Good Fences Good Neighbors

Plans unveiled for taller White House fence designed to deter intruders

Architecture East
After (Courtesy National Park Service and U.S. Secret Service)
After (Courtesy National Park Service and U.S. Secret Service)

Donald Trump may want to build a wall on the border between the U. S. and Mexico, but the Obama administration is more focused this week on building a new fence—around the White House.

The National Capital Planning Commission was briefed Thursday on plans for a new White House security fence that would roughly double the height of the existing one and have a new concrete foundation—a response to the recent rash of “jumpers” and intruders who have tried to break into the 18-acre compound at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“We would like to be able to ultimately rebuild the fence as it stands right now. This is an immediate need,” said Tom Dougherty, chief strategy officer for the Secret Service.

Before (Courtesy National Park Service and U.S. Secret Service)

Before (Courtesy National Park Service and U.S. Secret Service)

“The current fence simply is not adequate for a modern era,” Dougherty said in an earlier briefing to federal officials, a recording of which was broadcast by NBC News4 in Washington. “It is entirely scalable, depending upon the circumstances. And we now have a society that tends to want to jump over the fence and onto the 18 acres.”

Plans by the U. S. Secret Service and the National Park Service call for the new fence to be about 14 feet high, compared to the existing fence that is about 7 feet high. Entrance gates would be slightly higher.

The new fence would have 1¾ inch pickets and “anti-climb” features such as intrusion-detection sensors. Renderings also show spikes along the upper edge similar to the “pencil point” spikes that were added to the existing fence in 2015.

Before/After comparison. (Courtesy National Park Service and U.S. Secret Service)

Before/After comparison. (Courtesy National Park Service and U.S. Secret Service)

Mills + Schnoering Architects of Princeton, New Jersey, has been working on the design, which must be approved by the National Capital Planning Commission and the U. S. Commission of Fine Arts. One challenge is “reconciling contemporary standards of protection with the historic and highly symbolic property,” according to a letter from the Fine Arts Commission to the Park Service and the Secret Service. Federal officials say the fence will be in keeping with the Park Service’s design standards for the historic mansion and surrounding area, which draws millions of visitors a year.

The planning commission did not take any formal action on the proposal at its meeting. A preliminary schedule calls for the taller White House fence to be under construction by 2018. A later phase would include a new fence to surround the nearby Treasury Department and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

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