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Construction Report: October – December 2012

October 1, 2012

A Phototourism DC reader wrote to me shortly after I started this site and asked whether the amount of construction at popular sites around town would make a trip to DC disappointing.  I thought that idea would make a great addition to this blog.  After four iterations of the Construction Report, it is now one of my most popular articles; with 2,471 total pageviews across the four articles (or nearly 11% of all pageviews).

This is the fifth installment of this series and I finally get to say that a construction project is complete (well, sort of).  Several projects are finishing up, others are getting underway, and one pesky problem just can’t seem to get out of the way.

Please comment below if anything you see here is inaccurate or if there is anything I should add.  I try to stay up-to-date on things but occasionally fall behind. I update the information and photos in the Construction Report posts throughout the quarter.


1. The Washington Monument – No change, but developments are coming soon.  The Monument suffered damage in the August 2011 earthquake.  It took awhile to diagnose exactly what happened, but the damage was quite extensive. You can see the extent of the  damage in an interactive tool hosted by the Washington Post.  Since that day the observation platform at the top has been closed and the area around the base has been fenced off.

  • Impact: MEDIUM – There are still plenty of angles to get pictures of the exterior of the Monument, though the fence surrounding the base may show up in some of your closer ones.  Also, the observation deck is a unique place, offering views that you can’t get anywhere else (like the one on the right).  The Old Post Office Clock Tower offers the closest approximation but it’s just not the same. Once renovations start, cranes, scaffolding, and other equipment will litter the view. I’ve read articles saying that the current construction project will look similar to these photos from the last renovation in 1999, so there may be some cool, unique photo opportunities.
  • Expected Completion: 2014– The National Park service recently named a contractor to lead the repair job.  This article from the Washington Post details some of what the repairs will entail and the timeline.  The renovations are expected to start this Fall (by mid-November) and will continue for 12-18 months.

2. Washington National Cathedral – No change here.  I haven’t been back since April, so I’m not sure how far along things have come.  Once I get there, I’ll update this section.  The Cathedral also took a hit in the earthquake, losing some of the spires on the roof.  The interior is now open to the public and there is scaffolding around the exterior.

  • Impact: HIGH – While the exterior of the Cathedral ordinarily makes for great photographs, the equipment, scaffolding, and fencing makes this a poor time to go.  You can still get unobstructed views of the front of the Cathedral but the side is not picturesque (see photo below).  The interior of the Cathedral is the real attraction but netting spans the ceiling of the sanctuary to protect visitors from falling debris (see photo below). As masons check the ceiling there will be scaffolding set up on the interior as well. There are other places in the Cathedral to take photos, and if there weren’t a better alternative I’d be tempted to give it a MEDIUM rating, but if you only have a short time you should check out the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception instead.
  • Expected Completion: Phototourism DC reader, talented photographer, and Cathedral docent Chris Budny filled me in (see his comments) on the timeline for these repairs awhile back.  I haven’t seen an update since.  The exterior of the Cathedral will be in various states of disrepair for the next 10 YEARS!  The interior work will also likely take years.  The Cathedral is still open but unobstructed wide-angle shots will be tough to come by.


Photos taken April 1st, 2012

3. The Reflecting Pool The Pool is finally complete!!!  After being shut down for nearly a year and a half the Reflecting Pool was reopened on August 31st. Judging by the search traffic on this site, PhotoTourism DC readers have been eagerly anticipating this for awhile.

  • Impact: LOW – Though the Reflecting Pool was completed and a new filtration was installed, an infestation of algae has developed.  It lines the bottom of the Pool for the most part, but in places (particularly at the East end near the WWII Memorial) large islands of green sludge float on the surface.  Also, one unintended consequence of the new filtration system seems to be constantly moving water within the Pool.  This limits the reflectivness of the Reflecting Pool.  Despite this, there are still some great photos to be had of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial that include the Reflecting Pool.
  • Expected Completion: TBDIn an article in the Washington Post, the National Park Service says they are still investigating the best ways to deal with the problem and are periodically skimming the algae that floats to the surface.  I have not seen a timeline for solving the problem however.

4. The Supreme Court – The Supreme Court building has been undergoing restoration work for years now, but until recently that work has stayed to the less visually interesting North and South sides.  Within the last couple months, scaffolding has popped up along the entire West (front) side of the building.

  • Impact: HIGH – Scaffolding now covers the entire West side of the building.  A “scrim” has been put up over the scaffolding that covers the windows, which limits the eyesore a bit, but the scaffolding covering the front columns and stairs is stil bare and unsightly.
  • Expected Completion: TBD – Articles I’ve read about this restoration effort don’t mention the timeline.  These things generally take longer than you think they should take.  My guess is that this will take at least a year, putting the estimated completion time somewhere in mid-2013.  I’ll keep you updated.
    Photos taken September 23, 2012


5. The National Mall – It’s improving, but still not done.  In addition to the normal turf restoration that goes on during the winter months there is also a more extensive project laying of sewer and draining pipes. There are fences blocking off the Mall from 3rd St. near the Capitol down to the Smithsonian Castle (basically the area shown in the Washington Monument picture above).

  • Impact: HIGH– The construction zone looks just like that, a construction zone; piles of dirt, construction equipment, and fencing. About half of the construction has been wrapped up and sod has been laid down, though fences are still up.  Photos down the National Mall either of, or from, the Capitol include this eyesore.
  • Expected Completion: December, 2012 – Signs posted on the fences surrounding the construction zone say the project will continue through December 2012.  While these projects usually extend past their normal deadlines, this one is running up against a hard deadline of the Inauguration on January 21st.  That area of the National Mall will need to be ready to receive several hundred thousand pairs of feet.


6. The U.S. Capitol – After a month without construction, the Capitol is back at it.  Nearly the entire West (National Mall) facing side has been closed off to allow for Inauguration preparations, including the construction of a giant platform that is expected to take 3 months.

  • Impact: MEDIUM –  I rated this a MEDIUM because the East side of the Capitol is still available for unobstructed photos.  The West side, however, is largely blocked off.  You can still take pictures from the West lawn or from the Capitol reflecting pool but these views are obstructed with scaffolding, fencing, port-a-potties, and construction equipment.  This will only get worse over the next couple months.  I’ve never been around DC for an Inauguration, but I’d bet the area blocked off on the West side of the Capitol will become larger as the Inauguration approaches.  Once the platform is constructed, there will likely be a week or two of (relatively) unique photo opportunities.
  • Expected Completion: March 2013 – Inauguration preparations will continue right up to January 21st, I’m sure.  After that, the platform will need to be deconstructed.  In the video below from the Architect of the Capitol, they describe the process of construction and deconstruction, both of which are methodical processes.

Photo taken July 6, 2012

7. Union Station – No change. The city of Washington, DC has embarked on a long-term restoration of the area immediately in front of Union Station. The interior is also undergoing repair for damage suffered during the earthquake.

  • Impact: HIGH– The exterior construction is starting to wind down but still occupies most of Columbus Circle.  The interior is highly cluttered with scaffolding.  There are also nets hanging across the entire main hall to protect people from falling bits of plaster.  All of this makes for less than desirable photography.
  • Expected Completion: Exterior: 2013– References to this construction in newspapers have referred to this as a 2-year construction process and it began in August of 2011. Interior: several months at least – It’s hard to say but judging by the amount of scaffolding it looks like there’s still a lot of work to be done.  Once the restoration work is complete there are several additional construction projects scheduled for the Main Hall, meaning it may be several years before the interior is ready to photograph.


8. The National Museum of African American History and Culture – The newest Smithsonian Museum, set to open in 2015, is now just an open construction lot.

  • Impact: LOW – The reason I bring this up here is because I’ve gotten several great pictures of the Washington Monument during twilight (see picture on the right) from the place that is now fenced off for construction. There are plenty of other great places to take picture of the Washington Monument though.
  • Expected Completion: The museum is expected to be completed in 2015. I can’t tell from the drawings of the building whether there will still be a nice, unobstructed view of the Washington Monument from it’s grounds. But there will be plenty of new sights to photograph.


1. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial – Shortly after the opening of the Memorial in August 2011, there was some controversy over one of the quotes carved into the side of the MLK statue that serves as the Memorial’s centerpiece.  It was finally decided to fix it.  From the sounds of it, everything will be done at the Memorial.  My guess is scaffolding will be set up and a tarp will be placed over, at least, one side of the statue.  This is expected to start sometime in Fall 2012 and be completed by MLK Day, January 21st, 2013.

2. Constitution Gardens and the Washington MonumentThe Trust for the National Mall recently solicited design proposals for several areas along the National Mall, namely the area to the North of the Reflecting Pool known as Constitution Gardens and a theater on the grounds of the Washington Monument.  Winning designs have been selected but it is unclear how soon construction will begin, what it’s impact will be, and how long it will take.

3. American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial –  This Memorial is supposed to go up relatively soon in an area to the South of the National Botanic Gardens.  It is out of the way and won’t likely get in the way of your photos but it’s worth keeping in mind as a photo location in a year or two when it’s complete.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2012 9:55 pm

    Hi Brandon; What an interesting coincidence today! I met you briefly this morning at the Library of Congress, but didn’t know it was “you”. You asked if my photos were online, and I searched my wallet for a card, only to realize I didn’t bring any. Then something your friend said about your website jogged my mind later at home, and I wondered if you were “this” Brandon. Which in fact you turned out to be.

    Re: the National Cathedral; change in status will be slow in coming. The repairs to the Bishop’s Garden walls and arched entry are nearing completion. (They were struck 3 weeks after the 2011 earthquake, when the new massive crane brought in to lift scaffolding materials to the bell tower, collapsed.) There’s plenty of speculation about what future use the octagonal building (“The Herb Cottage”—also struck by the crane) will have when finished—return to a gift shop operation for the All Hallows Guild (benefiting the grounds) or perhaps become a cafe. Ironically, none of that damage was from the earthquake. In earthquake terms, all work on the cathedral to date(**) has been solely stabilization, tear-down and cataloging of damages.

    A recent $5M gift from the Lilly Endowment on the anniversary of the quake, along with making the cover story of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Preservation” magazine this month, may hopefully help chart a course for benefactors to step forward and generously contribute towards the current estimated $20M-$30M repair bill. The use of that initial $5M has not yet been finalized; speculation includes perhaps structural work on the quite serious problem of 3 cracked buttresses in the east, or perhaps a tower crane, or perhaps a start on the scaffolding project inside, needed to re-mortar the entire ceiling. I’ve also heard that the two West Towers, which sustained relatively little damage compared to the rest of the building, may have their damages repaired fairly “soon” in the scheme of things. {**Note: To mark the gift of the Lilly funds, a newly-carved crocket was set in place on Aug. 23, 2012 – officially the first actual quake-repair made on the building.}

    Re: Visitors & photography… as you’ve mentioned, the exterior (for wide shots of the building) remains cluttered with scaffolding, and construction fencing on 2 sides. However, exterior detail shots (gargoyles, grotesques, line & pattern, etc.) remain abundantly available with a decent zoom. (Darth Vader’s head, undamaged, benefits from a heftier zoom!) As for the interior – your April shot of the netting is pretty much how things still look today. Again making “wide”, upward shots difficult (or rather, obscured—although a bright sunny fall day creates beautiful pools of color in the netting in the early afternoon.) But other photo ops abound, in the stained glass, in the sculpture, iron and woodwork, etc. The crypt (lower) level was basically unharmed by the quake, and has no visible quake-response obstacles or eyesores to block compositions.

    Hope you got some good shots at the Library Open House today!

    • Brandon Kopp permalink*
      October 9, 2012 5:17 pm

      Thanks for the great info Chris, I’ll be sure to work it into the next iteration of this article along with the proper citation. It’s a small world, that’s why I came up to talk to you at the Library. I figured that anyone with that much equipment and commitment to getting quality photos, I’ve had to have seen their work on social media or a website somewhere.

      I’ve been meaning to get back to the Cathedral. I tend to pass on it when something else comes up because of the damage and netting but it sounds like there are still some great opportunities and I should explore those.

      Looking at your site, some of the past pictures you’ve taken of the Reading Room look great. I’m looking forward to seeing what you came away with this time.

  2. October 24, 2012 8:54 pm

    Hi! This is really an excellent blog! Absolutely packed with great information. I visit DC every 3 months for work and I always bring my camera. Please please PLEASE keep writing more articles on the different tourist attractions. I love seeing another person’s perspective on this “stuff” because it inspires me for my next trip (which is Nov. 8th!). Perhaps add in more stuff just outside of DC, in Northern Virginia, Annapolis, etc. Thanks so much! I love this blog.

    • October 25, 2012 9:44 am

      Thanks for the comment Melissa. I’m glad you found the articles helpful. I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit in terms of writing new posts, but comments like yours motivate me to continue. I do eventually want to write some posts about day-trips around DC, but will stick to the nearby sites for now. If you’re looking for a suggestions for November, check out Harpers Ferry. I was there last weekend and it was great. The leaves hadn’t fully turned yet, so I’m sure by next week, things will be at peak or maybe a bit past. It’s an hour from DC. Thanks again.

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