Grid Locks Obelisk in Public's Mind: Blue `Dress' Solves Devil of a Problem for Renovation Project

By Geracimos, Ann | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 22, 1999 | Go to article overview

Grid Locks Obelisk in Public's Mind: Blue `Dress' Solves Devil of a Problem for Renovation Project


Geracimos, Ann, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


One year ago this month , the scaffolding went up around Washington's most beloved monument in preparation for the most extensive and expensive renovation project in the structure's history.

Architect Michael Graves was chosen to design the 500-foot obelisk's new "dress," an aluminum grid that would allow workers to inspect and repair the structure. The grid was further outlined by blue polyester "ribbons" attached in a carefully calibrated geometric pattern.

It was a shrewd solution to a very practical problem: how to get the work done without intruding on the basic aesthetic effect of the Washington Monument itself. Mr. Graves was hired originally in an advisory capacity by the National Park Foundation, which organized the public-private consortium underwriting the project.

His plan drew attention to the monument's original design at the same time it gave people an entirely new view of the world's tallest free-standing stone structure. The monument, which was erected in fits and starts over a period of 36 years, is made of 36,000 blocks of marble and granite and was at one time the world's tallest building.

Its interior staircase was closed to the public in the 1970s, but visitors have been welcome throughout the monumental $9 million renovation project that was made possible in large part by a contribution from Target stores. (The hours currently are 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. daily, with tours - which amount to a guide spitting out a litany of facts about the building's history prior to a lift up the elevator - scheduled every half hour.)

Illumination shows the grid pattern to full advantage to such an extent that numerous Washingtonians have been heard saying - not entirely in jest - that the National Park Service, which operates the site, should keep the scaffolding permanently in place. The effect at dusk can be especially breathtaking, with the monument's tapered profile aglow with red of the setting sun, the white of the stone, and the blue of the fabric.

But the scaffolding isn't owned by the Park Service. General contractors for the project rent it from a building supply company on a subcontracting basis. It is scheduled to be removed sometime in late winter, well before the dedication ceremonies on July 4 - 152 years to the day the original cornerstone was laid.

Comments about the addition from an enamored public include one photographer's wish that the scaffold somehow be kept in the ground by day and raised at night. Other onlookers ask whether it is possible to have the scaffolding structure be erected elsewhere. "Like the Eiffel Tower," said Baltimore resident John Clarkson, taking in the view from the top one clear day recently. …

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