August 14, 2013

The Washington Monument in Lights: Rediscovering a Familiar Landmark

  • By: Priya Chhaya

Construction workers stand in the lighted scaffolding of the Washington Monument. Credit: Joe in DC, Flickr
Construction workers stand in the lighted scaffolding of the Washington Monument.

Earlier this summer a friend and I were driving home up I-395 when both of us stopped mid-sentence to gape at the skyline of our nation's capital. Looming before us was a spectacle of light, a familiar silhouette bathed in incandescence -- the Washington Monument brightening the night sky.

Enveloped in scaffolding for repairs following an earthquake in 2011, the monument was lit in early July by the National Park Service (much like it did for a previous restoration in 1998-2000), providing locals and visitors with a new view.

As the summer has moved along, I've found myself having the same conversation over and over: All of a sudden I noticed the monument again. // I never really thought about how tall it is. // I wish the scaffolding would stay.

The Washington Monument, lit up during the night. Credit: Lyns Pics, Flickr
The Washington Monument, lit up during the night.

I think the genius behind the design is the way the scaffolding -- and consequently the lighting -- mimics the architecture of the obelisk, in that the scaffolds follow the shape of individual stones. As a friend said to me this past weekend, "the whole design maintains the integrity of the monument."

My favorite part? The change in the monument has kickstarted a pilgrimage of sorts. Short-term visitors, long-time residents, and everyone in between can be found on the National Mall snapping pictures or basking in front of it at dusk. Even I, a few weeks after my initial encounter, took a detour so I could take pictures just a little bit closer than from across the river.

Though the scaffolding is temporary, it has encouraged folks to re-discover the architectural beauty of this city. It’s not often that something familiar can be seen through fresh eyes. I’ve talked about resonance and unexpected finds, but sometimes all we need is a little nudge to see the light.

What have you recently rediscovered in your community?

While her day job is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Priya spends other waking moments musing, writing, and learning about how the public engages and embraces history.


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