National Mall Tidal Basin Ideas Lab

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Reed Hilderbrand is one of five firms participating in the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab, a design ideas competition that reimagines the future of Washington D.C.’s iconic Tidal Basin. Poised in the temporal dimension, Reed Hilderbrand’s vision for the Tidal Basin responds to this cultural landscape’s indeterminate future by setting up a strategic exchange across current and future generations.

Initiated through a partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Trust for the National Mall, and the National Park Service, alongside civic partner Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the Ideas Lab is an urgent call to action to address the historic site’s pressing need for critical repairs and improvements, including a crumbling sea wall and daily flooding, taking into consideration environment, culture and visitor experience. Reed Hilderbrand’s proposal, called Open Work: A People’s Future for the Tidal Basin, shapes a union between the dynamic forces of nature and the evolving patterns of American culture, looking ahead one century to envision how the Tidal Basin might not only be saved but in doing so set forth a landscape that is a truer, richer reflection of our polity. The proposed adaptation is gradual and disciplined, like the 12-bar progression of blues music that orders and inspires improvisations among multiple performers. It resists incrementalism, however, by outlining clear guiding principles and a set of compelling experiences to be achieved by different hands at different moments in the future: upland plantings of a novel cherry species selected to bloom predictably in a warming climate; a new tidal terrace and pedestrian bridge to replace the Kutz Bridge; a disc-shaped promontory plaza; a circuit perambulation within a layered, weaving path that evokes tensions between the site’s internal complexity and extensively connects both with the National Mall and the wider riverfront along the Potomac. This new Washington Common pursues the 1902 Senate Park Commission’s vision for a diverse, connective, and cooling regional park system for Washington, DC.

Together, the teams’ comprehensive proposals create a bold, ambitious and integrated vision for the Tidal Basin. The proposals appear in a museum-quality online exhibition, co-curated by Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins, that invites the public to explore the histories and challenges of the Tidal Basin and share feedback on ideas for the evolution of this important part of America’s landscape.


Washington, D.C.




200 acres