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Southwest Washington Urban Redevelopment

Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress
Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress

The master plan for the redevelopment of the impoverished southwest quadrant of Washington, DC was one of the most ambitious urban renewal projects in the United States, establishing the legal framework for subsequent initiatives across the country. Key to the plan was L’Enfant Plaza (3 office buildings around a formal plaza) and especially the 10th Street Mall: a 2,000-foot-long roadway and promenade designed to overcome the railroad tracks and a proposed 8-lane expressway, both of which physically and visually cut off Southwest Washington from the rest of the city, leaving it an isolated ghetto.


Section through 10th Street and site plan / Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

The embattled proposal stretched on for five years, bogged down by government bureaucracy and budgets. Nevertheless, it connected I.M. Pei to the power structure of Washington, winning the support of influential people like Phil Graham, publisher of The Washington Post. It opened Pei to future opportunities like the FAA Air Traffic Control Towers and later, the National Gallery of Art.

Design Team: I.M. Pei, Design Principal; Owren Aftreth, Lien Chen, Design Architects; Dean McClure, Planner
Webb & Knapp Real Estate Development Corp.