In 2012, the Trust for the National Mall (TFNM)
set up a design competition that would fulfill the organization’s raison d'être: to restore the
National Mall’s iconography and landmark destination as the country’s
preeminent national pa The TFNM, the non-profit partner of the National
Park Service (NPS), selected New York–based Rogers Partners Architects+Urban
Designers and Berkeley, Calif.–based PWP Landscape Architecture, whose design
was approved by the U.S Commission of Fine Arts and The National Capital
Last Thursday, the TFNM held its 8th
Annual Benefit Luncheon, which included a guided tour of the site in question: Constitution Gardens, a 50-acre parcel that sits between some of the most visited sites of the
National Mall, like the WWII Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Gardens were originally designed for the Bicentennial in
1976 by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and landscape architect Dan Kiley. At the luncheon, NPS rangers shared some of the site’s history with the press
and guests alike, and Sheila Johnson, CEO of Salamander Hotel & Resorts, co-founder
of BET, and vice chairman of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, made an
appearance as the event’s keynote speaker. Johnson, who was a young
African-American girl in the 1950s and ‘60s, moved the crowd with her emotional
and inspiring recollection of the National Mall, and the cultural significance
it held for so many some decades ago.
Today, the National Mall is riddled with problems: crumbling infrastructure, sprawling lawns reduced to dirt squares, visitor amenities like water fountains and restrooms inaccessible for some (handicapped-accessibility around the site is a major concern), and water so polluted that fish have been known to float to the top. In an interview, the TFNM president Caroline Cunningham said that Constitution Gardens was “one of the areas that was in the most need of restoration. Right now this space is filled with debris from the WWI and WWII buildings, and because of that, trees don’t grow here, and none of the gardens have actually lived because of poor soil quality. The idea is to remake it, restructuring the soil, redoing the entire lake so it’s a functioning ecosystem, and building the infrastructure that was originally planned so that people have a destination to go to.”
Hoping to break ground by summer 2015, the first phase will involve moving the Lockkeeper’s House, built in 1832. Adam Greenspan, a partner at PWP, said the house is the oldest structure on the National Mall today. "It’s a fantastic asset and interpretive element to the history here, and we think it’s a very important thing to maintain it," said Greenspan. "We’re moving it so that it is sort of the cornerstone and the entryway into Constitution Gardens as a whole, refurbishing it and reprogramming it, but we’re maintaining and preserving it at the same time."
New construction will include a 160-foot-long cantilevered pavilion that will feature a terrace onto which visitors can enjoy views of the lake and gardens, and a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating parallel to the Washington Monument. Concession facilities and additional terraces will serve various purposes throughout each season, from food stands to ice skate rentals. “Our goal is to create a high-performing, more robust, more accommodating public realm," Robert M. Rogers, FAIA, said in a press release.
The entire lake will be rebuilt, too, "with a great geothermal loop that goes out into the lake and back so that the building, the water, and the plantings are all integrated in a way that we didn’t understand 40 or 50 years ago," said Rogers in an interview. The new lake will harvest rainwater (and reuse it), use a smart irrigation system, and have a biological waste treatment.
"Right now it’s just a place that you have to pass through to get from one memorial to the next, and it’s a shame because there’s so much potential here that hasn’t been realized," said Teresa Durkin, the TFNM's senior project director. "I call it a restoration because we’re not changing the form of the site, we’re just making it function better for 21st century building standards."