Sited on former marshland and the banks of the Potomac River, the Tidal Basin is a cultural touchstone and a prominent attraction along the National Mall, home to the Jefferson, FDR, and MLK memorials as well as D.C.’s iconic collection of cherry trees, whose blossoms are celebrated each spring. 

Due to years of delayed maintenance and neglect, the Tidal Basin’s flood gates no longer operate as originally intended, allowing the river to rush over the gates at high tide. This, coupled with rising water levels—due to climate change—in the Potomac, lead to daily inundation of the paths and cherry trees. Climate change is also producing increasingly intense and frequent storms, which flood the Tidal Basin, National Mall, and surrounding city fabric. As such, the issues facing the Tidal Basin are significant and represent a microcosm of the broader impact of climate change on our cities, parks, historic sites, and cultural resources.

Field Operations was invited as one of five participants in the 2020 Tidal Basin Ideas Lab, charged with addressing the site’s challenges and proposing a future vision for the Tidal Basin. Field Operations proposes three scenarios, which together construct an argument about the significance of these problems and how to best solve them. Each scenario considers a different approach: “Curate Entropy” embraces the inevitability of decline and decay through a process of naturalization; “Island Archipelago” allows the waters of the Potomac to flood the Tidal Basin, and creates a new series of protective gardens around the monuments; and “Protect & Preserve” proposes a large earthwork ribbon with new walks along the river, fully protecting the Tidal Basin, monuments, and cherry trees while creating more parkland and opportunities for amenities and recreation.