November 17, 2011 Mid-Century Modern

Building Museum’s ‘Unbuilt Washington’ Opens Nov. 19

Preliminary proposal for the National Cultural Center (later Kennedy Center), Edward Durell Stone, 1959. Stone’s curvilinear original design contrasts sharply with the boxy design that was executed. Photo Credit: Edward Durell Stone Collection (MC 340), Box 104. Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville.

With the National Building Museum’s Unbuilt Washington opening on Saturday, I am reposting (with some new tidbits) the item I wrote about the exhibit back in July. What could have been? This is the question the exhibit, which will run until May 28, 2012, will explore as it looks back at some of the designs for buildings, bridges and monuments that were never built in Washington.

Some of the these designs also happen to be by some of the country’s leading modern architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Edward Durrell Stone (see image above), Chloethiel Woodard Smith, Charles Eames, Eliel Saarinen and Eero Saarinen and Kevin Roche. I came across one of these–a proposed aquarium by Roche in collaboration with the Eames Office–several years ago so I am excited to learn more about it along with the other projects. Can you imagine an aquarium on Haines Point in East Potomac Park designed by protégés of Eero Saarinen (Roche and John Dinkeloo continued Saarinen’s practice) and Ray and Charles Eames. Unfortunately, it did not happen. “In 1962 Congress approved construction of the National Fisheries Center and Aquarium for East Potomac Park,” the Washington Business Journal writes. “Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates LLC designed the project, slated to cost $10 million at the time and include a 60-foot greenhouse for living ecologies. The project fell victim to the economic and political turmoil of the time. The aquarium today makes its home in the Herbert Hoover Department of Commerce headquarters.”

Another interesting part of the aquarium story is that Smith, who was the leading force in the redevelopment of Southwest DC, designed the Channel Waterfront Bridge. The bridge was to link the Southwest waterfront to West Potomac Park and the aquarium. The plan included interior and exterior pedestrian walkways and more than 100 shops and restaurants. The design was inspired by the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy. The currently planned redevelopment of the Southwest waterfront is seeking to bring some of these ideas to fruition.

The exhibit will include a number of models of these unbuilt designs. Watch this video of G. Martin Moeller Jr., senior vice president and curator at the museum, explaining some of the rarely seen models. Here’s an image of the model for the 1939 design by the Saarinens (with Robert Swanson, Charles Eames and Ralph Rapson) that won the competition for the Smithsonian Gallery of Art. Too bad that that went unbuilt, too.