Boris Dramov Class of 1966
A ‘Monumental’ Achievement
Boris Dramov ’66 has designed numerous buildings, parkways and plazas, including Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and the America’s Cup Village in Auckland, New Zealand. But now he has designed something few architects in the United States can match: a monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Towering 30 feet high and stretching across four acres, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial is one of the creations of which Dramov is most proud. Out of nearly 1,000 submissions to an international design competition, San Francisco-based ROMA Design Group - where Dramov and Bonnie Fisher, his wife and longtime professional partner, are principals - was chosen for the prestigious commission. Last October, thousands of revelers lined the Tidal Basin to witness the dedication of the first memorial on the Mall honoring an African-American.
“We tried to reflect what he stood for and who he was,” says Dramov, who pored over King’s speeches and listened to recordings of his sermons for inspiration. “It’s not easy to translate a person’s spirit [into a physical structure], especially someone like Dr. King.”
The granite monument features fountains, inscriptions and two cleaved boulders - the Mountain of Despair and the Stone of Hope, metaphors that the civil rights leader used in his “I Have a Dream” speech. A colossal statue of King partially emerges from one of the boulders. His figure is unfinished, like the civil rights movement itself, Dramov explains.
“We took a layered approach,” he adds, “so the final product wasn’t just one single element but a full environment that would inspire those who came to the site.”
The natural elements incorporated in the memorial’s design are a tribute to King’s use of landscape imagery in his speeches. They’re also signature features of Dramov’s work; he strives to create enjoyable urban environments - a value he learned as an undergraduate at the USC School of Architecture.
“Our professors gave us the broader sense that we shouldn’t just be designing objects in space but designing buildings in ways that create better spaces,” he says. By way of example, Dramov points to his favorite place at USC - the shaded courtyards around Watt and Harris halls.
Incidentally, Dramov and Fisher (pictured flanking Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute) first met at the adjacent USC Fisher Museum of Art, named for her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Holmes Fisher, who donated her art collection to found that institution.
After graduating from USC, Dramov earned his master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University in 1970. He landed at Harvard 10 years later as a Loeb Fellow in Advanced Environmental Studies. Dramov worked with a number of architecture heavyweights - including Lawrence Halprin, who designed the National Mall’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and Ian McHarg, a pioneering landscape architect - before taking the helm at ROMA in the 1980s.
Under his and Fisher’s leadership, ROMA has transformed the San Francisco waterfront, created transportation hubs like the Downtown Transit Mall in San Jose, Calif., and designed sports complexes in San Diego, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. Their work also can be found in places as far-flung as China, Russia and the Philippines.