THe National Building Museum exhibit "Unbuilt Washington" has drawn many eyeballs in D.C. The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott has called it "a compendium of Washington’s architectural phobias and obsessions, its neurotic compulsion to grandeur and countervailing fear of anything too elegant, too bold or too French." For the Washington City Paper, Lydia DePillis described the exhibit as a "compact, but carefully curated, tour through the discarded plans for our most important government edifices, as well as the wacko independent proposals that never materialized."
Throughout all the reviews—even our own review, penned by the Architect of the Capitol, Steven Ayers, FAIA—one factor has emerged as a force that has guided the physical evolution of D.C.: the Height of Buildings Act of 1910, which The Atlantic Cities editor Sommer Mathis unpacks for our May issue. Washingtonians talk about it all the time, as it affects the look and feel of the buildings we pass by every day, but shows such as "Unbuilt Washington" help to bring it to the attention of people outside Washington.
The Washington Post is taking "Unbuilt Washington" one step further. Post real estate reporter Jonathan O'Connell writes that the paper recently asked a series of Washington architecture firms to submit sketches of the things that they can imagine built in D.C. were there no Height Act capping building height at 130 feet. Napkin drawings ensued. (Some of them were more polite than others. I don't see Rippeteau Architects' monument to oil dependence being built any time soon.)
But the Post isn't done there. The Post Capital Business Blog's Abha Bhattarai now introduces the paper's call for drawings—from common people who just want to have a say in what Washington could like. (That fits the spirit of the "Unbuilt Washington" show, after all; some of the wildest proposals were pitched by people with little or no architecture experience.) So here's your chance to give Washington a fresh start.