Pennsylvania Avenue and East and West Executive Avenues, NW
Dear Mr. Vogel:
In its meeting of 21 April, the Commission of Fine Arts was pleased to hear an information presentation on a new design to replace the perimeter fence at the White House, part of a larger effort to improve security and visitor experience in a protected area which includes the Treasury Building, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and President's Park South.
The Commission members expressed appreciation for the thoroughness and creativity evident in addressing the difficult challenge of reconciling contemporary standards of protection with this historic and highly symbolic property. They emphasized that the fence should have a beautiful design evoking a spirit of freedom and strength for the White House as the seat of the U.S. presidency, rather than projecting a sense of fear. Acknowledging the technical requirements of perimeter security which must be met, they cautioned that there may be a point at which the historic paradigm of a simple barrier fence is no longer aesthetically viable given the great increase in scale now proposed, and suggested that a frank expression of contemporary functionality could be appropriate. For example, they commented that recreating the existing low rustic stone base along Pennsylvania Avenue may no longer be suitable for the proposed taller fence, and a more finished ashlar—as used on the south side of the White House Grounds—may be preferable; or that motion sensors at the top of the fence could be visible.
Recognizing that the intent is to nearly double the height of the new fence and the thickness of the individual pickets, the Commission members made several suggestions regarding the development of the component elements. They recommended that the hierarchy and proportions of the large finials and anti-climb spikes at the top of the fence be carefully studied to prevent a heavy appearance, and they suggested considering more detail at the bottom to balance the visual complexity at the top. For the gates, they discouraged the downward-curving arrangement of pickets, and they requested careful study of the reuse of the historic decorative lamp standards and their mounting if these are to be reinstalled on much larger piers at a greater height. They also emphasized the importance of saving the mature trees adjacent to the fence to the extent possible given the increased height of the new fence and potential disruption of the trees' root zones.
The Commission looks forward to a concept design submission for the White House fence, as well as for the fences enclosing the adjacent Treasury and Eisenhower Executive Office Building properties, and they encourage the timely development of the initiative for perimeter security at President's Park South. 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