WASHINGTON, D.C. – The much-anticipated Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial opened to the public on August 22, 2011, with Thornton Tomasetti providing structural design and construction administration services for the new memorial, which occupies a four-acre site along the Tidal Basin, adjacent to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.

The firm’s Vice President, Tom McElwain, and Project Engineer, Calvin D. Austin, both based in the Washington, D.C. office, led the assignment for the firm. This was familiar territory for McElwain, who also designed the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial structure on the National Mall.

“Doing structural design for a memorial is very different from working on a building,” McElwain said. “On this project, we were essentially facilitating a work of art. The goal of a memorial is to create an experience, to provide a place where people will come to reflect, to be awed and inspired. On regular buildings, our job is to be practical, to think about loads and beams, but here we used our skills to help the team get the details right, to make that experience a reality for the people who visit.”

The project includes a large sculpture and massive stone gateway with two waterfalls that are served by below-grade pump rooms and a 175-foot long access tunnel, as well as a 3,000-square-foot building that will house a bookstore and public facilities. The plaza is surrounded by curving, stone-clad retaining walls carved with inscriptions.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. was created specifically to build the monument, a venture that has been more than a decade in the making. The memorial was built by a design-build team consisting of a joint venture of McKissack & McKissack of Washington, D.C. (the architect of record); New York City-based Turner Construction Company; Gilford Corporation of Beltsville, Md.; and Tompkins Builders, Inc. of Washington, D.C. The construction cost of the project is $120 million.

The public unveiling was followed by a weeklong events calendar, inspired by the establishment of a permanent honor to one of our nation’s greatest citizen leaders.

Dr. King’s lessons were anchored in the inherent right to human dignity. He enacted irreversible social change and led our country forward, relying exclusively on non-violent means. The Memorial will serve as a lasting tribute to Dr. King’s legacy and will forever serve as a monument to the freedom, opportunity and justice for which he stood.

An official dedication ceremony will follow in the coming months; bringing together civil rights pioneers, citizens who remember the hard days of segregation and those leading the next generation closer to Dr. King’s dream.

“Working on the memorial was very satisfying,” Austin said. “It might not be as structurally-complex as a hospital or a stadium, but it feels like this is something that will outlive us. Even though most of our contribution is covered up by stone and walls and plantings, people appreciate places like this more than buildings, so I’m very proud of our work here. It’s a part of history and just the fact that is a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. made it exciting.”