Transforming Washington’s National Mall

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Transforming Washington's National Mall

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Transforming Washington's National Mall

The majestic tranquillity of the National Mall in Washington, DC, has become frazzled in recent years. Funds for maintaining its lush greenery have shrunk, while more and more people scrap for a memorial or museum of their own on America’s hallowed ground.

The Mall is known as America’s “front yard”. Its monuments, memorials and museums have become the canvas on which Americans paint their identity, self-confidence and global ambitions. From the steps of the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial on the Potomac stretch two miles (3.2km) of grass and trees. A great cross axis, marked by the obelisk of the Washington Monument, descends from the White House to the picturesque Tidal Basin, famous for its blossoming cherry trees. Patches of earth made bare by the trampling of 29m visitors a year are so common that the tattered Mall is fast becoming a symbol of American decline.

Congress has approved costly new buildings but is stingy about maintenance. The turf is finally being upgraded and last year the restored Washington Monument reopened. Further transformation promises to be subtle, yet extraordinary.

At the edge of the Washington Monument, Weiss/Manfredi, an architecture firm, and Philadelphia-based OLIN, landscape architects, will warp the lawn sensuously upwards to form a grassy amphitheatre facing a stage that will have the great obelisk as its backdrop. The reworked Sylvan Theatre also tucks a leaf-shaped glass pavilion under a wing-like planted roof. It is at once a romantically inviting café, meeting place and porch for viewing the monument. []

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