Background: More than 300 teams from around the world competed in the 11th Street Bridge Competition, which aimed to transform a former highway bridge into an iconic civic space over the Anacostia River.
Design teams were asked to address the following four project goals:1) foster economic development 2) improve public health 3) connect communities on either side of the River and 4) re-engage residents with the River itself.
WRT’s proposal, in collaboration with NEXT Architects, was chosen as one of four finalists.
Design Concerns: While the intentions of the project are worthy, the underlying premise of the Bridge Park raised questions about program appropriateness and urban context.
Among them was the fact that the competition brief called for a costly, technically difficult, relatively isolated and elevated park on a new bridge, when wide swaths of open space and parkland already existed in the underutilized and degraded floodplains on either side of the Anacostia River.
For us it was vital to address adjoining parkland and shoreline conditions in order to solidify the bridge as a community connector. In addition, we noted that the parallel, recently completed highway bridge already had adequate sidewalks for crossing the River safely and efficiently. The Bridge Park therefore needed to provide a different experience altogether.
Design Approach: At the outset, the WRT+NEXT team devoted much of its attention and design consideration to the southeastern shore of the Anacostia, where the National Park Service clings to acres of open space that are ripe for development into a new urban waterfront. With this in mind, we hoped to create a park that would incrementally bring people to the River, up out over it, and across to the other side.
In our view, the opportunity was to create an inclusive public space, activating an entirely new riverfront. In addition, the project sought to capitalize on the momentum of the development of the Washington Navy Yard, a resurgent and engaged Anacostia community, and an increased desire by the National Park Service to allocate resources to existing urban landholdings.
The Vision: With this new park comes a new awareness of the River and its ecosystem. The project is timely, as the new stormwater overflow system comes online and is preparing to eliminate sewage discharge into the River. This will prompt a better relationship with the water, as the image of a dirty, polluted, untouchable river vanishes over time. Boating, fishing, and perhaps one day, swimming, could all find a place in the park, alongside new opportunities for environmental education and exposure to ecological systems.
On the north bank of the River, the team proposed a number of interventions to meet the needs of an expanding neighborhood and increased pedestrian traffic along the riverfront of the Navy Yard. This site utilized spaces under the overpass for a restaurant, greenhouse, climbing wall, and boat rental. It represents another stop along the River that will create a destination for both residents and tourists to enjoy the city’s new waterfront.
The envisioned Anacostia parklands set up the support system to branch out over the River in interesting ways. To this end, the team created a simple platform out over the water, with spaces for program, planting, gathering, and circulation. This platform, or landing, acts to create a much more intimate and enjoyable experience within the public realm over the River, and connects and strengthens the two riverbanks and their respective communities.
We are interested to see where the fundraising goes and where the momentum for the project lands. If the Anacostia will have it, WRT has a vision for parkland beyond the bridge itself, ready to be enjoyed by residents, tourists, commuters, and wildlife of Washington, DC.