The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The New Union Station should embrace its history

A train departs Union Station on March 2 in D.C. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)
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Regarding the June 19 Metro article “Officials unveil plans for Union Station redevelopment”:

Union Station requires all the improvements envisioned for its redevelopment: increased multimodal connectivity, improved pedestrian access, new train and bus platforms, and mixed-use buildings to liven the adjacent area. As a Capitol Hill resident and intercity Amtrak commuter, I celebrate these goals.

But should we take seriously an architectural proposal that tries to outdo or to ignore the main hall and sequence of Daniel Burnham’s original station? The station’s historic spaces languish as they are now. Yet few stations in the world could be architecturally grander than what already exists. The value of redeveloping Union Station is not in creating a “modern, vitalized facility” from scratch, as the renderings suggest. Many of the images leave one asking: Where’s Union Station? The challenge lies in integrating the greatness of the existing complex with the new ideas to realize its modern potential. New York’s Moynihan Train Hall, a converted post office, shows one recent example of how a historic building can be adapted for contemporary use.

The irony is clear in the name: Burnham Place. If this means anything to the development’s creators beyond marketing, we would do well to revisit the station Burnham designed — the one that still exists — and to make it the center of whatever comes next.

Ben Shelton, Washington

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