HUD Plaza

451 7th Street
Washington, DC

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

The old plaza exhibited the worst of Modernism's frosty attitude toward accommodating humans - its late-'90s redesign is no better.

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Why It Doesn't Work

This desolate 6-acre plaza surrounding Marcel Breuer's 1968 building for the Department of Housing and Urban Development was built without shade, or public amenities. Livability, community and the needs of HUD's 4,800 employees were sacrificed to the high alter of Modernism. The plaza runs up against the base of the solid stone wall of the blocks-long HUD building amply prohibiting any connection between the life within the building and that without.

In 1990 HUD commissioned Martha Schwartz, Inc. to redesign the plaza to help the agency project an its mission of providing habitable spaces for people. The resulting "band-aid" consists of a series of concrete planters containing grass, and white vinyl "Lifesaver" lighting raised up 14 feet on steel poles provide some refuge from the barrenness of the space. For the dark wall at the base of the building, a backlit mural has been planned to reflect the people and faces of HUD and create a backdrop for the plaza.

The plaza however, remains disconnected from the surrounding area, over-designed and unwelcoming.

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Related Links:

  • Disillusioned in D.C. - An article in Landscape Architecture whose author, by Larry Porter, notes: "I was dazzled by the virtual HUD Plaza. Then I saw the real thing."
  • The World's Best and Worst Parks - The HUD Plaza is on PPS's list of the worst squares and plazas in the world

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