Should Washington reconsider its building height limit? Brookings scholar Christopher Leinberger sparked some heated debate after he suggested the city should raise the limit in February at an event at the Building Museum, and readers will remember I offered a few thoughts then. In general, I think the limit should be raised, albeit in a very controlled way. Many opportunities exist away from the monumental core to increase density in strategic places. Today the Post’s Paul Schwartzman contributed to the debate with a thoughtful story explaining Leinberger’s arguments for height. Of course, planners aren’t the only people concerned with future cityscapes, as the excellent BLDGBLOG pointed out in March. “Architecture could learn quite a lot from the spatial and material imaginations on display in both film and science fiction,” he argues in a post announcing an event exploring the topic.
One of the most recent and vivid expressions of cinema’s “spatial imagination” for Washington was Steven Spielberg’s 2002 Minority Report which went to great lengths to imagine a fantastic — yet realistic — future landscape for D.C. The images above and below were created by James Clyne for the project, and envisions a National Mall dwarfed by future structures.
Another, quite different source of hypothetical images for Washington is the (firmly pro-height limit) National Capital Planning Commission. Their reports contain dreamy, washed-out watercolors illustrating the Washington of tomorrow, reminiscent the plans of idealistic postwar planners. This illustration, from their Memorials and Museums Master Plan, shows proposed changes to South Capitol Street. It will be rebuilt, although not exactly along these lines.
The NCPC’s 1997 Extending the Legacy: Planning America’s Capital for the 21st Century is a great source for these sort of images, containing a number of watercolors with vaguely futuristic flourishes.
Here’s a view of Anacostia River with a spherical aquarium on Kingman Island, as well as a variety of new buildings along the bank.
A variety of proposed transportation improvements are shown below. The circulator, at the top left, has been implemented using prosaic city buses. (Where is the future we were promised?)
Contrast that with James Clyne’s vision for a future highway system in Washington:
In NCPC’s brave new world, even fashion will evolve. This view of a new South Capitol Street Bridge is convinced shoulder pads will be the wave of the future.