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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Floodgate

It’s often said that Washington, D.C. was built on a swamp – usually in August, when the humidity in the District is unbearable. While that’s not entirely true, the Georgetown waterfront certainly looks like one right now.

The Potomac River flooded after a weekend of heavy rains, and by Monday the river had risen up to 12 feet.

Normally floodwalls are raised to protect Washington Harbour, the restaurant and office complex on the waterfront. The modern floodwalls were part of the original construction, and have been used successfully dozens of times since they were built in 1986.

But this time, a section of the wall wasn’t raised early enough. Muddy water gushed into the Harbour complex, which is conveniently shaped like a crescent bowl.

Washington Harbour Flooding
Washington Harbour flooding (Photo: Alex Greenlee, DCist)

A week later on Earth Day, the Harbour is still closed as a clean-up crew deals with the effects of Mother Nature.

Of course, this all got me thinking about historic floods in the District.

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