Battle of New Orleans Memorial design selected

Jurors in a design competition Friday picked a proposal that will memorialize the Battle of New Orleans, including fallen British soldiers, with a walking experience rather than a traditional statue.

The hope is that the commemoration will draw visitors to the battlefield much the same way as the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial Wall is a stand-alone attraction in Washington, D.C., said W. Henson Moore III, the former Baton Rouge congressman who chairs the Bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans Commission.

A six-member jury heard the presentations of two finalists at the LSU College of Art + Design, then chose the outline created by Design Workshop, based in Vail, Colo., with offices in Austin.

Though the final design still needs the approval of the Bicentennial Commission and the National Park Service, Moore said he expects the privately funded memorial to be unveiled on Jan. 8, 2015 — the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 battle in which Andrew Jackson, leading a volunteer army of less than 5,000 soldiers, defeated 11,000 British soldiers.

Jackson chose the location in Chalmette because a swamp on the north side and the Mississippi River on the south funneled the British troops across cane field stubble into set American lines of defense. The British suffered about 2,000 casualties, while the Americans had about 300 casualties.

The first design considered by the jury, drawn by Jeff Carbo of Landscape Architects in Alexandria, dealt with the whole site. Walkways would have threaded through the battlefield. An overlook would have had a panoramic view with a map and information on the floor to guide the viewer through the sequence of the fighting. “We felt it was important to engage the whole site,” Carbo said.

The winning concept, by Design Workshop, concentrates on a swampy area where nothing happens now but which is the only shaded area on the site. “It’s more intimate, less about armies as a group and more about the individuals,” said Lake Douglas, associate dean of research and development at the LSU College of Art + Design. He organized the competition.

The exhibit, called a “Passage to Unity,” would be aligned along elevated walkways through the woods and across a bridge. Cypress, maple and other trees, whose leaves change color with the seasons, would replace the invasive species, such as Chinese tallow, found in the marsh now.

The battlefield itself would be replanted with Little Bluestem, a native plant that changes colors during the year and would give the field a look closer to the sugarcane stubble British soldiers marched across then, in contrast to the green St. Augustine lawn grass that is there now.

Juror Austin Allen, an associate professor at the LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, asked about 2,000 buttons embedded in walkway railings.

Kurt Culbertson of Design Workshop said the buttons signify the dead British soldiers, many of whose names have been lost to history. He likened the buttons to the names of the fallen on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall or the victims’ shoes in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, also in Washington. “The sense of loss is really essential to convey,” Culbertson said.

Kirsten Gray, the head of public affairs for the British Consulate-General who attended Friday’s jury selection, said: “We are creating an important monument to honor fallen soldiers, but also marking 200 years of peace between our two nations. The U.S.-U.K. relationship is as strong as ever, and our close ties will be reflected very powerfully during the bicentennial.”

The six-member jury had representatives from LSU, the Historic New Orleans Collection, the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, and the Tulane University School of Architecture. The National Park Service, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and the British Consulate-General sent representatives to advise the panel.

The jury had considered submissions from 10 firms before choosing the two finalists who made presentations Friday.

Alkis P. Tsolakis, dean of the LSU College of Art + Design, said the project was good for the students who helped on certain aspects, drew their own memorial designs and got to see up-close how competitions for projects actually operate. “This is what they will do when they leave here and get jobs,” Tsolakis said, waving to the 50 or so students watching the presentations.

The memorial has a $1.5 million budget, to be paid for from private sources, but the final cost will be determined once the full Battle of New Orleans Commission and the U.S. Park Service approve the final design.