Wreath of Remembrance

Completion: 2011, Finalist

Location: San Francisco Veterans Memorial, San Francisco, CA

Description: Our memorial concept is inspired by the transcendent form and symbolism of a wreath. For many cultures, wreaths represent notions of eternity, continuity, and memory. Within military history, wreaths carry special layers of meaning: victory, bravery, peace. In the military tradition of wreath-laying ceremonies, this reverent gesture marks sacred ground. A suspended wreath eternally embodies this ritual of remembrance.

In this landmark tribute to our nation's veterans, a sculptural wreath of military dog tags hovers above the Memorial Court. Not touching the landscape below, the suspended wreath creates a powerful gesture that marks the sacred ground containing the interred soils from battlefields across the world. The wreath defines a powerful place for contemplation and memory through archetypal symbolism and pure sculptural form. The gilded representation of dog tags transforms these functional objects into resonant icons, which echo the architectural elements of City Hall and the Memorial Court gates.

Shifting between figuration and abstraction, the dog tags that compose the wreath are simultaneously experienced separately and as a group. This duality honors both individual and collective sacrifice within American military tradition. Individually, the dog tags powerfully personalize our nation's veterans throughout history, bridging the past and the present. As a unity, the dog tags coalesce into a poignant constellation of remembrance. The ring-shaped form of the wreath embodies continuity, collapsing time and space to connect current service members with those who have served before.

The wreath is illuminated from a circular plaza of granite below, which preserves the original octagon of Thomas Church's design as the articulated centerpiece. The memorial's dedication encircles the outer edge of the plaza. Within this circle, the plaza is perforated by individual points of illumination, creating an annular pattern of light that corresponds to the shape of the wreath. At the center lies an embedded steel capsule, a resting space for the interred soils, interpreted with glass text. The octagon's granite surface is awash in a thin membrane of water at various times of the day, synchronized to the rising and falling sea level of nearby San Francisco Bay. This perpetual tidal process creates a dynamic, reflective surface that evokes healing and regeneration.

As visitors approach the memorial from the west, the suspended wreath forms a visual and conceptual nexus unifying the Memorial Court, Veterans Building, Opera House, and City Hall. Seen from a distance, it creates a dialogue between old and new. The use of suspension respects Church's original landscape design and the historic architecture of the site. The wreath's suspension cables are anchored near the Veterans Building and the Opera House, bringing the two symbolic buildings into the memorial expression, and creating a visual metaphor for the institutional forces that historically unified to create the memorial itself.

The Veterans Memorial gives light and wind a tangible presence, interlacing monumentality and evanescence. Responding to varying environmental conditions, the dog tags move with the wind and reflect the changing light of the day. The sounds created by the moving dog tags become echoes of remembrance that reverberate throughout the Memorial Court. These poetic chimes continually remind us of the heroic sacrifices made by the servicemen and women of our armed forces from the nation's past and present. At night, the constellation of dog tags seems to float within an inspiring column of light. Thousands of individual luminous beams emanate from the granite plaza, illuminating each dog tag and dramatically linking the suspended wreath to the sacred ground below.

Landscape Architect: SWA Group