The Hidden National Mall Revealed and What’s Coming Next

For a single static green lawn in the middle of Washington DC., the history of the National Mall is an ever evolving molasses of constant planning. Writing about the Lincoln Memorial pool first made me realize this mall was always both highly constructed and freshly reconstructed. Would you believe there was a canal that flowed through the center of the present day National Mall near the Capital? By 1860, however, the canal was a canal in name only, but a sewer in use. Eventually filled in by the 1880s, all that remains today of the canal is a lock house near Seventeenth Street and Constitution Avenue N.W. near the Washington Monument.

Would you believe that as late as 1935 there was a power plant in the center of the mall? And the ultimate mall reconstruction event was the fact was that one mile of the mall between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial was water and estuary before it was filled in.


Last week, the Trust for the National Mall completed a grand competition to upgrade the mall once again. After reviewing some 58 different proposals, they selected three winning proposals, one each for a different area of the National Mall. Some common elements between all three winning proposals include making the area more pedestrian friendly, more sustainable, and basically overall hiding the infrastructure. The three proposals include the following:
1. Union Square
My favorite highlight is a new central pool that is two-inches deep and, like a transformer, can be drained quickly to allow for plaza events. Union Square will be a closed watershed where storm water collection on the site feeds two cisterns for irrigation and retention. A living machine will clean the water.


2. Washington Monument
This upgrade hides all the tour buses with new landscape features and more importantly creates a new amphitheater.


3. Constitution Gardens
This design actually incorporates gardens back into landscape. A new reflection pool in the lake can be used for different activities. The lake water will be drawn from Lincoln Memorial pool and from the roofs of the building across Constitution Avenue.


So what is the next step?  This is the step when reality awkwardly creeps in and words such  as “phasing” enters the dialogue. Cost estimates will be done for the winning designs. The goal of the Trust is to raise money for at least one project by 2014 and have a ribbon cutting by 2016. This workhorse of a park deserves to the best park in the world. And just like the best parts of America, the National Mall should always be in a state of flux between planning, construction, and reconstruction.