E Street For Public Life
President’s Park South is a destination for Washingtonians and visitors, both national and international. As the platform to petition the President, it is the perfect place to demonstrate the security of an open society. Our proposed plan for E Street and the Ellipse collectively and comprehensively act in the service of security and as amenities to further public use of public space.
In recent years, necessary security measures have isolated the White House grounds from the surrounding public spaces. President’s Park is experienced as a series of disconnected outdoor areas. The Ellipse is segregated from the White House grounds. E Street is closed to traffic yet not available as public space. New designs must draw from existing resources such as the landscape and dimensions of the Ellipse, the public qualities of a continuous E Street, and weave present needs with the underlying intent of the Park’s original plan in order to restore the visual grandeur and freedom of this cultural landscape.
The Ellipse is a cultural asset; it is also a resource for security design. In most cases, urban environments require security measures in close proximity. Public activity can be choked between barriers. Increasing setbacks is often recommended but seldom implementable. The dimensions of the Ellipse provide a unique opportunity to develop a true defense-in-depth strategy. By subtly altering the grade of the Ellipse, perimeter interdiction is designed to prevent the passage of vehicles while allowing open pedestrian access. With more than nine-hundred feet between the layers of perimeter security, public activity can thrive and citizens become more clearly connected to the Executive.
Downing’s plan for the Ellipse’s northern side panels included strong crossing circulation that linked the President’s Park with the President’s Grounds. That 1851 drawing offers a solution for today’s demands. New Groves have been designed in deference to that plan. The four islands within each of Downing’s side panels have been reintroduced and shaped to reduce conflicts with security operations, improve access and circulation, support event and seasonal programming, and promote active daily use.
Relocating the initial interdiction line and fully realizing the potential of the E Street Groves allows E Street to become the generous public way envisioned in early plans. The procession from 15th Street and 17th Street once again become integral to the experience of President’s Park. The approach to the White House grounds culminates in a new E Street Terrace that joins the space of the Ellipse with the White House; a space that joins the people with their President.