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10th Street Mall / L'Enfant Plaza

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1960–1973, I. M. Pei, master planner; Araldo A. Cossutta and Vlastimil Koubek, architects; Dan Kiley, landscape architect. 10th St. between Independence Ave. and Banneker Circle.
  • 10th Street Mall / L'Enfant Plaza

L’Enfant Plaza was the centerpiece of the Southwest Washington Redevelopment Area—an effort to redevelop old and dilapidated single-family houses to provide high-density residences; in total, fourteen city blocks were razed to make space for the new development. As its name and symbols suggest, the complex's planners aspired to the standards and architectural excellence set by the city's first planner. Bridging the railroad tracks and the Southwest Expressway, this complex was to become a commercial and cultural hub of the city, as well as the entrance to the new Southwest. Office buildings, a hotel, a shopping center, restaurants, and a cultural center were to be located along the 10th Street spine and on the eastern cross axis. The cultural center ultimately was located instead in Foggy Bottom as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The shopping arcade adjacent to the plaza serves nearby office workers and bustles on weekdays but is otherwise moribund. The hotel atop the shopping center is isolated from other downtown hostelries.

Developer William Zeckendorf of Webb and Knapp and his staff architect I. M. Pei developed the master plan for the site. While the main axis of 10th Street can be viewed as the link between the new Southwest and the rest of the city, L'Enfant Plaza is the heart of the complex, the vital organ pumping activity into the area. L'Enfant Plaza consists of twin office towers, executed by Araldo A. Cossutta, on either side of the plaza, from which stairs descend to the underground parking arcade. Architect Vlastimil Koubek of Washington undertook the design of the hotel, which encloses the east side of the complex. The plaza itself merges into the 10th Street Mall, a band of pink concrete and red granite. The Mall terminates in the south at Banneker Circle, named in honor of Benjamin Banneker, the black mathematician who assisted with the first survey of the District of Columbia. Landscape architect Dan Kiley designed this oval area that serves both as an overlook and the centerpiece of the thoroughfares connecting the mall with the street system to the south.

While nearby office workers quickly utilized the plaza for their dining and shopping needs, the area remained empty during other hours. (Some critics commented that L’Enfant Plaza’s inactivity was a result of the construction of the Forrestal Building, which cut the plaza off from the National Mall). This issue served as illustration of the failures of urban renewal in the city, whereby distinct commercial and residential zones failed to produce a vibrant urban experience. This trend began to change in 2019 with the opening of the immensely popular International Spy Museum within the promenade area of the complex. 

Writing Credits

Author: 
Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee
Updated By: 
Vyta Baselice (2020)
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Data

Timeline

  • 1960

    Built

What's Nearby

Citation

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "10th Street Mall / L'Enfant Plaza", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/DC-01-SW06.

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 236-237.

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