Part of the fun of visiting a friend with a rooftop deck is playing tourist and seeing the sights: How's the view of the Capitol dome or Washington National Cathedral? Is that the roof of Nationals Park between those two buildings?
More importantly, where's my house?
From the Observation Deck, opening to the public later this summer atop Rosslyn's CEB Tower at Central Place, the game takes on a whole new scale. Thirty-one stories above the street, reached by glass-walled elevators, the Observation Deck — created by the same team that operates the One World Observatory at the World Trade Center in New York City — offers unimpeded views of the Washington area. There's a bird's-eye view of the monuments and the Pentagon, but it also takes in the soaring office buildings in Tysons Corner, high-rises in Silver Spring, the bulk of FedEx Field and traffic jams on the Beltway and I-295. (Hey, no one said they were all postcard views.)
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.