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Construction Report: October 2014 – March 2015

October 13, 2014

The construction update used to be one of the more popular columns on this blog, but the last time I wrote one of these updates was January, 2013.  I stretched myself too thin between work, multiple blogs, and photography.  To make this more manageable, and more likely that I will keep things up-to-date, I will write a new version of this blog post every six months (instead of three) and I will update it during that six month period if I take new photos or find out anything new.  When I do update this article, I’ll make it obvious.  Enough of that, let’s get down to business.

Much has changed since January, 2013; the Washington Monument has reopened, the scaffolding is down at the Supreme Court, and the Capitol cleared up and is now under construction again. But plenty has stayed the same; Union Station and the National Cathedral are still repairing earthquake damage, the National Mall is still going through an extensive restoration effort, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture is still under construction.

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 throughout the quarter.


1. The U.S. Capitol  – The Capitol is at the beginning stages of a multi-year effort to restore the Capitol dome; one of the most iconic landmarks in DC.  The video below provides a great overview of why the repairs are necessary and what to expect going forward.

  • Impact: HIGH –  The most obvious symbol of the construction will be the scaffolding that encircles the Capitol dome. At this point (October 13, 2014), it is about 3/4 complete.  In the video, you can see that a tarp will cover a section of the dome and will be moved around the scaffolding.  The tarp will be used to collect dust as lead paint is scraped away.  The tarp that covered the dome during its skirt renovation in 2012 was not picturesque to say the least.   The interior of the Capitol will also be affected.  The centerpiece of the Capitol tour (pun intended) is the Rotunda, and there is currently a canvas donut hanging from the ceiling to capture any falling debris.  Finally, the Northwest corner of the Capitol is now a construction zone with fencing and trailers that obstruct the view from that angle.
  • Expected Completion: 2016 – A completion date is conspicuously absent from the dome project website. I’m sure this is to avoid setting expectations for a project that is likely to run into some obstacles.  The video says that it is expected to be completed prior to the next inauguration in January, 2017.  I heard early on that the project was expected to take two years.  Given it’s start in January, 2014, I think it’s safe to say that this project is going to be around and impacting photography for quite a while.

Capitol Construction - Exterior      Capitol Construction - Interior

Taken October 12, 2014                                                   Taken September 22, 2o14


2. The White House – You probably heard about the fence jumper that made it inside the White House.  As with every other time some jerk violates security, it ends up affecting all of us. I am adding this to the construction update, rather than the Photographing the White House post, because I hope it’s only temporary while the Secret Service figures out something more permanent and less impactful on the enjoyment of law-abiding visitors.

  • Impact: MEDIUM – The (hopefully temporary) solution to the fence jumping problem is to put up two fences.  In the center of the fence along the White House’s North lawn, the new fence is as high as the original fence.  There is still quite a bit of construction debris in this area.  Further out from the center there are waist-high barricades, but there are more trees in the way.  The double-fencing is particularly annoying because you used to be able to put your camera lens between the bars of the single fence and get a photo of the White House without the bars in the way. Now you don’t have that option.  Also annoying is the fact that there are fewer good angles for photographs so people cluster in those areas.  I guess we can be glad they haven’t pushed people back farther.
  • Expected Completion: ?? – Something will eventually change about the fence. I think it’s still up-in-the-air as to what.  It will be taller or scarier looking. A more permanent double-fence may eventually go in.  A lot of different voices go into any construction in DC, so I’m sure a permanent solution is a long ways off.  In the meantime, this temporary fence will be annoying visitors who just want a nice, clean picture of the White House.

White House Construction 1      White House Constuction 2

Taken October 12, 2014                                                          Taken October 12, 2o14


3. Washington National Cathedral – The Cathedral took a hit in the August 2011 earthquake, losing some of the spires on the roof and damaging the ceiling on the interior.

  • Impact: HIGH – While the exterior of the Cathedral ordinarily makes for great photographs, scaffolding and fencing make this a poor time to go.  You can still get less obstructed views of the front of the Cathedral but scaffolding is often still visible.  The interior of the Cathedral is the main reason to go, but netting spans the ceiling of the nave to protect visitors from falling debris. As masons check the ceiling, the scaffolding will be moved.  There are a lot of opportunities for detail shots or photos in the smaller rooms, but when I was there recently I left feeling disappointed because of so many of my photos included the netting in the nave.  If you want to see some amazing, religious-oriented architecture, check out the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception or the Franciscan Monastery of DC instead.
  • Expected Completion: Interior: Spring 2015; Exterior: 2021 – That’s right, it could take as many as 10 years to complete all the renovations.  The stonework is very intricate and the stream of funding to make the repairs isn’t constant.  Talented photographer and Cathedral docent Chris Budny told me that it is likely things will be finished in stages.  The timeline is just too long to know what will be done first or give an exact date. SEE THE COMMENTS SECTION FOR CHRIS’ LATEST UPDATE ON THE CATHEDRAL’S PROGRESS.

National Cathedral Construction - Exterior           National Cathedral Construction 02

                           Taken October 12, 2014                                     Taken October 12, 2o14


Mall Construction

Taken October 12, 2014

4. The National Mall – In 2012, the National Mall was shut down from 3rd through 7th Street to add new drainage, restore the turf, and add some granite edging.  That portion of the Mall does look significantly better. The construction has now moved down covering the area between 7th and 12th Street; right in the middle of the Mall.

  • Impact: MEDIUM– Recently, new fences were constructed that block off a huge swath of the Mall. This chunk includes the areas in front of the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Castle.  This not only limits the angles from which to photograph these buildings, but also forces the foot traffic that would be walking down the wide, dirt paths of the Mall onto the much narrower adjacent sidewalks.  This will probably impact your ability to get around more than it will your photography.
  • Expected Completion: December 2015 – I took this date off of a sign hanging on the fencing.  No noticeable work had begun when I walked by and a huge concert on Veteran’s Day may cause them to open this area back up to accommodate the crowds that are expected.  I’d like to think this has all been figured in, but who knows.  Eventually, the same will need to be done for the area between 12th and 15th Street. It’s not clear from the signage whether this part of the project is included in the December 2015 completion timeframe.


Union Station Construction

Taken October 12, 2014

5. Union Station – Union Station was also impacted by the August 2011 earthquake. There were problems with cracks in the ceiling and falling debris in the Main Hall.

  • Impact: HIGH– The ceiling is being repaired in sections. A giant scaffolding system has been set up that is being moved across the Main Hall as sections are completed. In front of the scaffolding there are nets set up to catch falling debris. Several sections have now been completed and where the work is done, the scaffolding and netting are both removed.
  • Expected Completion: Late 2015 – Early 2016 – Here, too, completion estimates are hard to come by.  About 1/3 of the ceiling has been repaired and that took a long time.  Maybe they will streamline the process as they go and speed it up a little, but I would guess that this is going to stretch on for at least another year, if not more.  Once it’s complete, there are more construction projects on tap.


NMAAHC Construction

Taken October 12, 2014

6. The National Museum of African American History and Culture – The newest Smithsonian Museum, set to open in 2016, is springing up.

  • Impact: LOW – The construction won’t have much impact on your photos unless you are taking photos of the Washington Monument from its West side.  In that case, the cranes from the museum will likely be in the background of your photo. This is easily avoided, especially now that the fencing is down and restoration is complete at the Monument.
  • Expected Completion: 2016 – The museum is expected to be completed in 2016. When it’s complete, the museum itself will be a great photography subject.



1. 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.

2. Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial – A new memorial has been in the works for President Eisenhower for years now, but disagreements amongst the principal decision-makers (the architect, the family, contributors, etc.) over what is should look like have kept things from moving forward.

3. Old Post Office – The Old Post Office is being turned into a Trump Hotel, with an expected opening date in 2016.  The interior of the building wasn’t much to look at prior to the construction starting…truthfully, it was awful.  My understanding is that Trump won’t be able to do much to the exterior, so, on net, this should be a positive transformation.


1. The Washington Monument – After nearly three years of being closed to the public, the Washington Monument is once again open to visitors. I still haven’t been back to the top, but am looking to get back up there soon.

2. American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial –  This memorial opened to the public on October 5th, 2014.  It is in a bit of an out-of-the-way location, but it is a beautiful, touching memorial; well worth the walk.

3. Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building – I moved to DC in 2010 and scaffolding has covered this building next to the Smithsonian Castle ever since.  So I was surprised when I walked by it the other day and saw the scaffolding down.  The building still isn’t open, but the exterior is great and it’s one less scaffolding covered building in DC.

AVDFL     Smithsonian A&I

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2014 9:40 pm

    Hi Brandon! Thanks for the updated posting.
    Wanted to append onto your cathedral bit — the west rose window is finally fully revealed once again — all metal scaffolding is now removed from the West Balcony below that window, and the suspended scaffolding (which spans the width of the nave up in the main aisle’s vaulted ceiling) has been removed from the first 4 bays of the floor plan, closest to the rose window. Work is progressing well on the ceiling repairs, and the latest timeline is that *all* the interior netting and scaffolding (for the ceiling repair work) will be gone by late spring 2015. (On a happy note — all the windows are also getting a sponge bath on their interior, as the scaffolding moves along the vault — so the newly-revealed windows now look better and more sparkly than they have in *decades*! In addition, one long-troublesome window is getting 2 of its 4 panels swapped out as we speak; a rare and exciting change for the cathedral – I haven’t yet seen them (the window is obscured by scaffolding of course, so they can do the swap). Lastly, the High Altar area is (as of 2 weeks ago) heavily scaffolded now, for ceiling repairs in that area.)
    *Exterior* scaffolding will remain in place for quite some time — the only active work being done is on the rear (east) end, repairing the cracked flying buttresses there… technically, the worst and most complex damage on the whole building. The scaffolding atop the bell tower, and front towers, is merely stabilizing scaffolding — NO work is currently underway in those areas, as no funds exist yet to pay for the work, unfortunately. (The cathedral is still striving to privately raise something around 20 million dollars for the next phases of repair work; the initial stabilization after the quake, then the ceiling work and the cracked buttresses work, is all that has been funded to date…)
    Additionally, exceptional DC photographer Colin Winterbottom has a photography show mounted at the cathedral, up in the Observation Gallery (7th floor) area; he’s on a long-term assignment to document the ongoing repair work. The images are spectacular, in my opinion!

    • October 18, 2014 9:44 pm

      Thanks so much for the detailed information Chris. I’m sorry I didn’t run into you when I was there last week. I will update the article to make sure people know to look in the comments for this.

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