To help visitors make sense of what they're seeing, the airy, two-story space will have 14 55-inch touch screens that discuss local landmarks: Near the window where visitors can catch a glimpse of a water tower peaking over the trees at CIA headquarters, the screen will “tell the story of the CIA,” says general manager Graham Dunn. Other topics include city planning — from this height, it's easy to pick out the clusters of buildings around Orange Line stations — the Lincoln Memorial and the Potomac River and its islands. A small cafe will offer panini, snacks and drinks, including wine, with benches in place throughout the space.
Most of the gazing at the skyline takes place through non-reflective glass windows, but up another flight of stairs — 430 feet above sea level — is an outdoor terrace facing the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. The wind blows through gaps in the thick, layered glass walls, reminding you that you're really outside, and up really high. (Acrophobes should avoid the front corner, where it's possible to look down straight down to the street.)
Dunn says that there's a suggested route through the exhibition, but it's completely self-guided, and from experience in New York and at OUE Skyspace in Los Angeles, they know that some people are just going to perch in front of certain views, which is fine — admission tickets will be timed, but once inside, visitors can stay as long as they want. The view changes throughout the day, depending on the light: The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which was dark and shadowy when I first glimpsed it, was gleaming an hour later.
The Observation Deck, 1201 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. Admission is $21 for adults, with reduced prices for students, children, seniors and the military. Arlington County residents receive free admission.