Grounds For Concern


Landscape architects Laurie Olin and Avinash Rajagopal lament what 9-11 wrought on the National Mall:

The United States Capitol grounds were redesigned between 1874 and 1892 by the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. His fabulous design partook of the pastoral imagery of his earlier work in New York City’s Central and Prospect parks, with verdant spaces, clumps of trees, curvilinear paths, and free-flowing movement. The detail was Victorian, but quite lush, whether in the bronze casting, the stone carving, or the handsome low walls. Everything was a procession that guided movement, helped with grading, dealt with drainage, and produced a kind of sequence of views that led you to your government at work.

That’s the opposite of saying: "Stay out, keep away, don’t come near"—which is what happened to the grounds after 9/11.

The area is under the jurisdiction of the architect of the Capitol, who answers only to Congress. Therefore, they did things their way, and with their own contracts. Everything that Olmsted had designed was suddenly thwarted, cut off, blocked. Some changes are in the wrong place; many are unnecessary. They’re ugly. Today the whole crew that messed things up—that president and his staff, the architect of the Capitol—are gone. But no one has thought to undo the changes and make it right.

(Photo: The Lincoln Memorial is seen through a fence on September 10, 2011 in Washington, DC. Ahead of tomorrow's tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, officials have warned of heightened security threats. By Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images.)

Update from a reader:

The fence in that photo is not from 9/11 and has absolutely nothing to do with national security. It is because of construction going on at the reflecting pool.