Ideas Competition

From Const. and 16th St NW
The 65-acre expanse surrounding the Washington Monument was intended to be, according to the 1902 McMillan Plan, an oasis of trees and water elements but that concept was never realized. Instead, this area separating the Lincoln Memorial on the west and the museum-lined eastern Mall feels like a desert in summer and a tundra in winter, a forbidding span that could benefit from new ideas to make it truly the Mall centerpiece it was intended to be.  That observation was the basis of the National Ideas Competition.  Photo courtesy David Luria

Washington Monument Ideas Competition

Visitors walking on the National Mall encounter at the Washington Monument a vast open landscape with few trees or places to rest.  In fact, these 65 acres were never completed as the “gem of the Mall system” intended by the 1902 McMillan Commission Plan. The National Mall Coalition came up with the idea for a National Ideas Competition for the Washington Monument Grounds as a way to encourage the public to both learn about Mall history and get actively involved in thinking about improving it for the future.

From 2010 to 2012, we sponsored the Competition along with the George Washington University and other universities and educational institutions. More than 500 people from all across the country and around the world participated, some as young as 12 years old. From a field of twenty-four semifinalists, a distinguished jury chose six top ideas. The public chose the top two People’s Choice winners.

One crucial question participants were asked to address was how to give due prominence to the most symbolic spot on the Mall: the point where the Capitol east-west axis intersects the White House WAMO cross axis Highsmith w rednorth-south axis, as illustrated at right. L’Enfant’s 1791 plan designated this spot for the Washington Monument. After the Monument was built off axis, the 1902 McMillan Plan proposed here a circular pool, which was never completed. Today a plain granite stump, the Jefferson Pier, sits alone and unknown. How can we draw people to this location to experience the full visual and symbolic power of the Mall?

To learn more about the sponsors, juries, and open competition process, and to view all the submissions and winners, please visit the website

WAMO_Jury_Jan2011 048 cropped
The distinguished juries included George Washington historian David Hackett Fischer, art historian Kirk Savage, and landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson

Two public exhibitions in 2012 highlighted the Competition process and the semi-finalist and winning designs.  “Someday in the Park with George” was curated by students in the Museum Studies program at George Washington University for the Virginia Center for Architecture in Richmond. The other was curated by the Ideas Competition Steering Committee and shown at the AIA/DC offices in Washington.  A brochure contained essays on various aspects of the Competition.

To learn more about the sponsors, juries, and open competition process, and to view all the submissions and winners, please visit the website

Someday in the Park with George booklet cover
“Someday in the Park with George” booklet cover

Click here to download the competition catalogue, which includes essays by members of the Steering Committee for the National Ideas Competition on various aspects of history and the Competition process.

Note: Due to the need to reduce the size of this very large file, we’ve had to sacrifice the quality of some of the photographs. If you’d like a full resolution copy of the booklet, please contact:

Watch: A 12-Minute History of the Washington Monument Grounds