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Profs and Pints DC presents: “Unbuilt Washington—The City That Never Was,” with Martin Moeller, adjunct lecturer at the University of Miami, editor of ArchitectureDC magazine, and author of the fourth, fifth, and sixth editions of the AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, DC.
To residents and visitors alike, the design of Washington’s key landmarks, from the stately dome of the Capitol to the Gothic spires of the National Cathedral, may seem so appropriate—so correct—that it is hard to imagine they could have turned out differently. Yet no aspect of the city’s architecture and planning is predestined.
Come to Penn Social to learn about some of the countless unrealized designs for public buildings, monuments, civic landscapes, and private structures that constitute Washington’s unbuilt architectural history—the Washington that could have been, but never was.
Martin Moeller, who organized a major exhibition on this topic while he was senior curator at the National Building Museum, will discuss a range of projects, some of them quite serious and credible, some serious yet incredible, and some downright bizarre. Examples will include a rejected design for the U.S. Capitol, an 1898 proposal for a lavish new Presidential mansion perched on Meridian Hill, and a hypothetical project called “Dolphin America”—a combined research lab and hotel in downtown DC organized around a central “dolphin communication space.” He’ll examine why each featured project never came to fruition.
You will learn that Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s famous plan for Washington was, in fact, only partially executed, and that the unrealized aspects of the plan might have altered perceptions of the city. You will see startlingly modern projects designed for prominent sites that were thwarted by America’s entry into World War II. You will also presumably be relieved to discover that a post-war proposal for superhighways running along either side of the National Mall never came to pass.
The study of unbuilt architectural and urban design projects is far from a frivolous pursuit. Such proposals often influenced projects that did get built, and many unexecuted projects offer lessons that are relevant to ongoing debates about design and planning issues. Together with buildings that remain standing and those that were built but later demolished, unbuilt works are an important component of a full understanding of architectural history. (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later.)
Image: A proposed design of the Lincoln Memorial by John Russell Pope. (National Archives.)