During the excited-for-classical Trump era, Washington, D.C.’s (somewhat overlooked) wealth of modernist architecture wasn’t exactly celebrated, to put it mildly. But amid all the modernist mudslinging (Brutalism being a particular target for reasons not just due to aesthetics), the capital’s Trump-maligned post-war concrete edifices experienced a renewed wave of interest and fanfare, inspiring a number of guides, tributes, and research endeavors within the last several years.
Now, D.C.’s modernist landscapes are taking center stage with a new illustrated guide produced by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) in partnership with the National Park Service. Titled D.C. Modernism, the handheld device-optimized, GPS-enabled city guide is the 18th of its kind to be produced by TCLF as part of the What’s Out There series. It’s also the first to focus exclusively on a specific landscape style. Past What’s Out There guides tackled Chicago, San Diego, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Nashville, Boston, and Richmond, to name just a few. Like D.C. Modernism, six of the guides, including the last two mentioned cities, were co-produced by the NPS.
What’s Out There D.C. Modernism serves as a timely, topical follow-up to TCLF’s previous, more all-encompassing What’s Out There guide dedicated to the capital’s cultural landscapes. And it doesn’t hurt that the city is abundant with parks, plazas, public courtyards, memorials, and gardens designed in the modernist style. Notably, some of these landscapes have recently been—or at risk of being—irrevocably altered.
“Washington, D.C.’s modernist landscape legacy is rich and varied, and also very fragile as demonstrated by the current threat to the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden and recent alterations to Pershing Park,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF’s president and CEO, in a statement. “We are grateful to the National Park Service for supporting this project and we hope that a greater stewardship ethic will be fostered by making these landscapes, and the stories behind them, more visible.”
Including the two landscapes mentioned by Birnbaum, Gordon Bunshaft’s Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden (subsequently updated by Lester Collins) and M. Paul Friedberg’s Pershing Park, D.C. Modernism spotlights just under 30 sites to explore, some more off the beaten path than others. They include the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (Lawrence Halprin), Capitol Park (Chloethiel Woodard Smith with landscape architect Dan Kiley), Liberty Plaza (Sasaki), John Marshall Park (Carol Johnson), the Canadian Embassy complex (Arthur Erickson with landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander), and the Langston Terrace Dwellings (Hilyard Robinson and Paul Williams with landscape architect David Williston).
In addition to a series of in-depth, illustrated essays profiling each unique landscape and a 3,000-word introductory essay, D.C. Modernism also features a Designers + Shapers section that provides comprehensive biographies of 40 landscape pioneers—including the landscape architects and architects mentioned above—whose respective designs have left indelible marks on the built environment of the nation’s capital, whether in, around, or further afield from the historic core.
Like previous Whats Out There city guides, D.C Modernism links back to TCLF’s central What’s Out There database that includes more than 2,100 sites in the United States and Canada, 1,100 designer profiles, and 12,000 images. The individual guides are ever-expanding as landscapes are frequently added to the database. And who veer away the usual suspects to embark on self-guided modernist landscape tours can also access a What’s Nearby feature on handheld devices that pinpoints sites within a certain distance and provides mileage/walking time from a user’s current location.