Courtesy James Corner Field Operations The Tidal Basin proposal designed by James Corner Field Operations

The Tidal Basin on the National Mall is home to some of Washington D.C.'s iconic monuments—including the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial—as well as 3,000 famed cherry trees. But a crumbling sea wall and daily flooding—which will only become worse with sea-level rise due to climate change—have left the area in desperate need of both repair and future-proofing. Aiming to find design solutions for the 107-acre site, the National Trust for Historic Preservation partnered with the Trust for the National Mall, the National Park Service, and civic partners Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and American Express, to launch the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab Exhibition. Five design teams—from DLandStudio in New York, GGN in Seattle, James Corner Field Operations in New York, Hood Design Studio in Oakland, Calif., and Reed Hilderbrand in Cambridge, Mass.—were invited to brainstorm solutions; co-curators Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins organized the proposals into an online exhibition that knits together the Tidal Basin's history and current challenges and invites public comment on each of the five the proposals.

“The caliber of the thinking and quality of the ideas presented is a testament to the creativity and commitment of these world-class firms” said Keith O'Connor, SOM director of urban design and planning, in a press release from the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab. "As a collective body of work, these provocations provide the National Park Service with an extraordinary resource upon which to mount an effective campaign to not only save the Tidal Basin, but to reshape a bright and hopeful future for this irreplaceable cultural landscape."

Here are the five Tidal Basin proposals:

Courtesy Hood Design Studio

Hood Design Studio

"Hood Design Studio proposes three “anthems”: “Tell the Truth!” seeks to replace romantic and baroque design with stories of perseverance and resiliency; “Let the Waters Be Free” restores narratives of how the wetlands were valued by indigenous and enslaved peoples; and “Invention: Making New Things” asks if the Tidal Basin can trigger a national ethic that centers on rebuilding our urban ecologies."

Courtesy DLandStudio


"DLandStudio proposes new physical and visual connections that will reorient the flow of visitors and create new pathways through the basin, including building a land bridge between the Jefferson Memorial and the White House; forming a jetty in the Potomac River off the Lincoln Memorial housing the relocated memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr.; and cultivating sponge park wetlands, a reflective weir and green security wall to protect upland monuments, landscapes, and museums."

Courtesy GGN


"GGN envisions a dynamic series of incremental changes that will adapt the site to the environmental challenges of the future and give rise to a new cultural aesthetic. Achieved over three stages between today and 2090, this adaptive plan will accommodate forecasted sea level rise and will integrate regional ecologies to bring an overdue, ecological point of view. Monuments will be adapted, protected, or relocated to ensure the national importance of this collective space."

Courtesy James Corner Field Operations

James Corner Field Operations

"James Corner Field Operations offers three potential ways to handle and mitigate rising water levels: (1) preserve the site with an escalated regimen of maintenance and engineering; (2) allow the site to flood, creating a landscape in which entropy is on display; or (3) balance preservation with the acceptance of future instability and climate change by treating the memorials as islands within the Tidal Basin."

Courtesy Reed Hilderbrand with DesignDistill

Reed Hilderbrand

"Reed Hilderbrand focuses on the influential 1902 McMillan Plan for the development of the Washington D.C. parks system and its monumental core, guided by the idea of creating a “Washington Commons” -- a vast complex of recreational facilities. Encouraging a variety of experiences, the plan features three pathways: an uplands Cherry Walk, where the cherished trees will be relocated, a Memorial Walk, and a Marsh Walk. A new land form, Independence Rise, accommodates rising water levels, while a pedestrian bridge connects back to the city."