Wanderlust Wednesday: Rediscovering DC’s Streescapes

DC’s Central Market was replaced by the National Archives after 1931. Many an urban renewal project removed necessary services for urban living. Photo: Smithsonian Institution.

DC’s downtown streetscapes are being resuscitated in scraps and snippets. Whitewashing idealism and urban renewal threatened to wipe clean the historical texture of the scrappy American capital throughout the 20th century. Historic buildings that once didn’t fit model image of America of the early 20th century were replaced by white marble temples. Cheap buildings followed after for the next 50 years. The historical remnants that survived are now among the blah 1970s and 80s architecture are being rehabilitated as part of the streetscape. Ornament and buildings of human scale are once more respected as contributing to the quality of urban life.

Outlines of windows drawn on salvaged historic facades, stuck on a modern building. I think. RL Fifield 2013.

Outlines of windows drawn on salvaged historic facades, stuck on a modern building. I think. RL Fifield 2013.

I went to grad school in DC in the late 1990s. I didn’t spend much time observing the city, trudging out of my 1980s classrooms, over to the Smithsonian past iconic government buildings, and into the 1970s Metro to points north. It was difficult to realize that DC didn’t spring into existence as a pre-fab neoclassical revival piece in the 1930s, finished off by cheap and badly aging 1960s construction. Constitution Avenue was barren of all urban life, with the exception of Smithsonian tourist pilgrims.

Old and new coexisting.

Old and new coexisting.

DC is changing – it’s saving the scraps of historic architecture that still survive and working it into the fabric of new buildings that serve the modern city. It’s a system of which I wish NYC made more use.

And there will be streetcars again soon too! See my post here.

 

It's about time - I don't get sentimental about the removal of 1970s buildings. RL Fifield 2013.

It’s about time – I don’t get sentimental about the removal of 1970s buildings. RL Fifield 2013.