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Detail of print showing National Mall and Washington Monument

 

Best Laid Plans: Designs for a Capital City

 

 

June 14–December 22, 2019

This exhibition examined unrealized designs for the Washington Monument, Memorial Bridge, and other structures around the city through historical prints and paintings from the museum’s Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection.

 

 

About the Exhibition

Every landmark in Washington, D.C., has a story. Some never made it past the drawing board. Today’s landmarks are the result of competitions, decisions, dialogue, successes, failures, and reassessments. Despite often tumultuous beginnings, the results we see appear inevitable—as though the building could have never looked another way. It is hard for us to imagine how Washington’s built environment could have turned out differently.

This exhibition examined unrealized designs for the Washington Monument, Memorial Bridge, and other structures around the city through historical prints and paintings from the museum’s Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection. It also revisited new paintings by Washington artist Peter Waddell that were unveiled at the museum last fall. Waddell’s oil paintings, The Indispensable Plan and The Village Monumental, are panoramic landscapes that contrast D.C. as planner Peter (Pierre) L’Enfant envisioned it in 1791 with the city’s actual development in 1825, the year of L’Enfant’s death.

Best Laid Plans uncovered the Washington that could have been through plans that were completely abandoned and or reimagined. Even the best laid plans can go awry, but what do these designs tell us about the evolving visions for the capital city?

Organized in cooperation with the Albert H. Small Center for National Capital Area Studies.