Architects Release Plans to Preserve National Mall’s Tidal Basin

The National Mall Tidal Basin, best known for the cherry blossoms that encircle the reservoir, faces an uncertain future. The impact of climate change, increased visitation to the area, and aging infrastructure has led to daily flooding and sinking ground. As part of a partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Trust for The National Mall, and National Park Service, five landscape architects recently unveiled plans to save the Tidal Basin.

The landscape architects were selected by the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab to present proposals. Unlike architectural design competitions which select a winner with a master plan, the Ideas Lab plans to use the proposals to create an exchange of solutions. The Tidal Basin Ideas Lab invited the firms based on past design performance, philosophy and design intent, thoughtfulness, creativity, overall resume, and ability to confront multi-faceted challenges at the Tidal Basin.

The architects’ solutions to saving the Tidal Basin range from dramatic alterations in the existing landscape to conservative, small changes. Walter Hood of Hood Design Studio proposed releasing the water and letting the landscape turn into a living wetland. Kathryn Gustafson of the Seattle-based firm GGN presented a plan that involved creating flood plain forests that would slow flooding.

While their plans may be very different, all the architects recognize the urgency of the situation. As architect James Corner told National Public Radio, “This isn’t something that we’re looking out for in 10 or 50 years time, It’s already with us.” According to projections by The Tidal Basin Ideas Lab, “By 2040, the Jefferson Memorial is projected to be submerged daily in four feet of water; by 2070, the MLK, Jr., Memorial in six feet of water at high tide; and by 2100, will likely stand in nine feet of water under the same conditions.”

The public can explore and comment on all the proposals in an online exhibit.