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3 acres on the Naval Annex promontory

Index to Projects in Virginia

Arlington, Virginia

Air Force Memorial Foundation

Time Frame
 original site: 1994
 final site: 4/02

Construction: 12/04

Public Dedication:
 October 14, 2006

United States Air Force Memorial

Arlington, Virginia
Completed 2006


Design Principal:
Senior Designer:



James Ingo Freed
John Neary


National memorial on an articulated 3-acre site

Click on image to enlarge

This memorial has been designed to honor aviation pioneers, celebrated and unsung, from the past, present and future alike. It is the first memorial ever dedicated to the Air Force in the nation's capital.
Unlike the Navy, which has water as its medium and can be readily referenced with fountains, or the Army, which has land, the medium of the Air Force is air, invisible and difficult to articulate. The design challenge was the symbolic transition to making air palpable while simultaneously evoking the technological advances on which the Air Force depends. The essence of the project is flight.
Inspiration was drawn from the contrails of the Air Force Thunderbirds as they peel back in a precision "bomb burst" maneuver. The memorial rises with three stainless steel spires "Soaring to Glory" asymmetrically at heights of 270', 231' and 201'. The appearance of the arcs changes dynamically with the viewer's location, the weather, the season, and the time of day. At night they are illuminated from the ground, with their tips more brilliantly lit for drama against, and from, the sky.
The memorial overlooks the Pentagon and monumental Washington from the crest of a high-visibility promontory that launches the spires at the busy I-395 gateway to D.C. from Arlington, Virginia. The 3-acre site is currently the parking lot of temporary Naval Annex office buildings, which will be demolished, landscaped, and transferred to adjacent Arlington National Cemetery in 2010.
A visit to the Memorial involves a measured sequence of public and progressively more private experiences. Entering from a memorial gate, visitors turn onto the "Flight Line to Glory," a formal processional  that unites key elements of the site physically, visually, emotionally. This ceremonial runway is intersected by an Air Force blue stone path which links a bronze Honor Guard at one end to the Chamber of Contemplation at the other: a freestanding outdoor room, without walls or roof, defined only by four translucent glass corners bearing inspirational texts. Inscription walls and a parade ground with stepped stone seating amplify the site. Thick rows of precisely shaped mature trees provide welcome shade as they screen parking and the temporary buildings.


Major Components

Memorial entry gate; 3 spires (270, 231, 201 feet high), built with 3/4" stainless steel plates in 12-foot high equilateral sections filled with concrete to 60% height, transitioning above to hollow stainless steel structure, and terminating in solid stainless steel tips; translucent glass Chamber of Contemplation; inscription walls; bronze Honor Guard; parade ground; stepped stone plinth for seating; ceremonial pathways; significant planting; vehicular roadway and turnaround; parking; service structure




Illuminating Engineering Society of North America:
International Illumination Design Awards:
The Paul Westbury Award for Outdoor Lighting Design:
Award of Distinction



Illuminating Engineering Society of North America:
New York City Section:
Lumen Award: Award of Merit



Air Force Association:
Gill Robb Wilson Award


Pei Cobb Freed & Partners services

Complete Architectural Services



Zenos Frudakis, Philadelphia, PA



Ove Arup & Partners, New York, NY


Landscape Consultants

Olin Partnership, Philadelphia, PA


Lighting Designer

Office for Visual Interaction (OVI), New York, NY


Traffic Consultants

Wells & Associates McClean, VA


Civil Engineers

VIKA, Inc., McClean, Virginia


Environmental Consultant

EDAW Inc., Alexandria, VA



Photo credits

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