PVA Architecture Case Study: National World War II Memorial
Washington, DC

The National World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, is dedicated to the Americans who served in World War II and all of those who supported the war effort at home while memorializing the nearly 400,000 who died in service. The memorial is located on the National Mall opposite the Lincoln Memorial at the east end of the reflecting pool. President Bill Clinton authorized the creation of the memorial in 1993, after which architect Friedrich St. Florian won a national design competition. The memorial was opened to the public on April 29, 2004.

In the late 1990s, PVA Architecture attended a presentation by the American Battle Monuments Commission and the memorial’s selected design team and raised several accessibility issues with the design concepts. Afterward, we were invited to review the design as it progressed, to improve the memorial’s accessibility for all Americans. PVA Architecture was involved throughout the design process, including reviewing drawings at two separate stages and attending a site visit during construction to identify potential accessibility issues.

The primary area of the memorial is an elliptical plaza that contains a water pool with fountains to create a serene, contemplative environment. Pillars along its sides represent every state involved in the war effort. Each pillar includes a bronze bas-relief illustrating the war in Europe and the Atlantic (on the north side) and the war in the Pacific (on the south side). Most of the illustrations are based on historical photographs of war scenes and imagery of the war effort on the home front.

On the ends of the north–south axis of the ellipse, two tall pavilions mark the center points on the north and south sides of the plaza. They incorporate bronze baldachins, bronze columns bearing American eagles, World War II victory medals, and inscriptions noting the victories in the Atlantic and Pacific theatres of operations.

The design encourages visitors to traverse through all areas of the memorial to experience the full scope of the war. The multi-level design required prioritization of accessibility, to ensure the memorial is available for all to experience.


  • 7.4-acre site on the National Mall.
  • Depressed outdoor plaza with fountains is designed to provide a variety of areas for serene contemplation.
  • Open areas for hosting events and promote processions.
  • Paved walkways connect to adjacent pathways to create an integrated and cohesive National Mall experience.

How PVA Improved Accessibility:

  • Eliminated all steps to transition between levels.
  • The slope of all grade-level changes is gentle to eliminate the need for handrails and guardrails, supporting the unobstructed views of all parts of memorial.
  • Low partial walls on Atlantic (north) and Pacific (south) viewing platforms improve views from wheelchairs while maintaining safety.
  • Widened the perpendicular walkways through the east entrance lawn areas to provide both ambulatory circulation and space for wheelchair seating during events.

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