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Architecture


Building of the Week: Smithsonian American Art Museum and Kogod Courtyard

The exterior of the Smithsonian American Art Museum embodies cornerstones of DC architecture: Greek Revival, historic, and massive. Cynics might even call it forgettable and ubiquitous. The building's history, along with a new interior courtyard, defy those labels, helping it live up to Walt Whitman's claim that this is the "noblest of Washington buildings."


Smithsonian American Art Museum + Kogod Courtyard. Photo by Foster and Partners.

The museum building, which also houses the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, occupies a double city block from 7th Street to 9th Street between F Street to G Street NW, across from the Verizon Center.

Originally the home of the US Patent Office, the building was conceived as a celebration of American innovation represented by the patent process. A slew of famous architects, including Washington Monument designer Robert Mills and Thomas U. Walter, who worked on the US Capitol building, worked on it during construction, which occurred in phases from 1836 to 1868.


A front elevation of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Image by the Smithsonian.

The building was not restricted to just patents. It housed Department of the Interior bureaus, a Civil War military hospital and barracks, and President Lincoln's 1865 inaugural ball at different times. The Civil Service Commission set-up shop in the building after the Patent Office departed in 1932.

In the 1950s, the Civil Service Commission building was threatened with demolition, as it occupied a prime downtown site in the booming District. However, the burgeoning historic preservation movement in the city successfully appealed to President Dwight Eisenhower to save it.

The building became a National Historic Landmark in 1965, highlighting its cultural significance. Only a small fraction of historically significant buildings get this designation, and itand reinforces the oft-repeated claim that the building is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in DC.

Life as a museum

The Patent Office building joined the Smithsonian Institution when it opened its doors as the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in January 1968 after four years of renovations. This returned the structure to its original function: showing off some of the best talent America had to offer, though now in art instead of technical innovation.


The exterior entrance to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Image by the Smithsonian.

The building was transformed again with the addition of the Kogod Courtyard in 2007. World renowned architect Norman Foster led the work, alleviating concerns from preservationists about changing the character of the protected structure with an undulating glass ceiling that was modern and distinct but did not disrupt the historic building or block natural light.


The Kogod courtyard. Photo by Foster and Partners.

The courtyard design clearly draws inspiration from Foster's earlier work on the Great Court at the British Museum. However, he was limited on the number of alterations he could make to the historic structure at SAAM and designed a "thin rubber seal a few feet deep [that] connects the glass canopy to the original rooftops, so that its weblike structure seems to hover just above the roofline of the old stone building," The New York Times said in 2007.

Eight columns in the Kogod Courtyard support the roof.


The Kogod courtyard canopy. Image by Foster and Partners.

Foster's design does not defer to the historic architecture, but it certainly still respects it. The soaring glass canopy is one of the most captivating features of the building.

The resulting museum and courtyard is now a space in which Washington residents visit regularly, even when not viewing art. The courtyard is often filled with people working on laptops and reading on winter weekdays—a testament to its popularity as one of Washington DC's iconic public spaces.

Architecture


Five great Art Deco buildings in DC

DC's wave of Art Deco architecture was short lived, but its influence is still all over the city today. The five structures below show the extent to which Washingtonians embraced the modern architectural style.


This Art Deco building was formerly the Home Theater, at 230 C Street NE. It's now a church. All photos by the author.

Art Deco developed in a more conservative manner in DC than other places, with architects compromising between radical modernists and traditional classicists.

In vogue when DC was expanding to accommodate federal workers in the 1930s, Art Deco used geometric shapes and bold colors, as well as machine and ancient motifs-- in particular, it drew inspiration for its more abstract details from non-western influences, especially Egyptian and Mesoamerican ones. Plastic, glass, and concrete were used in novel ways.

Federal buildings mixed Art Deco with classical design to make "Greco Deco." Commercial buildings were the most enthusiastic with Art Deco designs, though the city failed to preserve most of them. Garden apartments showed Art Deco origins on entrances and rooflines. Vertical lines along buildings give the impression of height. Pyramid-like ziggurats break rooflines. Floral and transportation motifs were popular, and the "streamline" style used minimalist lines for exaggeration.

The Deco style preserved a stubborn belief in progress through the Great Depression: the economy was ailing, its thinking wet, but the United States would recover, industry would surge, and culture would bloom. A modern inferno raged in the future, but Art Deco propagated an elegant, jazzy style, grasping the past to forge the present.


The entrance of the High Towers (1530 16th Street NW), designed by architect Alvin Aubinoe in 1938.

Around the DC area, more than 400 Art Deco structures went up between 1925 and 1945. The best-known examples in the city are the Kennedy-Warren Apartments in Cleveland Park and the Hecht Warehouse Co. building (refurbished into loft apartments and retail space) in Ivy City. For less-popular examples of Deco, the following list pulls out subtle, but striking, Deco buildings.

1. The Chambers Funeral Home, Eastern Market

For those who wanted to be buried in Art Deco, the Chambers Funeral home was built in 1932 in Eastern Market. Designed by Leroy H. Harris and developed by W.W. Chambers, it's since become an office for a rental company and features a chrome awning with metal floral motifs on its lights and facade.

2. 2412 Minnesota Avenue SE

Originally offices and stores, Frank Martinelli designed this building on Minnesota Avenue in Fairlawn in 1949, and A.G. Carozza developed it; it doesn't have an official name. The slick curves in the building resemble the Hecht Warehouse, and glass block above the entrances were a common motif in Art Deco.

3. The Majestic, 16th Street NW

One of the most appealing Art Deco apartment buildings, the Majestic apartment building on 16th street is striking. The double rows of curved bay windows, recessed entrance, and ziggurats along the roofline demand attention.

4. The Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge, Calvert Street NW

The district also has an Art Deco bridge that connects Woodley Park and Adams Morgan. The Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge, built in 1935 and designed by Paul Cret, includes sculptures by Leon Hermant on its corners that combine ancient deities and modern technology. In one, a goddess races a car, and the bridge railings were done in Deco style.

A second Art Deco bridge, the Klingle Valley Bridge on Connective Avenue, includes Deco floral motifs. It was built in 1931 and designed by Paul Cret and Frank M. Masters.

5. The Library of Congress Annex, 2nd Street SE

For federal buildings, none can rival the Library of Congress Annex. Art Deco design is evident on its exterior, but its interior bursts with floral designs and painstaking ornamental design brings the building to life.

Other examples are less bold. The buildings were numerous enough to scatter across most neighborhoods in the city and pockets in Alexandria, Arlington, and Silver Spring. In the district, clusters can be found near 14th Street in Brightwood, Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan near Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park, east of Glover Park, and downtown spreading east from the White House between New York and Pennsylvania Avenues.

DC's Art Deco architects

A handful of architects dominated the DC. Art Deco scene. George T. Santmyers specialized in garden apartments, designing almost 50 of them in a 14-year period. The majority of them remain in use. Joseph Abel, like Santmyers, focused on apartments and designed a dozen. John Eberson designed 13 movie theaters, but only the Silver theater in Silver Spring still functions as one. Eberson narrowly triumphed over John J. Zink, who had 11 theaters to his credit. Only one, the Uptown in Cleveland Park, remains in use as a theater.

"For many of the architects active in Washington, Art Deco represented a series of decorative elements to be combined with traditional and radical approaches, from Renaissance revival to classical to the International Style," Hanz Wirz and Richard Striner wrote in Washington Deco: Art Deco in the Nation's Capital, an excellent resource for information on Art Deco's development.

A map of Art Deco buildings, past and present, shows the reach of the style. Other highlights include an Art Deco influenced amusement park in Glen Echo, Maryland, the public schools of Greenbelt, Maryland, and an "America on Wheels" roller rink in Adams Morgan, now functioning as a grocery store and fitness center. D.C. isn't known for Art Deco, but when residents learn the motifs, they notice buildings cropping up in unexpected places.

The Art Deco Society of Washington also promotes the style's influence and offers tours, events, and a map of some notable (and metro accessible) Art Deco landmarks.

Links


National Links: Hillary talks housing

Hillary Clinton is articulating her vision to help Americans with housing, what happens when people making decisions about transit don't know what it's like to depend on it, and a look at where row houses fit into the national landscape. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Veni on Flickr.

Hillary's housing hopes: Hillary Clinton wants living near quality jobs, schools, and transportation to be easier, and she's making affordable housing part of her agenda. Her proposal would boost funding for both programs that help people buy homes as well as public housing. (Virginia-Pilot)

Get the board on the bus: Given how much they influence how people get around, perhaps transit board members should ride the busor at least know details about the system they work on. Some recent applicants for the DART Board of Directors in Dallas are clueless when it comes to transit-oriented development and taxpaying riders. (Dallas Observer)

Reliant on row houses The row house is the workhorse of dense older cities around the country, but it's becoming less popular. It's possible that row houses could be the "missing middle" that can help address the country's housing needs. (Urban Omnibus)

Questioning King Car: Cars are a large part of American culture, like it or not. But they also cost a lot of money, time, and lives. Since September 11th, 2001, over 400,000 people have died in automobile collisions. Is that a worthwhile price to pay for convenience? (The Atlantic)

Bridges of Amsterdam city: Amsterdam has far more canals and bridges than the average city, but only one bridge runs across the large river that separates the more industrial side of the city from where most people live. There is a tunnel and a number of ferries, neither of which is idea for walking or biking. But as more development happens and free ferries are overwhelmed, a bridge may be the next step. (City Metric)

Struggling city streams: In the midwest, streams in urban places are rare. Detroit, for example, has lost 86% of its surface streams. That worries ecologists because streams regulate water flow and keep wildlife healthy. (Great Lakes Echo)

Are we building boredom?: Buildings designed like boxes are bad for us. Research shows that human excitement wanes on streets with boring facades, causing stress that affects our health and psychological wellbeing. (New York Magazine)

Quote of the Week

"I think it's important to remember that these are serious crimes with emotional consequences. It's interesting nonetheless to watch how burglars use architecture, but that isn't enough reason to treat them like folk heroes." - Architecture writer Geoff Manaugh discussing his new book, A Burglar's Guide to the City in Paste Magazine.

Links


National links: Los Angeles' transit fight

Los Angeles County is arguing over how to spend $120 billion on transit, Cuba is not alone in neglecting communities around stadiums (hint: we do it in the US all the time), and Uber's business model doesn't work for everything. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Eva Luedin on Flickr.

LA County pushback: Politicians from more suburban jurisdictions in Los Angeles County are arguing that a recently-released 40-year/$120 billion transit plan puts too much emphasis on downtown LA, and that projects in their districts should have faster timelines for completion. The county requires a super majority on sales tax votes, so the plan's opposition is a real threat. (LA Weekly)

Stadium shame: ESPN broadcasted a baseball game from Cuba, then shamed the country on Twitter for slums just outside the ballpark. People across the United States shot back with images from this country of oft-ignored poor neighborhoods near stadiums. (Boing Boing)

A business model, lost in translation: For everyone except Uber, the Uber model for on-demand delivery apps is faltering. As venture capital funding slows down, there's a greater need to make a profit on these services, causing some to wonder if the business model is viable given the true costs. (New York Times)

Taking a Texas-sized toll: In Texas, tollways were all the rage for a time. But the operator of a major toll road east of Austin recently went bankrupt, and they're showing themselves to be a risky investment because truckers are reluctant to pay fees as high as $33 to avoid downtown rush hours. (Dow Jones Business News)

Filling our congested roadways: During rush hour, millions of seats in cars around the country are unused. In fact 85% of cars on the road have one occupant. Is there a way to use new technology to put this existing capacity to use? (Mobility Lab)

Humans in architecture drawings: Before computers and photoshop, architects had to draw their own human figures for renderings. Architect Noor Makkiya argues that drawing humans made architects more aware of how they fit with designs, and collected 21 drawings of humans by famous architects, like Leon Krier and Le Corbusier. (Fast Company)

Transit Trends on YouTube

I am co-hosting a web show called Transit Trends with Erica Brennes of Ride Scout. This week, we talk about High Speed Rail and San Francisco's new Transbay Terminal with German Marshall Fund fellow Eric Eidlin.

Architecture


A future football stadium may have a moat. Is that a symbol of a sustainable future or an exclusionary past?

We don't know where a stadium for Washington's football team will go, but now there's a design. Bjarke Ingels Group, the architects engaged by Dan Snyder to design a stadium, showed a rendering to 60 Minutes, and it includes a moat. We asked our contributors what they think.


Rendering by Bjarke Ingels Group via CBS/60 Minutes.

While there has been no decision about where a stadium would go, and the National Park Service has said that (at least under the current presidential administration) the team can't locate at the RFK Stadium site unless it changes its racist name, the moat is likely designed to relate to the Anacostia River. (Though the future Loudoun Gateway Metro station, where Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe wants the team to go, also is next to a small river, Broad Run.)

Ingels is clearly thinking about the fundamental problem that a typical pro football stadium occupies acres and acres of space, mostly for parking, which sit empty up to 357 days a year (a team plays eight home games, and sometimes stadiums attract a few very large concerts or other events).

According to the Post's Jonathan O'Connell, Ingels told 60 Minutes, "Is it waste of resources to have giant facilities that are only active 10 times a year. Obviously. Therefore we have worked with our team to imagine a facility that can be active both inside and outside all year and all week—not just on a game day."

He therefore designed a park around the aforementioned moat and envisions the tailgating to happen there, rather than in parking lots. "Tailgating literally becomes a picnic in a park. It can actually make the stadium a more lively destination throughout the year without ruining the turf for the football game."

However, this still leaves open the question of where people who drive would park. Would this stadium sit among mixed-use buildings with garages that serve the occasional football game? The rendering doesn't show the larger context.

Ned Russell wrote:

I like the design. I tend to like BIG's work and I really like designs that break out of DC's somewhat sterile and overused mold. But I really want to know about how they're going to do development around the stadium.
Canaan Merchant agreed:
It's not the stadium design itself I'm worried about. It's the twin issues of what is the best use of the land where it's probably going to be built and whether or not the city (or locality where it ends up) should be expected to pay for significant part of it. Architecture is nice, but we are too early for that discussion yet.
As for the design itself, which looks a lot like my Crate and Barrel fruit bowl, Tracey Johnstone worried that it appears to be much shallower than RFK.
Why do stadium architects think EVERYONE at an event wants to sit out in full sun for hours? NO cover at all. The shallow bowl is great for people with close seats and completely sucks for those who do not.

RFK was a great venue because of the upper deck overlapped part of the lower deck and there was a VERY narrow luxury level. This stadium has the upper deck up much higher and farther back than was the case at RFK. Might as well stay home and watch the game on television. And, at least there was some cover at RFK in both levels.

Many people will (perhaps rightly) remain suspicious of anything that comes from the team, given Dan Snyder's long record of anti-fan behavior and clear incentive to squeeze a sweetheart deal out of local leaders eager to give one. To Nick Keenan, the moat is a perfect symbol of Snyder's past deeds:
When I see the moat of think of Snyder's long-running effort to put up obstacles to pedestrians walking to Fedex Field so that people are forced to pay for parking.
But Steve Seelig sounded an optimistic note:
Truly a beautiful stadium design, and one that seems to evoke some of what made RFK a great venue. Going to FedEx is akin to what it must have been like at the Altamont Rolling Stones concert. I am hopeful there is a way to preserve the tailgating has become such a large part of football, but without acres and acres of surface parking.

Newer stadiums like Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara have severely curtailed places where tailgating is permitted, but still have a huge parking footprint. Let's see if Snyder's desire to have a stadium in DC that will serve as a de facto national monument can outweigh his historical desire to make everyone pay to park.

What do you think of the design?

History


DC once had its own Arc de Triomphe

Paris's Arc de Triomphe is world famous, but did you know DC once had its own version?


Photo from the DC Public Library.

The Washington, DC Victory Arch sat on Pennsylvania Avenue, at the corner of New York Avenue and 15th Street NW.

It was a temporary structure built to commemorate the end of World War I. This photo, from 1919, shows the US Army on parade following the end of the war. Presumably the arch was made of plaster, like the White City of Chicago, and thus never intended to be permanent.

Here's another view, showing the arch from ground level.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Architecture


Here are some ideas for designing NoMa's new park

The NoMa Parks Foundation just bought two acres on the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) for a new large park. There are great examples of how to use the space all over DC and beyond.


The site of NoMa's new park next to the MBT. Image by the author.

"People want an area for informal recreation and relaxation," said Robin-Eve Jasper, president of the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID), on the initial ideas for the park when it announced the $14 million deal earlier in January. "Something beautiful, something that really integrates with the Metropolitan Branch Trail."

There are many features that the NoMa Green, as it is tentatively called, could include. A connection between Q Street NE and the trail will almost certainly be a part of the park. Also, a flexible space like a lawn that could be used for a variety of needs, like the NoMa Summer Screen and various seasonal festivals, could fit elsewhere in the park.

NoMa BID plans to hold a community design forum with residents for the green after it hires a design team, said Jasper. This process could begin as soon as the second quarter of the year.

Canal Park in Navy Yard could inspire the NoMa Green

The five-acre Canal Park in Navy Yard offers some ideas for the NoMa Green. Opened in 2012, the space mixes programming, including a café, water feature, and seasonal ice skating rink, with a flexible lawn space that is used for various activities throughout the year.


An overview of Canal Park. Image by OLIN.

Hallie Boyce, a partner at OLIN landscape architects, says every section of Canal Park serves multiple purposes that, in many cases, are not exactly what the design team had in mind.

"The public will use a space as they deem appropriate," she says, recalling an image she saw of a kid using a sculpture as a seat to watch a movie in Canal Park. "On the one hand, you want enough programming to attract people long-term and on the other hand there is a need to have flexibility."


Canal Park's fountains and rain garden. Image by Payton Chung on Flickr.

OLIN led the design team of Canal Park, which is built on the site of a former Washington Canal. The studio has also been selected for the 11th Street Bridge Park and the redesign of Franklin Park in downtown.

There are lots of other options too

Canal Park is just one example NoMa can look to as it begins the process of designing its new green. DC is dotted with many small parks that, while often designed during an earlier period of landscape architecture, offer templates of what works and what does not.

Folger Park in Capitol Hill and Meridian Hill Park in Columbia Heights are two examples of good small parks in DC that Greater Greater Washington contributors suggest. The former includes ample lawns and an iconic drinking fountain and bench.

Meridian Hill Park, while larger than the NoMa space, includes a popular lawn atop the hill and a cascade fountain down the hillside to W Street NW.


The cascade fountain in Meridian Hill Park. Image by Washingtonydc on Flickr.

Boyce points to Teardrop Park and Wagner Park in New York City when asked what she thinks are good examples of well-designed small parks outside DC. The former, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is a 1.8-acre green space in lower Manhattan that includes a unique man-made rock outcropping and an open lawn nestled between residential high-rises.


Teardrop Park in New York. Image by Calvin C on Flickr.

"There's no solution you would slap down," says Boyce, emphasising the need to engage the community and take into account form, scale, and site when designing a park. "It's about context and engaging with the neighborhood and key stakeholders first to identify [what they want]."

Public Spaces


The winner of a design competition will build the WWI Memorial. Here's what that means.

Today, the sponsor of the World War I Memorial will choose the winner of its design competition, meaning we'll get a sense for what the memorial will look like in the end. Whether or not design competitions succeed depends heavily the work that goes into planning them.


Pershing Park and its memorial today. Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

The Memorial will go into Pershing Park, a secluded 1970s plaza at 14th and Pennsylvania Avenue, near the White House. Congress chose that location because it already has a memorial to General John Pershing, who led US troops in World War I.

The memorial sponsors sent out an open call for ideas last year. The winner will come from of one of the five finalists named in November 2015. After getting feedback, these five designers have revised their projects and submitted them to a jury of architects, historians, and politicians. On Tuesday (after a snow delay), the memorial commission will vote on the jury's choice.

Here's how design competitions work

Design competitions aren't part of the process for most buildings, but governments and other big institutions like them for major projects. They give those sponsoring the competition (and ultimately responsible for the building) a few options to choose from rather than picking a designer based on prior work and a business plan.

Every competition begins the same: with a design brief, a document that outlines what the sponsor wants. Then, they split into three basic formats:

  1. The most celebrated kind is an open competition where pretty much anyone can submit a design. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the best example, and the World War I Memorial is using this model.
  2. An invited competition, where a client looks at only a hand-picked few designers is the second type. The Lincoln Memorial is one outcome of this format.
  3. A slight variation on that is a qualified competition, where anyone can submit qualifications, out of whom a few get asked for designs. The Eisenhower Memorial followed this model, which is common for federal projects.
Most open competitions, including the World War I Memorial, have two stages. In the first, anyone can present their design in a very limited format. For the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial, the jury winnowed 1,200 entries to six finalist from a single drawing. Qualified competitions make the same selection by looking at past work or credentials.


Henry Bacon beat out one rival for the Lincoln Memorial, John Russell Pope. This design by Pope is closer to what the McMillan Commission envisioned. Image from the Library of Congress.

In the second round, open, qualified, and select competitions work the same. Each team works out a detailed conceptual design. In better competitions, the competitors work with the sponsor, review agencies, and constituents to refine the design. Then, at the end of this, a jury composed of stakeholders or designers picks a winner.

Well-run design competitions can have big upsides

Malcolm Reading, a design competition designer, who ran recent competitions for Gallaudet University, and the Guggenheim Helsinki, put it this way in an interview: "I would say that competitions are, in general, more meritocratic. The process itself, run properly, allows talent to rise to the top and a level of public debate and engagement that would not be possible with a direct commission."

The best example of this process working is the tightly controlled competition that brought us the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Take a look at this booklet promoting the memorial. It outlines so much of what makes that design iconic: an apolitical remembrance of the dead, a list of names, and a site of personal reflection. That's interesting, because this is the design brief, written months before Maya Lin began her class assignment that eventually become an American icon.


Detail of Maya Lin's first-stage entry, showing visitors' experience at the center of the memorial and exiting. Image from the Library of Congress.

Lin realized these conceptual elements with brilliant clarity. But the competition's designer, Paul Spreiregen, had laid the groundwork for a minimalist design like hers to win. He wrote the brief to encapsulate the desires of the Veterans who commissioned it. Washington's design review agencies wanted something low, so he pushed for a landscape design in Q&As, and set up a jury of accomplished modernist designers.

History shows design competitions aren't a simple solution

Good outcomes aren't guaranteed. If a sponsor issues a bad brief, ignores problems with the site, or doesn't trust the jury, all hell can break loose.


The winning design for the World War II Memorial changed a lot. (Image from Friedrich St. Florian)

The sponsors of the World War II memorial imagined a huge project when they picked a design, including an underground museum in a floodplain. Both the design and what the commission asked for changed dramatically over years of controversy and costs.

The chairman of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Richard Stilwell, fired the designers of the tragic winning scheme and instructed the local architect of record to execute a heroic diorama. A similarly heavy-handed client guided the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.


In the winning scheme for the the Korean War Veterans Memorial, visitors would have "walked home" between statues of troops. (Image from Lucas Architects)

The World War I Memorial designer has a lot of changes to make.

The World War I Memorial's process is mixed. The designers brought collaborators onto the design teams in the second stage for mid-point review, which is great. While the brief gives fewer aesthetic preferences than the Vietnam Veterans Memorial's sponsors did, the goals of commemoration are clearer than other recent memorials.

But the memorial commission made a huge mistake when picking a site. After getting rejected from converting DC's World War I Memorial as a national one, the memorial commission went around the city's review agencies by getting Congress to pick the site.

The brief contradicts itself, encouraging designers replace the existing park because it is secluded, but also forbidding any activity-generating features and ignoring how this memorial plot connects living city around it.


Some WWI competition entrants have changed significantly already. Here's the first stage entry for "Plaza to the Forgotten War"

As a result, a surprising number of groups have spoken out against the competition. That includes the National Capital Planning Commission, the Commission of Fine Arts and the DC Historic Preservation Office, which led to designers needing to change their schemes significantly.


In the second-stage mid-review version, design now preserves more of the existing park. (Both images from Johnsen Schmaling Architects.

World War I has little political clout. Unlike World War II, there are no living veterans. Pershing Park has a lot of influential supporters. Whatever is chosen will change significantly. By proceeding without realistic about what they could do on the site, the memorial commission wasted the primary advantage of a competition: choosing a designer based on a concrete vision.

Much more goes into commemorating history than the spectacle of choosing designers. The jury, the site, and the ambitions of the sponsor are as important to a good outcome. In this case, the simplicity of competition seems to have hidden fundamental problems in the project.

History


Here's an early design for Union Station

Check out this drawing of Union Station when it was in the planning phase, waiting for Congress to give the green light for construction. It's a fun reminder that even the most grandiose of buildings go through routine planning processes.


Click for a larger version of both the drawing and the accompanying news article. Images from the Library of Congress.

Published in March of 1902, the Times Washington article announcing the coming train depot calls it "a fitting gateway for the nation's Capital City, through which for all time shall ebb and flow the tides of the world's pilgrims to the national Mecca, a fitting beginning for the new Washington."

When GGWash contributor David Cranor passed the article my way, he wondered if the project finished on time or came in on budget.

"Perhaps it will be a reality in two years," reads the article, "for great railway corporations build with magic quickness" Union Station opened in 1908, but it's not clear from the article whether the builders shared that two year expectation. And even if they did, a four year delay on such a huge project doesn't exactly stack up poorly when compared to many infrastructure projects today.

The article says Union Station itself will cost $6 million (about $166 million in today's dollars), with things like buying the land and building the accompanying rail tunnel bringing the price to $14 million (about $388 million today). If you have any information on how much was actually spent on building Union Station, please share it in the comments!


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