Redesigned National Mall Will Bear A-School Fingerprints
Redesigned National Mall Will Bear A-school Fingerprints
By Jenny M. Abel
University of Virginia School of Architecture alumni are playing leading roles designing three venues on the National Mall in Washington, DC. In a design competition launched last September by the Trust for the National Mall, four of the eight design co-leads for the winning concepts were A-school graduates, and all three of the winning design teams included A-school alumni.
“We’re very proud of the winning designs,” said Caroline Cunningham, the Trust’s president. “The National Mall is a public space of great historical and symbolic significance, and these talented design teams will help restore and improve it for future generations to enjoy.”
Associate Professor Elizabeth Meyer served on the eight-member jury judging the competition, the results of which were announced in May.
“Having this opportunity to re-envision one of our country’s most important sites is very humbling and a huge responsibility,” said Rodrigo Abela (MArch ’99, MLA ’00), co-lead of the Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN) team that helped create the winning design for Union Square (near the Capitol). GGN’s team also includes David Malda (MArch ’09, MLA ’10).
Hallie Boyce (MLA ’92), who co-led the design for Sylvan Theater on the Washington Monument grounds with OLIN partner Skip Graffam (BSArch ’85, MLA ’90) and Weiss/Manfredi partner Marion Weiss (BSArch ’79), concurred: “To have earned this opportunity to contribute in such a palpable way to the Mall’s legacy and monumental core—really, the nation’s greatest stage—is an immeasurable honor,” Boyce said.
The competition was held in response to the National Mall Plan, issued in 2010 by the National Park Service (NPS), which called for the Mall’s first restoration in more than 30 years. Besides Union Square and Sylvan Theater, Constitution Gardens was also identified as a key site in the restoration process.
According to Weiss, the overall goal is to restore pride to America’s capital, “bringing into focus areas that have gone out of focus.” The team’s Sylvan Theater design incorporates much-needed practical aspects, like amenities, a café, and shade (for respite from the summer heat), rendering the Mall much friendlier to its more than 25 million annual visitors.
“Today, visitors to the Theater have their back to the Washington Monument,” Weiss explained. “Our design reorients it to turn the audience’s vista toward the monument with a new amphitheater landscape and connects the Mall and Tidal Basin with a continuous bridge.”
According to Graffam, central elements of the envisaged “Sylvan Grove” are flexibility and multi-functionality.
“Our design fashions a green respite at the heart of the Mall, creating a sylvan setting for a variety of performances and demonstrates the long-term benefit of innovative sustainable systems in our foremost national park,” Boyce added.
As part of the competition, Graffam, Boyce, Weiss, and Weiss’s partner, Michael Manfredi, formed an international team of sub-consultants in fields ranging from engineering and theater to ecology and sustainability. This approach—as well as other sensibilities, to history and conservation, for example—owes in part to their A-school training.
“Being interdisciplinary is a hallmark of U.Va., and the heart and soul of the A-school,” Graffam said. “This legacy of a highly integrated approach was key to the success of our team’s submission”
Weiss agreed: “Our design reflects the values that the A-school has invested in all of our educations—reminding us that sites are not given but made.”
Knowing a site from an everyday-use standpoint is helpful, too.
“I live and grew up in DC, so this is deeply personal for me—I take my kids to visit these sites,” explained Abela. Because of his knowledge of the District, his understanding of the current problems with Union Square was intuitive.
Take its six-acre, 18-inch-deep fountain, for instance. “It’s a huge area just taking up space that no one can occupy in any meaningful way,” Abela explained. “Plus, it creates a barrier between the Capitol and the rest of the Mall.”
“In our design,” Abela continued, “we completed this missing connection by rotating the fountain, placing pathways through it, and making the pool shallower so it can be drained quickly to multiple sizes for special events. At the same time, it still works on the monumental scale as a large reflecting pool.”
The winning design for Constitution Gardens came from PWP Landscape Architecture and Rogers Marvel Architects. Lauren Hackney (BSArch ’05, MArch ’11, MLA ’11), who (along with Malda) studied the National Mall in a U.Va. studio taught by Meyer, was part of PWP’s winning design team led by Peter Walker.
The design will make Constitution Gardens an active part of DC’s urban ecology while amplifying the site’s original aesthetic intentions.
“My role was to develop the design concepts technically and graphically at multiple scales, and to coordinate and participate in the final representation effort,” explained Hackney, who joined PWP after participating in its 2010 summer internship program. “This was an incredible learning opportunity, allowing me to draw directly from my U.Va. experience as a dual-degree and jump into a major project on a very complex site as a young professional.”
Although the designs have been selected, the Mall’s restoration is still in its early stages. Next, costs of each project will be identified and evaluated ahead of implementation. The Trust for the National Mall will lead fundraising for the Sylvan Theater and Constitution Gardens, both of which will be entirely privately funded, while the U.S. Congress will be responsible for the renovations of Union Square, which it oversees for security reasons. The winning design for the Square is currently under review by the Architect of the Capitol.
The first groundbreaking is not planned until 2014 and the first ribbon-cutting for 2016.
Meanwhile, Meyer said, you’ll still see progress on the Mall. The NPS is undertaking a complete renovation of the central lawn panels to remediate the impact of decades during which the Mall has been “loved to death.”