Four architects are asking a federal court to reject government tampering with their prize-winning design for the $14.9 million Korean War veterans' memorial in the capital.
The architects, from Pennsylvania State University, said this week they entered and won a $20,000 design contest last year believing the winning entry would be built on the Mall, across the Reflecting Pool from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.Instead, they alleged in a suit filed in U.S. District Court, their design was discarded by the government, a memorial advisory board and an architectural firm.
"From behind closed doors, they surreptitiously developed another design and they have managed to slip before the public, in recent days, their own ideas for the memorial - ideas that glamorize and romanticize the act of war," architect Don Leon, one of the plaintiffs, said at a news conference.
"As any Korean War veteran can tell you, that war, no matter how noble its intent, was never glamorous and romantic," Leon said.
Named as defendants were the Army Corps of Engineers, the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board and Cooper-Lecky Architects of Washington.
The advisory board was created by Congress to select the site and the design, subject to the commission's approval. Then, Cooper-Lecky was retained by the corps last May to finalize the plan and build the memorial.
The suit seeks an order blocking the defendants "from proceeding with the new, substituted Cooper-Lecky Architects design."
It also requests more than $250,000 in damages from both the advisory board and Cooper-Lecky. It alleges that Cooper-Lecky failed to consult with the original architects on the changes, as required by contract, and that the advisory board instructed Cooper-Lecky "on certain design additions and deletions."
Retired Army Gen. Richard Stilwell, chairman of the advisory board, said the suit "has absolutely no foundation and, in my humble view, is aimed at frustrating the will of Congress that a national memorial to the veterans of the Korean war be established within the time frame dictated by public law."
W. Kent Cooper of Cooper-Lecky said he had not yet seen the suit, and could not comment.
The Penn State design called for "a dream-like" collection of 38 soldiers moving, some unevenly, across a remote landscape toward an American flag.
The revised design would confront visitors "with the reality of actual war," sculptor Frank Gaylord, who is working with Cooper-Lecky on the project, said last week. Some soldiers "are responding to unexpected, unfriendly fire," he said.
The new plan adds a grove of trees called a "chapel" and a mural on the history of the war.
Stilwell said in October that the original architects "relinquished all rights to their submission in consideration of substantial prize money." He said the new design retains the essential element of the old one.
Some 5.7 million Americans served in Korea during the 1950-53 conflict; more than 54,000 were killed.