National Mall — “America’s Front Yard” — is the heart and soul of Washington, D.C. (District of Columbia), the capital of the United States of America; a city separate from, while still connected to, every state in the union. As this country continues to forge a path forward, it is important to honor and uphold the beauty and essence of the nation. A visit here elicits a sense of grandeur and elegance, similiar to that of Paris, France. By looking a bit closer, we reveal elements that promote this ambiance.
At the core of the city, National Mall, can be discovered and experienced by citizens and visitors alike through many magnificent national treasures. These treasures—government buildings, museums, monuments, memorials, gardens, parks—preserve history, commemorate events and people, support our national government, and maintain connection to our roots.
Even more, they are reminders of our past, and of equality of all people; they allow us to honor our evolution, and encourage our progress; they teach us to remain humble and kind, yet build on our strengths with confidence and through excellence. Each impressive structure has been created with unique architectural influences and characteristics. Exemplified are idyllic examples of style, quality and stateliness, combined with detailed forethought and meticulous planning.
For more than 200 years, the National Mall has symbolized our nation and its democratic values, which have inspired the world. The National Mall — the great swath of green in the middle of our capital city and stretching from the foot of the United States Capitol to the Potomac River — is the premiere civic and symbolic space in our nation.
—National Park Service
The master plan is evident in the alignment of beautifully positioned and spaced structures, green space, and water features, all of which provide views from every angle. Consultation with Parisian, Pierre l’Enfant, aided the well-considered development of the plan—arrangement of the layout creates focal points that enhance the experience of this great city.
The geometry utilizes a grid, intersected by diagonals and curved elements, which is especially evident from the bird’s eye view. A large cross-shaped axis is created, spanning a distance of about 2½ miles long from west to east from the Potomac River, and around 1½ miles wide from north to south. At the intersection of the axis stands the Washington Monument.
Dedicated to George Washington, the first U.S. president, this majestic obelisk (tall, four-sided, Egyptian-inspired monument that tapers to a pyramid at the top) is visible throughout the city.
Stand at the Washington Monument. Incredible views can be seen in every direction: look west down the length of a reflecting pool to the Lincoln Memorial; turn around to the east down the National Mall, view the Capitol; look to the north, the White House; and to the south, find the Jefferson Memorial, across the water of the Tidal Basin.
The central open, green space and reflecting pools are surrounded by many historic government buildings and museums, including those of the Smithsonian, which are free of entry fees, open for all to explore. At the east end of the Mall stands the classical-inspired United States Capitol Building, directly aligned with the Washington Monument to its west.
United States Capitol
The U.S. Capitol Building, exemplifies American Neoclassicism. Balance is achieved through symmetry of the dome and colonnades, which are flanked by two wings. Atop the dome sits the bronze Statue of Freedom, a classical, female figure designed by artist, Thomas Crawford, and constructed in 1863.
Next to the river, at the opposite, west end of the Mall, stands the Lincoln Memorial, inspired by the Parthenon, a classic Greek temple. A symbol of freedom and equality, his two famous speeches are inscribed on the interior walls. Centered within the structure, a statue of enthroned Abraham Lincoln (the 16th president) faces east, down a long reflecting pool to the World War II Memorial at the opposite end, constructed in front of the Washington Monument.
Looking north from the Washington Monument, across the President’s Park and White House South Lawn, one can view the south-facing round portico of the White House—its two-story columns and grand balconies. This iconic Neoclassical Federal style home, inspired by Greek Ionic architecture, has been occupied by every president since John Adams, the 2nd U.S. President.
This monument of Neoclassical architecture, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, honors the 3rd President and founding father of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Look across the Tidal Basin from the Washington Monument to view the open colonnaded structure. This symbol of Jefferson—who stood for freedom, tolerance and education—commemorates the legacy of a true leader.
Although slavery was increasingly part of life during his time, himself a slave owner, “Jefferson also thought that slavery was contrary to the laws of nature, which decreed that everyone had a right to personal liberty.” Although he continued to advocate for abolition, his and society’s limiting beliefs, combined with financial dependence, challenged progress within a precarious period in history.
Enlightenment is found through art, culture and science. Promotion of these aspects of life are essential to the enrichment of society, and are celebrated in this capital. The Smithsonian offers eleven museums and galleries on the National Mall, along with six other museums and the National Zoo within the Capital. Included below are the Smithsonian Castle, Museum of Natural History, and Air and Space Museum.
This visitor’s center was the first building of the Smithsonian Institute, created with the fortune left by French-born, British-raised scientist, James Smithson. Completed in 1855, the building, constructed with red Maryland sandstone in the neo-Gothic style of 19th century Victorian England, features turrets and castle keeps, and originally held the entire institution. It remains the “signature building” and a natural starting point for visitors.
Museum of Natural History
Across the Mall from the Castle sits this museum, “dedicated to understanding the natural world and our place in it.” Discover the origins of humans, dinosaurs, mammals and other species of the natural world. The entrance facade is reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome with classical Greek architectural elements: an oculus (circular opening) dome sits over a central rotunda; an Ionic colonnade surrounds the portico under the entablature and triangular pediment.
Air and Space Museum
On the Mall, juxtaposed against historical architecture, resides a 20th century modern structure—a museum dedicated to flight exhibits including aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, and rockets. Found within this great volume of space are examples of the human capabilities, which utilize our current knowledge of physics, and our exploration into the unknown.
National Archives Building
Also along the Mall, among the Smithsonian museums, is this museum for records and research. Completed in 1937, maintaining the Neoclassical style, a colonnade of Corinthian columns surrounds the projecting entrance portico of the National Archives. Above the entablature sits a triangular pediment that contains a relief with figures borrowed from the Ancients. On display in the main rotunda are the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.
In addition to the previously noted structures along the Mall, visit several other important memorials dedicated to:
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served in a unprecedented fourth term in office, presided during two great crises—the Great Depression and World War II;
- Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights icon and leader who spoke out for freedom, equality, and justice in America;
- World War II — recollects “the ways Americans served, honors those who fell, and recognizes the victory they achieved to restore freedom and end tyranny around the globe”;
- Korean War Veterans — commemorates “the sacrifices of the millions of Americans and allied partners who fought during the Korean Conflict”;
- Vietnam War — honor “the men and women who served in the controversial Vietnam War”
Monuments remind us of our struggles and our history, recognize true leadership, promote equality and compassion, and ultimately, remind us that it is essential to continue to strive toward a world of peace, understanding and respect.
…the whole world is one neighborhood…
— Franklin Delano Roosevelt, U.S. President 1933-1945
Let us hold our national treasures as just that—treasures to be protected and maintained. As the United States evolved into wealthy country, society became accustomed to knocking down the old in favor of the new, developing a disposable mindset. Short-term, demolition and building new is more cost effective, but this is also short-sighted. Not only are there adverse long-term affects of waste, but there can be cost savings through preservation, restoration and adaptive reuse. Further, we maintain a deeper connection with and appreciation for quality, promoting a more enriched, educated, thoughtful society.
Don’t tear It down. Give architecture a second chance.