Dear Mr. Wilburn:
In its meeting of 18 April, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the concept design for the People's Garden site improvements and perimeter security plan for the headquarters complex of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which includes the Jamie L. Whitten Building and the Agriculture South Building, located at 14th Street and Independence Avenue, SW. The Commission did not take an action on the submission, while expressing support for the proposal's programmatic goals to transform the site of the headquarters complex to include an interpretive landscape on the National Mall.
The Commission members noted the great potential of this project to be a national model of sustainability and interpretive presentation of agricultural themes, but they found the proposal as presented to be lacking an overall coherence in its design, particularly within the monumental context of the Mall. They encouraged a more ambitious conception of the project at a scale commensurate with both the setting and the importance of the undertaking. For example, they observed that the proposed spaces for events such as a farmer's market appeared to be temporary and provisional, such as could be found anywhere, whereas the opportunity exists to create a more permanent installation to accommodate many programmed uses and to present a larger narrative experience for the visitor.
In the spirit of advancing sustainable best practices and public–sector management, the Commission members emphasized that the overall site should be considered as a productive, fecund landscape that contributes, both physically and educationally, to the public's understanding of the advancement of agriculture–much as this site was used in the late 19th century for experimental farming. In support of this idea, they admonished the USDA to discontinue the use of the site–including the courts facing Independence Avenue–as parking lots for the convenience of a small number of employees, a use which they characterized as wholly contradictory to the goals of this project.
In addition, the Commission members made several specific suggestions pertaining to the development of the concept design. They suggested that creating entry thresholds to the site would identify the landscape and make it more inviting to the public; they suggested developing a comprehensive system of signs to support the project's interpretive programming, possibly with applications for mobile devices to provide more information and connection to other USDA sites. Noting the project's proximity to the National Mall and other large federal properties, they also suggested that this initiative be coordinated with other sustainability projects such as the National Park Service's work to reconstruct the turf panels on the Mall, the Smithsonian Institution's initiative to improve the sustainability of its gardens, and the comprehensive plan for perimeter security and streetscapes at the Department of Commerce.
The Commission looks forward to the review of a more developed concept proposal for the landscape design of the USDA headquarters complex. As always, the staff is available to assist you and the design team with the next submission.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Curtis Wilburn, Jr., Director of Operations
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250–9800
cc: Robert E. Snieckus, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Shelly Rentsch, OLBN