Marabar, 1984. Plaza design featuring 60 ft. long pool and granite boulders ranging in height from 2 ft. to 10 ft. National Geographic Society, Washington DC. Photo: Courtesy Ezimmermanstudio

Elyn Zimmerman’s MARABAR Facing Demolition

In 1977, Elyn Zimmerman made her first trip to India. Inspired by her experience of historical and sacred sites there, she began to consider how to create similarly meaningful contemporary public spaces back in the U.S. She first expressed what became her signature approach to large-scale outdoor projects in MARABAR (1984), a commission for the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, DC. Combining physically imposing blocks of quarried and natural stone with the ethereal sensory effects of water, this illusionistic sculptural landscape introduced a new inflection into the dialogue between natural and built environments. 

For 35 years, MARABAR, which is the centerpiece of a publicly accessible plaza, has offered visitors a magical retreat. But Zimmerman’s critically acclaimed project is now under threat, slated for demolition under National Geographic’s recently approved plan to redesign the plaza and build a new pavilion. 

As reported by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), the plans approved by DC’s Historic Preservation Review Board did not specifically identify Zimmernan’s work, building permits have not yet been issued, and National Geographic’s Edward Durell Stone-designed building is currently under consideration as a historic landmark. All of this means that there is still time to correct the oversight and draw attention to MARABAR as a significant cultural landmark worthy of protection and preservation. 

Please visit TCLF’s website for more information about joining the effort to recognize and save this important milestone in contemporary sculpture.

Update: On May 28, the District of Columbia Historic Preservation Review Board ruled that the National Geographic Society must return before the board to respond to further questions about their proposed redesign, urging them to reconsider the removal of the installation. Following a national letter-writing campaign spearheaded by TCLF, the board had received more than two dozen letters in opposition to the removal of Zimmerman’s work.