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Obama Appoints U.Va.’s Elizabeth Meyer to Help Guide Design of National Mall, D.C. Monuments

President Obama has appointed Elizabeth Meyer, a landscape architecture professor in the University of Virginia School of Architecture and a leading landscape architectural theorist, to serve on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.

As a member of the seven-member commission, Meyer will provide design review for the Mall and the major public spaces in Washington, D.C., with an eye to historical precedents and to future needs and plans. The appointment is for four years, with a possible reappointment.

“Beth Meyer is one of the country’s most highly respected landscape architects, with a deep passion for the design and use of public space in service of democracy,” Kim Tanzer, dean of U.Va.’s School of Architecture, said. “Her appointment to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts confirms her significant national contributions to date and provides a venue to extend her value in this important realm. We are all incredibly proud of Beth's contributions to the school, the University and to the country.”

Since its inception at the start of the 20th century, the commission members have been leaders in their fields and have included architects and landscape architects such as Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., Gilmore Clarke, Gordon Bunshaft and Chloethiel Smith; and artists Daniel Chester French, Francis Millet, Lee Lawrie, Paul Manship and Frederick Hart. Recent commission chairs include William Walton, J. Carter Brown, Harry G. Robinson III and David M. Childs.

Created by Congress in 1910, the commission “is charged with giving expert advice to the President, Congress and the heads of departments and agencies of the Federal and District of Columbia governments on matters of design and aesthetics, as they affect the Federal interest and preserve the dignity of the nation's capital,” according to the commission’s website.

The panel’s mission also includes design and oversight of national memorials in the U.S. and abroad, and it administers the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs program.

“From an urban design and landscape architecture perspective, Washington, D.C. is an amazing city,” Meyer said. “Landscape is an important part of the structure of the city and it is a quintessential American city. It will be an interesting experience to have an impact on what happens there in the realm of design and planning.”

She describes the National Mall as “a space for free speech and the nation’s front yard,” with great historical and symbolic significance. With increasing and varied pressures and demands for its use, decisions must take into account issues such as preserving space for new projects as history unfolds, consideration of the federal government’s commitment to sustainability issues and ways to accommodate security and safety measures that do not compromise the public space, she added. For instance, the commission recently reviewed designs for a new landscape containing a floodgate between Constitution Gardens and the Washington Monument grounds, within site of the White House, in response to changing flood plain boundaries in the area.

Because the Mall is an evolving landscape, “there are always new issues,” Meyer said.

A fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Meyer has served on numerous design juries, including the 2012 Trust for the National Mall competition for the redesign of three prominent locations, including The Union Square, the Sylvan Theater on the Washington Monument grounds and Constitution Gardens.

She served on the team that won the “City+Arch+River” design competition for St. Louis’ Gateway Arch grounds in 2011. In 2010 and 2011, she was one of a handful of landscape architects recognized by the DesignIntelligence annual rankings as Most Admired Educators in the U.S.

Meyer earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in landscape architecture from U.Va. and a master of architectural history and historic preservation from Cornell University.

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