Cities of History: Preservation and Interpretation in the Design Process

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This thesis proposes the use of memory and interpretation in the preservation, urban design, and physical definition of a community. The study area is Southwest Washington D.C. The thesis will explore questions of preservation and intervention: How might theories of preservation shape the urban form of a neighborhood? How are narrative potential, historic significance and existing fabric mediated? What is the symbolic importance of memory and its architectural use?

Southwest was an integral part of L'Enfant's plan for Washington. Currently it is severed physically and psychically from the rest of the city. The dominant symbolic importance of the Mall and post-McMillan Commission Federal Core development strategies de-emphasized the significance of the Rivers and the physical relationship between the Mall and Southwest. Urban renewal strategies of the 1950's destroyed most of the urban fabric south of the Mall, layering an essentially suburban street typology over the existing grid pattern. Although partially offset by an architectural Modernism unique in Washington D.C., the resultant system of disconnected streets and poorly defined open space provide no sense of center, little relation to the rest of the city, and no relation to the larger landscape. An intention of this project is the exploration of the significance of site and its evolving role in shaping the city. Design should encourage a dialogue between memory and the present. L'Enfant's plan for Washington is reinterpreted as establishing vital relationships between the natural and the urbanized, the symbolic and the mundane, the federal city and the metropolitan city.