Comprehensive Design Plan for the White House

National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior


The White House -- a national treasure, an international symbol of democracy -- is an historic site which is functional as well as symbolic. George Washington selected the site, and the White House has been the official residence and office of every President since John Adams. Presidents such as Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt walked and shaped the grounds. Others, such as Truman and Kennedy, assured its continued existence as a national symbol. The White House itself is significant architecturally, and it is an incomparable public museum of the U.S. Presidency. The surrounding park lands, referred to as President's Park, are integral to the planned city scape of Washington, D.C. As a symbol, the White House has no equal in national imagery.

There is no contemporary plan to guide the management or logistical operations of the White House and President's Park, and actions in recent years have been largely in reaction to surrounding urban, national and even international pressures. The agencies involved in managing and operating the area agree that the time has come for comprehensive planning for the White House and President's Park. In Fiscal Year 1992, Congress authorized funding to develop a Comprehensive Design Plan for the White House. The National Park Service (NPS) is the lead agency for this planning effort. Since spring 1992, an interdisciplinary NPS planning team has been working with the 12 stewardship and oversight agencies that have responsibilities at the site to complete the data collection phase of the planning.

The goal of the completed plan will be to serve both the people and the Presidency. The plan will protect the historic site while making site operations over the next 20 years smoother and more efficient. Solutions will be developed to improve the educational experience for visitors, as well as to make the site safer and more accessible. Actions proposed in the plan will be associated with many different agencies and may also involve public/private joint ventures.

Executive Committee

The following stewardship and oversight agencies for the site are involved in the planning. They serve on the Executive Committee for the project, working with the NPS throughout the planning process.

Executive Office of the President
Executive Residence at the White House
White House Military Office
Department of the Treasury
U.S. Secret Service
General Services Administration
National Park Service
District of Columbia
Commission of Fine Arts
National Capital Planning Commission
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation


Data collection and issue identification have been completed. During issue identification 26 workshops were held with agencies and organizations, and a 4-day public involvement activity was held on the Ellipse to gather issues and reactions from visitors. Development of alternatives began in October, 1993, with working group meetings where subject matter experts from the public and private sector met to develop desired futures describing what the study area should be like in the year 2015. Alternative concepts have been developed and public review of them will occur during April 1995. The Executive Committee is also exploring implementation and financing strategies and development of design guidelines to accompany the final plan. Public review of a draft plan is expected by the late fall of 1995. A final plan and Environmental Impact Statement will be completed in 1996.


The following team approach will provide an opportunity for executive level input and review by the heads of all the agency with operating responsibility in the study area while taking advantage of a diverse and highly specialized work force to address the variety of complex issues. An executive committee of agency heads and other key participants will provide policy guidance, review, and recommendations. An interagency planning team of senior-level professionals from the National Park Service, other participating agencies, and private consultants will provide project definition and prepare the plan.


Task                                            Date

Project Definition and Start-up               April 1992
Brief key participants and verify
the areas needing data collection
and research

Technical Information Gathering            June 1992 - April 1993
Research and prepare existing 
conditions description, administrative
history, evolution of the historic 
landscape, transportation conditions,
CAD model

Task Directive                           August 1992 - April 1993
Define the scope of the plan and
outline the planning process

Notice of Intent Issued                         March 1993
Announce beginning of scoping and
intent to prepare the comprehensive
design plan and an environmental 
impact statement

Issue Identification                        April 1993- June 1993
Identify the issues and concerns 
of the stewardship agencies,
organizations, groups, and the 
general public about the study area.

Guiding Principles Established          December 1992 - June 1993
Develop planning assumptions, purpose
 and significance of the study area,
 interpretive themes and desired

Alternatives Development                 June 1993 - March 1994
Based on the guiding principles,
develop a range of feasible design
concepts for the study area.

Draft Plan/EIS Development               March 1994 - April 1995
Select a preferred alternative and
 develop a draft plan. Document
compliance with environmental 
regulations in an EIS.

Draft Plan/EIS Review and Revisions       April - December 1995
Publish the draft plan/environmental
impact statement and hold public
meetings to discuss the project with
the public. Publish the final EIS and
record of decision.

Approved Plan/EIS                              December 1995

Final Plan and Plan Supplements Published      February 1996
The project is scheduled to be
accomplished over approximately
four years at a'projected cost of 
$2.9 million.


The White House was first envisioned as an in tegral part of a great federal city. The architecture was to be monumental, with a Greek theme symbolizing democracy and lafge public parks providing the appropriate setting. Sweeping vistas would connect the executive and legislative government buildings. President George Washington chose the site for the city and Pierre L'Enfant drew the plan. The history of the White House illustrates a strong sense of destiny and sensitivity to thk design over two centuries sf decision-making through 41 Administrations.

The site selected by L'Enfant for the President's "palace," a prominent ridge of land overlooking the Potomac River, became the first piece of property acquired for the federal city.

A lively debate soon ensued over the design of the structure itself - whether it should be palatial or more practical. The ultimate decision establisded a strong precedent: the President would live in a house, not a palace, recognizing in the true spirit of democracy that the property belonging ultimately to the citizens. Balancing dignity with practicality and public access became a recurring issue at the White House. Abigail Adams decided that the First Family's laundry should be hung in the East Room, rather than airing it in public. President Thomas Jefferson decided that an outhouse was inappropriate. Striking a balance between functional needs and an appropriate image for the White House remains a challenge to this day.

In 1814 the British burned the White House. President James Madison determined that it would be rebuilt exactly as it had appeared before, making it a symbol of the stability and the continuity of American democratic government and estabiishing a strong precedent for maintaining the historic character of the site. In 1851 an eminent designer, Andrew Jackson Downing, designed the first formal landscaping plan for the entire White House reservation, including the Ellipse on the south, and established a framework for that area that has been retained in part to this day. When new office buildings were finally seen as imperative, the Treasury Building (1869) and Executive Office Building (1886) were constructed on the sites of preexisting structures, attempting to avoid additional impacts on the open spaces critical to L'Enfant's plan.

Faced yet again with a critical shortage of space, President Theodore Roosevelt reviewed the work of the McMillan Commission and decided in 1901 to add the West Wing to the White House to accommodate the Executive Office. Again, full attention was given to preserving the historic character. The West Wing was designed to be unobtrusive, and the attention to detail included lowering the delivery roads so they would not intrude on the historic scene. When the East Wing was added in the 1940s, it mirrored the scale of the West Wing. Also during the Franklin Roosevelt Administration, the Olmsted Brothers comprehensively reviewed the landscape history of the site. Placing "the utmost importance" on strengthening the "long-established landscape qualities of great dignity and appropriateness, they reclaimed L'Enfant's grand vistas, which had been somewhat obscured by Victorian fussiness and overmature vegetation.

The last major decision affecting the architectural character of the White House was President Harry S. Truman"s decision to solve the severe structural problems that had first become apparent in the 1920s. The reconstruction of the White House during Truman"s Administration created an opportunity to meet additional space requirements with extensive underground construction, thus avoiding any further exterior alteration.

Changing conditions over the past half century have presented major new challenges for the stewards of the White House. Many problems have been solved as they have arisen. However, the lack of comprehensive planning has resulted in a piecemeal approach to problem solving. This has not been sufficient to protect the integrity of the White House from encroachment by surrounding urban land uses. Nor has it adequately accommodated the functional needs of the Executive Office and Residence or the needs of visitors who come in ever-increasing numbers from throughout the nation and the world to tour the White House.

The wide-ranging issues facing the site today include addressing the needs of visitor use and education, cultural and natural resource protection, special events, site operations, maintenance and facility development, transportation and parking, security, state and diplomatic functions, the Executive Residence and Executive Office., and support facilities.

In October 1989 the National Park Service, convinced that comprehensive planning was crucial to protect the character of the White House and to satisfactorily deal with myriad competing activities, presented a proposal for a comprehensive design plan to the many organizations with responsibility at the White House and President's Park. The proposal was strongly supported, and Congress provided funding to begin the planning process in fiscal year 1992.


The National Park Service is preparing a plan to guide the, future management and use of the buildings and grounds at the White House, aiming to better serve the public and the Presidency and to protect the historic character of this national treasure. The White House is unique among our national monuments in that it is functional as well as symbolic. As one of several agencies entrusted with management responsibilities at the White House, the National Park Service recognizes its dual responsibilities to effectively and efficiently accommodate the overlapping and increasingly complex functions of the Executive Residence, the Executive Office, and a "living" museum preserve the historic character of the monumental buildings and landscapes that have come to symbolize the stability and continuity of our democratic form of government .

Meeting all the expectations for the physical environment of the White House demands a visionary, comprehensive design plan to guide the development and operation of the site. The plan will be accomplished through an interagency, multidisciplinary team of highly qualified, senior-level professionals capable of meeting the special needs of planning for the White House. A working partnership among all the affected agencies and representatives of the national interest will be critical to the success of this effort. The products will include comprehensive design plan for the White House and sulrounding -President's Park and plan supplements establishing guidelines for site design and operations. The entire effort is scheduled to be accomplished over approximately four years at a projected cost of $2.9 million.


A multidisciplinary core planning team has been formed by the National Park Service. Data collection and issue ~identification are almost complete. Data collection included documentation of existing conditions, a traffic study, an administrative history, and a cultural landscape evaluation. Additionally, a three- dimensional model has been developed for the site on a computer-aided design (CAD) system. Ongoing contact with the stewardship and oversight agencies has been maintained throughout the process.

Issues at the site were identified in a series of 26 workshops held between April and October 1993. Over 70 agencies and organizations were invited to attend the workshops. A public involvement activity was held on the Ellipse for 4 days to gather issues and reactions from visitors. Work on alternatives began in October, 1993, when 80 public and private sector subject matter experts developed desired futures for the study area. Alternative concepts have been developed and will be reviewed by the public in April, 1995. An Executive Committee, composed of the Congressionaly chartered stewardship and oversight agencies at the study area, continues to guide the planning process. The Executive Committee is exploring implementation and financing strategies and the development of design guidelines to accompany the final plan. Public review of a draft plan is expected by the late fall of 1995. A final plan and Environmental Impact Statement will be completed in 1996.


The following topics will be addressed in the Comprehensive Design Plan for the White House. We would appreciate hearing about your issues and concerns in each topic area during the upcoming issue workshop. Questions pertaining to each topic are included to stimulate, but not limit, your thoughts.


What steps need to be taken to protect and maintain the multiple onsite cultural and natural resources? These resources, which include the White House and other significant buildings, monuments, and memorial plantings in the White House gardens, are subject to active use and intensive management.


What support functions are needed to provide a home for the President -- a place that offers privacy, comfort, and recreation for the First Family?


What support functions are needed to ensure smooth and efficient operations of the White House as the Office of the President?


What support systems are necessary to successfully accommodate ceremonial activities involving heads of state and dignitaries?


What measures need to be taken to ensure protection for the First Family, employees, guests, and visitors?


What support functions are needed for onsite Federal or privately sponsored activities and demonstrations that involve groups of varying sizes?


How should visitors experience the White House and President's Park? Specific issues involve the level af interptetation, recreational opportunities on adjacent parklands, educational opportunities, safety concerns, concessions, and support facilities.


What modes of transportation, local and regional routes, and parking space requirements are needed to accommodate daily users, as well as activities such as special events and state functions?


What elements within the landscape make that area or space special?


What daily or periodic functions must take place to meet the aeeds of site users, to preserve the cultural and natural resources, and to optimize visitor experiences?


What are the interrelationships between the agencies that cooperatively manage the site (that is, the stewardship agencies), as well as between the stewardship agencies and other agencies, groups, and organizations with interests and involvement in the site? How can these cooperative interrelationships be optimized?

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