a guide to the symbolism behind the snellville veterans memorial

Chad Alexander Smith | June 4, 2014

As a graduate student at Princeton University I took a seminar titled Psychology and Architecture. During that fall semester I was introduced to Carl Jung the psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology. Jung reasoned that symbolism transfers mere objects into significance. Anything can become a symbol, but specific forms and motifs have recurred throughout history (endowing these objects with importance).

During all periods in history the artist is the spokesman of the spirit of his age. As such, memorials are the ideas of their time set in stone. Jung would argue that a memorial offers a view of life, that it expresses in form what we feel in our soul, with the loftiest of intentions to guide men and women towards better knowing themselves.

By arranging recognizable symbols into form, the Snellville Veterans Memorial seeks to elicit a response in the perceiver, to elevate his or her spirit. Five symbols are used in the design: the circle, the body, fire, water and stone.

The Circle – The circle appears throughout history from primitive sun worship to modern religion, always representing completeness. In turn, the memorial wall is designed in the shape of a half circle signifying a balance between the holding on and letting go of the perceiver (acting as an avenue towards personal wholeness).

The Body – The arrangement of the memorial is dictated by the proportions of the human figure, specifically the Golden Section. These geometries of the body informed architectural decisions and in turn unify the visual construction, provide a sense of order, and heighten a sense of continuity.

The golden section is defined geometrically as a line that is divided such that the lesser proportion is to the greater as the greater is to the whole. It is a relationship that has been in use ever since the days of antiquity. The Greeks recognized the dominating role the Golden Section played in the proportioning of the human body. Believing that both man and his temples should belong to a higher universal order, these same proportions were reflected in their temple structures.

Proportions of note within the memorial (refer to illustration):
· The distance from the tile walls to the edge of the fountain is the same distance as the distance from the ground to the top of the wall.
· The distance from the edge of the trough to the tile wall is the distance of an outstretched arm allowing a person to touch the tiles on the veteran’s wall.
· The height of the flame is two persons high.
· Each of the seven tile walls form a square equal to the height and width of a person.
· The height of the veteran’s name are not higher than eye level. When looking at the names, the observer’s head is bowed forming a posture of gratitude.

Fire (eternal flame) – Memorials often use an eternal flame to symbolize remembrance. For the Veterans Memorial, the flame is designed as the highest point to place the greatest significance on the remembrance of the veterans.

The stainless steel sculpture that supports the flame is comprised of five supporting legs representing the five branches of the United States military. Below the flame, a stainless steel military star floats at the surface of the water pointing to the falling water.

Water – Water is an ancient symbol of refreshing. The sound of the falling water at the memorial evokes a feeling of peace, transferring the perceiver from the outside world to a place of tranquility and reflection. As the perceiver makes their way to the falling water, they discover etched on the wall behind the water the words:

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” –John F. Kennedy

Within the wall of water the perceiver sees their own reflection, encouraging a moment of self-reflection.

Stone – Stone is a symbol of permanence. The epigram “Freedom is Never Free” is inscribed within the stone entablature. The veteran’s names on the wall below support or “hold up” these words acknowledging that the freedom as we know it would not be possible without the sacrifice of our veterans.



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