In an effort to keep Washington, D.C.’s iconic Tidal Basin from sinking due to rising sea levels, the Trust for the National Mall along with the Preservation for the Historic Trust launched the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab to receive proposals from experts on how to stop the daily flooding and crumbling infrastructure of the 107-acre site.
Last week the Lab unveiled proposals from five leading landscape architecture firms — DLANDstudio, GGN, Hood Design Studio, James Corner Field Operations, and Reed Hilderbrand — to reconfigure one of D.C.’s most elegant outdoor platforms and preserve the site of iconic memorials to Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and, of course, the 3,000 Japanese cherry blossom trees.
The proposals are presented in a museum-quality online exhibition that invites the public to explore the histories and challenges of the Tidal Basin, and share feedback on ideas for the evolution of the historic landscape.
“As part of ‘America’s front yard,’ the Tidal Basin is home to some of the most iconic landmarks and traditions in the nation’s capital,” said Katherine Malone-France, chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“Yet current conditions do not do justice to a landscape of such significance. With this new digital exhibition, we are excited to share and engage the public with creative thinking from five of the best landscape architecture firms in the world.”
“These ideas explore ways to sustain this cultural landscape and its richly layered meanings for generations to come. This isn’t preservation as usual: this is preservation as innovation.”
The groups say, collectively, the five design teams explored diverse responses to saving the Tidal Basin with solutions such as reconfiguring the water’s edge, relocating or replanting the iconic cherry trees, creating new pathways and elevated vantage points and embracing the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of the tidal landscape.
Each proposal examines the significance of the site, explores the various histories that have shaped it implicitly and explicitly and grapples with issues fundamental to the preservation of complex cultural landscapes.
As the online exhibition’s co-curator Thomas Mellins notes, “The exhibition is being presented at a moment when the nation is grappling with thorny aspects of its own story, as well as with the question of who gets to write it.”
The design concepts include:
– DLANDstudio proposes new physical and visual connections that will reorient the flow of visitors and create new pathways through the basin, including building a land bridge between the Jefferson Memorial and the White House; forming a jetty in the Potomac River off the Lincoln Memorial housing the relocated memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr.; and cultivating sponge park wetlands, a reflective weir and green security wall to protect upland monuments, landscapes, and museums.
– GGN envisions a dynamic series of incremental changes that will adapt the site to the environmental challenges of the future and give rise to a new cultural aesthetic. Achieved over three stages between today and 2090, this adaptive plan will accommodate forecasted sea level rise and will integrate regional ecologies to bring an overdue, ecological point of view. Monuments will be adapted, protected, or relocated to ensure the national importance of this collective space.
– James Corner Field Operations offers three potential ways to handle and mitigate rising water levels: (1) preserve the site with an escalated regimen of maintenance and engineering; (2) allow the site to flood, creating a landscape in which entropy is on display; or (3) balance preservation with the acceptance of future instability and climate change by treating the memorials as islands within the Tidal Basin.
– Hood Design Studio proposes three “anthems”: “Tell the Truth!” seeks to replace romantic and baroque design with stories of perseverance and resiliency; “Let the Waters Be Free” restores narratives of how the wetlands were valued by indigenous and enslaved peoples; and “Invention: Making New Things” asks if the Tidal Basin can trigger a national ethic that centers on rebuilding our urban ecologies.
– Reed Hilderbrand focuses on the influential 1902 McMillan Plan for the development of the Washington, D.C. parks system and its monumental core, guided by the idea of creating a “Washington Commons” — a vast complex of recreational facilities. Encouraging a variety of experiences, the plan features three pathways: an uplands Cherry Walk, where the cherished trees will be relocated, a Memorial Walk, and a Marsh Walk. A new land form, Independence Rise, accommodates rising water levels, while a pedestrian bridge connects back to the city.
“The caliber of the thinking and quality of the ideas presented is a testament to the creativity and commitment of these world-class firms,” said Keith O’Connor, director of Urban Design and Planning at SOM.
“As a collective body of work, these provocations provide the National Park Service with an extraordinary resource upon which to mount an effective campaign to not only save the Tidal Basin, but to reshape a bright and hopeful future for this irreplaceable cultural landscape.”
The exhibition can be viewed at tidalbasinideaslab.org.
The public is being invited to show their support for a renewed Tidal Basin by signing a pledge at savingplaces.org/TidalBasin.