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Three designs that will transform the National Mall

Posting in Architecture

Winners of a design competition could turn the National Mall in Washington, D.C. into a great public space.

The National Mall in Washington, D.C.: it's the ultimate public space. But for a number of decades it has not been treated that way.

Now, three designs have been chosen by the Trust for the National Mall, the restoration partner of the National Parks Service, to update three sections of the National Mall.

The spots that will receive the facelift are: Constitution Gardens, Washington Monument Grounds at Sylvan Theater, and Union Square near the U.S. Capitol.

Here are the winning designs for each section:

Constitution Gardens

Winning designer: Rogers Marvel Architects & Peter Walker and Partners

Distinguishing feature:pavilion that overlooks the lake and gardens. The space will provide magnificent views of the gardens and the mall. There will be a restaurant in the pavilion to attract people to this corner of the mall that is often overlooked. Ice skating will draw people to the area in the winter. Replaces this.

Architect's take: "Constitution Gardens at the National Mall shows respect for the historic plans created by Olmsted, McMillan and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. The new experience will allow for a secluded and welcoming garden where Washington families will come on weekends, where tourists will pause before continuing on their cultural journey, where children will discover the joys of newly discovered lake-edge activities, and where nearby workers can stop for a drink."

Washington Monument Grounds at Sylvan Theater

Winning architect: OLIN & Weiss/Manfredi

Distinguishing feature: Sylvan Garden Amphitheater has a sloping seating area that rises 32-feet at the edges and faces a stage with the Washington Monument in the background. Replaces this.

Architect's take: "The Sylvan Grove reinvigorates the Monument Grounds with new landscapes of performance, clarifies the visual connections between the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial, provides new physical connections between the cultural landscape of the Mall and the Tidal Basin, and most importantly, creates a transformed setting for our nation’s most visible center stage."

Union Square

Winning architect: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol & Davis Brody Bond

Distinguishing feature: The central pool will replace the current reflecting pool. The new pool will offer more flexibility. Most importantly, it can be quickly drained, while conserving the water, in order to host more people in the square for large events.

Architect's take: "The goal of our design is to create a sustainable, durable and flexible plaza that is yet inviting and also active when it is not occupied for national events."

. . .

Next steps: The Trust begins fundraising for the Constitution Gardens and Sylvan Theater projects, while the The Architect of the Capitol gathers funds for Union Square.

When will you see the completion of the first project? According to the Washington Post, expect to see the first ribbon cutting of one of the projects in 2016.

My take: These three designs are just what the National Mall needs to become a great public space. All the designs are bold yet thoughtfully integrated into the mall, they are stunning but practical. An estimated 25 million people visit the sprawling park in the capital of the United States and they should see the best that urban landscape architecture has to offer. That will be the case when these projects go from paper to reality.

Photos: Trust for the National Mall

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure