President’s Park South is one of most significant public landscapes in Washington, shaped and invested with meaning by presidents since Adams and Jefferson. The Ellipse itself, laid out in the nineteenth century, is a unique surviving element of the 1851 design for the “Public Grounds at Washington” by Andrew Jackson Downing. The scene of legendary public interactions with the residents of the White House, President’s Park today demands enhanced security.
This scheme embeds this security in an integrated landscape design that regenerates the nationally significant historic landscape design and revives its meanings by creating more pleasurable public experiences. The design draws its inspiration from Downing’s vision of a “large circular open space surrounded by an avenue of elms, a carriage drive, and a series of footpaths winding through shady groves.” The park’s new gardens will create those groves and paths while retaining the openness required for security. As Downing intended, these gardens will frame and emphasize the impressive expanse of the Ellipse and provide a pleasant contrast to the imposing, monumental spaces of the Mall. The new President’s Park incorporates security infrastructure and requirements completely and unobtrusively, so that public experience is one of a landscape with a diversity of trees and shrubs and restored sight lines to the South Lawn and the White House. President’s Park should more strongly demonstrate American democracy, becoming a unique expression of the close relationship between the people and their elected leader.