Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA – Some Possibilities & Observations
An earlier version of this website illustrated a sketch idea for the development of an underground monument museum under Lee Circle that would retain the Robert E. Lee statue and offer interpretive exhibits addressing the roles of Confederate symbols in the public realm.  Now, after considering the national debate taking place, the sketch website examines the spatial, temporal and formal qualities of the meaning of several approaches for rethinking the place of Monument Avenue in history of Richmond and its symbols.  Below are some emerging ideas with Pro/Con observations for each.

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Do Nothing to the Physical Environment

 

Re-interpret the meaning of the Civil War monuments through educational programs, newspaper articles, op-ed commentary, text books edits, social media sites, etc.   Preserve the monuments and statues as they are.  Maintain the status quo.

 

Pros

Least cost;

Preserves the physical qualities of the urban boulevard;

 

Cons

Civic response is invisible in the urban landscape;

 

 

 

Existing street view; Lee Circle; Monument Avenue; Richmond, VA

 

Subtractive: Remove Lee’s statue

With the statue removed and the base remaining, a remnant of the Avenue’s past would be an indicator of a change in meaning over time.

 

Pros

Low cost;

Preserves the physical qualities of the urban boulevard;

Re-interprets the monument as an object of contemporary time and meaning;

The incomplete state will always remind citizens of the tension of these times;

The base only becomes a symbol of civic action opposing racism.

 

Cons

Will always appear to be incomplete or accidental;

Needs a conceptual explanation.

 

 

 

Lee Circle with Lee’s statue removed

 

Transformative: Relocate All Statues to Lee Circle

 

Move all the statues and leave the stone bases in place along the Avenue.  Surround Lee Circle with a protective hidden fence and visible hedge. An access ramp for visitors could be added later.  Offers a temporary, protective tactic.

 

Pros

Immediate action demonstrates responsible civic action;

Protects historic statues from further vandalism;

Statues remain in the public realm, but have a different context;

Leaves open the option of returning the statues after final decision is reached;

 

Cons

Not a very elegant remedy to the current challenges;

Would need further development as a museum for long term implementation.

 

Lee Circle as a corral for all the statues; hedge/fence surround

 

Subtractive: Remove Lee’s Statue and Base

 

Remove every trace of the Lee statue (and all others along the Avenue).

 

Pros

Eliminates all vestiges of the objects that have caused an outrage in the African-American community;

High visibility of a civic response in the urban landscape

 

Cons

This moment in time and the history of the avenue will be forgotten;

Not inspirational;

Most uninformed visitors will wonder why nothing is there.

 

 

Lee Circle with statue and base removed

 

Additive: Preserve the Statue and Install an Interpretive Exhibit

 

Add a well-considered and skillfully designed exhibit that describes the entire history of Monument Avenue, its monuments, the recurring racial tension, remedies, solutions, etc. Provide safe pedestrian access to the circle (underground)

 

Pros

Preserves the physical qualities of the urban boulevard;

Moderate visibility of a civic response in the urban landscape;

Offers opportunities for multiple voices to be expressed regarding the meaning and qualities of Monument Avenue over time.

 

Cons

Access via ramp and pedestrian underpass would be expensive;

Physical exhibit structure and display needs maintenance and updating.

Not a significant physical presence in the landscape; easily lost in the view shed.

Physical exhibit display on the Circle; potentially a digital, exterior exhibit.

 

Additive: Plant Virginia Creeper plants (or for instant gratification, Kudzu)

 

This somewhat tongue-in-cheek idea does raise some interesting conceptual issues.  Imagine that the vine stems represent harmed families and the leaves each person who has endured the racist interpretation for the monuments over generations.

 

Pros

Preserves the physical qualities of the urban boulevard;

Significant visibility of a civic response in the urban landscape;

Re-interprets the avenue’s meaning through metaphors and public art.

Changes & transforms overtime, just as the symbols’ meaning have.

 

Cons

Likely first response,” What the hell is that?!”;

Seasonal irregularities;

Eventually, will need to be removed

Virginia Creeper slowly climbs up the monument to transform its physical state

Additive: Monument Avenue Museum

This sketch idea was the first scheme proposed on this website.  The detailed version can be seen here.

 

Pros

Preserves the physical qualities of the urban boulevard;

Creates a new museum to provide educational and interpretive programs;

A major civic investment in making a place for current cultural tensions.

 

Cons

Very expensive;

Considerable time to implement (fund raising, design, construction);

Questionable long term operational sustainability.

Underground museum with ramp and service tunnel; deck removed in illustration

Transformative:  Install a Major Public Art Object

 

This idea assumes that all the Confederate monuments are relocated and in their place a major public art piece is commissioned for each specific place.  Chicago’s Cloud Gate could be an excellent model for the type of object that would distinguish Monument Avenue. 

 

Pros

Preserves the physical qualities of the urban boulevard;

Creates an extraordinary and memorable object in the urban landscape;

A major civic investment in making a place commemorating the past, present and future of Richmond’s tradition of the use of civic symbols.

Anticipates the future; looks forward; says, “We’re going to be OK.”

 

Cons

Very expensive;

Considerable time to implement (fund raising, design, construction);

No apparent connection to the Confederate history and rationale for the piece;

 

 

Chicago’s Cloud Gate in Millennium Park

Public Art: Commission a “Cloud Gate” for Richmond

Cloud Gate in Lee Circle with pedestrian access ramp under Monument Avenue

 

Transformative: Replace All Statues with a New Work of Art

 

The bases could be the foundation for a new work of art at each of the Confederate statue locations.  A national competition could attract broad media attention.  Not quite as dramatic or expensive as a reworked Cloud gate illustrated above.

 

Pros

Preserves the physical qualities of the urban boulevard;

Significant visibility of a civic response in the urban landscape;

Re-interprets the avenue’s meaning through public art.

Raises the sophistication of debate to the meaning and purpose of public art.

 

Cons

The decision to approve five final designs would take several years;

A decision by committee might yield a result that is so awful that no one is happy.

 

Statues replaces with something else appropriate for the next 120 years; what?

 

 

One observation to keep in mind is that the urban design qualities of Monument Avenue are not dependent of the monuments relationship to the Confederacy.  The physical qualities of the streets, medians, setback, building massing, traffic circles will remain if the statues are removed or not.  But, some properly scaled object should remain at the monuments sites (no blanks allowed).  The City’s citizens should carefully decide what symbols are appropriate for Monument Avenue’s next hundred years.

 

Maybe some of the sketch ideas will inform the discussions and debate regarding the fate of Monument Avenue

Contact Davis van Bakergem, the author, of this idea at vanb4459@gmail.com        Go to short bio

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