A section from Rogers Marvel Architects' submission.

Three months ago, the National Capital Planning Commission announced a design competition for Presidents Park South—-and they’re not messing around. At what qualifies as warp speed for the federal government, they’ve winnowed 23 would-be design firms down to five submissions, and this week are putting them on display for the public. To NCPC’s great credit, they’re also fairly easy to view online, if you neither want to shlep to the Capitol Visitors Center nor download gigantic PDFs. You can also dash off comments right on each concept’s page, rather than submitting something long and formal.

Of course, the Secret Service and National Park Service’s priorities will likely trump the public’s, and the final designs will have to go through the more rigid National Environmental Policy Act process. But the way NCPC’s done this display makes you wish that all federal input mechanisms were as easy to use.

As for the designs themselves: It’s actually somewhat difficult to differentiate between them, given that the basic parameters of the layout are pretty much set and the security requirements so extreme. Having been developed independently of one another, they also don’t represent contrasting visions of how the space ought to function, like the different alternatives for the National Mall Plan did. I do like the enclosed feeling for the Ellipse illustrated in RMA’s rendering above, as well as the wildly forested aesthetic of Michael Van Valkenburgh’s concept, and the promenade element in Reed Hilderbrand’s plan (even if it’s excessively dependent on bollards for crash protection).

Van Valkenburgh’s boards are the only ones to include a “Future Underground Parking Garage,” which hopefully is just an idle thought.

Reed Hilderbrand's south promenade.

An entrypoint in Michael Van Valkenburgh's design.