Best Laid Plans: Designs for a Capital City

Detail of print showing plans for the National Mall

Through December 22, 2019

This exhibition examines 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.

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 examines 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 revisits 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 uncovers 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.

Highlights Tours

Free docent-led tours of the galleries are offered Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. Free student-led tours of the exhibition "Fast Fashion/Slow Art" are offered Saturdays at 1 p.m. at the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design.