About a month ago, the Washington Post’s architecture critic, Philip Kennicott, wrote an article comparing the Diller Scofidio + Renfro redesigned Lincoln Center with the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Kennicott praises the Lincoln Center redesign for protecting and enhancing public urban space — as opposed to many projects in DC that privilege security above all else, creating buildings and a “public realm” that can feel fortified.
What Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center have in common is that each performing arts center dates to a period in urban design (the 1960s through 1970s) that favored vehicles over pedestrians. Lincoln Center was an inward-facing megablock over a parking garage, its pedestrian zones bisected by a taxi lane; Kennedy Center was located on the Potomac riverfront, cut off from the rest of the city by highways.
To this pairing of the Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center, I might also add the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Completed around the same time as the Lincoln Center and Kennedy Center, JNEM is similarly inward-facing and disconnected from the city. Like JNEM and Pruitt-Igoe, Lincoln Center was an urban renewal project – this one demolishing the homes of close to 7,000 families, and adding little housing stock.
What could JNEM learn from Lincoln Center? The redesign looks nice, but I remain unconvinced that the project is any better connected to the city than it was. And I am interested to see how the project’s history is addressed: Kennicott references it as “a product of 1960s car-centric, slum-clearing redevelopment” – but does the redesign address any of those issues?
As the city and NPS seek to add more entertainment programming to JNEM, how can the project also become better-connected to the city? Interest in private development of the JNEM site led to the new General Management Plan and Framing a Modern Masterpiece competition. How will the urban public realm be protected moving forward?