The Twentieth Century Society

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War memorials

France: Meuse-Argonne, American Cemetery

Architect: Louis Ayres
Owners: American Battle Monuments Commission
Location: Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France

The Meuse-Argonne: American Cemetery  is the largest American cemetery in Europe, with 14,240 burials, the consequence of the 1918 offensive that ended the war. It was laid out in 1922 with avenues of trees framing the usual regular pattern of white marble crosses. In 1926 the American Battle Monuments Commission asked Louis Ayres of the firm of York & Sawyer to design a chapel for a central, axial position on the highest part of the site. Ayres offered alternative designs, in both Romanesque and Classical. Romanesque was chosen, for a design with long flanking arcades and pavilions, but he feared “The building is so small in regard to the great expanse before it, that it will be well to raise it on a plinth or terrace to give it as much importance as possible”.

In the event, General Pershing recommended that the building be reduced in height and width. In consequence, as Elizabeth Grossman has written, “The Meuse-Argonne chapel is too small to dominate the Meuse-Argonne cemetery. It is not even able to provide a climax to the mall, although the lines of tress that screen the graves provide perspective distancing. The chapel functions rather as a place of initial destination. Only after visitors reach the chapel and turn around can they appreciate the extent of the cemetery. From that vantage point the rows of crosses fill the view.”

Gavin Stamp

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