Wednesday, August 21, 2013

This is what it was supposed to be like at the Smithsonian's now-under-construction National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Along the north side of the building would be a wetland overflowing with lilies, marsh plants, floating flowers, and cattails. It would provide a refuge for birds and other animals, and be stocked with fish. A slow-moving "creek" would parallel Constitution Avenue NW, with water plants moving along with it. A bridge at an angle would permit visitors to figuratively "cross over Jordan" and access the museum via this restful, cool, natural gateway.

Here's how Philip Freelon, the architect described it:
At 50m (49'-2") deep, the setback is similar to other buildings on the north side of the Mall. The underside of the porch roof is tilted upward allowing reflection of the moving water below. This covered area creates a microclimate where breezes combine with the cooling waters to generate a place of refuge from the hot summer sun. There is also an outdoor patio on the porch rooftop that is accessed from a mezzanine level within the building.
The NMAAHC's own Web site (as of August 20, 2013) called this marshland "critical" to the visitor experience:
The landscape is an integral part of this design, establishing the site as a critical component of the visitor experience while providing perimeter security and sustainable water management. From ground plane to rooftop, the series of landscaped spaces embody both a metaphorical and physical narrative, with the presence of water as a constant and dynamic companion throughout the journey.

A marsh garden at the north entry marks the location of Tiber Creek—part of the canal system which once ran along what is now Constitution Avenue. A grand reflecting pool at the south entry brings the new museum into the view of the Mall—its slowly moving waters inviting all to approach.
But now the Smithsonian is radically changing this landscaping and will abandon the entire marsh concept.

The Smithsonian cites cost considerations. One wonders, however, if security isn't the real reason...

In fact, it could have been much worse. The Smithsonian initially proposed a low hedge. A fucking hedge!!!!! It brought this design to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in April 2013, which rejected it. The Commission expressed "great concern about the possible loss of the symbolic meaning that had been skillfully woven into the design of both the landscape and the building".

In late July, the Smithsonian replaced the hedge with a low dull black granite wall and slab of flat lawn. The Commission of Fine Arts approved that redesign, because -- I guess -- it was just as much full of "symbolic meaning that had been skillfully woven into the design of both the landscape and the building".

What bullshitters you are, Commission of Fine Arts!

The Smithsonian will now bring it before the National Capital Planning Commission. The NCPC's executive director has already recommended that the commission approve the change. That'll be that. No more water feature. No more symbolism. Dullsville.

You suck, Smithsonian! You suck!

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