Uncle Sam wants you… to help him pick the winning architect of the National Mall Design Competition. Since last September, several dozen architectural firms have been vying for the opportunity to give the capital’s front lawn an overhaul. After hewing the choices down to four finalists for each of the three sites — Constitution Gardens, Union Square, and the Washington Monument Grounds — the Trust for the National Mall has made the proposals public, and is now seeking public feedback to aid the decision-making process, which is scheduled to end in May.
Commenters have a dozen highly imaginative schemes to peruse and weigh in on. OLIN, paired with Weiss/Manfredi, proposed turning Constitution Gardens into an eco version of the classic McDonald's PlayPlace, creating a space for the kiddies to interact with the landscape: thinly wooded trails for exploring, wooden walkways over the reflecting pool, and shallow, ankle-deep pools for splashing and wading. High Line darlings Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, who've teamed with Hood Design, want to "peel up" the edge of the land surrounding the Washington Monument — that is, raising the lawn onto an undulating, elevated green roof with spaces for markets, performances, and other programming underneath. (The design is not unlike the sloping DS+R lawn at Lincoln Center that serves as a vaulted ceiling to the restaurant below.) Michael Maltzan Architecture and Tom Leader Studio's plans abound with circles. The team wants to build an underground commercial center full of dining options, retail outlets, and event spaces crowned by a circular skylight. Above ground, they plan to trace the lawn with circular walkways to break the monotony of the current rectangular paths, and build an amphitheater above ground that would feature a circular stage sitting at the axis of the city's monuments.
The mission of the design competition is to revitalize the highly trafficked mall, which is in “desperate need of restoration and repairs,” according to Trust for the National Mall director Barbralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel’s column in the Huffington Post. As the lawn becomes less lush and the more sidewalks crumble with every passing year, she hopes to see an improvement not only in maintenance, but to rectify the Mall’s lack of tourist essentials: restrooms, water, food, and information.
The Trust plans to raise $350 million for the restoration project and complete either Constitution Gardens or the Monument grounds by 2016. Union Square’s proximity to the Capitol Building raises some security obstacles, so its overhauling will be delayed.
Renderings of the 12 schemes are on view through April 15 at the Smithsonian Castle Museum. To see them now, click the slide show.