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The construction of Federal Triangle—-that monolithic block of offices between Pennsylvania and Constitution on either side of 12th Street NW—-didn’t do much for downtown public space. This was an era when America was still trying to assert its dominance in the world, after all, through mimicking the imperial aesthetic of Ancient Rome; no need for such fripperies as a place to sit down or get a cup of coffee. In the 1950s and 60s, federal architecture passed through an even more horrible period, resulting in edifices like L’Enfant Plaza and the FBI Building.
Finally, though, the pendulum may be swinging back: The folks at the General Services Administration and National Capital Planning Commission, at least, seem to really get the need for federal government buildings to be more friendly to the neighborhoods around them. Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do with some spaces. The FBI Building may be not long for this world, but the Environmental Protection Agency building is here to stay, and softening its edges won’t be easy.
Still, NCPC is trying, with a design contest for a temporary installation in the half-moon shape on 12th Street opposite the Reagan Building. Right now, it’s blocked with planter-bollards, and nothing else to draw in passersby except a little patch of grass. The contest winner will stick around for a whole year, while GSA installs benches and other landscaping improvements. It’s the kind of thing that Rosslyn tried while a development got started, and what’s still at the former site of the Bruce Monroe school.
Seems like a baby step, but it’s one giant leap for Fed-kind.