This proposal presents solutions to the quotidian and leverages strategic interests to ensure the bold is feasible. It doesnot ask for a suspension of disbelief, but a will to envision.
Pennsylvania Avenue, west of the White House is in the shadow of the Monumental Core, wedged between international business, an urban campus, and a vibrant downtown. This juxtaposition of scale, program, and character has mottled the experience and identity of Pennsylvania Avenue. However, it has also created an opportunity to reinvent – to establish a new personality for this iconic corridor. To successfully reimagine the public realm of Pennsylvania Avenue requires more than a facelift. It requires the recognition that this corridor has its own place in the life of the city – related to but different from its notable counterpart to the east. This design effort requires fashioning a clear identity, cultivating character, and connecting its storied past to its evolving future.
Pennsylvania Avenue’s past is embedded in the fabric of the District and the power of a nation. As the road that connects the White House to the Capitol, Pennsylvania Avenue is the nation’s corridor of power. Political and institutional infrastructure frames the streetscape. Monumental vistas and symbolic landmarks express the exchange of ideas and transfer of power that has and continues to occur behind closed doors and in public debate. West of the White House, exists another corridor of power, one whose infrastructure is hidden not behind closed doors, but in and below the ground. As early as L’Enfant and Ellicott, and continuing with McMillan, Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House has served as an infrastructural corridor carrying conduits of electricity, water, and transportation to the heart of the city. (The Washington & Georgetown Railroad ran its first line down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1862. Public fresh water was first brought to the city via the Washington Aqueduct in 1864.)
The Mahan Rykiel team is proposing a design approach that is both figurative and formal. Power serves as a conceptual bridge to frame and structure the narrative of Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House as distinct from, as well as, a foil to Pennsylvania Avenue east of the White House. Physically, an updated infrastructure of power articulated along a renewed streetscape will serve to unify the public realm and create a cohesive experience for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists in the form of enhanced bike lanes, stormwater management features, and alternative energy elements (photovoltaic charging stations, LED lights, piezoelectric surfaces, etc.). This expression of power will be amplified in the public right of way alongside Murrow and Monroe parks with flush curbs, special paving, and planting details in order to facilitate the large gatherings and events that are quintessential to the energy of the nation’s capital.
Through the language of power, the public realm of Pennsylvania Avenue will address the challenges of a grand boulevard, meeting the needs of today while paving the way for a vibrant future.