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Landscape redesigned at Washington Monument

Changes enhance beauty while retaining security

Published: Sunday, April 2 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

Tourists take in the new landscape changes Saturday at the Washington Monument. Changes include a curving pathway, softer lighting and more benches.

Lawrence Jackson, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON (AP) — In landscape architect Laurie Olin's mind, the approach to the most soaring of the capital's monuments had to be friendly and simple — and safe.

The Washington Monument stretches more than 555 feet in the air from the National Mall. But for years there was nothing grand about the asphalt walkway that led to the obelisk. And adding jersey barriers in the age of terrorism diminished its aesthetic appeal.

"The point is to turn this security thing into a beautiful walk," Olin said, guiding a tour on Saturday for about 20 members of the National Building Museum and the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Olin and his firm won the National Park Service contract to design landscaping around the monument that incorporates stronger security measures. Now, after three years of landscaping, a curving, welcome pathway starts amid blooming trees and ends with pillow-shape benches at the monument's base.

"My whole goal was to simplify everything," he said. "But trying to do something simply is harder to do than something messy."

Olin adhered to what he said is an industry tenet: solving two or three problems with one aspect of the design.

One of the guidelines from monument officials was to improve security against terrorists using vehicles.

As a result, the sloping, circular pathway not only provides 180-degree views of the Mall but, as recessed into a hill, serves as a concrete and granite barrier strong enough and high enough to prevent a bomb-laden vehicle from reaching the monument's base. Light fixtures were also put in the wall.

"The last thing you want is vertical posts around the monument," Olin said.

Softer lighting and more benches "that lend themselves to comfort and sociability" were placed around the monument's base.

"It looks like a pillow," he said, sitting on one of the benches, "so it tells you how you should feel."

Joanne Buky, 46, a tourist from Virginia Beach, Va., said Olin succeeded in his goals.

"It looks more sculpted and softer," she said while gazing at the monument to the nation's first president. "It puts it on a pedestal, gives it more 'oomph."'

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