Flood Protection & Parking on the National Mall

A Hybrid Proposal for a Sustainable and Resilient Mall
Albert H. Small & National Coalition to Save Our Mall


Draft#30 032713

March 27, 2013

Stewards of our National Mall recognize the need to provide flood and drought protection and to improve public access, parking, and visitor amenities on the Mall.

This presentation shows how these needs can be met in one hybrid facility.

Over 25 million visitors come to the National Mall each year to explore America’s history and heritage and take part in cultural and civic celebrations. For many, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.  


Those who arrive by motor vehicle find that the Mall lacks access to convenient parking, a hardship especially for families with small children, school groups, and visitors of limited mobility.

Access is further reduced by parking limits of 2 or 3 hours and rush hour restrictions on existing spaces. Garages under and near the Mall museums were closed to the public decades ago. Underground parking proposed in the 1966 National Mall Plan never was implemented.

Buses and cars roam city streets in search of parking, obstructing open space and views, causing congestion and pollution in surrounding neighborhoods, and raising security concerns around public buildings.


U.S. Botanic Garden

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

Rainwater cisterns installed as part of the turf grass restoration will supply only 30% of the water needed for the grass alone.  

Another problem is drought. Mall managing agencies recognize the growing demand for reliable supplies of water to maintain the health of the entire historical landscape and its many trees, gardens, pools, and fountains.

Pennsylvania Avenue in 1889  

The 1930 flood  

Hains Point in the 1980s (arrow at Jefferson Memorial)

Federal Triangle and Mall area in 2006  

The most urgent Mall area problem is flooding. The 2006 rain storm that inundated buildings in the Federal Triangle and Mall area is just the latest in a long history of flooding.


Federal Triangle Stormwater Drainage Study Members of the Federal Triangle Stormwater Working Group: • General Services Administration (GSA) • District of Columbia Office of Planning (DCOP) • District of Columbia Department of the Environment (DDOE) • District of Columbia Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (DC HS&EMA) • District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) • Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) • National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) • National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) • National Gallery of Art (NGA) • National Park Service (NPS) • Smithsonian Institution (SI) • U.S. Department of Justice (US DOJ) • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) • Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)

In the wake of the 2006 flood, Hurricane Sandy, and other recent storms, there is consensus on the need for a permanent flood control solution to protect our museums and public buildings and the cultural artifacts they house. Fourteen federal and District of Columbia agencies and institutions outlined the ongoing flood threat in this 2011 study and reached consensus on a solution . . .

. . . in the form of large stormwater cisterns beneath the Mall to collect runoff during storm events for up to a 200-year flood event (orange plus yellow areas).

But government entities lack funding to move ahead. The solution?

car parking in one section / irrigation below

remove cars and buses to use as a stormwater reservoir / irrigation below

bus parking in another section / irrigation below

Create a hybrid parking/flood protection facility beneath the Mall. The parking garage, with separate area for buses and cars, will do double duty as a reservoir during major storm events and include separate irrigation cisterns below. The self-funding parking garage will help offset the capital costs of the facility.

Karolina Kawiaka AIA

car parking


bus parking

stormwater reservoir

One model is this hybrid parking garage/rainwater reservoir in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The multi-story garage holds 1,200 cars and approximately 2.65 million gallons of water. Several million euros were saved by combining parking and reservoir functions.

Karolina Kawiaka AIA


turf grass restoration

turf grass restoration

parking car and bus parking

stormwater reservoir

irrigation water from rain and groundwater collection

irrigation water from rain and groundwater collection

The Mall hybrid facility solves three major needs: ²  A reservoir able to store 34 million gallons of stormwater until it can be safely pumped into the Tidal Basin. ²  Separate cisterns to collect rainwater, greywater, and groundwater flow from federal buildings for use in irrigation and in times of drought. ²  Parking for more than 1,000 tour buses and cars to improve public access to the Mall museums and cultural events, while also reducing street congestion, pollution, and security threats.

An added benefit is completion of another segment of the National Park Service turf grass restoration as the “green roof” of the facility.


This flexible facility can provide additional benefits: ²  ²  ²  ²  ²  Restrooms, a tourist welcome center, and one or more restaurants. Shower/lounge/snack facilities for bus drivers. Access to and integration with Metro, Circulator, Capital Bikeshare. A police substation to provide security for the Mall area. An educational demonstration of this and other innovative water systems.

A Comprehensive Solution:

As envisioned in this 3-D model, the hybrid facility can consolidate flood control, irrigation, parking, environmental education, and visitor amenities under one roof. This facility will improve the Mall’s sustainability and resiliency while also protecting the integrity of its landscape above ground.

Karolina Kawiaka AIA


National Park Service District Government USDA

White House

National Gallery of Art Smithsonian GSA

American public Botanical Garden

Architect of the Capitol

Everyone benefits.

But who leads? Jurisdiction over Mall buildings and lands is divided among numerous entities and no entity has the authority to develop a project of this complexity. Public Private Partnerships, or P3s, are one successful model used to develop, fund, and complete such major public works projects.


Hurricane Sandy was the latest threat. This could be Washington, DC.

stormwater reservoir irrigation water

car and bus parking irrigation water

A Sustainable and Resilient National Mall:

The Mall will be a national model of creative problem-solving in the heart of the capital and the nation. This proposed hybrid project is one example of comprehensive, visionary planning for our National Mall in the 21st century.

Special thanks to Arthur Cotton Moore FAIA who helped conceive and design the hybrid parking/reservoir concept, and whose expert knowledge of planning and design in Washington, DC, continues to inform this project’s development.
Thanks to Karolina Kawiaka AIA and her students at Dartmouth College for developing the 3-dimensional Illustrations of the parking/reservoir facility.

Copyright 2013 National Coalition to Save Our Mall NATIONAL COALITION TO SAVE OUR MALL www.savethemall.org jfeldman@savethemall.org 301-340-3938 The National Coalition to Save Our Mall and Albert H. Small continue to advocate for creation of an independent commission to create the long-range visionary plan for the National Mall in its 3rd century – the 3rd Century Mall.

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