Designers compete to build D.C. version of High Line park

Six design teams are competing to build a park atop the former 11th Street bridge in the District, a project that is in need of nearly $40 million in funding but which organizers envision as a chance to build a local version of New York City’s High Line Park.

For those who are unfamiliar, the High Line Park is a series of gardens, walkways and performance spaces built on a 1.45-mile stretch of abandoned freight rail line. The public park is at the center of what is now a bustling neighborhood in Lower Manhattan.


Existing piers from the old bridge would support the park. (Courtesy 11th Street Bridge Park)

D.C. does not have an abandoned rail line to work with but it does have the former 11th Street Bridge, made available by construction of the new bridge, which is being opened piece by piece with completion scheduled for mid-2015.

Though the surface of the old bridge deteriorated to the point that it needed to be replaced, members of the community and officials from the Office of Planning and the Department of Transportation launched an effort to build a public park atop the abandoned piers that would connect communities on both sides of the Anacostia River and provide recreational, social and cultural space with riverfront views.

As Scott Kratz, director of the effort, said: “I can’t think of another project in the District where a single intervention could achieve so many different ends.” Here’s a video of some of the collaboration to date:

After innumerable community and planning meetings, in March the project’s planners asking for applications from designers, engineers and architects from around the country. They weren’t sure what would come back. “When you throw a party you don’t know if anybody is going to come,” Kratz said. 

People came — 41 proposals rolled in. A jury for the project narrowed the field recently to six:

  • Balmori Associates / Cooper, Robertson & Partners
  • Piet Oudolf with Glenn LaRue Smith/PUSH Studio / WXY architecture + urban design
  • OLIN / OMA
  • Stoss Landscape Urbanism / Howeler + Yoon Architecture
  • Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) / NEXT Architects
  • Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape / Davis Brody Bond

Among the previous work designed or built by members of the teams are Zuccotti Park in New York (Cooper, Robertson), the waterfront park in Georgetown (WRT), the pavilion at the former St. Elizabeths hospital (Davis Brody Bond) and Canal Park near Nationals Park (OLIN). Piet Oudolf designed the gardens and planted parts of the High Line.

Kratz said the responses validated the importance of the project, housed at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC).

“We were humbled by the breadth and depth of experience of teams from around the nation that threw their hat in the ring for this project,” he said. “These are truly some of the best designers in the country.”

There’s a long way to go. Kratz said the six finalists will be narrowed to four in coming weeks and each will be given a $25,000 stipend to advance their ideas. Once the four final proposals for the bridge are vetted with the public, a team will be selected in October.

In the meantime, Kratz is trying to raise a colossal amount of money, nearly $40 million, with construction likely to cost $25 million and another $10 million needed for an endowment that can afford operating costs into perpetuity. He’s already raised about $800,000, through a combination of grants and in-kind donations from the city, developers, wealthy individuals and charitable foundations.


A conceptual sketch of the proposed park. (Courtesy 11th Street Bridge Park)

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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Jonathan O'Connell | May 13