The University Record, January 31, 2000

Two U scholars on MLK Memorial jury

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

There are a thousand to consider. Only one can be used. How do you choose that one? This is the dilemma faced by jurors who will choose the design for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial to be erected in Washington, D.C. Among the nine jurors charged with this responsibility are U-M faculty members James Chaffers of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and Jon Lockard of the School of Art and Design and of African American studies.

Their work begins in earnest May 18 when the international jury convenes in Washington. But for the past two years, the two have been working with the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation Inc. of Baltimore to establish the parameters for the competition open to architects in practice and faculty and students at schools of architecture in North America, Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East. Nearly 1,000 entries are anticipated by the May 1 deadline.

The four-acre site chosen for the project is located along the northwestern edge of the Tidal Basin, on a direct line between the memorials of presidents Lincoln and Jefferson. Among the issues competitors must consider are the site location and size, historic cherry trees in the area, the lay of the land, avenues of approach and accommodation of visitors, accessibility, paving, the nocturnal experience of the memorial, soil conditions, climate, noise, utilities, and servicing and maintenance.

Added to the design challenge is the vision of the Foundation to establish the memorial as an “international place of celebration, congregation, and contemplation . . . a place that serves to educate and inspire.” Competitors will work towards designs that reflect the man, the movement and his message.

Chaffers and Lockard, along with the other jurors, will be challenged to choose a monument that:

  • Serves as a “timeless beacon for human justice and dignity, a place that serves as an enduring testament to active citizenship as well as a memorial of remembrance.”

  • “Harmonizes with the rhythms of nature and that creatively accommodates relationships aimed at strengthening home and family while providing opportunity for reflection and connection across racial lines, ethnicities, national and international boundaries.”

  • “Emphasizes the individual and collective capacity to act as vanguards, moving from protest to possibility, to the realization of a dream.”

    “This will be intensive work,” Chaffers says. “We will have to explain our choices to the other jurors and work together until we reach a decision that meets the Foundation’s vision. The results will be a memorial that will last long after we are gone.”