An international competition for the Washington Monument Grounds has attracted more than 500 participants, and the announcement of the six finalists from as far afield as Korea and the Netherlands has garnered attention in the architectural media. The competition is puzzling, because the sponsor is not the National Park Service, which is responsible for the grounds, but a private group with lead sponsorship from George Washington University, Albert H. Small (a real estate developer), and the Virginia Center for Architecture of the Virginia Society AIA. The competition maintains that the grounds are “unfinished,” despite that the Washington Monument (WAMO) grounds have just been handsomely done over by OLIN, a leading firm of landscape architects. Are we to imagine that all this will be ripped up? Apparently so. There appears not to have been a budget for the competition, which is just as well as it is unclear that there is anyone who would actually be prepared to pay for such unnecessary work. As jury member Benjamin Forgey, the late (and longtime) architecture critic of the Washington Post expressed in a sort of dissenting view, “[The site] does not need vast underground facilities and reshapings of the kind proposed in many of these final schemes, even those that are elegantly designed.” This is billed as an “ideas competition” meant to provoke and stimulate discussion. But discussion about what? And to what end? That is less clear.
May 3 update: The Trust for the National Mall and the National Park Service announce that OLIN and WEISS/MANFREDI have won the competition for the Washington Monument Grounds at Sylvan Theater. This sensible design greatly improves the rather decrepit theater grounds and may actually have a chance of getting built, assuming that Congress provides the funds. A big if.