Democracy's Front Porch
The White House and President Park South’s landscape has transformed over the years as programmatic use, aesthetics and security has changed. E Street, a relatively new passageway, appearing as late as 1967, transformed the simple formal relationship between the White House Garden edge and the Ellipse. Before its implementation the framework from the McMillan Plan of 1901 created the basis of President Park South’s formal order and before it, AJ Downing’s 1851 plan established the Ellipse and side panel landscape. There have been other alterations and additions, but these three formal manifestations are responsible for what we experience today. The new design for E street NW and Presidents Park South is a palimpsest of the various voices and ideas of past epochs that shaped this distinct and important landscape offering new ways for the public and administration to functionally coexist in a landscape that pays homage to its rich history and tradition while empowering both to participate in the rich dialogue of democracy.
The conceptual approach to the E street design and Presidents Park South builds on ideas of hybridity; how to create effective security for the White House and grounds while creating a dynamic landscape for the people of America. How can landscape space balance both, through the integration of formal concepts and site architecture? One of the characteristics that mark a great society is its ability to embrace its past while moving forward. The landscape can bear testament through the juxtaposition of the new and old.
The new design emanates from the sampling of AJ Downing’s formal circuitry of pathways. The lacy and meandering formal structures are rotated overlapped and scaled to fit within the White House and Mall context. E Street and adjacent pedestrian paths are enmeshed in the larger scale movement and flow of the Capital plan, creating a continuous field of experience. A 3-foot high, 400-foot long Ha-Ha wall that forms an edge between the northern edges has the Ellipse and E Street. The wall is multiplitious in its form and function. Firstly it serves as a secondary barrier for security, operating as a secure boundary East/West connecting back to the security post at 15th and 17th street. Secondly, it provides a visual foil along the north south axis. From the Truman Balcony, the President and First Family are able to look out over the Ellipse unfettered by the visual presence of the road/path south of the wall. From the south looking North the wall visually diminishes the space between the wall and White House fence, bringing the White House visually closer to viewers at the distant Ellipse. And thirdly, the wall serves as a great public space. On its north side, it undulates with the sampled pathway and circuitry, providing both seating and viewing opportunities. The concave and convex geometry along the wall create a dynamic set of experiences and functions, resolving the geometry of the two opposing curved forms of the Ellipse and White House Garden.
Americas Front Porch is a place for the practice of our First Amendment Rights, a place for visitors to view the ellipse, White House and its garden landscape in an open, aesthetically pleasing environment. The new landscape is composed of two materials that metaphorically speak to this epoch, stone and glass. Stone is the material of Washington DC, and in particular suggest the timeless nature of our government and contemporarily relates to safety and protection. Glass on the other hand suggests optimism; care, fragility and wonder…the two together are emblematic of this time period.
The proposed design approaches preservation as a crucial factor to identity and cultural hybridity. A rich palimpsest, where old and new is layered together creates a continuous cultural dialogue between the physical and natural environments. This is present as you experience the public spaces of the nations Capital. Walking Presidents Park South you can hear Downing in the side panels; along the mall Olmseatd, McKim, White and Burnham still chat; and more recently Olin, Lin, and Halprin have added their voices.
The following goals and objective create the context for the new proposal:
— To Establish Effective Security for White House and grounds while
Minimizing visual presence
— To Preserve and Enhance the Historic Integrity of Presidents Park South
— To reconcile and celebrate E Street’s geometry with the Ellipse
— To establish a front porch for the practice of our First Amendment rights, for visitors to view the ellipse and White House grounds in open, aesthetically pleasing environment