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Campus News

Student Re-imagines a National Landmark at “Grounds” Level

By Tom Ventsias

Illustration of a site

An illustration of the initial plan submitted by Joseph Ijjas, a master’s student in the university’s architecture program, includes a pedestrian bridge across the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial.

The Washington Monument towers over the nation’s capital, a 555-foot obelisk visible from almost any point in the city. At ground level, however, the open space surrounding the sandstone landmark—60-plus acres traversed each year by millions of visitors to the National Mall—remains unfinished and underused.

Enter Joseph Ijjas, a graduate student in the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, who’s been named as a semifinalist in an international contest to re-imagine the Monument grounds.

Ijjas says he’s “honored that my entry was selected from so many interesting ideas that seek to expand the conversation on creating the nation’s ‘front yard’ into an area worthy for so many great American monuments.”

He and nine classmates in a studio class each responded to the call for designs from the National Ideas Competition for the Washington Monument Grounds, an independent organization that encourages public dialogue on this subject.

“We believe the competition will stimulate education and create ideas to better tell and interpret our unique American story on this historic landscape,” says James P. Clark, a local architect who chairs the competition’s steering committee.

In crafting their proposals, Maryland students had to consider multiple issues, including how the nation’s need for historical reflection matches up with unfettered public access, says Professor Steven Hurtt, who teaches the studio class. “We began the project with extensive research of the history of the Mall, including ceremonial, practical and protest events that it has hosted,” he says.

Hurtt asked students to particularly look for options that created a balance between the Mall’s two visual axes that converge on the Monument grounds: an invisible east-west line between the U.S. Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, and another heading north to south between the White House and the Jefferson Memorial.

Ijjas’s submission features a pedestrian bridge across the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial, dramatizing this north-south axis, and allowing a direct and reflective flow for pedestrians. The rendering also illustrates the addition of a museum at the base of the monument and creative landscaping and paths to address accessibility.

A jury of seven, including distinguished designers, historians, Washington cultural leaders and a futurist, selected 24 semifinalists from more than 500 international competition participants. The semifinalists will submit more detailed plans in June that will be juried over the summer.

By fall, the judging panel hopes to select five finalists whose ideas will be voted on by the public, resulting in two winners whose concepts will be forwarded for consideration to the National Park Service and other organizations that have oversight of the Mall.

Maggie Haslam, a publicist for the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, contributed to this article.