05 October 2009

Olin: Washington Monument

On October 21, at 6:30pm, Laurie Olin will be giving the Steve Strom Memorial Lecture at the Douglass Campus Center. Before then, I'll try to feature a few recent Olin projects, time permitting.

As part of a larger effort to solidify the security of the nation's monuments and critical buildings, Olin Partnership was hired to develop an attractive security enhancement for the Washington Monument. The result was an award-winning plan that completely hides its primary role as security enhancement, while enhancing the visitors' experience climbing up the hill.

One of the primary elements in the plan is a low series of stone walls which, while new, look like they could almost be original if only they had a light patina or bit of weathering. These walls and some retractable bollards, shape the rounded path systems as it encircles the plaza at the top of the hill.

The Bing Bird's Eye offers a great look at the hilltop plaza around the Monument. At ground level, it is easier to overlook the organization of the plaza, but the photo shows how the paving and benches subtly emphasize or reinforce the effect of the obelisk in. The rings of paving are part of Olin's more recent treatment of the site. These forms are elegant and universal, although it is easy enough to link them with more symbolic traditions by pointing out how the rings form a circumpunct (sometimes associated with the symbol for the greek letter Theta) around the point of the monument itself. Check the older air photos and you get a hint that it was pretty different before the remake.

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(BTW, when you look at the Mall in the 1949 historic Aerial, there is a large building West if the Monument. Anyone know what that is? A temporary WWII building? A temporary office building while something new was being built elsewhere?)

Finally, I find the benches at the top to be absolutely wonderful. Their shape makes them great for people who need to collapse on them after a death march down the Mall (sorry about that, alums!). The curve lets soda and rain roll off, and the cross-sections look very much like those Olin designed for Columbus Circle. But they also are large enough that many complete strangers can share them simultaneously without ever feeling like their personal space has been violated.

You can look at the plaza in isolation, but the Monument is something larger than that. Looking across from Lincoln to Washington, we like to talk about them together as reminders of the Birth and Redemption of the nation.

It is a big hill, but worth the climb. Olin helped make it a much more pleasant climb. Although the view from down here is pretty good too.

It even adds to its neighbors...

It is a shame that Olin couldn't help finish the project as it was originally planned:

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