Cunningham: National Mall Trust Wants Redesign Ideas

Congress’ backyard, the National Mall, is about to get a major redesign, and we’re asking every Member of Congress to play a role in supporting this effort for the future of our nation’s most iconic public space.

On Sept. 8, the Trust for the National Mall launched the National Mall Design Competition on behalf of the National Park Service. The 36-week contest will challenge architects and landscape designers to develop creative, sustainable solutions to the Mall’s restoration needs for three sites: Union Square, Constitution Gardens and the Washington Monument grounds.

The Trust for the National Mall is the official partner of the National Park Service, dedicated to raising the private-sector funds necessary to restore and improve the National Mall. Former first lady Laura Bush was recently named honorary chairwoman of the National Mall campaign, the nation’s largest public-private partnership, and we will announce more leadership positions in the coming months.

The design competition is a defining moment in the implementation of the National Mall Plan signed last fall by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. This historic document outlines a broad vision for the National Mall’s future.

One of only four plans in the park’s history, starting with Pierre L’Enfant’s original layout of the capital of a nascent republic, today’s National Mall Plan calls for a rethinking of how we meet the needs of an increasing number of visitors in a sustainable, memorable and beautiful manner.

The National Mall Design Competition will provide an unparalleled opportunity to contribute to the design and planning legacy of the National Mall. We’re asking Members to actively encourage designers in their districts to submit the best ideas for sustainable modern design solutions that improve while respecting the historical integrity of the National Mall’s landscapes and structures. We are seeking submissions from established and emerging designers alike as we seek to redesign and improve America’s most visited national park.

Incorporating GSA Design Excellence principles, the competition will inspire top designers to share our passion and commitment to restoring, improving and making the National Mall the best park in the world. A jury of seven prestigious experts from the fields of landscape architecture, historical preservation, the arts, urban landscape design and sustainable design will select the winning designs.

The three-stage competition will be guided by internationally renowned architect Donald Stastny, who has authored and managed more than 50 design selection processes and developed the Design Excellence Guidelines that shape all new federal building design competitions.

Stastny has been and will continue to be supported by a steering committee of representatives from the National Park Service, the Architect of the Capitol, the U.S. Park Police, the Smithsonian Institute, the National Gallery of Art, the National Capitol Planning Commission, the Commission on Fine Arts and the D.C. Office of Planning.

The trust will reveal winning designs at our 5th Annual Benefit Luncheon in May 2012.

The National Mall occupies a special place in American history and American culture, serving as the heart of our nation. The 770-acre park is a magnificent work of civic art; a memorial of presidential, military and civilian legacies; a space for recreation and active play; and a stage for demonstrations and national celebrations. Above all, as nearly half of the nation’s population will visit the National Mall at some point during their lifetime, it is the site of American pilgrimage and defining moments that shape our country.

Sadly, the National Mall is now in desperate need of restoration and repairs. While it receives more than twice the annual visitors of the Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon national parks combined, the Mall has not been adequately resourced, resulting in $450 million in deferred maintenance.

Viewed from the steps of the Capitol, the National Mall is a breathtaking sight — but a closer look reveals cracked sidewalks, broken lighting and crumbling infrastructure.

The grass has been worn away to patches of dirt in many places. The iconic reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial is stagnant and filled with algae. The Tidal Basin seawall has sunk more than 8 inches, endangering the Jefferson, FDR and MLK memorials. The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial is missing pieces. The heart of the National Mall, the Washington Monument, floods during heavy rains and sustained several cracks during the recent earthquake.

We are at an exciting crossroads and hope that Members will join us on this journey to reimagine the iconic landscape of the National Mall for today’s visitors and for generations to come. Together, we can make the National Mall the best park in the world.

More information on the National Mall Design Competition is available at nationalmalldesign.org.

Caroline Cunningham is president of the Trust for the National Mall.

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