NCPC Meeting: Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool rehabilitation, Hirshhorn inflatable pavilion

Dear Coalition Friends:

At the April 1st meeting of the National Capital Planning Commission, the National Park Service will seek final approval for its Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool rehabilitation.

Other items on the agenda include the Hirshhorn inflatable pavilion (see article below), the perimeter fence for St. Elizabeths campus (new home of the Department of Homeland Security), and final approval of the CapitalSpace Plan.  You can download the Agenda and by clicking on the “File Number” download the individual staff reports and recommendations for each topic, at

The meeting begins at 12:30 at the NCPC offices 401 9th Street, NW, Suite 500.  The Lincoln project should begin at 12:50.  If you wish to testify on any item, you must register by noon on March 31st by calling 202-482-7200.

  1. LINCOLN:  The federal and District review agencies signed off on this project last week.  The NPS rejected the Coalition’s proposed alternative of a recirculating bio-filtration system and permeable walkways to minimize adverse impacts and improve sustainability.

Many components of the NPS design are reasonable and sensitively designed by NPS consultants Sasaki Associates.  But we continue to be seriously concerned about two aspects that could significantly and irrevocably alter the historic character of the Lincoln Memorial grounds and this entire western portion of the National Mall:  

    1. large amounts of hard paving for all renovated and new surfaces, including the existing pathways under the elms, redesigned accessible ramps and walkways, security walls and barriers, and new, 16-foot concrete walkways alongside the Pool itself, and
    2. new 40 x 60 foot water pumping and filtration building to be located just south of the Reflecting Pool in Ash Woods, next to the “temporary” horse stables.  We believe alternative nearby locations should have been studied.

While the rehabilitation of the Pool and Lincoln grounds is much needed, and Congressional stimulus funds much appreciated, this design process has been driven primarily by practical security, accessibility, and maintenance needs.

Unfortunately, besides the Coalition, there has been so far as we know little input from historians, McMillan Plan scholars, and experts with a deep knowledge of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. whose design inspired this western end of the National Mall.  This rehabilitation/redesign is not part of any overall design master plan for the entire National Mall even though decisions made here will have longer term impacts on future improvements throughout the rest of the Mall.

One solution we have proposed to the NPS and federal review agencies — and we will repeat in comments on April 1st — is to subdivide the project so the noncontroversial parts can move forward while controversial elements are given more study.

  1. HIRSHHORN The Hirshhorn Museum inflatable pavilion was approved by the Commission of Fine Arts in February, as reported below.

For a more critical take on the project, read art critic Tyler Green, “A ‘Bulbous Membrane’ or ‘Koshalek’s Folly’?” in Modern Art Notes.   Also from December 2009, from Blake Gopnik in The Washington Post, “The Hirshhorn ballon expansion: Will art get squeezed out of the picture?

Hirshhorn Museum Wins Support for Glowing Bubble

February 18, 2010 – WASHINGTON
NewsChannel 8

A panel overseeing architecture in the nation’s capital has approved a temporary, bubble-like addition for the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum on the National Mall.

Earl A. Powell, chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, said Thursday the museum could “go forth and inflate.”

Museum director Richard Koshalek wants to create a special performance space to discuss cultural issues. It would be inflated twice each year. He says museums need to boldly redefine their roles.

Architect Elizabeth Diller says she started with an inflated plastic bag to create the look of a glowing balloon atop the museum.

The commission praised the concept as “exciting” and raised no objections. Museum planners still must win approval from the National Capital Planning Commission next month.


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