DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday Flashback: Unbuilt Washington

This post 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC on May 27, 2012

An alternate Washington Monument
Washington DC is a city of well-known monuments. The Washington Monument. The Capitol. The White House. The Lincoln Memorial. The list is lengthy. But before the buildings were the iconic structures they have become today, they were a series of architects' drawings and plans and mockups.

And, of course, in almost every case, they weren't the only designs considered. Can you imagine a Washington Monument with a giant round base at its bottom? Or a Pentagon with a 24-story tower rising from its middle courtyard? Or how about a Venetian style canal leading to the steps of the Capitol?

Well, architects could. And not only could they envision them, they drew up complex plans for such structures. And it is these plans and designs that formed the basis of Unbuilt Washington, an exhibit that just ended Memorial Day at the National Building Museum.

How about this for the Lincoln Memorial ...
If you known anything about the design of the city Washington, you know much of the credit for the look of the goes to Charles L'Enfant. However, L'Enfant was often late with his drawings and reluctantly had to be fired by 1st President George Washington. So, even in its beginnings, the district became the vision of many planners. Even Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States, submitted architectural plans for what the new capitol city should look like.

Many of the plans on display featured pyramids and domes and British-style gardens that are virtually impossible to equate with DC given the way it looks today.

Some of the more interesting projects are those that never came to fruition. For example, in 1940, the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed a massive project for Washington which was named Crystal Heights for the amount of glass it woulds contain. If built, Crystal Heights would have been the largest hotel and apartment complex in America. It would have included a shopping arcade, a theater, and underground parking for 4,000 cars.

... or this for our Capitol?
But some of the unrealized projects on display could still become a reality. In 2000, a design competition was held to "show how you believe the most powerful man or woman on Earth should live and work." One of the winning designs featured a futuristic "tree-fort" where the president could go to escape the inherent pressures of the job. Another included a giant screen outside the new White House where the first family and other dignitaries could have real-time conversations with visitors.

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