Q&A with National Japanese American Memorial Project Manager Thomas Striegel- Part II

In part II of our conversation with Thomas Striegel, vice president at Davis Buckley Architects and Planners, and project manager for the design and construction of the National Japanese American Memorial, we ask questions related to the Memorial’s present-day impact and Thomas’ hopes for the Memorial’s future.

Q: What is a fun, little known fact about the Memorial?

A: The rocks in the pool are not natural boulders but were shaped from blocks of quarried granite and shaped by stone craftsmen to look like natural boulders. We guided their carving to produce complimentary shapes that worked well together.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of the Memorial?

A: I’m very pleased with the way that we were able to integrate the Memorial comfortably into what is actually a steeply sloping site (the elevation drops 14 feet along the length of D Street) without any steps or steep walkways. The resulting framed views and vistas to and through the Memorial are my favorite aspect. The view from the exterior sidewalks across the pool to the crane sculpture, and from the center plaza through the notch in the wall and across the pool, up the pathway towards the bell, along the tapering waterfall edge of the pool, each create a unique viewing experience that captures the configuration of connections that tell the story of what took place during WWII.

Q: It has been about 17 years since the Memorial was finished. Is there anything that has surprised you about the memorial over that course of time?

A: I’m encouraged that as we get further in time, past the events that this Memorial commemorates, its success is demonstrated by the continued and seemingly growing interest in its story and lessons by young visitors.

Q: What is the most memorable encounter you’ve had with someone who has visited the Memorial?

A: There have been several, but one that stands out occurred about 9 months after the Memorial was dedicated. I was there to check on an item that required attention when a couple of tour buses pulled up and a large group of Japanese American senior citizens got out and started to walk around the Memorial. I guess I looked like I knew what I was doing so a few people came up and asked me some questions. I ended up giving an impromptu tour of the Memorial to the group. After the tour, the visitors explained that they were celebrating their 50th high school reunion from a school in New Jersey and all agreed that as part of the celebration they had to take the 3 1/2 hour bus ride down to see the Memorial. They further explained that at the end of the war, Seabrook Farms in Cumberland County, NJ, recruited workers being released from the internment camps. Their families had all relocated to NJ, where they attended high school together. I was deeply moved that a trip to the Memorial in Washington, D.C., was the centerpiece of their reunion and how pleased they were to be there.

Q: What are your hopes for the memorial for the future?

A: My hope is that the Memorial will continue to be of interest and grow in interest through increasing public programs and events held at the Memorial. We’ve learned that the more a Memorial is used, the more people will see its value and be committed to its care and maintenance.