CFA 20/JUL/23-1


West Potomac Park, between 17th Street and Henry Bacon Drive, NW
Washington, DC
United States

National Park Service
Constitution Gardens
Phase 2 ⁠- Rehabilitation of the lake and other landscape improvements
Review Type


Dear Ms. Hall:

In its public meeting of 20 July conducted by videoconference, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a revised concept design for the Phase 2 rehabilitation of the lake and landscape of Constitution Gardens, located on the National Mall in West Potomac Park between Henry Bacon Drive and 17th Street, NW. The Commission approved the revised concept and provided the following comments for the development of the design.

The Commission members expressed strong support for the initiative to renovate this deteriorated but significant park, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with landscape architect Dan Kiley for the nation’s Bicentennial. They found that the interventions would be appropriately respectful of the original Modernist design while introducing a new conceptual focus on the ecological demonstration of beauty—restoring the site’s failing natural systems and reinvigorating the public’s experience of the park. They also commented that the new landscape would provide an essential place of informal respite and contemplation within an area that has become increasingly dominated by memorials.

Commending the design as a beautiful reinterpretation that would transform the visitor’s experience of this landscape, the Commission members made several recommendations for the refinement of the proposal. For the design of the lake edge, they recommended specifying less obtrusive lighting fixtures and locating them on the outside edge of the path in order to avoid detracting from the sinuousness of the lake’s form; they discouraged engraving the text of the Constitution on the stone curb edge. For the lake itself, they commented that the lake ring has the potential to offer a special experience for visitors, and they emphasized that the design should allow pedestrians to feel safe walking on the ring’s path without intrusive railings; they noted the welcome visual interest of the proposed water aeration features, and they suggested further study of their expression. For the paving materials, they supported a darker granite on the lake ring path, but they advised using a lighter color for the perimeter path to minimize solar heat gain. For the plaza and terraces at the east end of the lake, they advised developing the barrier-free route to be equitable in relation to the existing stairway; they also found that the event plaza and its rigid perimeter of trees does not appear to relate to the larger landscape context, and they advised further study of its configuration. Finally, they emphasized the importance of providing benches and planting a generous tree canopy throughout the park to create shade, particularly at seating and gathering places.

The Commission looks forward to further review of this nationally significant landscape in the design development phase. Please continue to work with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you.


/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA

Kym A. Hall, Area Director
Region 1 – National Capital Area
National Park Service
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242

cc: Adam Greenspan, PWP Landscape Architecture