Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center

Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center
Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center
Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center
Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center
Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center
Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center
Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center

Designing a new building to go in an historic and contextually sensitive site is a challenge. However, we believe that the old and the new can seamlessly integrate if the new design actively responds to the old. This project, with the subtle allusions it makes to the cemetery and to the sea, is an example of this kind of responsive design.

Client

American Battle Monuments Commission

Location

Normandy, France

Markets/Services

Cultural, Visitor & Interpretive Centers, Cultural Landscapes, Programming, Architecture, Interiors

Size

29,315 SF

Featured Awards

American Architecture Awards, The Chicago Athenaeum, 2008

International Architecture Award, The Chicago Athenaeum, 2008

Award of Excellence, Washington (DC) Chapter AIA, 2007

Honor Award, AIA Maryland, 2007 

Honor Award, Virginia Society AIA, 2007

 

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Merit Award Unbuilt, Virginia Society AIA, 2004

Award of Excellence, Conceptual/Unbuilt, Northern Virginia Chapter AIA, 2005

American Architecture Award and International Architecture Award -- Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design Awards, 2008

How does one adequately commemorate the loss of life? How can designers create spaces that represent pain and longing, while also communicating resilience and fortitude? We were aware of the immense responsibility that came with designing the Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center and navigating the challenges it entailed. We explored how we might create a center that was evocative, subtle and beautiful, yet did not detract from the cemetery and the surrounding site.

The answer lay in SmithGroup’s architectural vocabulary and integrating it with the landscape. We were creating to remember the past, but designing for the present and future, and wanted the style to depict a modern and minimalist feel. 

Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center SmithGroup

Our team believed that the best way to honor the existing spaces on the site was to design responsively. The resulting center is a low-profile comprised of two main materials: stone and glass — the former, representative of weight, a fated heaviness — the latter, of healing, transparent clarity.

Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center SmithGroup

A reflecting pool establishes the ties between land and water, containing an invisible edge that never appears to end, drawing a continuous line between the viewer and the depths of the channel. 

Because of our efforts to design in continuity with the existing infrastructure, the center from afar appears as an extension of the cemetery.

A modern remembrance of an historic and tragic day, the new Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center blends the beauty of the site and the significance of the war, with the tempered grief that lingers today.