El Camino partnered with good friend, Monling Lee, to collaborate on an unusual type of urban tour. We wanted to explore Washington DC’s under appreciated public spaces whose location stays true to our travel ethos – off the beaten path and under the radar. While Monling is a gifted architect, she is also known for her creative ability to seamlessly integrate color and pattern into her built environment of choice. Honoring that talent, we let her take the reigns in helping us capture another side of DC, impeccable wardrobe in hand.
Background on the chosen locations
" Local residents and visitors alike, we are all aware of the beauty of a city best known for national monuments and memorials, expansive free federal museums, and neighborhoods with well-appointed historic row houses amid lush vegetated streetscapes. While these are wonderful amenities, they often do not refute the city’s long-standing reputation of being aesthetically conservative and lacking of a robust art and design culture. In the aftermath of the recession, DC, left somewhat unscathed, kindled a desire to position itself as forward-thinking and globally-competitive city. As an architect living and working in the District, I see this desire manifested in a number of recent architectural projects that signal a shift in design narrative from one that was predominantly historic, to one that coexists with new innovative contemporary works.
In this architectural tour of the District, I wanted to highlight recent projects that speak to a future city that is culturally vibrant, willing to take on design explorations, and puts design innovation at the forefront. While the three projects chosen are quite different in their primary program—a memorial, a library, and a neighborhood pavilion—they are nonetheless iterations of multi-functional spaces that are open to the public and accessible to everyone, effectively serving as ultimate symbols of democracy in the nation’s capital."
LOCATION ONE: GATEWAY PAVILLION
Gateway Pavilion//Davis Brody Bond, 2013
Why Gateway Pavillion?
"As a strategy to jumpstart the redevelopment of the abandoned St. Elizabeth East Campus, the Gateway Pavilion exhibits unusual design excellence, particularly due to its temporary nature. The structure contains an enclosed civic space below an expansive raised park, well-suited for a myriad of gatherings for a historically underserved neighborhood. Seemingly rising from the ground, the Pavilion offers a stark but refreshing contrast to the surrounding historic brick structures."
LOCATION TWO: PENTAGON MEMORIAL
Pentagon Memorial//Kaseman Beckman Advanced Strategies, 2008
Why the Pentagon Memorial?
"Even in a city full of memorials, the Pentagon Memorial still stands out, quite strikingly, in its poetry derived from the rhythmic repetition of 184 memorial benches on a quiet gravel landscape. The memorial park intends to create a didactic experience for the visitors through the arrangement of each stainless steel cantilevered bench, one dedicated to each citizen that perished on September 11, 2001, when Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. The memorial is stunning in its careful attention to material quality and construction details, but the story of the design’s selection process—one selected blindly out of almost 1,200 submissions from an open competition despite a young and inexperienced design team—is even more inspiring."
LOCATION THREE: FRANCIS A. GREGORY LIBRARY
Francis A. Gregory Library//David Adjaye and Associates, 2012
Why Francis A. Gregory Library?
"Unassuming on the outside, the façade of this neighborhood library by the renowned London-based architect David Adjaye utilizes diamond-patterned black glass that reflects surrounding scenes and park setting. On the inside, however, the exterior pattern becomes planes of apertures that flood the stunning double-height atrium with light. The use of warm wood and saturated colors in separate open reading rooms and community spaces make them beautiful and joyful spaces to inhabit."