In the eight years since the studio was completed, a team of researchers at the Weitzman School’s PennPraxis, the consulting and community engagement arm of the School, under the leadership of associate professor Randall F. Mason, have completed a series of cultural landscape projects with the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. The projects have included forts as well as public landscapes like Pennsylvania Avenue and Grant Circle, small pocket parks used daily by District residents, and three historic public golf courses owned by the federal government. Now, the team is preparing to take on its most high-profile project to date with a contract to create a cultural landscape inventory at the Lincoln Memorial, one of the most visible and visited monuments in D.C.
“The fact that all this started in a studio has really set the tone for how creative we are looking to be with these projects,” says Molly Lester, associate director of the Urban Heritage Project at PennPraxis and project lead for a number of the group’s landscape inventories with the National Park Service. “It’s easy to think they are just standard reports at this point, but … they’re really opportunities to expand how we define history and how we define cultural landscapes.”
The School’s partnership with the National Park Service has deepened and evolved in the eight years since it began. The cultural landscape inventory and cultural landscape report are the basic deliverables for each project, Mason says, but a few years ago the team also began incorporating “rapid ethnographic assessments” into each project, which provide a degree of understanding about who uses the spaces in question, how frequently, and in what ways.
“We never really anticipated working on something with such great visibility as the Lincoln Memorial,” Mason says. “But it’s an incredible honor to get to work on it, especially at a point in our national history where even the meaning of these most intensely shared and uncontroversial memorials has become really controversial. That’s where we want to be working. We want to be working on places that are meaningful for others.”
The Lincoln Memorial cultural landscape inventory is being undertaken as part of an environmental impact study for the planned redevelopment of the Long Bridge, a railroad bridge that crosses the Potomac River. The memorial is part of the 1.8-square-mile study area for the project.
Read more at The Weitzman School.