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See the Washington Monument come to life on Monday

Ensconced in 500 tons of metal scaffolding for approximately the next year, the Washington Monument isn’t exactly its picture-perfect, ivory self this summer. Yet it's hard to argue that this temporary robo-monument didn’t cut a striking, futuristic figure against the burst of fireworks on the Fourth.

The monument has been wrapped in the architectural equivalent of braces since May so workers can repair damage the 555-foot landmark suffered in the rare earthquake of August 2011. Fabric known as a scrim was added late last month. But on Monday, the National Park Service is taking a cool measure to gussy up the landmark. It will illuminate the scaffolding and fabric, transforming the under-construction structure into an artwork in the skyline.

A brief Park Service ceremony will begin with music at 7:45 p.m. Monday at Constitution Avenue and 15th Street NW. After a few words from officials and a donor who has helped construction get underway, about 8:30 p.m., officials will flick on the lights, which are being embedded in the scaffolding. (You can also skip the ceremony and watch from closer to the monument.)

Meant to make all the unsightly aluminum look more comely in the glow of night, the lighting (along with the artfully placed, transparent fabric) will create shadows that will mimic the brick pattern of the monument and transform the landmark into, well, a kind of art object. The lighting ceremony, said National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Bradley Johnson, is “sort of a milestone that work is progressing on this. And you know, it’s pretty.” The lighting, she said, will continue each night till the scaffolding is removed, estimated to take place in December 2013 or January 2014.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 13: View of the Washington National Monument enveloped in scaffolding in Washington, DC on May 12, 2013. The monument was damaged in an earthquake in 2011. In order to complete the exterior work on the monument, it had to be enveloped in scaffolding first. Crews have been working to restore the monument to it's original condition in hopes to reopen it to the public by next year. Photo was taken with a Nikon 16mm fisheye lens. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)
The monument before its scrim went up. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Before Monday's lighting, check out these five things to know about the Washington Monument’s new look:

This is the fourth major project to affect the exterior of the monument. The first time was in 1934, the second in 1964. The most recent occasion that required top-to-bottom scaffolding was a more than two-year restoration project that began in 1998.

The Washington Monument adds to the sunrise in the capitol Monday, March 1, 1999 . The monument opened last week to visitiors after being closed four months while workers constructed a metal and fabric web of scaffolding around it. The scaffolding, designed by architect Michael Graves, is made of blue semi-transparent netting that allows lights in the monument to remain visible during the restoration. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds) Original Filename: WASHINGTON MONUMENT.jpg ORG XMIT: WX104 This is what the illuminated Michael Graves-designed scaffolding looked like in March 1999. The National Park Service is set to illuminate the new project in a similar fashion.  (1999 AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

The scaffolding and lighting? It’s kind of designed by Michael Graves. For the 1998-2000 restoration, the Park Service made news when it enlisted the firm of renowned architect Michael Graves (widely known for modern takes on everyday housewares)  to create multimillion-dollar scaffolding (with private funding from Target and others) that still managed to let visitors enjoy the landmark. It was Graves who came up with the idea to use fabric and lighting to beautify the project. But here's what's different: After being up more than two years, Bradley Johnson says, that scrim was in tatters. So for 2013, the scaffolding and fabric had to be new but is modeled precisely after what Graves designed.

Nothing is actually bolted to the monument. The Washington Monument's landmark status means the shell is just that -- a casing of aluminum that sits approximately three feet from the actual monument, with belt-like bracings wrapped around the monument at various intervals.

The last time the Washington Monument was wrapped in scaffolding during the Fourth of July fireworks was 1999.

Enjoy it while it lasts. The scaffolding is expected to come down in spring 2014. Renovations of the monument are incredibly pricey  -- this one is estimated to cost $15 million before it's done -- so, whether you love it or hate it, be sure to have your camera or cell phone ready when you're near the monument this summer. You won't see anything like this again anytime soon.

Read more: Washington Monument scaffolding topped off for next stage of earthquake repairs

Lavanya Ramanathan is a features reporter for Style.



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