Last night, one of the country’s most recognizable landmarks got a makeover, courtesy of the National Park Service (NPS). The Washington Monument has been shrouded in scaffolding to allow for repair work following the earthquake that damaged and closed the monument in August 2011. But now, a new element has been added: light.
The scaffolding itself has been the topic of conversation for locals and tourists alike since it was completed this May. It encases the monument not only in 500 tons of steel framework, but also in a translucent scrim with a pattern of blue blocks that mimics an outsized version of the monument’s own masonry. Originally designed by Michael Graves, FAIA, for the monument’s last major renovation, the current scaffold and scrim is a replica of what stood in place from 1998 to 2000, when major retrofit work was completed.
TheWashington Post reports that the original scrim was “in tatters” after two years in place, but a new iteration has been produced and now enshrouds the monument as repair work is done to cracked and chipped bricks and mortar, particularly at the top of the structure, as a result of the 5.8 earthquake that struck on August 23, 2011.
To complete the restoration of the previous scaffold , the National Park Service has installed light fixtures the full height of the 555-foot-tall obelisk—this time a grid of 488 of them attached to the steel framework. (It should be noted that while the scaffolding envelops the marble monument, it is in no way anchored to it.)
The light fixtures were installed in May, before the scrim was installed. At sunset last night, the lights were turned on for the first time, at a ceremony presided over by NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis, Robert Vogel, the NPS’s superintendent for the Mall, and David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, who donated $7.5 million to fund half the cost of repairs.
To the accompaniment of the U.S. Army band, the lights were turned on and began to glow, firstat the base of the structure, rising in sequence to the top. The fixtures took several minutes to reach their full strength (as was readily documented by Instagram users).
From now until the work is completed and the scaffold comes down, which is estimated to be spring of next year, the monument will be so illuminated every night—though after last night’s official ceremony, the lights going forward will be triggered by an automatic sensor that will activate the fixtures at dusk.
The National Park Service has said that it delayed the lighting of the monument until July 8 so as not to compete with the National Fireworks display, which occurred on the Mall on July 4.