Tidal Basin Ideas Lab

John Hill
27. October 2020
Proposals by DLANDstudio, GGN, Hood Design Studio, James Corner Field Operations, and Reed Hilderbrand

The Tidal Basin Ideas Lab has unveiled proposals from five landscape architecture firms – DLANDstudio, GGN, Hood Design Studio, James Corner Field Operations, and Reed Hilderbrand – to reimagine Washington, DC’s Tidal Basin and National Mall.

The Tidal Basin Ideas Lab — initiated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Trust for the National Mall together with the National Park Service and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill — is predicated on the daily floods and aging infrastructure of the 170-acre site immediately south of the National Mall in Washington, DC. The basin is home to a trio of memorials (Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial) and every spring its thousands of cherry trees make the National Cherry Blossom Festival a popular event.

The five proposals are presented online on the standalone Tidal Basin Ideas Lab website, which has been curated by Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins. There, visitors can read about and see images of the designs, but they can also provide feedback on which design strategies are most appealing to them, such as creating wetlands and marshes to restore the landscape's ecology, for instance, or keeping the landscape as it is.

Short video presentations from each firm are embedded below, with design concepts quoted from a National Trust press release. 


Presented by Susannah C. Drake, DLANDstudio's proposal "proposes new physical and visual connections that will reorient the flow of visitors and create new pathways through the basin, including building a land bridge between the Jefferson Memorial and the White House; forming a jetty in the Potomac River off the Lincoln Memorial housing the relocated memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr.; and cultivating sponge park wetlands, a reflective weir and green security wall to protect upland monuments, landscapes, and museums."


Presented by Kathryn Gustafson, GGN's proposal "envisions a dynamic series of incremental changes that will adapt the site to the environmental challenges of the future and give rise to a new cultural aesthetic. Achieved over three stages between today and 2090, this adaptive plan will accommodate forecasted sea level rise and will integrate regional ecologies to bring an overdue, ecological point of view. Monuments will be adapted, protected, or relocated to ensure the national importance of this collective space."

Hood Design Studio

Presented by Walter Hood, Hood Design Studio's "proposes three 'anthems': 'Tell the Truth!' seeks to replace romantic and baroque design with stories of perseverance and resiliency; 'Let the Waters Be Free' restores narratives of how the wetlands were valued by indigenous and enslaved peoples; and 'Invention: Making New Things' asks if the Tidal Basin can trigger a national ethic that centers on rebuilding our urban ecologies."

James Corner Field Operations

Presented by James Corner, James Corner Field Operations' proposal "offers three potential ways to handle and mitigate rising water levels: (1) preserve the site with an escalated regimen of maintenance and engineering; (2) allow the site to flood, creating a landscape in which entropy is on display; or (3) balance preservation with the acceptance of future instability and climate change by treating the memorials as islands within the Tidal Basin."

Reed Hilderbrand

Presented by Gary Hilderbrand and Eric Kramer, Reed Hilderbrand's proposal "focuses on the influential 1902 McMillan Plan for the development of the Washington D.C. parks system and its monumental core, guided by the idea of creating a “Washington Commons” -- a vast complex of recreational facilities. Encouraging a variety of experiences, the plan features three pathways: an uplands Cherry Walk, where the cherished trees will be relocated, a Memorial Walk, and a Marsh Walk. A new land form, Independence Rise, accommodates rising water levels, while a pedestrian bridge connects back to the city."

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