Reviews | The National Mall has plenty of space for two new museums


Renowned local architect Arthur Cotton Moore has designed a compelling and viable solution for two new museum sites on the mall. Moore has a long and respected reputation in Washington, having worked on countless new and preservation projects, including the renovation of the Library of Congress. He is a longtime vice-president of the coalition.

In his solution, the new side-by-side museums would be located along the mall’s historic north-south axis, as defined by the 1791 The Child Map and the McMillan plan from 1901 to 1902, the plans of the shopping center. The north-south axis extends from the White House to the Jefferson Memorial; it intersects, at the Washington Monument, the east-west axis of the Lincoln Memorial at the Capitol.


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Moore’s two sites would create a new pedestrian destination on the poorly used mall acreage south of the Washington Monument across from the Holocaust Museum across 15th Street. This area is currently occupied by intersecting access roads; these roads can be moved. Since flooding is a serious concern at the Tidal Basin, the new sites would be elevated on an embankment. The good news is that the federal government’s latest draft climate change maps indicate that a storm surge in 2050 would not inundate this higher ground. An elevated pedestrian bridge over the roads connecting the Washington Monument and Tidal Basin would correct the existing dangerous crosswalk.

Importantly, Moore’s concept creates two plots, each the size of the National Museum of the American Indian, that not only sit on the existing historic mall, but also, in effect, would complement a “Washington Commons” unrealized from the historic McMillan. A plan that provided for a bustling cultural destination on this land. Due to the creation of a large tidal pool, it was never realized. Instead, the modern automobile has taken over this valuable mall space.

The patrons of the museum have a difficult choice to try to find space on the Mall already full or to establish themselves elsewhere in the capital. We agree with the 24 members of the Senate who wrote to Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III on Nov. 22 that museums belong in the mall to highlight the “untold and overlooked contributions” of women and Latinos .

The senators’ letter, however, is wrong on one important point. He states, “From our perspective, the National Mall is the two-mile park from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, bounded on the north and south by Constitution and Independence Avenues.” This definition is inconsistent with the historical vision of the L’Enfant and McMillan plans of the Mall as a unified landscape laid out on two axes, with the Washington Monument at its heart. Moore’s proposed museum sites are exactly consistent with and significantly reinforce the historical concept of the mall’s cross-axis linking iconic symbols of American democracy.

Ultimately, any long-term solution for future mall development and the inevitable future museums and monuments is for Congress to create a new McMillan-style commission to update the McMillan Plan. A new all-encompassing, forward-looking vision could once again expand the mall’s boundaries, as the McMillan Plan did over a century ago to include the Lincoln Memorial, and breathe new life into the mall. to grow with our ever-changing democracy.

For now, Moore’s idea reveals a new opportunity to improve an underutilized area of ​​the existing mall and provides an ingenious solution to enhance American history on this beloved stage for our democracy.

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