Nearly a million people crowded the National Mall yesterday to witness the second swearing-in of President Barack Obama. The Mall was transformed – from the oft-trampled, dusty track of land separating the Capitol from the Lincoln Memorial – into a space of civic pride and participation. It’s moments like these that reveal to us the latent potential of the National Mall, and it’s important symbolic value as our Nation’s “backyard.”
The National Mall has suffered decades of over-use and under-funding, but has recently come back on the National agenda. With many projects underway – and soon to be underway – now is the time to consider: What is the National Mall? What is its value? And how should it be designed for the future? With informative graphics, varied insights, and interesting case studies, CLOG: National Mall addresses these vital questions.
Read our review of CLOG: National Mall, after the break…
This latest edition of CLOG, the quarterly that takes on important issues in architecture and examines them from all angles, begins with an exploration of what the Mall is. In an oblique critique of American society, the Mall’s worth is challenged by Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman – who points out that a simple Google search for “Mall of America” results in six commercial centers before the National Mall appears (17).
Leo Mulvehill’s attack is more pointed; he criticizes the Mall’s design (which uses physical and acoustical barriers to separate the people from government buildings), as a “measure of control, a container of free speech” (21).
However, most of the articles in CLOG: National Mall laud this civic space for its marvelous, albeit complicated, plurality. In “Optimistic About Empty,” Brian Boyer claims that the Mall has a “charged emptiness,” and that charging that emptiness with a variety of temporary programs is “one of our democracy’s most potent symbolic acts” (19).
Ennead Architects, while pointing out the difficulty in designing and constructing buildings on the Mall due to red-tape, point out that “the Mall reflects – in a highly-concentrated form—the multi-lateral, bureaucratic, yet ultimately democratic process of our Republic itself” (33).
Perhaps one of the most engaging articles comes from CLOG editor-in-chief and Principal at Abrahams May Architects, Kyle May, who ponders the lifespan of the Memorial. On the one hand, he points out that the Memorial is made to last by the act of physicalizing it (often in stone); on the other hand, as we begin to digitalize our world, the memorial could take on a virtual life, one which could let it live on (potentially) for ever.
Then May, considering the evolving audience and purpose of a Memorial, complicates the matter by putting forth an interesting proposition: perhaps the life of a Memorial should change over time. “Maybe the ideal is building a one hundred year place of solace that gets replaced by a place of learning. Or maybe memorials just need to have expiration dates” (45).
This theme of the memorial as place of solace vs. learning repeats in National Mall, particularly in discussion of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Indeed, all of the writers who mention the Memorial praise it – no surprise, considering it is one of the few that departs from the classical aesthetic that characterizes the rest of the Mall. One interesting article from Friedrich St. Florian, the architect behind the World War II Memorial, in fact delineates this difference, describing his work as a “traditional memorial experience” in contrast to the “instant,” “healing” memorial that was required of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Sam Roche also praises Maya Lin’s Memorial, although for a different reason. In his article “Problems With Process and Product on the Eisenhower Memorial,” he points out that the open design process that resulted in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial allowed for a multiplicity of options and a kind of mandate that allowed it to overcome controversy and come to fruition.
In contrast, Frank Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial, which has notoriously run into stumbling block after stumbling block, remains in limbo. In Roche’s words: “without the alternatives to an unbuildable or controversial winner that a competition would provide, we must consider challenges to the current design in a vacuum” (37).
Beyond the Eisenhower Memorial, National Mall also takes on other controversial, contemporary projects. In “Mediating In-Between the Void,” Danielle Rago defends Diller, Scofidio + Renfro’s heavily criticized “Bubble” installation at the Hirshorn Museum.
National Mall also offers perspectives from the architects themselves: Olin discusses their redesign of the Mall’s landscape; Rogers Marvel Architects reveals how they melded security measures with a subversive re-appropriation of public space in their re-design of President’s Park; and each of the winning teams from the Trust for the National Mall’s re-design competition explains the logic behind their winning proposals.
It’s in these practical case studies and philosophical contemplations that CLOG: National Mall shines. Like the Mall itself, this CLOG is a place where the practical and the ideal meet – and, at least within its pages, the two are very much in conversation.
10 MAP OF THE NATIONAL MALL
12 PORTRAIT OF THE MALL
14 HOW BIG IS THE NATIONAL MALL?
16 NATIONAL MALL / MALL OF AMERICA WHAT REPRESENTS US BEST?
18 OPTIMISTIC ABOUT EMPTY
20 MISTAKEN IDENTITY
22 PLANS FOR THE NATION MALL: 1791-2012
26 L’ENFANT’S PLAN FOR WASHINGTON, D.C., AND A PRECEDENT: THE PLAN OF VERSAILLES
28 THE EAST WING
30 J. CARTER BROWN
32 LESSONS LEARNED
34 MONUMENT PLANS OVER TIME
36 PROBLEMS WITH PROCESS AND PRODUCT ON THE EISENHOWER MEMORIAL
38 AMERICA’S FRONT PORCH
40 MEMORIAL AS LANDSCAPE
44 MEMORIAL LIFESPAN
46 MEMORIAL EXPECTANCY
48 WHICH MEMORIALS ARE NEXT?
50 BUILDING A BETTER FLOOD WALL
54 ANTI-SYMBOLIC SPACE
56 MEMORIAL FOR HEROES
58 STAKING GROUND
60 WRITTEN IN STONE
62 MORE SLIP OR SLIDE?
64 DOVES AND DOMES
66 NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE
68 THE NATIONAL MALL: A TIMELINE
70 THE GRASS IS NOW GREENER
72 USAGE OF THE MALL
74 ULMUS AMERICANA ‘JEFFERSON’
76 THE NATIONAL NURSERY: GROWING THE CITY OF TREES
78 MALL POST-9/11
80 PRESIDENTIAL SECURITY
82 LAND OF THE FREE
84 CASTLES AND CRYPTS
86 BUBBLE: HIRSHHORN MUSEUM AND SCULPTURE GARDEN EXPANSION
88 MEDIATING IN-BETWEEN THE VOID
90 IN DEFENSE OF THE DONUT
92 AUGMENTING THE NPS
94 INTERVIEW WITH THE TRUST FOR THE NATIONAL MALL
102 CONSTITUTION GARDENS
106 WASHINGTON MONUMENT GROUNDS AT SYLVAN THEATER
110 UNION SQUARE
114 INTERVIEW WITH THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
116 THE PROCESS
118 PUBLIC MALL
120 CONTRIBUTOR BIOS
124 NOTES TO SUBMISSION INTERVIEWS
125 IMAGE CREDITS
You can buy your own edition of CLOG: National Mall at CLOG’s Website.