Blog 1
The Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

As I was watching Elle Woods (in the movie Legally Blonde) fiercely climb the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial and find the courage to pursue her dreams while gazing into the strong stare of Lincoln on his throne, I knew at that moment that I too wanted to live out a dramatic scene on those stairs and experience the majestic strength that emanated from that structure.

The statue itself is magnificent but what really grabs attention and allows the structure to truly shine is the house where the structure sites. Its high columns give Lincoln a regal, majestic almost celestial feel. The large scale of the memorial, the height, the thickness of the columns and the stark white of the marble give me the impression that it is almost sitting on clouds. It is, in my opinion, a piece of architectural art; but is it structural art? Keep reading to find the answer. 

I did not grow up in the United States and all I ever knew about Lincoln was from the embarrassing amount of television dramas that my mom (me really) watches. Through this blog post, I had the opportunity to learn more about this great man as well as the structure used to remember him. Lincoln was a man of honor who served his country like no other and died in a most tragic way. It only seemed right that he may be remembered in a structure as grand as he was.

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Figure 1: The Lincoln Memorial looking as though it sits on clouds [2]

Structure Information

Ever since Lincoln’s death in 1865, Congress had been toying with the idea of having built a monument in his honor. It was not until 1911 though that Congress gathered enough funds to commission the memorial. They approved, $2 million dollars (3) bill (in today’s money) and created a commission that was headed by President Taft to oversee the project. Construction started on February 12th, 1914, (Lincoln’s birthday) and the memorial was dedicated on May 30th, 1922. It is located at West Potomac Park at the western end on the national mall in Washington DC The Lincoln memorial is actually across from the Washington Monument for those who have never been (shame on you!).

The memorial ended costing $2,957,000 and the statue $88,400 for a total cost of $3,045,400. The structure includes 3 chambers with the statue resting in the central one. The purpose of this building is to commemorate the 16th president of the united states, Abraham Lincoln who was tragically assassinated in 1865. It is a historical site and a tourist attraction.

Three people contributed to the design, each acting in different part. The architect of the memorial was famous French architect of the time Henry Bacon (3). The murals feature intricate artwork done by Jules Guerin and the statue itself was carved by artist, Daniel Chester French.

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Figure 2: Lincoln Memorial [4]

  1. Historical Significance 

Nothing about the Lincoln memorial ‘s structural design is particularly innovative. It was built to be reminiscent of old Greek temples, but with a modern twist. I doubt that this will be a model for future buildings due to its symbolic nature and its use of old structural themes.


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Figure 3: Ruins of Parthenon in Acropolis, Athens, Greece [6]

  1. Cultural Significance 

The Lincoln memorial today stands as an iconic symbol of America. Its representation can be found on the back of 5-dollar bill (I have provided a picture for those who forgot what money looks like). It was also found at the back of pennies. As Lincoln abolished slavery, his memorial played an important role in the civil rights movement. It served as a place of protest, it was a part of the March on Washington in 1963 and the place that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. It hosted the Easter Sunday Concert (9) a major event for the civil rights movement too.

Figure 4: penny [11]


Figure 5: 5 dollar bill showing memorial [12]

As stated previously, the design was based on Greek Parthenian temple. You might wonder what Greece has to do with the United States.  Don’t worry you are not the first to ask such a question. When the design was first released it received great criticism for architects all over the United States. Many detested the designed and the fact that it was based on old Greek architecture. A certain architect, Lewis Mumford, went as far as to say it reminded him of the “mortuary air of archeology” (5). Bacon justified his choice saying he saw Greece as a symbol of democracy, which is what Lincoln embodied to him (3).

  1. Structural Art 

When first looking at this building and seeing the strong columns one may confuse certain elements with structural art. Though the load path on the columns may seem clear, there are many more columns then needed to support the weight of the roof- the number was a purely aesthetic choice. This structure was not designed by an engineer but by an architect, its sole purpose was to carry its own weight and the weight of its statue. Although it has a beautiful historic significance in most of its design features, none of the elements designed for the memorial were chosen based on economy or efficiency, two key components to structural art.  Throughout the construction process, reinforcements were added as needed, almost on a trail error basis. There is very little correlation between design and efficiency or even economy.  There are too many decorations and superfluous elements for this to be considered structural art.

For the structural analysis I will only be analyzing the outside structure which houses the statue and not the statue.

The materials used were to emulate the unity of the country. The chose materials from all over the 36 states: granite from Massachusetts for the terrace, marble form Colorado for the upper steps and outside facade, pink marble from Tennessee for the floor of the chambers, limestone form Indiana on interior walls and columns of the chamber, marble from Alabama for ceiling tiles and the statue itself was carved from Georgia marble (1). The structure also has 36 columns to represent the 36 existing states of the time.


Most of the load of the system is carried through its foundation. The foundation is very deep and constitutes about 40% of the structure. The foundation is made of concrete and is 44 to 66 (1) feet deep. The foundation needed to be very deep to support the weight of the memorial and that of the marble structure. It is enclosed by granite retaining walls.

For this analysis we will assume that the entirety of the weight of the exterior roof is supported by all 36 columns and the walls. In reality, most of the columns support zero to few loads. The columns are in compression and transfer 36 point loads to the foundations.  For the interior structure, the weight is supported by the 5 walls. The interior structures transfer a uniform surface load onto the foundation. The foundation receives the 36 points loads as well as the uniformly distributed surface loads. It is important to note that the foundation bears the entirety of the load.



Figure 6: Wall Load Paths

Figure 7: Column Load Paths


Given information(1)

Foundation of building: 44 to 65 feet from original grade to bedrock.

Total width of building north to south: 201 feet 10 inches at widest point.

Total depth of building east to west: 132 feet at widest point.

Memorial weight: 76,000,000 pounds.

Given that the total weight of the memorial is known, we will treat it as a surface load onto the foundation.

Given a height of 44’, a length of 201’10” and width of 132’, the dead weight load is 64.8lb/ft^3.

Figure 9: Simplified drawing of foundation


Figure 9: Tributary area and load


Solving for R1 and R2

W = 64.8lb/ft^3 * 132ft * 44ft =376.42k/ft

Sum of Forces in Y:

R1+ R2 = 376.42k/lb * 201ft 10in = 76 000 k

Sum of Moment about A

R2 (201’10”)-76000k(201’10”/2)=0

R2= 38 000k

R1 = 38 000k


Figure 8: Shear and Bending Moment Diagrams

The max shear is 38 000k

The max moment is  15,344,400k ft.


Now that we have analyzed the system let us look at why congress found thiss design appealing.

One of the reasons this design was kept is because it aligned with the aesthetic conservatism (3) ideas of congress. President  Taft was largely conservative. Congress wanted to commemorate Lincoln but did not want an overly complicated design. The design by Bacon displayed a Greek like structure  with large central court and flanking sanctuaries that would contain “ a statue of heroic size expressing Lincoln’s humane personally and memorials of his two speeches” (7). One of the rejected designs had taken inspiration from the pyramids and was seen as overly complicated. Initially there was more interest in the statue, the building was actually built with a plaster model of the statue in it to make sure it would fit. Upon realizing the unusually large scale of the memorial, a larger statue had to be ordered.


Figure 9: One of the originals plans of the Lincoln Memorial [10]

Figure 10: Floor Plan [10]


6. Personal Response

In April 2016, I finally had the honor to visit this structure and experience its magic with my two eyes. My first impression that there was a whole lot of people! In fact, there were so many people that I could not see Lincoln properly. All my pictures were photo bombed by random people, I got hit, pushed, yelled at and tousled like a bag of potatoes. The structure itself was much bigger than I had imagined and as impressive.