The Necessity of Expansion

Construction of temporary war emergency buildings on the Mall, March 1942.

Dotted with monuments and museums, the Mall in Washington, DC remains largely open and flat, tamed. Stripped of any illusion of naturalism, the Mall belies its double role as representative center (in both senses of the word) and site of physical expansion. Our governmental structure enforces a loose coupling between branches, a relationship which floats between periods of intense congruency (usually war times) and relative distance that leads to deadlock.

As if to prove that even the most sacred sites cannot resist the allure of junkification, the Mall may operate in times of need as a temporary expansion space for whatever program is required. The urban figure of the empty Mall comes to represent a bet on the future and an acceptance that current conditions will not likely remain unchanged. As spatial breathing room for the physical residue of government, the Mall's emptiness is critical in allowing the smooth function of government when our country is short of breath and proximity becomes important.

The Mall is Washington, DC's temporary upgrade slot. Like any piece of technology, the Mall is made to host enhancers (a representative space is nothing compared to that same space filled with people), optimizers (rail yards used to take advantage of the mall's central location), and new capabilities like the War Department temporary facilities.

In a circular logic, it's the symbolic importance of the Mall that keeps it empty and this emptiness that allows it to host such varied programs precisely because it forces them to be temporary. The symbolic program of Washington can only sustain an occupied, functional Mall as long as its absolutely necessary. This space is always serving double masters: it must retain physical flexibility without allowing its formal clarity and aesthetic quality to be diluted.

With an empty, mutable center Washington returns us to the question of foam by suggesting the masters which this artificial inflation may serve.