Rendering of the Peace Corps memorial. Image by NCPC.

The design for a proposed Peace Corps memorial needs to be reworked, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) recently told designers. NCPC wants the memorial be more modest, to not block views of the US Capitol, and to retain two large trees on the site.

Congress authorized the construction of a work to commemorate the Peace Corps back in 2014. Project planners and the NCPC settled on two preferred locations: Edward R. Murrow Park along Pennsylvania Avenue or Vincent Sombrotto Park along Louisiana Avenue. Planners went with Sombrotto Park, with its view and proximity to the Capital, as their preferred location.

Sombrotto Park lies between C Street NW, Louisiana NW, and First Street NW.

In prior discussions, NCPC stated that the design should retain all existing healthy mature trees, retain green space, provide seating, and consider low-impact development stormwater features. Some of those requests were addressed, and others not—most notably, two healthy mature trees would need to be removed with the proposed design.

The design includes three main parts: A plaza, a pergola, and a seating area. The plaza displays a world map without national boundaries that’s intended to express the goal of breaking down barriers between disparate peoples. The seating area consists of three granite benches which are sculpted to depict human arms and hands. The 14- to 22-foot-tall metal pergola with glass blades of varying colors frames the parcel.

The Peace Corps Commemorative Work, as proposed in 2019. Image by NCPC.

NCPC was thankful that planners were willing to use one of the small triangle parks, but there were several items it wasn’t happy with. It was concerned that the height and shape of the proposed pergola could impact views of the Capitol, that the memorial does not allow for pedestrian access from all sides and thus isn’t very welcoming, and that the memorial is too large for the site.

Aerial view of the memorial. Image by NCPC.

It’s also concerned that the project doesn’t have enough green space for trees and stormwater management. It recommended, among other things, that planners consider moving the project to Murrow Park, which is larger and could handle a work of this size.

The work is its own memorial

As a returned volunteer, I have mixed feelings about the project. On one hand, I support the important principles it’s intending to convey. On the other, I feel like DC is over-memorialized as it is. More importantly though, I’m not sure the project is aligned with Peace Corps’ own stated values.

When I was in training, Peace Corps emphasized over and over again that we were not there to build a memorial to ourselves (by building a structure like a school in the community where we worked), but to assist our community in building what they needed themselves. We were told that the friends we made and the work we did was its own memorial, so I’m a bit uncomfortable with the fact that volunteers are now literally building a memorial to Peace Corps.

The State Department has a portion of Rock Creek Cemetery where former foreign service officers may be buried. Perhaps it would be better to have a a similar plot in a cemetery of significance specifically dedicated to volunteers who died in service.