If you walked by the White House anytime in the past hundred years or so, you would have seen pretty much the same fencing. But sometime this summer, construction will start on a new fence that is much taller and will significantly change views of the White House.
The current fence is eight feet high, taller than a person but still on a human-sized scale. On the Pennsylvania Avenue side, there’s usually a random crowd of people and protestors and the fence does not look too forbidding.
Sometimes the barrier can look starker when Pennsylvania Avenue is cleared out and only security personnel remain, but the White House still is open to view.
The fence usually fades into the background when interesting people are there.
That’s all going to change as the fence will be five feet taller, which from most vantage points will block the view to the first floor of the White House. The project was initiated in 2014, with an inter-agency committee working on a plan to increase security. One of the main issues was that the height of the current fence is not high enough to prevent people from scaling it – twelve people have scaled the fence in the last ten years, despite increasing precautions.
In addition to making the fence much taller and putting a sharper barrier on top, the other goal was to strengthen the pedestrian and vehicle gates in the fence. The current gates have a trefoil pattern. The designers considered keeping this pattern but could not make it strong enough to prevent vehicles trying to crash through it without adding additional bollards. So the final decision was to go with plain vertical pickets rather than replicating this current design:
The pickets along the fence will be more than twice as thick, but an inch further apart, in an attempt to make the fence look more visually transparent. So the one risk that the new design does not guard against is toddler intrusion (a toddler in 2014 managed to squeeze through the pickets and enter the White House grounds, and with one inch added to the space between pickets, who knows how large a child might get through?)
The project will take about two years, and replace 3,500 feet of fencing on all sides of the White House. The change in height will also be very noticeable on the south side, where the fence currently allows a view of all but the very bottom of the White House at the popular picture-taking spot at the top of the Ellipse. Mock-ups show that the new fence will block the view of most of the White House from this side, so this view will no longer exist:
The Old Executive Office Building and the Treasury Department, the buildings on either side of the White House, have similar fencing. The plans are to replace it as phase two of this project, with no date yet specified.
If you want to read more about the fence and see mock-ups:
- The White House Historical Association has a complete history of the fencing
- The National Capital Planning Commission has a description of the changes and the rationale for the choices. Scroll down for pictures and drawings of the existing fence, proposed alternatives, and mock-ups of the final design.