The Air Force dedicated its national memorial in Arlington, Va., on October 14. Along with the many distinguished veterans, service men and women of all rank, and elected and appointed officials in attendance were representatives of the design and construction team. Not there in body, however, but palpably present in spirit was the late James Ingo Freed, the project's principal designer.
Despite its stark simplicity, as one walks around the Air Force Memorial ground, Freed's well-known genius for geometric juxtoposition evokes thoughts of how the work was conceived, part by part. The feeling is very much like staring at a da Vinci pencil study—the immediacy of being so close to the creator that you can almost watch the drawing of each line and angle and anticipate their intended effect on the eye.
For those of us who are neither architects nor artists, there is also a sense of curiosity concerning the creative process. Is this closeness between designer and observer an intentional bridge into the creative process or a byproduct of the clarity and purpose of thought at its purest distillation? Thinking back years ago to a topping out ceremony at the Holocaust Museum just across the Potomac River, I could remember the basic emotions a walk through the building evoked even before exhibits were installed—initial feelings of curiosity that transformed into foreboding, claustrophobia, and an intense desire for escape. These, said Freed at the time, were intentional. He had left a part of himself there for those of us who followed to experience; to understand.
Another question follows, perhaps denied even by the creator's conscious self: Are buildings ever an architect's attempt to create a lasting personal legacy? Many architects have told me that such is not the case. Buildings belong first and last to the owners and users. The most important project is always the next one. But is it so bad to want one's own progeny of concrete, stone, glass, and steel? I wonder.
What do you think?