Neo-Classical Space

The Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in North East DC was designed by Leo A Daly in 1999.  This ultra modern yet reverent presentation aligns the academic study of theology with the memory of man whose life is examined through the display of the personal effects of his human life.  12 visiting scholars inhabit the Intercultural Forum on the top story as members of an endowed think tank dedicated to contemporary cultural issues.  In another area of the building, a small gallery space houses photographs and and objects from the pontificate’s long and enriched life.  Items like his dining room place settings as well as bodily ornaments are on display for us to experience some of his day to day identity.   These two activities, on the one hand the maintenance of shrine to a sovereign figurehead, and on the other the progressive dialectic of  a community of modern scholars would be seemingly incongruous.  However they exist harmoniously in parallel under the single floating roof.

Note the child in the second image.





3 Responses to “Neo-Classical Space”

  1. Ryan Says:

    Great subject matter. The JP2 Center is a forgotten building in The District due to its location relative to downtown, as well as to Harewood Drive (which is the access road.)

    One of the most wonderful elements of the JP2 Center is the procession into the building itself. From the second you step onto the property, the Entry/Path/Arrival sequence is one of the most notable architectural elements. My favorite architectural element from the JP2 Center is the simple spill over for the cars to pass through. It’s original design called for the pool of water in the front of the building to slide underneith the sidewalk and run over the cobblestone driveway. Leo A Daly Architects wanted the visiter to cross the water to be “cleansed” even before entering the building itself. Unfortunately, for the past 3 years, the JP2 Center hasn’t used the feature to its full advantage due to some design errors.

    Another wonderful element is the zig-zagging ramps at the back side of the Center. The immense ramp system not only provides handicap access to upper levels, but provides an ample amount of light to pour into the central space. It also provides an interesting platform for displaying hands cast of copper from Catholic’s all around the world.

    I recommend all of your readers to try to go visit this wonderful building (even if you aren’t Catholic.) Rumor has it, the JP2 Center is significantly struggling financialy and may close in the near future. It will be an unfortunate fatality of recent economic troubles.

  2. aaxxx Says:

    beautiful building

  3. Dustin Says:


    Thank you for this excellent photo tour and for your commentary. You\’ve given me many buildings to take in on my next trip to D.C., and I\’m especially interested in seeing the JP2 Center.

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