Kawiaka wins Washington Monument redesign competition
By Kunyi Li
Published on Tuesday, July 3, 2012
The winning architectural design of studio art professor Karolina Kawiaka may reimagine the grounds of the Washington Monument for the first time in 40 years. Kawiaka’s plan, called “The People’s Forum,” revolves around a new amphitheater at the foot of the monument and was selected on May 17 as one of two winners in the international National Ideas Competition for the Washington Monument Grounds that began in 2010. The design is being discussed as part of a “Third Century” plan for the Mall.
The centerpiece of Kawiaka’s work is a 3,000-seat amphitheater that will be inserted into the currently empty grounds adjacent to the Washington Monument. The finished public space will overlook a new “great lawn” on the north-south axis that runs through the White House and Jefferson Memorial.
Kawiaka said she wanted to draw attention to the original plan for the monument to be placed at the intersection of two lines — one running north-south from the center of the White House and another east-west from the Capitol Building’s center.
Kawiaka’s design was inspired by classical architectural masterpieces such as the Roman Forum and Greek amphitheaters, which stood for the ideals of democracy and free speech, according to Kawiaka.
“I am interested in the idea of ‘placeness’ and how to build and create an experience that intensifies a sense of a particular place,” she said. “This means thinking about the whole experience of a building or landscape, including historical and symbolic references as well as the perceptual experience and the use of light to lead one through a space.”
The design met the functional and formal demands of the project while minimally disturbing the current layout of the Washington Monument’s ground. The organic contour of the amphitheater would be integrated into the environment and would complement the imposing verticality of the monument, Kawiaka said.
The original layout for Washington, D.C., designed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant and overseen by Thomas Jefferson, defined two orthogonal axes across the city that would represent presidential leadership and democratic governance. Kawiaka noted, however, that there currently is not a facility that tells the story of the Washington Monument to visitors of the National Mall. To fill this void, Kawiaka proposed that the ground beneath the monument be hollowed to make room for an underground Washington Monument Museum and a visitor’s center for the National Mall.
“Creating [the two new locations] allowed me to address the practical needs of the site,“ Kawiaka said. “But it also allows a visitor to actually see and walk through the massive foundations of the Washington Monument and help tell the story of its history and the reason it was moved.”
Besides the story of the monument, Kawiaka’s design tells the story of the American people. In an age in which the people are more and more distanced from the political process, “The People’s Forum” can symbolically restore the people’s voice by providing a forum of mediation at the crossroad between presidential leadership and representative democracy, she said.
In addition to the two underground centers, Kawiaka’s design also includes much-needed facilities, such as a secure and accessible entry to the monument, restrooms, bike rentals, concessions and areas of shade.
Kawiaka said that the process of completing the design for the competition was not without its challenges. Nonetheless, Kawiaka said she finds the creative environment dynamic and energetic, and she has received support from her students and colleagues.
Kawiaka recently met with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to discuss work on national parks, as well as with the competition’s juries to address how to incorporate the technical challenges of her design into the “Third Century” plan for the Mall, she said. Other elements being considered include seismic stabilization, protection against potential flooding, access to a public transportation hub and parking.
Trust for the National Mall, a nonprofit that aims to restore, revitalize and preserve the monument, will consider Kawiaka’s design for renovations due in 2014, according to The George Washington University Hatchet.
The competition invited participants to submit proposals for improving the barren ground around the monument in late 2010. It sought original ideas that “could involve history, landscape, art, play, inspiration or any other topic that would help to make the experience of this part of the National Mall more memorable,” according to the National Ideas Competition website.
Kawiaka, a graduate of Smith College and Harvard Graduate School of Design, said she has always been interested in large public spaces.
“In graduate school I did a project inspired by the Roman Coliseum, and then I spent six years working on large-scale public planning projects, museum designs and interpretive landscape projects,” she said.
Kawiaka, who lives in White River Junction and owns a professional architecture firm, has devoted her career to sustainable landscape and architectural design. She has taught at the College for 15 years and serves as a visiting critic for various architectural programs.