Posts about Washington Monument
Washington's growing fleet of water taxis are useful as transportation, but they're also a fun and unique way to see the city. I used an American River Taxi to travel to a Nationals game a few weeks ago, and photographed the trip for posterity.
ART ferries sailing to the ballpark pick up passengers at Washington Harbor, in Georgetown. Boats pull directly up to the boardwalk, and passengers simply walk straight on.
Inside, the boats have a double row of seats and a crew of 2 or 3. There are no bathrooms, and no vending.
Shortly after casting off from Washington Harbor there are great views of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom.
Thanks to calm water and shoreline trails, the river and its banks are multi-modal.
The Roosevelt Bridge is the first of many that the ferry passes under.
Between Roosevelt and Memorial bridges, the monuments of the National Mall are visible.
Memorial Bridge is the most ornate of Washington's Potomac bridges.
Monuments continue to be visible as the ferry passes West Potomac Park.
The 14th Street Bridge looks very plain.
Metrorail's Yellow Line bridge is even plainer.
Last and oldest of the 14th Street Bridge cluster, the Long Bridge looks ancient compared to any other on the river.
After crossing below Long Bridge, East Potomac Park becomes visible on the east bank, while Crystal City and National Airport dominate the west bank.
Looking back upstream, Rosslyn, the National Cathedral, and the Washington Monument are prominent.
At Hains Point the ferry turns to go up the Anacostia River.
Looking up the Anacostia, the Frederick Douglass Bridge rises, and the baseball stadium comes into view.
Yards Park becomes visible beneath Douglass Bridge.
The stadium looms large above the river.
Finally, the ferry docks at Diamond Teague Park, just downstream from Navy Yard.
For even more photos of the ride, view the complete Flickr set.
The National Mall is not a perfect space. Although millions of people visit it each year, many sections are oversized and underused. It's poorly integrated with the surrounding city, and its aging components need maintenance. What can be done?
No one would propose demolishing the Mall, or seriously changing its basic character, but clearly there is room for improvement.
The Trust for the National Mall agrees. They sponsored a design competition to rethink 3 important sections of the Mall: Constitution Gardens, the Washington Monument grounds, and Union Square. The winning entries are filled with interesting ideas.
Many Washingtonians feel that Constitution Gardens is the best part of the Mall already. Certainly it's the most unique, with its informal pond and romantic pathways. The winning design, by Rogers Marvel Architects + Peter Walker and Partners, will build on the gardens' strengths to make it even better.
The designers propose to introduce a new pavilion at the east end of the existing pond. This pavilion would become the centerpiece of activity in the garden. It would contain a restaurant and a dock for model boating. In the winter, the eastern section of the pond would be used for ice skating.
These additional active uses are good additions, although one wonders if another ice skating rink can survive so close to the existing rink at the Sculpture Garden.
One negative aspect of this plan is that it actively turns its back on the street. It proposes to raise new hills along Constitution Avenue in order to "provide separation" between the park and downtown. This is entirely the wrong approach, and will contribute even more to the segregation of the city's cultural amenities from the city's residents.
Washington Monument grounds
In contrast to Constitution Gardens, the Washington Monument grounds are probably the worst section of the Mall. The giant grass lawns are not destinations to anyone but a few softball players. Rather, they are long, empty voids that tired visitors must traverse.
The poor condition of the grounds is even more unfortunate because they are the geographic center of the monumental core. In theory this should be the most heavily-built and formal area of the Mall, but in reality it is the least.
The winning entry for this section, by OLIN + Weiss/Manfredi, is disappointing in its scope. Rather than address the fundamental deficiencies with the grounds as a whole, the design focuses closely on the southeast corner and largely ignores the rest.
To the designers' credit, what they have proposed for that section is excellent. They would replace the afterthought that is the existing Sylvan Theater with a wonderful new grass amphitheater. It would blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape, would face and help to frame the Washington Monument, and would vastly improve the theater experience in every way.
They also propose a cafe and bookstore, to be built into the side of a small hill so that they appear as one with the rolling landscape. These are good additions that will improve the edge condition between park and city, and the proposed architecture is both appropriate and totally unique.
Better known as the Capitol Reflecting Pool, Union Square suffers from many of the same problems as the Washington Monument grounds. It's visually impressive, but usually empty. There's not much reason for people to go except to pass through, and its monumental components are so oversized that they are a barrier to walking.
The winning design, by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol + Davis Brody Bond, does much to improve the situation.
The designers propose reducing the size of the reflecting pool and carrying additional pathways through the site, creating new connections with the Smithsonian area to the west.
They also propose to narrow Pennsylvania and Maryland Avenues, and to convert them from parking lots to more pedestrian-friendly streets.
Unfortunately, the garden areas north of Pennsylvania Avenue and south of Maryland Avenue are afterthoughts in this proposal. It would have been nice to see a new building on the north end of the site, mirroring the location of the US Botanical Garden. That area is a nether-zone between the Mall and Senate Park, and would be more valuable as the site for a future museum.
The Trust for the National Mall does actually intend to build these designs. Fundraising will begin soon, and the first ribbon-cutting could take place as early as 2016.
That's good news.
Overall, these ideas would improve the National Mall. It would still be an imperfect space, poorly connected to the living city around it. But it would, for the most part, be better than it is today.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
At last night's NCPC panel, "Redefining Security a Decade After 9/11," we were reminded that on security, Americans are a "cantankerous bunch." According to Brian Jenkins of RAND Corporation, US residents demand to feel 100% safe at all times at no cost to their way of life.
Jenkins, joined by architect Thomas Vonier and landscape architect Alan Ward, addressed this dilemma and others in a discussion on balancing physical security needs with good urban design. When it came to how much security is appropriate, though, the panelists diverged in their recommendations.
Vonier's talk seemed to encourage a "whatever it takes" mentality on introducing both visible and concealed security measures into the urban space. He embraced the use of "choke points," or highly supervised, securitized points that all people entering a site must pass through. Vonier lauded Lafayette Square as a successful example of an urban control zone.
In contrast to Vonier stood Ward, who turned to the Washington Monument as an ideal example of a minimalist solution to security concerns. The Monument received a security facelift in 2003 with the addition of sunken walls that naturally curve around the base of the hill on which the Monument stands, providing additional security without encroaching upon visitors' privacy.
Unlike Vonier, Ward seemed more inclined to respect historical precedents and maintain the natural order of a space to the greatest extent possible. He lamented the 18-foot descent that pedestrians endure when approaching the Capitol Visitor Center, a sensation he described as the antithesis to the entry experience one expects of such a grand building.
Jenkins and Vonier both suggested civic authorities reduce security risks from vehicles by creating pedestrian roadways with reduced or no car and truck access. London developed the "Ring of Steel" after a series of IRA attacks. This is a perimeter of Closed-captioned Television (CCTV), police, and bollards within the City of London, Greater London's financial district. According to Jenkins, as a result of the "Ring of Steel," the streets have been "pedestrianized," and commerce is thriving.
Ward, however, disagreed with adopting a similar approach. "We don't have the density of pedestrians" to eliminate cars from certain roads, he said. Ward also suggested that the economy would not support such changes in traffic patterns, which could "kill businesses."
The panelists bandied about a number of solutions to the question of how to simultaneously provide both security and amenity. Vonier referred to the classic necessity of more eyes on the street to increase vigilance against threats. He suggested that police and civic authorities encourage proprietors to take ownership of the sidewalks and streets in front of their businesses, creating a "defensible space."
During the question and answer session, Jenkins suggested that in order to make the public more accountable for security, governments must improve education and communication, helping individuals to better understand policy decisions and security protocol while empowering them to be more vigilant.
Disappointingly, some of the pricklier subjects, such as congestion pricing, closed circuit surveillance, and defense against airborne security threats were mentioned in brief but not explored much further.
Many questions still remained unanswered. How can design engage the public in the provision of their own security? At what point did Americans become passive potential victims, as many of the latest security measures suggest? Which works better: the prototypical Parisian cafe-style of surveillance, or the large setbacks and empty spaces prevalent in front of federal buildings?
Nobody seemed fully equipped to provide answers, largely because the issue frequently turns into a matter of subjective opinion, as the talks showed. At the very least, however, the panelists could all agree that many existing security features around DC, like the Jersey barriers outside of the Federal Aviation Administration's building, can and should be improved to reflect stronger urban design and a better connection to the pedestrian experience.
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