The six finalists for the Washington Monument Grounds Competition were just announced. The competition is centered around the Washington Monument and the fact that, despite centuries of planning, the area surrounding it has never been fully finished. The goal is to make the grounds "more welcoming, educational, and effectively used by the public."
Catherine Peek's "Field of Stars"
I have to admit that the submissions from the majority of the finalists, whom include both local and international architects, are rather unimpressive. One merely positions trees in a variety of patterns, while another is a rather abrupt field of "landscaping lights that generate piezoelectricity and trigger fragments of historic sound." Um, what? A third looks like an attempt at the Vietnam Memorial 2.0.
Jinwoo Lim's "You and Me"
Karol Kawiaka's "The People's Forum"
Luckily, there is a single entry that stands out above the rest. Karol Kawiaka's "The People's Forum" is an amphitheater built into the base of the Washington Monument. The rows of seats are literally in the shadow of the tower. As described in Kawiaka's presentation board:
Jefferson's original plan for Washington, D.C. defined two axes representing presidential leadership and democratic governance. 200 years later, that vision is realized by a civic place that tells the story of the Washington Monument, creates a public forum for gatherings, and completes a vision of the Mall as America's front lawn.
It seems like the architectural projects that get the most recognition these days are the ones that either border on the organic or are more sculptural than mere building. But I find architecture that is so perfectly fitting in its environment to be some of the most satisfying.
I once heard someone define a well-designed product as one that "could not be designed any other way," like the iPod or the Mini Cooper. I think Kawiaka's competition entry falls into that category. When you consider what else you could possibly want to tie together the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, US Capitol Building, and the White House other than a giant forum for US citizens to come and talk with one another, I honestly come up with nothing. Washington, D.C. is about the freedom of ideas and the freedom to share them with your fellow American; it is certainly not about organic contours, nor technologically advanced lights and "historic sounds."
This sentiment is only more true in this day and age where there is a seemingly vast disconnect between the United States government and its people. Perhaps a public forum within the view of Congress and the White House is just what America needs most.
Vote for your favorite design here!