A Place of Character - The Chris Kyle Memorial Plaza
The owner of any design office will tell you that every project matters...and they do. In order to operate a successful business and generate the necessary income to support that business, every project must be treated in a matter that leaves the client happy and satisfied. That is Business 101 and is any office's goal anywhere in the world.
But...what about the projects that REALLY matter? Projects that have a social impact? Projects that will be around in fifty years, a century, or two centuries? Or what about projects that are memorial to a son or daughter, a friend, or a loved one. These projects place a burden of great responsibility on all those involved to get it right. It has been said that buildings will crumble and trees will die, but character seldom fades. Memorials must reflect character.
If they are lucky, artists will have some of their pieces preserved to be viewed by generations yet to come. The Lindy Severns, Wayne Baize and Tom Ryans of our day may turn into the Bierstadts, Remingtons, and Russells of the future. Authors write books that create impacts decades and even centuries after they undertook scribbling their thoughts on paper or parchment. The roman emperor and general Marcus Aurelius wrote his book Meditations over 1,800 years ago, and it still crops up every now and then on the Best-Seller list. And don't even get me going on the Bible and it's impact.
About a year ago, KDC was asked to design a memorial for Chris Kyle. You may know him for his book The American Sniper, or by the movie of the same name that Clint Eastwood made and that Bradley Cooper starred in. Chris was a Navy SEAL on SEAL Team 3 during the war in Iraq. You can believe in a war or not, this isn't a political blog. But the reality was that war was occurring, soldiers were in the field, and Chris' duties as a sniper placed him in constant harm's way. The other reality is that Chris Kyle's involvement saved the lives of hundreds of American and Coalition soldiers, as well as hundreds and perhaps thousands of Iraqis. He did his job exceedingly well through 4 tours.
The accolades of Chris' action during the war are famous. But his biggest impact may have been when he came back to the States and he reached beyond his military achievements. With the stresses that he encountered during and after the war, he was able to understand what many of our veterans face when returning from battle.... that PTSD is a very real thing. Chris felt the calling to pick himself up and then to reach out and help his fellow veterans whenever he could. He wanted to help those who could not help themselves. He had character, and character seldom fades.
The plaza that is now built is relatively small, but packed with meaning. It was designed to be subtle. It was designed to make you think. In the center of it stands Vic Payne's fantastic sculpture, rising almost 17' above the surrounding limestone, and his sculpture is indeed fantastic. We knew Vic's work would be epic, but how would we develop the overall memorial site? While we didn't have the opportunity to know Chris, the fellow SEALS and military that we interviewed all said the same thing...he would not have wanted this to be about him. So we designed the plaza to take the words and actions of Chris and to apply them to his brother SEALS, all of the active and retired military, and to the first-responders who help and protect us every day. Most of us who visit the site will miss much of the symbolism. We wanted that. It is not meant to be a tourist destination. The memorial is for those who are serving, those who have served, those who never came home, their friends, and their families. We think Chris would have liked that.
On a dusty patch of ground in West Texas, next to a busy highway and a veteran's clinic, lies a small patch of ground that is all about character. Lives are represented there. If you visit the site, take the time to read, listen, and ponder. Our sons and daughters, fathers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters are all represented here. We hope you find it to be a place of unity. A place of honor. A place of character.