Washington Common, An Unmonumental Core for Our Capital City [M2]

Congress shall make no law…prohibiting…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
—First Constitutional Amendment, 1789, rev. 1992

The second module of this studio builds on the context of the first, but is an independent effort pursuing social and ecological issues on the same foundation of knowledge and site history. This time, we will reimagine a public realm that challenges the traditional narrative of symbolic monumentality and makes a new spatial reading of the Core in support of free assembly. This is our nation’s most important site of dissent and witness.

While the 1902 Senate Park Commission set forth a vision for the National Mall and the Monumental Core that is familiar to all, the commission’s far greater ambition was to project a metropolitan scheme of parks—the “Washington Common”—that could build a healthy public realm and help reform a deeply segregated city. Today Washington retains lasting tensions between the Federal City and the citizens of the District of Columbia. Both are seriously threatened by dire climate risk and deeply implicit and explicit bias. 
Again, with an underlying revisionist conceptual framework already established, students will design a spatial and topographic hinge between the National Mall and the Tidal Basin, which will protect the Mall from flooding, will become the designated ‘first amendment zone’ for the Mall, and will finally realize the vision for a Washington Common. Should we retreat to the original shoreline? Or, welcome inundation and ecological change and remain in place? In either case, we will shape a space that allows protest and dissent to thrive at the intersection of the many hallowed and sometimes contested markers of our social and cultural history: the memorials to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Grant, King, and Mason; the war memorials; the Mall itself; Capitol Hill; and the White House—which has been traditionally thought to be the people’s house, though today we are not quite sure. There is no intersection like this one.

Students with design backgrounds in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Design are welcomed.

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