Our week-long excursion to Washington, DC that occurred in the context of our tandem-seminar „Berlin-Washington: Visionen und die historische Konstruktion von Hauptstädten im transatlantischen Vergleich” I had the opportunity to learn about both, Washington as the capital of the United States as well as Washington as a neighbourhood for their citizens.
The program organized by our hosts, guided us through these neighbourhoods, through the main areas of representation and policy exercise and gave us an interesting and insightful perspective of these parts of the town. Unfortunately, due bad weather conditions, we had to adjourn our walk eventually. Nevertheless, we got ample opportunities to discover more. Interesting and noticeable for me was the coexistence of the Seat of Government and the everyday life in one city which at this point describes best the major difference between Washington, DC and Berlin.
In Berlin a number of administration buildings are widely scattered throughout the city as a result of the cities history of department and reunification. Since then the government tries hard to centralize the power but still struggles with remotely located administration buildings.
Nevertheless, the government district in Berlin seems more connected to the city then in Washington. Maybe it is because the neighbourhoods are literally interweaved due to it’s centuries-old grown structure.
In Washington, in contrast, the city centre is defined by the Mall with the slightly elevated White House, the Capitol and the Library of Congress. The inhabited neighbourhoods were developed one after the other around the centre.
In one of the numerous discussions we had, our hosts confirmed our impression of the separation between Washington as a city and Washington as the capital of the United States. Those who are living in the adjacent periphery sense mostly the special feeling of the capital city when visiting places like the Mall for certain occasions or with friends and visitors.
The most exciting day for me personally was the visit in Suburbia. Although the issue of this topic wasn’t exactly the comparison of capitals itself, it was part of our program and gave me a great opportunity to look deeper into this subject.
The night before we watched the US-Documentary Radiant City (2006) what was well scheduled. The documentation offered an insight of suburban structures. Structures we heard and knew about but weren’t able to visit entirely.
However, two of these settlements in the closer perimeter we visited the next day to see the as-is state: Greenbelt, a new type of living developed in the 1930s and Kentlands, an example of a „better“ suburbia. Kentlands was planned as one of the first projects by architect named Duany Plater-Zyberk. Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) also formed the term New Urbanism due to the fact of their work in the 1980s.
I for myself wouldn’t consider this backward directed stage architecture as an architectural movement; even though the tour with a young unimpressive architect could not convince me of a „better“ suburbia.
Topics I connect with the term „new“ should be represented in far-reaching ideas for suburban living that meets requirements in a contemporary context. What we have seen was green living in vinyl. New Urbanism should be more honest to itself. Otherwise it is nothing more than a dress to sell something just „more pricey“ as Marina Khoury herself said. At least Mrs Khoury, from DPZ, was honest enough to explain that DPZ builds what the investor wishes. In my opinion a planer carries a high level of creative, social and environmental responsibility. It is by far not enough just helping to develop a homogenous and ideal world for the market.
Interestingly appeared an edition of the magazine City Bauwelt, (No. 181, 12.09), an article entitled Abschied von Suburbia (Farewell to Suburbia). Some articles describe very well and with a careful consideration the history of development and the links to urban sprawls which made the magazine a valuable literature for my following weeks of vacation.
Even though I mentioned only a few peaks of our visit in Washington this does not mean I haven’t had plenty other enjoyable and exciting days, evenings and nights. It is, however, a need to thank Renee, Brad and their friends again. Monday night was a most relaxing event and the nicest in DC and it was a great pleasure to do this trip at the end of my studies. Thank you, Alexandra.