Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Project365: Day 260 - Washington DC - Day 1

My wife had to go out to Washington DC this week for a work conference, so I used it as an opportunity to tag along on a min-vacation. The last time I was in Washington DC was the summer of 2003 and Brittany's last visit was in 2002--both almost a decade ago. We flew out a couple days before Brittany's conference so that we would get to spend some time seeing our Nation's Capitol together before she had to work. We took the early morning direct flight from Des Moines (yes, we have an airport, remember?) to Reagan National Airport so that we could still do some sightseeing on our first day there.

Rather than making a bunch of plans for our first day, we decided to just wander around the National Mall area where ever we felt like going.

National Mall

We knew we wanted to check out some of the Smithsonian Museums during the week, so we started off by visiting the main building of the Smithsonian Institute--The Castle.

The Castle

Washington DC has some fantastic older buildings, but The Castle has to be one of my favorites.

Carved Stone


On the plane ride, I had begun reading The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Iowa native Bill Bryson. In one chapter he visits Washington DC and looks back on the history of the Smithsonian Institute:

"The Smithsonian Institution--which, incidentally, was donated to America by an Englishman who had never been there--used to be all one building, but they keep splitting off sections of it and putting them in new buildings all over town....Back in the 1950s and '60s, the Smithsonian was the castle. Everything was crammed into this one wonderfully dark and musty old building. It was like the nation's attic and, like an attic, it was gloriously random."

After visiting the castle we continued looping around the Mall and ended up by the Museum of the American Indian. We didn't have the chance to go inside (gotta leave some things to do on our next visit!) but we did walk around the outside of the building. When I was last in DC, this museum was just a skeleton of steel and a little bit of stone on the outside. Now it is completed and beautiful. The entire exterior of the building is covered in Kasota Limestone from Mankato, Minnesota. I love Kasota stone and especially love when it is used as wonderfully and skillfully as it has been on the Museum of the American Indian.


Our first stop into one of the museums on the Mall was at the National Gallery of Art's west building. Brittany was excited to see works by some of her favorite impressionist painters, and I was elated to see a number of wonderful paintings by Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt (no photographs of the paintings, sorry).

National Gallery West

Washington DC is not a particularly tall city. It's tallest occupant, the Washington Monument, is visible from almost everywhere in town as a result. Though the monument is closed indefinitely thanks to an earthquake and a hurricane, we still took the time to walk by. The lawn around the monument is completely closed off to visitors due to damage at the top of the building. We were still able to get close enough to get some nice photos of the monument.

Afternoon for Washington

Patriotic Breeze

The World War II Memorial had been added to the National Mall since we were last in town, so we were both excited to go see it.

WWII Memorial Fountains

At the west side of the memorial there is a wall above a shallow pool of water decorated with hundreds of gold stars. Each star on this wall represents 1,000 United States soldiers who were killed in WWII.

Stars of Soldiers

WWII Memorial and Washington Monument

Soldiers from every State

Our last stop of the day was to the newly-opened Martin Luther King Junior Memorial. I'll share the photo here before I share my thoughts on it.


The memorials in Washington DC are (in my mind, anyway) divided into two categories: the architectural icons (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln) and the more emotional, experiential landscapes (Korean War, Vietnam War, FDR). After visiting the MLK Memorial, I'm convinced that it does not fit into either of these two categories, and that's a bad thing. It lacks the physical dominance and awe-inspiring presence of the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments, and fails to evoke the powerful silence of emotions like the Vietnam War or Roosevelt memorials. The MLK Memorial is neither moving nor impressive. It really is just a famous guy carved into a big rock.

There are a number of major flaws in the design and realization of this monument that I believe render it weaker than all of its neighbors:

On the side of the stone to MLK's left is a quote that has caused no small amount of controversy and was reported by news channels at the time of the memorial's opening. I agree with the assessments of those who have protested the misquote--the words seem to demonstrate a level of egotism and self-importance that would be atypical of Dr. King. But it is not the misquote itself that I find troubling. Spreading away from the carved figure to the north and south are two long stone walls, each emblazoned with more quotations from Dr. King. Full, unparaphrased quotations. Why, to the designers and creators of the memorial, would you choose to use full quotations by this great man in 99% of the instances and not in 100%? Why paraphrase only one quotation and, by paraphrasing, change its entire tone--its entire meaning?

The design and layout of all of the other monuments nearby are all incredibly intentional and detailed in terms of how they relate to each other. The WWII memorial has a massive stone inscription at its entrance stating why it has been placed directly between the Washington and Lincoln monuments. Every line, every angle created by Maya Lin in her design for the Vietnam War Memorial explicitly relates to the other monuments and important buildings nearby. Jefferson's statue faces the Washington Monument, his predecessor, and the White House. So why, with the opportunity for powerful symbolism plentiful, does Dr. King's grumpy-looking stare aim off into nothingness? He is staring towards the runway at Reagan National Airport as the planes buzz overhead.

Long rant in a nutshell: I love that Martin Luther King, Jr. has a memorial in Washington D.C. among the monuments to most courageous soldiers and most brilliant national leaders. However, the creators and designers of this memorial have failed to seize the opportunity presented to them to create something iconic, something deeply moving.

What we had intended to be a low-key day of casually wandering the Mall actually turned into quite a bit of walking! Less walking, but lots of photos, to come in the next post.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Project365: Day 257 - King Pavilion

Day 257 - King Pavillion by Tim Bungert
Day 257 - King Pavillion, a photo by Tim Bungert on Flickr.
King Pavilion is the newest addition to the College of Design at Iowa State University. I took this photo after a mentor program event for the school of architecture at ISU.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Project365: Day 256 - Two-Wheel Parking

Dozens of bikes were parked outside the Cumming Tap in Cumming, Iowa on Taco Tuesday.

Project365: Day 255 - Des Moines Riverfront

This was taken from a concrete walkway at the water level. Usually this walkway is completely submerged, but the water in the river is really low right now.

Project365: Day 254 - Spice

Day 254 - Spice by Tim Bungert
Day 254 - Spice, a photo by Tim Bungert on Flickr.

Project365: Day 253 - Mississippi Dunes

Taken at sunset in the wedding ceremony gardens at Mississippi Dunes golf course after a friend's wedding.

Project365: Day 252 - Birthday

Day 252 - Birthday by Tim Bungert
Day 252 - Birthday, a photo by Tim Bungert on Flickr.

Happy 25th birthday to my wife!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Project365: Day 251 - New Toy

Day 251 - New Toy by Tim Bungert
Day 251 - New Toy, a photo by Tim Bungert on Flickr.

My old tripod is lightweight and good for traveling, but it was time for something sturdier and with a few fine-adjustment controls. This should make a lot of the architectural and night photos I like to do much easier to set up!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Project365: Day 250 - Bike Bridge

Day 250 - Bike Bridge by Tim Bungert
Day 250 - Bike Bridge, a photo by Tim Bungert on Flickr.

I made this photo while out on a fantastic evening bike ride on the Neal Smith Trail by Saylorville Lake. The bridge might be the flattest spot on the trail. The fast turns and quick-rolling hills make it feel a bit like a bicycle roller coaster!

Project365: Day 249 - Beaver of Beaverdale

This beaver was swimming around the pond in Witmer Park in the aptly named Beaverdale Neighborhood of Des Moines.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Project365: Day 244 - Dead End

Day 244 - Dead End by Tim Bungert
Day 244 - Dead End, a photo by Tim Bungert on Flickr.

Project365: Day 243 - Monarch

Day 243 - Monarch by Tim Bungert
Day 243 - Monarch, a photo by Tim Bungert on Flickr.

I found this monarch while out on an evening bike ride. I must have looked like a crazy person following this butterfly all over the place waiting for it to land--all while still wearing my bike helmet.