Tell Us What You Think
Which examples of federal urban design do you like or dislike?
All submitted examples and comments
US Patent & Trademark Office
These federal office buildings frame an elegant square in a neighborhood with an open grid of streets, mixed uses, and good access by many modes. I wish all federal office complexes looked like this -- they seem to in many other countries.
-- Posted 1 year ago by Payton Chung from Washington, DC
HUD outdoor seating area
I love the Martha Schwartz-designed "halos" outdoor seating along 7th Street.
Columbia Heights Plaza fountain
This is a wonderful central gathering spot in the middle of vibrant retail and residential density, with ample seating and access to several modes of transportation. The fountain itself brings children together to play, especially on summer evenings and weekend days, while parents rest, read, eat, or chat with neighbors.
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Ugly Brutalist structure has zero pedestrian appeal. No ground floor retail. Occupants routinely park illegally including in the bike lanes, reinforcing their image as being above the law instead of enforcing it.
It just drains the street of any life or activity. I think it has often been described as a black hole in the middle of downtown.
Lincoln Memorial Circle
Why on earth are automobiles allowed to occupy public space like this, menacing people? The mall should be a safe place for Americans and foreign tourists, not for automobiles.
It is modern and functional, it performs adequately to meet the program's needs. And it is not another stone building that looks like so, so, so many others in Washington DC. It shows that there is innovation and technological progress in the US.
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Bleak, ugly, concrete design -- typical modernist, stripped of humanizing design elements.
Too much glass. Shiny glass box without visual interest. Meshes poorly with the citiscape.
Museum of the American Indian
A) Design is better than average for a modern-styled building, but still rather plain and ugly. B) You have to go through excessive security just to get in -- security guards tried to make me leave my umbrella with them when I tried to go in, so I just gave up. Have never visited the interior as a result.
Good, classic design with attactive detailing; Nice public spaces in the large vaulted hall in the centre. What has been made of the square before it is a travesty, though.
Federal Reserve Building
Attractive design -- sort of updated, stripped-down classical, but not so stripped down as to become a bleak modernist box, and not filled with busy, repetitive detail (unlike, say, the modern Fed extension behind it). Good visual balance on the facade, and nice massing.
The memorial itself is beautiful, inspiring, timeless. Unfortunately, getting to the memorial is much less inspiring, with narrow pathways and fast-moving traffic.
Oh, it's terrible. It looks like it belongs in the Soviet Union! A gigantic grey fortress that doesn't interface with the street at all. Awful.
Meridian Hill Park
Meridian Hill Park is such a wonderfully strange park. There's the random assortment of statues (what do James Buchanan, Joan of Arc, and Dante have to do with each other?). There's the diversity of the people using it: hipsters playing croquet, Latinos playing soccer, kids searching for Easter eggs, people jogging, reading, canoodling, doing yoga. And there's the size of it, without ever feeling overwhelming. Unfortunately, the lack of upkeep means what should be a very pretty park often looks quite ugly.
A fun, vibrant urban park that's spoiled by being surrounded by ninety lanes of traffic.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
An unlikely urban oasis. The pedestrian approach could be friendly and better-marked, though.
Smithsonian Hirshhorn Gallery
The Hirshhorn is a fun, unique building in DC. It's modernist without brutal; big without being imposing; concrete but still open. The After Hours parties are so popular because people like this space.
National Building Museum
One of my favorite places to bring tourists. It's such a lovely and unique building.
An accessible, open, pleasant, and optimistic memorial.
It's so big and hard to get around. With few trees (and often no grass), it feels like an expanse of African savannah rather than a lively urban park. And that's when you aren't trying to cross a busy street.
Unfortunately distant and inaccessible, but once you're here, it's a lovely urban escape. In particular, the entrance should be more pedestrian-friendly.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Not easy to get to, but a lovely urban destination with an interesting history.
Feels exactly how the National Archives should feel: grand, stately, timeless, permanent, but still accessible.
300 Block of C St SW
This area has a lot of potential - the buildings on either side are interesting and pleasant and create a nice feel, creating almost a square or plaza. But the parking lots on both sides of the wide street are awful, and it is difficult and unpleasant to walk through or around. Suggestion: parking could be placed under ground (if it is even necessary to have parking there 1 block from the metro) and the whole street could be redesignedto make it into a park / plaza, perhaps with monuments, market stalls or some other amenity (think Campo de Fiori in Rome). It's a block from the Mall and could be an attraction. The proliferation of food trucks at L'Efant plaza shows that there is market for food sellers in SW - why not make a beautiful permanent home for them?
US DOT HQ Building
This is an example of a large government building with street level retail - a Starbucks. While there's only one storefront in the building, it's a good start. Federal buildings should have street level storefronts to add life and vitality to the neighborhood (and gain income from rent). South West is a dead zone because there are so many Federal buildings with no retail in them, where as the West End and down town and Penn Quarter, also mostly office buildings, are teeming with life because of all the street level retail. If we can do it at DOT, why not at all federal buidlings?
Federal Center Southwest
Street-level retail is blocked off from the sidewalk by a weird half-wall.
US Department of Transportation
The light colored stone in the facade is reminiscent of the older (i.e. 19th century) Federal buildings, while the windows and metal trim are much more contemporary looking. The reddish stone looks nice next to the other components. A combination of light colored stone, a darker colored stone (or brick), and glass, with metal trim generally makes a very nice looking building. The building also integrates well with its surrounding. I especially like the outdoor exhibits on the sidewalks around the building showing the history of transportation in the US. Also, unlike some other new Federal buildings, the DOT headquarters isn't isolated from the surroundings. Every effort should be made to have government buildings integrate with their surroundings. There are certainly ways that the buildings can be safe without having 100+ foot setbacks with ugly 'security' barriers.
National Portrait Gallery Building
I abslutely love how the building interacts with its surroundings and the juxtoposition of the new and the old: Great historic structure, impressive classical architecture situated in a thorougly modern and dynamic urban context. I love the non-fussy approach here, which is all too rare in DC. For example, there does not appear to be an unreasonable set of rules barring commerce or neon lights, etc. in the immediate area surrounding the historic structure. As such, the building/museum is welcoming and "human", while it still adds extraordinary elegance and gravitas to the neighborhood surrounding it.
This one probably doesn't need too much explaining: The building looks like a forbidding fortress, it wastes an amazing amount of space in a dense urban area, it "takes away" from the neighborhood rather than adding to it, and it is just plain ugly and completely out of context. Situated at a primary gateway to Washington on New York Ave: "Welcome to DC!"
Very anti-urban building. Terrible street presence. It's a fortress, not something that belongs on "America's Main Street" Pennsylvania Avenue. Brutalist architecture is both bad architecture and bad planning.
The only circle or square in the city that is actually a good public park! Love the fountain, love the lawn, love the tree canopy and flowers and chess tables. Love everything about it.
NPS' treatment of most of the circles and squares in DC is SHAMEFUL. They treat them like they don't want anybody to ever use them. Take down the fences around the statues! Let in vendors! Make them good urban parks that city people would want to actually use. It is ridiculous to manage these the same way they manage Yellowstone. Dupont Circle is the exception, which proves that it can be done correctly.
Parking lots near Union Station
Surface parking lots kill the city. Get rid of them.
Union Station is fantastic. It's grand and beautiful, and best of all: It is full of people using it for its intended purpose - as a train station.
Department of Agriculture
Bridges over the street, stately stone buildings... just makes DC seem so dignified and the work of government seem important.
Great to have open space, but it doesn't function very well because you have to travel long distances to find a newspaper to read or a snack to eat. Open some newsstands so that we can easily get small items of convenience without walking 10 blocks away and deciding not to go back.
US Department of Housing and Urban Dev
The huge super-block buildings in this part of town cut off the residential portion of Southwest from the National Mall. Not pedestrian-friendly.
This building has no positive relationship to the surrounding environment. The block faces around the building are dead zones that detract from the vitality of downtown.
Carnegie Library/Mt. Vernon Square
Beautifully designed classical building in a nice public square. Too bad the buildings around it don't help to activate it.
Pentagon Transit Center
Monumental scale, functional, effective, great aesthetic, works day in and day out. Great gateway and serves 30,000 bus riders per day.
Mark Center Transit Center
Statement facility that transit matters. Provides a positive contribution to the community, a welcoming gateway to a major installation, meets all the security standards and doesnt feel paranoid.
Potomac Center EPA Offices
Simple can work well if given thought, priority and functional design treatments. Not everything has to be completed today, there is opportunity for bigger and better in the future (so long as it isn't precluded by myopia or making perfection the enemy of "good enough"). This simples stop works today and will accommodate a transit busway in the future.
Barren, desolate, not connected to the surrounding buildings in terms of activities
Nothing to activate the street and hardscape. Materials are dark and cold with little to no occupiable green space.
National Portrait Gallery Atrium
This is a fantastic public space. It is wide open and has abundant light, foliage, and even running water. There is ample seating, and it is both completely free of charge and readily accessible. The muffled sounds in the atrium are somehow other-worldly. Spending an afternoon reading a book here is a deeply refreshing experience.
It's a great (beautiful, pleasant, lively) public space, surrounded by great private spaces, with round-the-clock street life. Also, it is a space that is "lived in" -- it is part of a neighborhood, not a monument to visit. The nearby farmer's market and metro station add to it's liveliness. With respect to traffic movement it actually has good and bad qualities, but the good quality is the underground pass-through of Connecticut Avenue. This is a really effective design for traffic, and also keeps the scale of roads at the surface level smaller.
Travesty and insult to Pierre L'Enfant. It is a boulevard-to-nowhere, framed on one end by a building bridging the street, and terminated on the other by an odd freeway ramp. Also, the street and adjacent buildings are Brutalist concrete, which creates a feeling of cold austerity reminiscent of communist Russia.
Taft Bridge (Connecticut Ave)
Connecticut Avenue is, itself, spectacular. But the Taft Bridge is its finest moment. The bridge is very pedestrian friendly, despite its size and grandeur, and framed with grand artistic statues. The bridge represents the combination of urban living with picturesque park views, and artistic grandeur which so well represents the District.
The freeway is an eyesore, limiting the glory of the Georgetown Waterfront. Freeways don't belong within cities. (cities should have boulevards and parkways)
The interchanges of 395 near the Pentagon are horribly dusfunctional, and have poor signage. A confusing intersection, plus endless visitors and new residents, raises the importance of clear signage.
Reagan Airport (multimodal)
The airport represents a world-class "best" in urban multimodal transit. It is remarkably human scaled and integrated in to its neighborhood, but also provides excellent train and auto access. It also provides bike and pedestrian access via the Mount Vernon trail. (East-west pedestrian access to Crystal City could be improved, however)
I would propose that NCPC look at adding gas lamps (hisotical value) along the Mall versus using electricity or using solar powered LED lights that are subdue and historically pleasing. While I understand its very dim lighting to show off the US Capitol, its very dark at night along the National Mall. I'd propose better more efficient lighting on poles and along bike/walking paths.
Pennsylvania Avenue Mall
A rare example of a security enhancement that has actually increased pedestrian and bicycle accessibility and which remains welcoming towards the general public.
Lafayette Square office buildings
Maintaining the historic rowhouse street frontage along the park's east and west frontages, and adding background office buildings behind, was a masterstroke not just for historic preservation but also for urban design.
The circle is horrible for people-no trees, no benches, weird fence to protect the grass. When they redesigned the streets, and rebuilt the circle, they didnt put anything there to make it pleasant--even for pedestrians "just walking through". Also, the big slab of concrete on Mass Ave, just west of the circle should have something (even just planters) put on it for shade, water collection, benches, etc. It looks like a wasteland.