Arlington National Cemetery serves as solemn memorial and tribute to the sacrifice of the American heroes who lie within the cemetery grounds. The 624 acres of the iconic site sees over 3,000 ceremonies and memorial services each year.
Millions of visitors each year file into the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater to witness The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, one of the cemetery’s most well-known memorials, and soldiers perform an intricate ritual to change guard every hour.
In a joint venture with Woolpert, RS&H is preparing specifications for the landscaping of the historic site, reviewing the technical design submittals for the southern expansion of the cemetery and improving wheelchair accessibility to the Memorial Amphitheater in preparation for the 100th anniversary.
A Wheelchair Accessible Structure
In preparation for the 100th anniversary of the Amphitheater, the US Army Corps of Engineers, National Parks Service and Arlington National Cemetery reached out to RS&H to design a new ramp and modifications to two existing box seats to make the facility more accessible to wheelchair-bound veterans and visitors.
With large groups visiting the structure each year, it was necessary to design a ramp that was wide enough to fit visitors going up and down the ramp at the same time. Adding this ramp to an existing 100-year-old structure meant that the team would need to make sure it complements the building without looking like an afterthought.
“How the ramp integrates into the surrounding area is very important to us,” said RS&H Aerospace and Defense Architect Kerry Felton. “It’s not just about aesthetics; it’s also about the materials we are using and the lifespan of those materials. We have to make sure it fits in with the existing structure while not harming any of the existing structure”
A Unique Set of Challenges
As a heavily visited historic site, the Arlington National Cemetery presents another unique challenge for the RS&H team: being conscious of how construction will affect those who are visiting the cemetery. With the cemetery designed to be a peaceful space, the construction noise must be kept at a minimum by using the right techniques and tools.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like that, where we have to think about how construction impacts a visitor’s experience at such a respectful site,” said RS&H A&D Project Manager Scott Coleman. “It’s a historic monument that houses an hourly ceremony of the utmost reverence visited regularly by large crowds, so it has been the biggest driver in how to approach this project.”
Becoming the Experts
Richard Hammett, vice president of the A&D Practice, sees this project as an opportunity to perfect RS&H’s expertise in working on historical landmarks.
“It’s a new challenge,” he explained, “And we have been honing our own expertise as we go through it.”
Bringing individuals from different offices together to apply their knowledge to this project has also helped perfect our expertise. The team that worked on this project included the Woolpert team, as well as RS&H associates in Norfolk, Jacksonville and San Antonio.
Kerry Felton was appreciative of the large group that worked on the cemetery, including those who worked on the landscape designs and southern expansion of the site.
“It’s a lot of coordination, but it’s also a lot of knowledge,” she said. “I find the more you expand your team, the more confident you are in the decisions you're making, so I really enjoyed working with this big group.”
A Memorable Experience
Working on the Arlington National Cemetery has been a noteworthy experience for those who have had the opportunity to be involved.
“It’s not hard to get excited about this project,” Hammett said. “We’ve done iconic projects in the past, but this one has been a very gratifying piece of work for the team to work on.”
“Architecture is not always easy,” he said. “It’s these projects that give you the push to work through the next difficult project. A project like this comes along, and it reminds you of why you are doing this type of work and how important the role we get to play really is.”