9. Homeland Amenity

After 1995’s Oklahoma City bombing and other incidents, Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed to car and pedestrian traffic and turned into a secure eyesore. Landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh won the difficult assignment to redo the two blocks as a public space for people (not cars) while maintaining security. He had nine months, $20 million, an Inauguration Day deadline, and “help” from everyone from the Secret Service to the First Lady. Van Valkenburgh focused on restoring dignity to the street, with three types of granite as the surface rather than concrete or asphalt, retractable metal bollards instead of ugly cement barriers, and 100 American elms lining the walkways. “We’ve taken away that feeling of fortification so it feels like a democracy again,” he says.


Michael Van Valkenburgh, 53

Founding principal
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc.
New York, New York