The first stage of a three-part competition to update and restore the nation’s most visible and visited civic space begins this week. The Trust for the National Mall, in support of the National Park Service (NPS), is sponsoring the open competition as part of its mission to make the Mall accessible, useful, and attractive for those who use it. Architects and landscape architects are asked to submit their portfolios, design philosophy, and design preferences for three sites: Union Square in front of the Capitol building, the grounds of the Washington Monument at Sylvan Theater, and Constitution Gardens between the two buildings of the National Gallery of Art. Experienced or emerging designers are welcome to enter. The competition’s steering committee, which will represent the NPS, the Architect of the Capitol, the U.S. Park Police, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art, the National Capital Planning Commission, the Commission on Fine Arts, and the D.C. Office of Planning, will then select eight to 10 entrants who will move on to the second stage.

The entrants selected for the second round will assemble their entire design team, which will be interviewed and evaluated by a jury (to be announced in October) consisting of landscape architects, architects, and historic preservationists. Those selected to continue in the competition will then begin to focus on their design concept. The third stage of the competition kicks off at the beginning of 2012, when the final teams perform site visits and submit their design ideas. Proposals will be put on pubic display and the jury will review them in the spring. Winners will be announced at a luncheon on May 3, 2012. The trust hopes to have at least one of the proposed designs completed in time for the 100th anniversary of the NPS in 2016.

Donald J. Stastny, FAIA, a practicing architect who also has guided numerous design and delivery processes including several U.S. embassies, the L.A. concert hall selection committee, and the Oklahoma City and Flight 93 national memorials, is managing the competition. It’s a highly complex design problem, he explains. The Mall needs modern innovative solutions to accommodate extreme numbers of visitors and multiple types of events within a place that also conveys its history and importance. Designs must be sustainable, functional, buildable, and beautiful, and entrants will need to consider an existing vision for overall Mall restoration. Although the Mall and its surrounding buildings are historic in appearance and age, the winning design may be of any style, Stastny notes, explaining that the jury will be looking for innovation and vision. “Whatever the style it should fit the surrounding historical context but look forward to the new century,” he adds. “We are not limiting any specifics about the designs except that there’s an emphasis on invisible security and flexibility.”

To read more about the National Mall restoration plan as well as find out further details on entering the competition, click here.