David W. Taylor Model Basin
MacArthur Boulevard, West Bethesda, Montgomery County
The David W. Taylor Model Basin is an interconnected complex of the four original buildings of the current David W. Taylor Naval Ship Research and Development Center. Built between 1937 and 1939, the buildings house experimental, shop, and office facilities for research and development in ship design. Except for an extension of Building 4 and limited internal refurbishing, the complex is in its original state. Buildings 1-3, which are actually a single, rectilinear structure, measure approximately 960 feet in length. Building 4, connected to the others by an enclosed passage, stands parallel and behind them. Originally, it measured 1300 feet in length, but was extended to 3150 feet in 1944-45. The buildings were designed to be utilitarian, but also dignified and modern. As was typical for federal buildings of the period, a strong influence of Art Deco is apparent, particularly in the strong vertical lines, the ornamentation, and the central tower. The central tower of Building 2 provides a visual focus unifying Buildings 1-3, which provide support space needed for ship design research. Its large, ornamented main doors are approached by a broad staircase flanked by tall, classically styled lamps. The doors open to a spacious main lobby, whose floor is ornamented by a mosaic compass. Mosaics on the walls and the lighting fixtures reemphasize the Art Deco style of the exterior. Buildings 1 and 3 are, by contrast, devoid of decorative interior finishes and the Art Deco exterior motifs found in the main building. Building 4 is essentially a housing for two long tow basins: one for high speed and the other for low speed carriages. The arched ceilings, low lighting to prevent plant growth in the basins, and commanding presence of the basins themselves give the interior of the building a unique character. Technical requirements for the basins determined the building's special design. The arches that support the roof are reinforced concrete and every pier, footing, and wall rests directly on bedrock. Special concrete construction joints poured along the length of the basin maintain a tight seal during all seasons of the year. The rails that run the length of the edges of the basin to support the carriages were shaped and positioned to parallel the curvature of the earth (and thus of the water in the basin.) This allows the carriages to maintain precisely constant speed when towing ship models during experimental tests. Special techniques were used to install the rails so they would meet required tolerances. Although the model basin was extended to its present length in the 1940s, the design and style of the extension matched those of the original structure. The significant parts of this building are its arched, concrete exterior and the towing basins themselves. They embody the innovative design that makes the structure significant from an engineering and architectural viewpoint, and the technical features that make it one of the Navy's leading experimental facilities.
The David W. Taylor Model Basin is significant for its association with the design of the contemporary American Navy, its distinctive design, and its unique scientific facilities. When built, the model basin was the best facility of its type in the world. Due to the extension of the basin in the 1940s and upgrades of equipment over the years, it remains the best model basin in the Western world. Having opened in 1940, the model basin was heavily used during World War II. Model tests were employed to determine the characteristics of new ship designs; to measure the effects of structural modifications; to show how stability could be maintained after damage from attack; and to document the hydrodynamic characteristics of torpedoes, depth charges, and towed bodies. After the war, model basin engineers turned to exploratory development of new types of ships, including submarines, hydrofoil ships, surface effect ships, catamarans, and air cushioned vehicles. The varied uses of the basin over the years have demonstrated the soundness of its basic design and its unique significance to the Department of the Navy. Since 1940, it has served as the preeminent research facility for U.S. Navy Ship Design.