How Do Washington's Monuments Measure Up? No American city has a landscape so dotted with monuments as Washington, D.C., the nation's capital. Sculptor Toby Mendez and Robert Siegel tour three relatively new monuments in the D.C. area, and discuss the merits of each.

How Do Washington's Monuments Measure Up?

How Do Washington's Monuments Measure Up?

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The Air Force Memorial is made of stainless steel and rises above an interstate highway near the Pentagon in Virginia. Jes Abeita, NPR hide caption

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Jes Abeita, NPR

The Air Force Memorial is made of stainless steel and rises above an interstate highway near the Pentagon in Virginia.

Jes Abeita, NPR

The World War II Memorial, dedicated in 2004, consists of a fountain surrounded by stone pillars with bronze wreaths. Mannie Garcia/Getty Image hide caption

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Mannie Garcia/Getty Image

The World War II Memorial, dedicated in 2004, consists of a fountain surrounded by stone pillars with bronze wreaths.

Mannie Garcia/Getty Image

The new Victims of Communism Memorial is modeled after the Goddess of Democracy statue erected by Chinese students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square during protests in 1989. Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

The new Victims of Communism Memorial is modeled after the Goddess of Democracy statue erected by Chinese students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square during protests in 1989.

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

No American city has a landscape so dotted with monuments as Washington, D.C., the nation's capital.

Sculptor Toby Mendez and Robert Siegel tour three relatively new monuments in the D.C. area, and discuss the merits of each.

Their first stop is the Air Force Memorial. Its three curved arms rise and diverge from a platform alongside an elevated stretch of I-395 near the Pentagon.

The memorial, made of stainless steel, is meant to evoke the image of the precision "bomb burst" maneuver performed by the Air Force Thunderbird Demonstration Team, when they fly up into the sky and then peel out.

While Mendez says that for him, the memorial immediately reflected flight and movement, Siegel says it reminded him of "a dead mammoth with tusks sticking up."

Across the Potomac River on the National Mall is another relatively new monument: the sprawling World War II Memorial, which was dedicated in 2004.

Water sprays from a fountain surrounded by stone pillars with bronze wreaths. Each pillar bears the name of a state or territory. On a recent day, many visitors stroll around the plaza.

"If I were the architect or sculptor, I would be happy that it seems to be people-friendly. People seem to be interacting with the memorial," Mendez observes.

But critics have said that little about the memorial's architecture is "American" and that it is not explicitly representative of the war.

Mendez says the architect's answer would be that it is inspired by Roman architecture, and that "Roman and Greek architecture is a form that we've used to symbolize democracy."

And, to be fair, the story of the war is told in a series of scenes depicted in small reliefs lining the walkway into the site. They are like frames of a graphic novel rendered in metal, relating iconic moments from battle and the home front.

If the sweep and scope of the World War II monument is overwhelming, the most recent addition to the nation's capital doubles as a monument to understatement.

Near the other end of the National Mall, on a nondescript triangle of land sandwiched between Massachusetts Avenue, New Jersey Avenue and G Street, there is a slightly larger-than-life-sized statue of a woman holding a torch aloft. This memorial was dedicated in June to victims of Communism.

It's based on a sculpture, known as the Goddess of Democracy, that was created by Chinese students and placed in Beijing's Tiananmen Square during protests in 1989.

Mendez says the bronze sculpture is a very well done, expressionist piece, but that it blends into the surrounding trees. As a result, he thinks the average pedestrian may miss it.

In the past 20 years, many new monuments — very different from the grand old monuments to Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington — have been unveiled in Washington. And Mendez says the city is "trying to catch up."

"If you ask me if we're going through a cold streak, I think we're just going through growing pains — one architecturally and artistically, but also just as a culture," he says.