Washington Monument Exhibition Debuts at the VCA

Washington MonumentWhy does the Washington Monument — the defining feature of the Washington, D.C., skyline and the centerpiece of the National Mall — remain unfinished and underutilized at ground level?  Whose ideas have shaped the Mall? What should the grounds look like? Who should get to decide? Discover the history of the grounds and see a series of groundbreaking ideas selected by a jury of distinguished designers, historians, a Washington cultural leader, and a futurist at the Virginia Center for Architecture’s newest exhibition Someday in the Park with George: The National Ideas Competition for the Washington Monument Grounds. The exhibition is on display at the Virginia Center for Architecture from April 12 through June 24, 2012.

Explore the history of the Monument and its grounds, from funding shortages and political disagreements that left the Monument unfinished for nearly 50 years, to the numerous planning and design challenges posed by the site. Discover how Peter Charles L’Enfant and Thomas Jefferson differed in their visions for a monument to the nation’s first president, and find out why early plans for the grounds didn’t work. Add the need to address post-9-11 security concerns to poor geologic conditions, a location on a flood plain at the heart of a living city, and a lack of mature trees, and you begin to understand why a series of ad hoc solutions have been implemented rather than a cohesive plan.

More than 500 participants from across the U.S. and around the world submitted their proposals to address these challenges to the National Ideas Competition for the Washington Monument Grounds, which was launched nearly two years ago. “The National Ideas Competition is an ideal way to spark new thinking from citizens and professionals about this hugely important symbolic space. With fresh, visionary thought the Washington Monument grounds could one day become the real heart of the nation, not necessarily in the way L’Enfant or the McMillan planners envisioned it but in a new way that speaks to the aspirations of the 21st century,” says Kirk Savage, winner of the 2010 Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum. The competition was conceived by an independent steering committee including James P. Clark, FAIA, Adele Ashkar, ASLA , Lisa Benton-Short, Kenneth R. Bowling, Kent Cooper, FAIA, Judy Scott Feldman, Ph.D., Richard Longstreth, Ph.D. and Ellen Goldstein.

Someday in the Park with George was developed by a team of graduate students from the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University under the leadership of Professor Laura Schiavo.

The Virginia Center for Architecture itself has a strong tie to the National Mall.  Its home since 2003 is the 27,000-square-foot Tudor-Revival residence built by architect John Russell Pope in 1919.  Pope also designed the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the National Archives, and the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The exhibition debuts with an Opening Reception from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 12. Call (804) 644-3041, ext. 100 or email aliguori@aiava.org to register to attend.  There is no charge to attend the Opening Reception.

The Virginia Center for Architecture is located at 2501 Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia’s historic Fan District. The Center is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. There is no charge for admission. Learn more at www.virginiaarchitecture.org.

Six Ideas Selected for Washington Monument Competition

Washington Monument Ideas Competition Jury
Meeting of the Washington Monument Ideas Competition Jury. Photo by Judy Feldman, Ph.D.

Six winners have been selected for the National Ideas Competition for the Washington Monument Grounds.  Images of the refined idea concepts will be revealed in late September when the public will be called upon to vote for a People’s Choice award.

“We worked hard to get a diversity of approaches. We could not limit ourselves to five because the six winners were more demonstrative of the range of ideas,” explained jury chair Gregory Hunt, FAIA.

The Competition Stage 2 winners are:

Arcs of Shade by Stephen Lederach, Princeton, NJ – Formal, curvilinear design of trees completes the pedestrian experience of shaded walks from the Capitol through the Monument grounds to the Lincoln Memorial.

 An Inclined Plane by Julian Hunt, Lucrecia Laudi, and Monling Lee, Washington, DC – The bold gesture of planes connects the great obelisk beyond the grounds to the larger Mall cross axis. 

 Field of Stars by Catherine Peek, Pittsburgh, PA – Poetic, ephemeral use of light gives human scale and nighttime interest to the site as well as the larger Mall landscape.

 You and Me by Jinwoo Lim, Seoul, Korea – Highlights the centrality of the obelisk to the pedestrian experience of views to and from the Monument and of the historical significance of George Washington, the founding of the republic, and the central Mall axis.

 The People’s Forum by Karolina Kawiaka, White River Junction, VT – An amphitheater supports the important civic role of the Mall to American democracy and emphasizes the centrality of the site to the Mall cross axis at the Jefferson Pier.

 Monument of Unity by Jacques Prins, Kevin Battarbee and Egidijus Kasakaitis, Gouda, The Netherlands – A majestic skylit hall circling the obelisk’s foundation, accessible from cardinal directions, unifies the entrance experience and historical interpretation for all visitors.

In 2010, the organizers of the Competition asked interested individuals to think how they would complete the unfinished Monument grounds and make them more welcoming for broad civic engagement, hewing to issues of historic visions and modern sustainability, while enhancing the civic and educational experience that the Washington Monument presents for the next generation of visitors.

Hundreds responded from around the world and 24 semi-finalists were selected by the Stage 1 jury on Jan. 28, 2011.   The Stage 2 panel of 5 distinguished jurors met on June 23, and reviewed the semi-finalists, debated, and selected the final 6 winners whose entries met in full measure the challenges set forth by the Competition founders.  In the final stage of the competition in fall 2011 the public will be invited to select the “People’s Choice.” 

“We carefully debated a range of notions from minimalist improvements to a major, large-scale reworking of the landscape,” said juror David Hackett Fisher, Pulitzer Prize-winning George Washington historian.   “An organizing concept that emerged was that this unique site should serve as an agora, a common space that has many layers of meaning from the founding ideas of the republic to First Amendment activities, as well as practical needs for circulation, security, and flood control.”

Hunt, former dean of architecture at Catholic University, reflected on the differences jurors had about the major scope of some proposed changes and spoke of the inherent tension between doing a lot and doing very little.  “We seriously considered the extremes expressed by the ideas between intrusiveness versus unobtrusiveness.  In the end, we chose creative, exciting, and challenging ideas that will give the public real options to choose from and inspire people to think about the long-term possibilities.”

Former Washington Post architecture critic Benjamin Forgey came to the jury looking for simplicity and minimalist designs for the grounds to protect the mound’s open character.  “Some of the entries proposed dramatic, poetic, sometimes spectacular changes that amazed but also worried me,” he said.  “But that is the nature of an ideas competition.  My hope is that the process will stimulate public awareness and discussion of the kinds of changes needed to improve these sacred spaces at the very center of the National Mall.”

For juror Joy Zinoman, Founding Artistic Director of Washington’s Studio Theatre, some of the best ideas found ways to “create welcoming gathering spaces to support modern public use and connect with the larger Washington community.”  

Juror Eric Groft, ASLA, Principal of Oehme, van Sweden & Associates, was pleased with the number of the entries which succeeded in “bringing gestures large and small into a cohesive, unified idea.”

Virginia Society AIA President and Competition Chairman James P. Clark, AIA, on behalf of the entire Steering Committee, applauded the work of the jury and the serious engagement of so many individuals who worked hard to meet the challenging issues posed by the Competition, and the grounds themselves.  “We expect the notable ideas submitted for this Competition will be the real legacy of this Competition. They will promote awareness, education and thoughtful development of the Monument grounds.”

For more information, www.wamocompetition.org.