Eighteen months ago, the National Park Service (NPS) in conjunction with the Trust for the National Mall, created the 2010 National Mall Plan, a vision for the kinds of resource conditions, visitor experiences, and facilities that would best fulfill the purpose of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Stretching west from the U.S. Capitol to the Potomac River, and north from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial to Constitution Avenue, the National Mall is primarily under the jurisdiction of NPS, but multiple governmental agencies and organizations also have ownership over lands and roads within and adjacent to the National Mall. These other entities, the Architect of the Capitol, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Department of Agriculture, the General Services Administration, the District of Columbia, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, all provided critical input into the National Mall Plan.
A nine-month National Mall Design Competition targeted three focal sites for redesign, and in April, the Trust for the National Mall chose four finalists for each area from a pool of 58 entries. Those finalists were on display for public comment, until a panel of eight judges consisting of landscape architects, academics, architects, critics, and historians, selected the three winning teams last week. The three sites to be redesigned are:
- Constitution Gardens, a natural area adjacent to the Reflecting Pool and World War II Memorial, which has suffered from poor drainage and underuse.
- Washington Monument Grounds, including Sylvan Theater, an underutilized performance space near the National Monument.
- Union Square, located directly west of the Capitol building, home to the Capitol reflecting pool and Grant memorial.
And the winners of the design competition are:
- Rogers Marvel Architects & Peter Walker and Partners for Constitution Gardens near the Lincoln Memorial, whose designs include an overhauled water basin for model boats and ice skating, and a new restaurant pavilion to overlook the park.
- OLIN & Weiss/Manfredi for the Washington Monument grounds, whose designs include a wooded canopy for Sylvan Theater, and a new pavilion with a cafe for the walkway to the nearby Tidal Basin.
- Gustafson Guthrie Nichol & Davis Brody Bond for Union Square Union Square and the Capitol Reflecting Pool, whose designs remove the reflecting pond that lies parallel to the Capitol and adds a pond at the nearest grass panel on the Mall. (This design plan will be forwarded to the Architect of the Capitol.)
The Trust for the National Mall, NPS’s not-for-profit fundraising and advocacy partner, will conduct a $350 million fundraising campaign over seven years to support the capital costs of revitalizing these three spaces. The Trust will begin fundraising for its two projects, while the Architect of the Capitol will handle fundraising for Union Square. The entire National Mall Plan should cost about $700 million. The next phase of the competition will identify and evaluate costs ahead of implementation, with roughly half of the costs coming from the private sector.
The National Mall Plan aims to better accommodate the high level and diversity of use the National Mall receives. With 25 million visitors each year, the National Mall is one of the most highly trafficked parks in the country. As a result, it requires resilient design and a variety of visitor-serving facilities.
To this end, the National Mall Plan proposed enhanced circulation and access for pedestrians, a goal the NPS had already begun to support through park-wide investments in new signage. It also proposed new performance space, food and beverage concessions, shaded seating areas, restrooms, and recreational opportunities and facilities.
The Plan recommends specific uses for each of the design competition sites, which are reflected in the designs of the finalists. It prioritized improved food venues and enhanced pedestrian access at Constitution Gardens. The redesigned Sylvan Theater will better accommodate local events, and additional facilities will offer food service, retail, and other visitor services.
Union Square was planned as a First Amendment demonstration and event space; however, in December, jurisdiction over the site was transferred from the National Park Service to the Architect of the Capitol due to security concerns. It remains unclear whether the proposed plans and winning design for this location will be implemented.
The Mall’s scale and formality, combined with large-scale federal/institutional and roadway adjacencies, create a space that is most successful at showcasing monuments and memorials, and perhaps less effective at welcoming visitors and providing community space. It provides few dedicated places to stop and linger: to have a picnic, play recreational sports (the Mall is particularly ill-configured for the kickball games it so often hosts), enjoy a cultural program, or rest between site-seeing destinations.
If properly executed with quality design, active programming, and able stewardship, the rehabilitation of these spaces will provide new destinations with food, seating, programming, and signature design. These amenities can anchor and sustain the strong tourist economy and provide authentic and desirable gathering places for local and regional residents. This constitutes a unique and untapped opportunity to integrated community spaces and national icons at the heart of the city.
This will be the Mall’s first major renovation in nearly 40 years. Groundbreaking for the first project will take place by 2014, with the first ribbon-cutting expected by 2016, the Mall’s centennial anniversary.
View renderings of the winning designs here.