Research Portal

December 22, 2022

A Space of Loss: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Ochsner, J. K. (1997). A Space of Loss: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Journal of Architectural Education, 50(3), 156–171.

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Few published essays have explored the way in which the Vietnam Veterans Memorial actually communicates with visitors. This article explores the memorial as a "linking object," as conceived by psychoanalyst Vamik Volkan, and as a "space of absence," as defined by Richard Etlin, and shows how these two ways of understanding the memorial are interconnected. A particularly innovative aspect of the memorial is the way it engenders awareness of both surface (emphasized by the inscribed names) and space (experienced as "virtual space") resulting from the reflectivity of the granite, which gives it an apparent ("virtual") depth. The reflective surface brings one "into" the "space" of the wall and allows simultaneous perception of the names of the dead, the reflections of other visitors, and the reflection of oneself. The complex interactive process wherein the inexactness and ambiguity of the reflections catch the viewer, engender projective fantasy, and (because of the presence of the names) simultaneously structure it, fosters a proximity to and an identification with the dead, and the simultaneous experience of connection and separation.