Monumentality in Microcosm


From the earliest dreams of Thomas Jefferson and Pierre-Charles L’Enfant to the boosters of the Gilded Age, Washington, D.C. was conceived as a garden its own right.  For over two centuries, the real and imagined city of Washington has been depicted in plans, maps, and renderings as both a front yard to the nation’s vast wilderness and an arcadian setting for the seat of a new democracy.

Beaux-Arts Era urban planning layered a distinct spatial quality into American cities.  These majestic landscapes of carefully framed vistas, axial boulevards, etoilles, and monumental architecture conveyed political potency, social grandeur and cultural primacy.  At the same time, the lucid geometry of these grand master plans systematically produced small, incidental spaces in the urban fabric.  Situated at the intersection of roads, these irregular voids contradict the rational clarity of the grandiose city schemes that produced them.  Roadway triangles in particular occur routinely and frequently, yet never share the exact same geometric and programmatic profile.  At times, they serve as gateways, venues for monuments, or mark district thresholds; more often, their function and importance was overlooked.   My study constructs a historical narrative examining the spatial, social, and political dimensions of these remnant pieces of land in the Capitol.  These are examined both as a whole system and in a series of individual case studies; supported by original photography and mapping.

To explore this online exhibit, click links below under "Sections" or tabs above with the same labels.



© Robin Abad Ocubillo 2012


1) The City as Garden

This Section exploress a number of overlapping relationships which shaped the vision for Washington, D.C.:  Garden and Urban Design; France and the Americas; Neoclassicism in the Baroque and 'City Beautiful' periods.  It also describes the emergence of Triangle Parks, using graphics derived from GIS datasets.

2) Geo-Spatial Development

This Section describes how concepts of Baroque landscape architecture created particular forms, figures, and situations in urban design.  A variety of Triangle types emerge as a result of complex spatial configurations of larger plans.

The Baroque urban plan conceived by Pierre Charles L’Enfant (and later modified by Andrew Ellicott) created a great variety of spatial situations and conditions.  Consequently, triangle parks – formed by remnant spaces in that plan – vary greatly in size, geometry, and physical relationship to the surrounding streets and blocks.  Over the centuries, a diversity of uses and meanings became established at these sites.  Differing levels of material investment at triangles parks reflected and reinforced patterns of uneven development throughout the District.

3) Substance & Materiality

This Section documents the material strategies depolyed in triangle parks - from surface treatments and vegetation to fixtures and statuary.  A collection of early 20th century archival photographs from the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. provide a contextual baseline for examining sites today.

4) Programs & Possibilities

This Section delves into the social and geographic histories of Triangle Parks in Washington, D.C.  A collection of early 20th century archival photographs from the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. provide a contextual baseline for examining sites today.

5) Approach, Methods & Bibliography

This Section contains citations and resources related to this research project.  Other historians, architects, archaeologists, archivists and cartographers who consulted on the project are also acknowledged here.