Dear Mr. Whitesell:
In its meeting of 18 October, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the conceptual alternatives for a permanent visitor security screening facility to replace the existing temporary structure at the Washington Monument. The Commission approved the configuration proposed in Option E–a new pavilion on the plaza adjacent to the historic monument entrance–as the most appropriate solution, given the great prominence of this iconic structure and setting within the National Mall landscape.
In their discussion of the alternatives, the Commission members came to a strong consensus that the least intervention is best; they concluded that Option E would constitute the least impact while addressing the operational needs of security screening for the following reasons. In consideration of the experience of the visitor, they observed that a direct route of entrance to the interior of the obelisk is preferable to a circuitous and mysterious path of ascending walks and descending ramps; they noted the value in having a visible entrance through the historic east portal at the plaza level. Observing that the setting of the Washington Monument–its plaza and the landscape surrounding it–elevates the visitor's perception of this object as a national symbol, they found that the solution proposed by most of the alternatives to descend into the earth would subvert the intended visitor experience. They also commented that penetrating the plaza or carving into the surrounding landscape undermines the understanding of the monument's great solidity and weight. They agreed that the alternatives create avoidable impacts on historic elements such as the stepped foundation, which is itself part of the monument's history and material culture; they noted that the landscape design by Laurie Olin for the Washington Monument Grounds is a preeminent national example of treating perimeter security with dignity and it should be protected in its own right.
For the design of the pavilion, the Commission members commented that an elegant glass box may be the most appropriate and forthright way to treat the contemporary necessity of security screening operations in the public realm. They noted that–given the great scale and geometric austerity of the obelisk, its circular plaza, and the curving pathways–a simple platonic form such as a cube is likely to constitute the best design solution.
The Commission members commended the National Park Service and the design team for their great sensitivity, rigor, and thoroughness in exploring the options presented. They noted that the detailed study models of wood and cork were very effective in demonstrating the intent and impacts of the alternatives. They also commented that this project provides an important impetus for the National Park Service to revise its outdated plan for the Washington Monument Grounds.
The Commission looks forward to further concept review of the security screening project with the goal of protecting and enhancing this most prominent of all monuments in the national 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: Hany Hassan, Beyer Blinder Belle
Peter May, National Park Service