Newseum by Polshek
Pennsylvania Avenue from the U.S. Capitol Building to the White House in Washington, D.C., is America's ceremonial route — for presidential inaugurals, motorcades for visiting heads of states, and state funeral processions.
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From the time of John F. Kennedy's inaugural, Daniel Patrick Moynihan — first as a Department of Labor bureaucrat and then as a U.S. Senator — worked fervently for the architectural rebirth of that one-and-a-half miles (2.4 kilometers) of the Avenue. Specifically, he wanted the north side, which consisted largely of dilapidated, undistinguished buildings, to be made as grand as the classically inspired architecture of the south side of Pennsylvania and the National Mall.
While several new buildings by prominent architects have been built on both sides of Pennsylvania Ave. during the last 40 years, only Polshek's Newseum has achieved Moynihan's goal.
Moynihan did not live to see the building of the Newseum, but in a December 21, 2000, speech, he presciently described the importance of the design.
"I think it fair to say that after 40 years we have fulfilled President Kennedy's dream of the development of Pennsylvania Avenue. He wanted it 'lively, friendly and inviting.' And nothing could be more so than the Newseum, nor yet more generous with the city and creative in its concept."
The architect's design of the side and rear of this 643,000-square-foot (59,700-square-meter) complex also respects the adjacent neighborhood of residences, restaurants, and offices.
Freedom of Expression
Charles Overby, CEO of the Freedom Forum, had expected Polshek to include some sort of display of the First Amendment on the Newseum facade as an emblem of the importance of an unbridled free press. But even Overby was surprised when the 50-ton (45-metric-ton) Tennessee Marble billboard stating the entire amendment was proposed.
And the first few times a passerby views the building, he or she is likely to also be surprised and startled by this enormous solid signage adjacent to the glass facade that forms the rest of the building's Pennsylvania Avenue frontage.
But the sign is symbolic of Polshek's sensitivity to the politics of Washington, D.C. He knew that without a favorable review from the powerful Commission on Fine Arts, the project would not have gone forward. And he knew that an all-glass facade on Pennsylvania Ave. would be much too radical for architecturally conservative Washington.
The First Amendment plaque, specifically its solid masonry appearance, linked the proposed Newseum building to the 1930s classical-revival buildings along Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues, such as the National Gallery of Art by John Russell Pope (which Polshek admires); the Federal Trade Commission; the National Archives, also by Pope; and the Department of Justice. The latter two have incised epigrams on their facades.
The Commission on Fine Arts loved the plaque, and while questions were raised about the height of the proposed building and the transparency of its facade, these issues were ultimately resolved.
With repeated viewing, the plaque, with its nicely angled bottom lip, seems a natural part of the building and the Avenue.
And the facade remains transparent enough to draw the eyes of passersby into the building, where a news helicopter hangs and a giant screen displays changing historic news headlines and images. The wonderful glass-enclosed wing on the east end creates a strong sense of movement, as brightly dressed tourists move up and down the stairs. And for the really astute viewer, the Berlin Wall guard tower's searchlight can be spotted behind the stairwell.
The new Newseum is the third collaboration between Polshek Partnership and exhibit designer Ralph Appelbaum, after the highly regarded Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City and the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. Appelbaum also designed the exhibits for the original Newseum space.
The museum's interior is no less exciting and no less startling than the facade. The architects have described it as three vertical layers, suggesting the sections of a newspaper, as a symbol of the free press. This analogy seems contrived.
The first layer consists of theaters on the lower levels, light-filled displays and broadcast studios on the middle levels, and incredible panoramic views from the upper-level terrace.
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