As part of a five year IDIQ with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), OLBN was commissioned to develop a master plan for the rehabilitation of the grounds surrounding the Whitten and South Buildings. The grounds surrounding the Whitten Building at USDA’s main campus on the National Mall were laid out by the Olmsted Brothers in 1936 to enhance Rankin, Kellogg & Crane’s Beaux-Arts building. USDA has chosen to restore much of what has been lost to time through use of Olmsted’s original studies, design iterations and construction drawings. USDA intends to form an outdoor living museum that illuminates the role that USDA has played, is playing, and will play in our country's future, through the establishment of a center that tells the history of agriculture in the United States, an educational forum focused on the principles and techniques of organic gardening, and a sustainable site that harvests rainwater, redirects storm-water, and reduces onsite parking.
Due to the fact that USDA’s Whitten Building is the only remaining and active federal office building located directly on the grounds of the National Mall, this project was of critical importance to diverse stakeholders: NCPC, CFA, DC SHPO, GSA, NPS, DDOT, ANC, and the American public all have vested interests in the site. The plan is responsive to the context of the National Mall’s overarching design principles and conscientious of the monuments, museums, and gardens that constitute the rest of the National Mall. OLBN received CFA Concept Design approval in May 2014 and NCPC Preliminary Design approval in June 2014.
The project has many facets. Of prime importance is USDA’s certified organic garden; the flagship for the People’s Garden initiative begun by Secretary Vilsak in 2009. The objective is to create a permanent home for the ongoing Farmers’ Market that will also serve programming needs of neighboring institutions. A new public face of USDA on 14th St. will greet visitors as they circulate from other museums and monuments. Areas along Independence Ave. will be transformed from asphalt lots into permeable cobbled courts that collect rainwater and provide additional programmable space, which will support educational exhibits and events. Throughout all of these physical transformations, a long-absent perimeter security system around both buildings will be woven as seamlessly as possible so that the cabinet-level structures are protected without adversely affecting the landscape or the educational experience.