Unbuilt Washington

In conversation, some things are better left unsaid – and in the Historic District, some things are better left unbuilt.

That’s the unspoken commentary behind a new exhibit that opened at the National Building Museum this past weekend. “Unbuilt Washington” explores the monuments and buildings – and occasional Venetian-style canal – that might have graced the District, if only they had made it past the drawing board.

There’s the colossal pyramid honoring Abraham Lincoln, or the medieval-style Memorial Bridge dedicated to Ulysses S. Grant, or the new executive mansion built further up 16th Street, atop Meridian Hill.

The U.S. Grant Memorial Bridge
The U.S. Grant Memorial Bridge

As a D.C. guide, I thought this exhibit was a pretty fascinating tour of an alternate Washington. And with Thanksgiving approaching, I was also left feeling grateful that some of these outlandish structures were left unbuilt – either through lack of funds, shifting priorities, or public outcry.

The exhibit reminds you that from its inception, the federal capital has presented a veritable blank slate for architectural imaginations and often competing notions of national expression.

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Butterflies in the District

Over the weekend, I discovered a new connection between butterflies and the District – in addition to the Butterfly Pavilion at the Natural History Museum.

I was at a matinee of the opera Madama Butterfly on Sunday, performed by the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center.

An original poster from an early production of Madama Butterfly.
An original poster from an early production of Madama Butterfly.

The performance was great, and it made me nostalgic for the couple of years I spent living in Japan. It’s set in the city of Nagasaki, which was just a few hours away from the small town where I lived on the island of Kyushu.

I visited Nagasaki several times, including the famous Glover Garden overlooking Nagasaki Bay. It’s attached to the oldest Western house still

standing in Nagasaki, whose Scottish owner married a Japanese woman and was said to have inspired the short story Madame Butterfly. It was later turned into a play, and finally the opera by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini.

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