Architecture Is Memory - Famous Monuments and Memorials

Designs That Honor and Remember

Marine Corps War Memorial, also called the Iwo Jima Memorial (1954), Arlington, Virginia
Marine Corps War Memorial, also called the Iwo Jima Memorial (1954), Arlington, Virginia. Photo by Raffaele Nicolussi (www.MadGrin.com)/Moment Collection/Getty Images

It is no surprise that the word "memorial" comes from the Latin word memoria, meaning "memory." Architecture is memory.

How do we remember important events? How can we best honor our dead? Should we pay tribute with realistic sculptures of our heroes? Or, will the monument be more meaningful and profound if we choose abstract forms? Sometimes the horror of events are too unreal to accurately represent.

Often the most powerful memorials—the monuments that stir strong emotion—are surrounded with controversy. The memorials listed here show various ways architects and designers have chosen to honor heroes, respond to tragedies, or commemorate important events.

Architecture is Memory:

How many buildings have you lived in? Where did you make your home when you were a child? when you first went to school? first fell in love? Our memories are inextricably tied with place. Events in our lives are permanently entangled with where they happened. Even when all the details may be fuzzy, the sense of place is forever with us.

Architecture can be powerful markers of memories, so commanding that we sometimes consciously create memorials to honor and remember people and events. We may make a crude twig cross to commemorate a childhood pet. The carved stone on a family member's burial site is built to stand for centuries.

Bronze plaques remind a nation of bravery in face of adversity. Concrete tombs can visually present the scope of tragedies.

How do we use architecture to express loss and hope for renewal? Does it make sense to spend millions of dollars building September 11 memorials or a Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe?

How we spend our money is an ongoing debate for families, nations, and all institutions. Consider how these monuments and memorials affect you.

World War II Monuments and Memorials:

World War I Monuments and Memorials:

In January 2016, the United States World War One Centennial Commission chose the design for a National World War I Memorial. Called The Weight of Sacrifice, the memorial design was won by the Chicago-based architect Joseph Weishaar and New York City sculptor Sabin Howard. The memorial in Washington, DC's Pershing Park is to be completed by the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, on November 11, 2018.

Other WWI memorials include:

  • Liberty Memorial, 1926, Kansas City, Missouri, long considered a "national" memorial because of the number of soldiers who passed through the city on their way to war
  • District of Columbia War Memorial, Washington, DC

September 11 Monuments and Memorials:

Holocaust Memorials:

  • Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, Jerusalem, by Moshe Safdie
  • Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC
  • Jewish Museum, Berlin, Germany, by Daniel Libeskind
  • Stolpersteine, "stumbling stones" in Germany
  • Ohio Holocaust and Liberators Memorial, Columbus, Ohio, by Daniel Libeskind
  • Miami Holocaust Memorial, Miami Beach, Florida

Vietnam War Monuments and Memorials:

Korean War Monuments and Memorials:

  • Korean War Memorial, Washington, DC

Monuments and Memorials to Leaders, Groups, and Movements:

Monuments and Memorials Around the World:

Why We Need Monuments and Memorials:

Back in 2005 architects Peter Eisenman and Michael Arad met with Michael W. Blumenthal, the CEO of Berlin's Jewish Museum, and scholar James Young to discuss these issues. "The memorial is there to provide an experience," Arad said. That experience, no doubt, involves memory. For a summary of their discussion, see Eva Hagberg's How Architecture Commemorates Tragedy in Metropolis magazine.

Architecture, including memorials and monuments, is an expressive tool. Design can show prosperity, whimsy, solemnity, or a combination of qualities. But architecture doesn't need to be big and expensive to ensure memory. When we build things, sometimes the purpose is an obvious marker of a life or an event to be remembered. But anything we build can kindle the flames of memory.

In the Words of John Ruskin (1819-1900):

" Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build for ever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, 'See! this our fathers did for us.'"—Section X, The Lamp of Memory, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 1849