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Associated Press | Architect renderings
This rendering shows a new design for the National Washington Monument grounds at Sylvan Theater.

National Mall gets new-look overhaul

This drawing shows a revamp for Constitution Gardens, identified as a neglected area along the Mall.
A redesign is offered for Union Square, one of three focus points for renovation in the National Mall.

– Lakeside gardens, dining rooms hovering over water, grassy new amphitheaters and underground pavilions at the foot of the Washington Monument have emerged as finalists in a design competition to overhaul neglected sites on the National Mall.

Designers and architects are dreaming big for a chance to improve the place sometimes called America’s front yard. One vision calls for a garden “museum without walls” in part of the Mall called Constitution Gardens. Another would “peel up” the landscape of the Washington Monument to reveal a theater and visitor amenities below ground.

The Associated Press had an exclusive early look at the results of a competition conducted by the non-profit Trust for the National Mall. The finalists’ concepts are on display this week at the Smithsonian Castle and National Museum of American History.

Since last September, architects and designers have been competing for the chance to make over areas near the Capitol, Washington Monument and Constitution Gardens, which was once imagined as a pastoral park near the Lincoln Memorial. It has since been left as a fetid pool with crumbling edges, surrounded by broken sidewalks.

Each of the designs would bring major changes, adding amenities including food options and restrooms.

“The face of the Mall is going to change quite dramatically,” said Donald Stastny, an architect hired to oversee the competition. “If you’re in Constitution Gardens, it’s going to be cool, as opposed to ‘How did I end up in this place?’ ”

The non-profit National Mall group aims to raise $350 million to help restore the Mall, beginning with one of these sites. Former first lady Laura Bush joined the fundraising effort last year, and the group committed $875,000 to the design competition.

After sifting through entries from 32 teams, a jury picked four finalists for each of the three sites. Organizers are seeking public comment to help select a winner for each site in May. The group aims to build one of the designs, overhauling either Constitution Gardens or the Washington Monument grounds by 2016.

For the Constitution Gardens site, the design possibilities offer significant improvements. The park with a lake framed by trees was dedicated in 1976, and a memorial was added a few years later on a small island honoring the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Designers propose glass pavilions or buildings growing out of earthen berms and performance spaces and cafés. They would open up views to the nearby Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial and link the park to one of Washington’s main boulevards nearby.

“So if you’re standing in that area, you aren’t just looking at the memorial, you’re thinking about the memorial in a larger context of the city and the monuments that are around it,” Stastny said.

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