City Desk

Would I.M. Pei Get to Veto L’Enfant Plaza Remix?

For all those who would like to bulldoze L'Enfant Plaza and remake what's often considered the District's worst example of urban planning, you might run into some problems with architect I.M. Pei, who designed many of L'Enfant Plaza's buildings.

Take a lesson from New York City from earlier this week, where New York University backed off from a plan to construct a new campus tower in the footprint of an existing Pei-designed complex of towers in Greenwich Village.

According to New York magazine:

The contentious political atmosphere gave Pei, the world-famous architect who built the towers in the sixties, considerable sway as the Landmarks Commission weighed the university's proposal. In February 2008, NYU’s architects sought a meeting with Pei to present their plans. The hope then was that he would support the bid, or at a minimum, stay quiet and not inject himself in the process. The plan would be "shattered" if Pei spoke out, said David Rubin, one of NYU’s outside architects.

And sure enough, Pei, 93, expressed his displeasure with the plan.

If there were a grand plan to raze L'Enfant Plaza or radically reshape it sometime down the road, would planners defer to Pei the same way NYU did? There's no telling.

But if we can learn anything about notable but unloved architecture in the city's Southwest quadrant, there's not much sentimental value. Just look at the reskinning of Edward Durrell Stone's Nassif Building, the former U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters that was remade into the glass and steel Constitution Center. Just as many in New York were crying foul about the reskinning of a Stone-designed building, nobody in D.C. really paid attention as the identity of one of our own Stone designs was radically remade.

Photo by Allie_Caulfield via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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