American architect Philip Johnson designed in 1969 the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial as a thoughtful piece of art intended for reflection and remembrance. Johnson’s design is a “cenotaph,” or open tomb, that symbolizes the freedom of John F. Kennedy’s spirit.
JFK Memorial Square Technical Information
- Architects: Philip Johnson
- Location: West End Historic District, Dallas, Texas, USA
- Material: Concrete and Granite
- Typology: Cultural Architecture / Memorial
- Scale: 50x50x30 ft (15x15x9,1m)
- Project Year: 1969-1970
- Drawings and Photographs: © Leonid Furmansky
A place of quiet refuge, an enclosed place of thought and contemplation separated from the city around, but near the sky and earth.
– Philip Johnson
Kennedy Memorial Plaza Photographs
Design & History
The John F. Kennedy Memorial was the first memorial by American architect and Kennedy family friend Philip Johnson and was approved by Jacqueline Kennedy. Dallas raised $200,000 for the memorial by August 1964, entirely from 50,000 individual donations contributed by private citizens. The simple concrete memorial lies approximately 200 yards (180 m) east of Dealey Plaza, where Kennedy was assassinated.
Philip Johnson’s design is a cenotaph, or empty tomb, that symbolizes the freedom of Kennedy’s spirit. The structure is a square, roofless room, 30 feet (9.1 m) tall and 50 by 50 feet (15 by 15 m) square with two narrow openings facing north and south. The walls consist of 72 white precast concrete columns, most of which end 29 inches (740 mm) above the earth. Eight columns (two in each corner) extend to the ground, acting as legs that support the monument. Each column ends in a light fixture. At night, the lights create the illusion that the light itself supports the structure. The corners and “doors” of this roofless room are decorated with rows of concrete circles, or medallions, each identical and perfectly aligned. These decorations introduce the circular shape into the square architecture of the Kennedy Memorial.
The cenotaph lies atop a low concrete hill, embossed with squares and slightly elevated compared to street level. Inside is a low block of dark granite, 8 feet (2.4 m) square, set into a larger shallow depression. The granite square is decorated on its north and south faces with the name “John Fitzgerald Kennedy” carved in gold letters. The letters have been painted gold to capture the light from the white floating column walls and the pale concrete floor.
Dallas commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Kennedy Memorial with a comprehensive conservation treatment that restored the monument to its original vitality. With the City of Dallas and Dallas County’s support, the Museum launched a full-scale restoration project in the summer of 1999. Philip Johnson guided the restoration process implemented by Phoenix I Restoration and Construction Ltd. Numerous local suppliers donated the labor, materials, and equipment required to return the memorial to its original beauty.
Two dark granite squares are set in the plaza surrounding the memorial, each approximately 50 feet (15 m) from the narrow entrances to the cenotaph. They are each inscribed with an epitaph that reads:
The joy and excitement of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s life belonged to all men.
So did the pain and sorrow of his death.
When he died on November 22, 1963, shock and agony touched human conscience throughout the world. In Dallas, Texas, there was a special sorrow.
The young President died in Dallas. The death bullets were fired 200 yards west of this site.
This memorial, designed by Philip Johnson, was erected by the people of Dallas. Thousands of citizens contributed support, money and effort.
It is not a memorial to the pain and sorrow of death, but stands as a permanent tribute to the joy and excitement of one man’s life.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s life.— Jim Lehrer, journalist
Kennedy Memorial Plaza Image Gallery
About Philip Johnson
Philip Johnson was a renowned American architect who is particularly known for his postmodern work. Postmodern architecture signifies the return of “wit, ornament and reference” to architecture. His zeal for architecture was such that he made its advocacy his lifelong aim; he did so through his works, writings, and words. Though not the father of modern architecture, he certainly was its best progeny.