Pennsylvania Avenue and East and West Executive Avenues, NW
Dear Mr. Vogel:
In its meeting of 17 November, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a revised concept design for the proposed replacement perimeter fence at the White House. This review included the on-site inspection of a full-size mockup of a segment of the proposed fence as previously requested as a condition of the concept approval action. The Commission requested further development of the fence elements, providing the following comments for continued refinement of the design.
The Commission members again acknowledged the programmatic necessity for a new fence at the White House that meets current security requirements while conveying a quality of both strength and openness. Noting the great increase in the scale of the fence, they observed that the context of Pennsylvania Avenue has also changed with its closure to traffic: the fence now participates in a larger composition that encompasses the plaza-like streetscape of the avenue, and is no longer simply an edge to the White House Grounds. However, in considering the proposed doubling of the size of the fence, they advised that merely enlarging the components of the historic design would be inappropriate; they recommended creating a more coherent character for the fence at this new scale.
The Commission members requested further refinement of the design to avoid what they found to be a confusing mix of historicist and modern elements. They recommended articulating the metal fence details—such as the intermediate posts, finials, brackets, base attachments, and anti-climb spikes—as a slightly more abstracted vocabulary of related elements in a hierarchical relationship to each other. More generally, they asked for further study of how these elements meet the piers, base, and gates. For the masonry base, they recommended studying the detail where the two-inch-thick pickets attach to the limestone cap, and using a rough cleft-face or bush-hammered finish for the granite base, with the goal of maintaining the concept of a garden edge to the White House Grounds rather than an extension of the granite sidewalk. For the large piers, they recommended decreasing their massiveness by shortening the unrusticated top segment and reducing their overall width and depth. For the composition of the piers across the Pennsylvania Avenue frontage, they requested preparation of a full street elevation to study whether any of the piers at the pedestrian gates should be omitted, given their increased size in proportion to human scale. For the vehicular gates, they recommended the option of incorporating crash protection within the gates in order to avoid the visual clutter of a double system of barriers.
The Commission expressed appreciation for the effectiveness of the mockup in analyzing the proposed fence and looks forward to reviewing the further refinement of the design. As always, the staff is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Robert Vogel, Regional Director
National Park Service, National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: Thomas Dougherty, U.S. Secret Service
Michael Mills, Mills & Schnoering Architects