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The Modern Era

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Part 4 in a Series on Unbuilt Washington

Unbuilt projects punctuate the history of modern Washington, and it is remarkable how quickly some of these proposals have been forgotten. Many Washingtonians, for instance, remember Frank Gehry’s design of 1999 for the extension of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design, but how many remember that his proposal was selected through a limited competition that also produced eye-popping designs by Santiago Calatrava and Daniel Libeskind? Looking back a bit further, how many know of Chloethiel Woodard Smith’s fascinating plan of 1966 for a bridge spanning from the Southwest urban renewal district to West Potomac Park, which would have been lined with shops and restaurants, yielding a modern version of Florence’s Ponte Vecchio? Who remembers Edward Durell Stone’s preliminary design of 1959 for what is now the Kennedy Center, with its sensuous curves and promenade along the riverfront, both so noticeably lacking in the final design?

Right now, as the economy seems to be recovering, a number of projects that went on hold during the recession are being brought back to life—the City Center development by Foster + Partners with Shalom Baranes Associates, on the site of the old convention center, is a prime example—reminding us that what is “unbuilt” one day may be under construction the next. Throughout Washington’s history, numerous unrealized architectural and urban planning ideas—and, often, whole projects—have been resurrected, rehashed, or adapted to inform subsequent designs. Just as the preservation movement led to greater appreciation for our built environment in the late twentieth century, the study of unbuilt work could contribute to a fuller understanding of our architectural heritage as we contemplate our city’s future.

This article was adapted from one that originally appeared in the Washington Business Journal.