Paying Tribute: Honoring and Healing Through Memorial Design

Parks are often a place of remembrance, an important aspect to honoring, healing, and acknowledging a lasting legacy. Designers are tasked with upholding the memory of a person, group, or event, and the values they exhibited while informing and inspiring the public.

Much goes into identifying the site, researching the celebrated subject or event, studying opportunities and constraints, and answering challenging questions such as: What is the most legacy message to impart? What actions or sacrifices were core to the story of the person, to be reflected in the design? What will draw visitors to the tribute and what do we want them to come away with? Education? Inspiration? Emotion? What compelling memory will people leave with and share with others? How will the tribute contribute to community pride?

Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta offers memorials to key events, both inspirational and tragic. The Early Believer’s Tribute celebrates the vision, led by Mr. William Porter (Billy) Payne, of community leaders who shared his vision to make the 1996 Olympic Games a reality.


The Richard Jewell and Light of Peace Memorials represent the events associated with the 1996 bombing during the Games at Centennial Olympic Park that tragically took the lives of two people and injured over one hundred others. The Richard Jewel Memorial sits in a fountain basin, near the spot where the bomb exploded. The gold star represents Richard’s vigilance, honor, and bravery as the first to call attention to the suspicious backpack which contained explosives. The Light of Peace sculpture is cylindrical and opens toward the north, which was the direction of the blast. The center reveals a glowing crystal that symbolizes hope and recovery filling the void.

“The light of peace will never be extinguished by anonymous acts of terror.”

The designer’s priority is to translate the stories and qualities of the subject persons or events into a physical manifestation to inspire visitors while remaining truthful to the sometimes-painful history of the place. These memorials reflect the goal of tributes everywhere—to integrate appropriately into its park setting and promote greater awareness, inspiration, and healing.

By Todd Hill, ASLA, LEED AP, Principal + Owner