla under the Elms bloom and multiply each Spring, providing an ephemeral field of star-shaped blue flowers reminding us of our enduring sense of renewal.
Surrounding the Memorial Grove are sweeps of meadow grasses and woodland plantings selected from Ohio’s native landscape of prairies and forests. An allée of Scarlet Oaks marches through a diverse native woodland; this dense tree canopy, along with a wide array of understory plantings and groundcover, help to improve urban air quality, provide shade and habitat, and create a beautiful display of seasonal colors.
Enclosing the Memorial Grove on the east and evoking the geology of the nearby Hocking Hills is a nearly 350-foot-long locally sourced natural limestone wall accented by cascading water elements and a pool filled with river stone. The wall symbolizes the underlying strength of the nation and our motto, E Pluribus Unum, that we as citizens are stronger when we act together rather than separately, a reminder of the teamwork exemplified by the commitment of all our armed forces. Water has been understood as a source of life and spiritual renewal throughout time by many faiths. As represented by the pool and cascades, it underscores this place’s peaceful and healing character.
Since the project’s completion, the museum has become a celebrated destination for local residents and visitors to Columbus and a sanctuary for visiting veterans, their families. The landscape is a fitting allegory for the stories of strength, sacrifice, renewal, and ablution that consistently emerge from these most trying times. In this place, people from across the country can gather to find peace, inspiration, healing, and community, a testament to the transformative and unifying power of the public realm.
Prime, Architect: Allied Works Architecture
Landscape Architect: OLIN
Local Landscape Architect: MKSK
Lighting Designer and Security Consultant: Arup
Civil Engineer: EMH&T
Exhibit Designer: Ralph Appelbaum Associates
Water Feature Designer: CMS Collaborative, Inc.
Irrigation Consultant: Lynch & Associates, Ltd.
Site Surveyor: GeoInnovations
MEP-FP Engineering: Prater Engineering
Contractor: Turner Construction
Project location: 300 W Broad St, Columbus, OH 43215
Design year: commissioned 2013
Year Built: completed 2018