Dear Mr. Whitesell:
In its meeting of 16 February, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design for Phases II and III for the reconstruction of the National Mall, encompassing the lawn panels between 7th and 14th Streets. While supporting the general approach of the many environmental improvements and the previously approved lawn panel construction details from Phase I, the Commission raised concerns about the configuration of the panels and the increased widths proposed for the walkways, requesting revisions to the concept design to address the following comments.
The Commission members emphasized that the integrity of the Mall as a continuous, green, designed landscape should not be compromised by substantial physical changes, particularly extensive pavement intended to accommodate transitory uses of high impact. Noting the scale of alterations proposed–such as doubling or tripling walk widths and replacing acres of grass with hard surfaces–they recommended instead following the principle of preserving the maximum extent of lawn while minimizing increases in paved areas that disrupt the fundamental character of the landscape. They stressed that the pedestrian experience of the Mall, in all its aspects, is paramount; temporary programming should be accommodated with the understanding that some continual effort of turf restoration will always be necessary.
In order to minimize impact to this iconic and historic landscape, the Commission members made several recommendations in response to the submitted alternatives. They supported the concept of creating certain areas of "sacrificial" turf, such as shown in alternatives 1 and 3, to accommodate larger events. However, they strongly opposed the addition of paving along 7th Street that would result in a continuous paved area nearly 200 feet wide, recommending that a different solution be developed for the infrequent staging of equipment associated with presidential inaugural events. If the cross–axial paths at 10th and 13th Streets are to be widened from their existing 40–foot dimension, the Commission members said that some increase in width may be supportable, possibly up to 80 feet, and requested additional documentation to depict more fully the visitor experience as seen from multiple vantage points.
In lieu of implementing drastic and permanent alterations to this preeminent national landscape, the Commission members encouraged the National Park Service to find operational ways to control the impact of events on the Mall, such as limiting the size of tents and locating them on the sidewalks adjacent to Jefferson and Madison Drives. They noted the likely preference of event organizers to aggregate temporary facilities and attractions; they cautioned that increasing the size of paved areas to accommodate this concentration of activity may actually result in the extension of damage even further into adjacent turf, thereby increasing the overall degradation of the Mall landscape.
The Commission thanks the National Park Service for its continued stewardship of the National Mall and encourages the exploration of alternatives to restore and preserve its essential character as a green landscape in the heart of the nation's capital. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Steve Whitesell, Regional Director
National Park Service, National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: Peter May, National Park Service
Suzette Goldstein, HOK
Shane Dettman, National Capital Planning Commission