National Capital Planning Commission


Urban Design

NCPC maintains the character of Washington’s urban design.

Establishing Urban Design Policies

NCPC is working to develop a new Federal Urban Design Element for the Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital Region. On November 1, 2012, the Commission released the draft of the proposed new element. Learn more »

City as Symbol

Washington, DC’s built environment has always integrated form and function, conveying the values and ideals of the country.

The capital city's first designer—Pierre L'Enfant— sought to balance the executive and legislative branches of government as well as local and federal activities of the city. He envisioned public buildings for prominent sites, visible from the broad avenues connecting them.

A century later, the McMillan Plan reinforced the city's layout and its visual connections. It also revived L'Enfant's as-yet unrealized idea of the National Mall as a grand esplanade. It departed from the original plan by separating uses, clustering monumental federal buildings around the Mall.

NCPC's planning initiatives respect the legacies of these historic plans while accommodating the needs of a contemporary city.

Historic Layout

NCPC protects the historic street and alley system of the L'Enfant City.

NCPC reviews many projects that reopen streets, such as 10th and I Streets, NW, on the terrain of the old convention center. Redevelopment of the property will convert them into lively, pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares.

Occasionally, the closure of a street may be a better way to honor the intentions of the historic layout. The closure of a small stretch of Maryland Avenue, SW for the creation of the Eisenhower Memorial will transform a street used primarily for parking into public space for Mall visitors and federal employees in the buildings surrounding it.


Distinctive Skyline

The harmonious relationship of building heights to street widths is one of Washington's most distinctive features. This urban design has created public spaces that are open and light, with inspiring views of public buildings and national landmarks.

The 1910 Height of Buildings Act protects the city's form, which expresses equality and openness— values of governance shared by all Americans.

It provides a comprehensive, clear, and equitable way to maintain the character of our nation’s capital.

Learn more about building heights in the nation's capital »

Freedom of Movement

NCPC supports removing physical and perceptual barriers to movement throughout the city.

The Monumental Core Framework Plan shows how the removal of elevated highways and railroad tracks can restore historic views and improve the urban environment in the heart of the city.

Protecting the capital’s buildings and landmarks is also essential. NCPC's security planning initiatives help minimize the impact of security measures on public accessibility, aesthetic appearance, and freedom of movement throughout the city.

Related Publications

Extending the Legacy

Monumental Core Framework Plan

Comprehensive Plan: Preservation and Historic Features Element

Memorials and Museums Master Plan

Urban Design and Security Plan

Rail Realignment Feasibility Study

Mall Roads Streetscape Manual

Home|Site Map|Accessibility|Privacy, Freedom of Information & Disclosure|FAIR Act|No Fear Act|Contact Us
National Capital Planning Commission, 401 9th Street, NW, Washington DC 20004
Phone: 202-482-7200  |  Fax: 202-482-7272  |  Email: