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July 12, 2011 Mid-Century Modern

The Unbuilt Modernism of Washington

National Building Museum
What could have been? This is the question an upcoming (November 2011) National Building Museum exhibition (entitled “Unbuilt Washington”) 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, Chloethiel Woodard Smith 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  proteges 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.

You can see the designs by these and other architects in this great slideshow produced by the Washington Business Journal. You can read a story about the expected exhibit by G. Martin Moeller Jr., senior vice president and curator at the museum.