Diller Scofidio Renfro . Hood Design

Sylvan Theater . Washington

Diller Scofidio Renfro . Hood Design

From its beginning Washington DC was constructed out of wilderness; a nature that would become emblematic of the American spirit to civilize the wildest of landscapes.

Even the naming of the early creek "Tiber," suggests the early forefathers were looking elsewhere for meaning. Overtime, marshes were filled, creeks were converted and the city transformed itself out of the marsh to become the "shining city upon a hill."
This newly constructed landscape of the National Mall made L'Enfant's classical diagram possible, but it also eradicated much of the story of the landscape; a landscape that has stood witness to a the roots of a new democracy through the centuries. Old trees and vegetation were present for the testimony of democracy since the American experiment began. But below the surface, nature is stirring, bubbling up with each hydrological event to remind us of the Tiber and the heroic effort it takes to keep the shining city dry. Nature, though, has always been here and will continue to transform as our cultural, political and civic actions inhabit her horizons.
While this ecological story is mostly lost from view by most visitors to the city, the millions of citizens who visit the Mall participate in new chapters of a parallel story, that of witnessing democracy. The scales of this witnessing range from the size of an inauguration, to one-on-one interactions to impassioned pleas for justice during protests.
The design proposal for the Washington Monument grounds and Sylvan Theater seeks to engage the witnessing of both democracy and nature, through a series of landscape and architectural interventions that overtly 'constructed'—serving to reveal the history of the development of the Mall, while also writing the next chapter of the constructed landscape.
Along the southern edge of the monument grounds, the landscape is figuratively "peeled up" to create a new structure that serves as both outdoor theater and building program, blurring the lines between nature and artifice. This peeled up edge also serves as a visual buffer for a new tour bus drop off area integrated into a public plaza with sheltered space under its overhang. The undulations of this peeled up lawn-scape provides articulation that offers alternating programmable space both above and below. Lines of paving interlaced into the lawn-scape are traced across the site as a means to give definition to the surface for various functions: tightly spaced and gridded to stabilize the ground plane high pedestrian and vehicular traffic, expanding and lifting up to provide seating or terraces, and folding up to separate theater (event) spaces from each other while also opening up to define skylights to the covered spaces below.
On a social and cultural level, these site manipulations facilitate this witnessing
through the creation of a range of spaces for democratic interaction. Two outdoor theater spaces replace the previous Sylvan Theater as settings for performance, speeches, protests and more informal gatherings. Stretching theater programs across the site provide for various scaled events while conceptually communicating the multiple voices of democracy. The larger theater 9 zone to replace the Sylvan Theater flips the main orientation of the audience to make the Washington Monument a soaring backdrop while still allowing for an expanded audience in its old location to the north for theater in the round. A simple paved stage embedded in the landscape provides flexible use of the space and is wired for power to minimize the amount of equipment necessary to support a variety of events. The second theater 11 descends into the existing landscape. It is a smaller, more intimate, and informal space that is shaded by a canopy of trees that are recessed to allow for clear site lines to the Jefferson Monument. While the Sylvan Theater is wired for "plug and play" we consider this site to be "un-plugged".
The peeled up undulations also provide much needed shaded space to the site. The arcade to the west 10 provides a generous space to access the monument site that could also be used for sheltered programmed activities like markets, talks, or informal performances. New site amenities that include a cafe 2 , retail space 3 , and public restrooms 7 are also tucked under to further develop and enhance the experience for the new witnesses of democracy. To the west, landscape space is carved in and around existing witness trees to promote small gatherings and intimate interactions as another layer of democratic engagement.
The landscape that is slid below this peel is clearly constructed and "floating" above the hydrologic cycles on the site. Paving surfaces set on pedestals allow for water infiltration and flow to storm water recharge cells below the surface. The experience of walking on a surface layer just above the sound of moving water puts the "nature" of the mall in context for visitors while also illuminating sustainability practices. The movement of stormwater continues into a system of wetlands just to the south of the monument grounds. The capacity of these wetlands accommodates the runoff from the southern slopes of the monument grounds during a 100-year storm event.
The result of this new constructed landscape of democracy is symbiotic and dynamic, where culture and nature meets, where both stand witness to the great experiment.

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