In 2003, the board of directors at the D-day Museum in New Orleans
invited 20 international architecture firms to submit a proposal for what was to become The National World War II Museum. The program
called for more than 85,000sf of exhibition space within an overall complex of 230,000sf. The design proposal for The National World
War II Museum was conceived prior to Hurricane Katrina, but was in its very beginning stages. In the aftermath of Katrina, and for
a long period following the disaster, the future of the project was very uncertain. New Orleans was going through severe hardships;
people were greatly disillusioned and there was a strong lack of national confidence. The D-day Museum was closed for 6 months, had
to lay off 80% of its employees, and visitation dwindled to 10%.
In early January, the museum board had its first post-Katrina meeting. The meeting was held in an atmosphere of post-traumatic stress and no one
knew whether the project would be able to proceed. But the board members, who were relocated and spread all over the country, rallied, and along
with the State and the city of New Orleans, decided to forge ahead with the project. All felt it was important to send a strong signal about the
possibilities for the future of New Orleans and the willingness and spirit to realize this important cultural project and get back on the map.
As a direct effect of the implications of Katrina, the design had to be re-evaluated. Several major changes were a necessity in order for the
project to cope with the new reality. The entire complex was to be elevated several feet above the street and the symbolic roof canopy went
through an elaborate range of studies and ultimate re-design enabling wind to penetrate the canopy. Furthermore, the phasing of the project was
reconfigured in order to better match the need for a post-Katrina New Orleans.
The design approach for the National World War II Museum is to offer architectonic events that metaphorically display the scale and impact of
World War II. The extensive size and scope of the exhibits suggested multiple pavilions that act as a timeline for large scale events toward
greater understanding and accessibility for museum visitors and better orientation. The pavilions will be placed on the Parade Ground, a large
landscaped surface featuring a sizeable open lawn in the center surrounded by plant species from around the world. The various plants and trees
are to represent the landscapes and environments where the war was fought; The Ardennes forest of Europe, the North African dessert, the bamboo
forest of Asia and the American oak. Open to the sky with street level access, the Parade Ground metaphorically expresses the American involvement
in and the global impact of World War II. It also celebrates the city of New Orleans and its culture of parades (celebrating life often in the
face of death) as well as the semi-tropical environment that is so much a part of the New Orleans experience.
To address these elements and offer weather protection for the Parade Ground we proposed a six-hundred-foot translucent canopy that hovers over
the pavilions protecting them and visitors from sun and rain while also providing shade. Architecturally, the canopy convenes the pavilions and
the landscape into a coherent museum complex and at the same time renders a larger urban scale.
This is not a museum to war, but rather a museum that celebrates peace, the reason we engage in war.