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Constitution Gardens: Living Waters, A Museum Without Walls

The renewed Constitution Gardens is a model for integrating social activity and green infrastructure into our national cultural landscape.

Constitution Gardens is an oasis in the city, an intimate space between the urban edge of Washington, D.C. and the monumental landscape of the National Mall. The renewed Constitution Gardens creates a "museum without walls," a model for integrating social activity and green infrastructure into our national cultural landscape. 

While the formal grace of the pool and pathway is evident, the gardens have long remained a static icon unable to sustain the health of the water at its center or draw visitors to its banks. Like many bodies of water in monumental Washington, the pond is symbolic yet lifeless.

The rejuvenation of Constitution Gardens begins with the center—where the pond is transformed to offer more than reflection. Our design reframes the original vision for the pond and paths by introducing a new ecological infrastructure. It brings the health of the water and surrounding landscape into balance and offers a new collection of ecologically vibrant indoor and outdoor destinations. Together, they reveal new insights, transforming the garden from the picturesque to the performative.

The design focuses the architectural destinations to the north, extending the city into the garden. A network of pond walks relinks the Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence to the visitor experience and the variety of settings for cultural events, art, performance, recreation, and inspiration. New programs, including a cafĂ©, visitor services and boat rentals, a restaurant, and a natural amphitheater, are strategically positioned to capture views to the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. At the western edge of this collection of pavilions, a new Living Laboratory for urban ecology brings education to the memorial park, extending the Smithsonian axis of museums and their rich programs of art, science, technology, and history into Constitution Gardens.

The south side of the site offers the surprise of pathways that stray from the water's edge and wander into new wetlands or ascend into the tree canopy. Composed of linked forms that appear and disappear, terrace down to the water, and change shape as the visitor moves around them, the new buildings and the network of paths create a cinematic sequence of views into and through the gardens.

The Constitution Gardens are designed to become a dynamic and sustainable urban park, an outdoor museum with extended hours and to be enjoyed in all seasons. New experiences playfully unfold on the water's edge, capturing southern breezes in the summer and framing a year-round view of the Washington Monument. The design of the pavilions and outdoor settings bring into focus the reciprocity of landscape, public life, and ecology. It presents a prototype for the regenerative vision for the National Mall, a new type of urban National Park in the heart of our nation's capital. 

Winter recreation and pond ecology