Visions of a Brave New Washington

From the University of Maryland, graduate student Brian Essig, left, faculty member Isaac Williams and graduate student Joseph Kunkel work on their futuristic views of the Penn Quarter area of Washington. The design contest at Union Station offered mostly bleak projections of the city in the next century, although one team projected that cars and commuting could be obsolete by 2108.
From the University of Maryland, graduate student Brian Essig, left, faculty member Isaac Williams and graduate student Joseph Kunkel work on their futuristic views of the Penn Quarter area of Washington. The design contest at Union Station offered mostly bleak projections of the city in the next century, although one team projected that cars and commuting could be obsolete by 2108. (By Gerald Martineau/Post)   |   Buy Photo

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By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In the year 2108, after the general collapse of society, Washington residents will flee the violent decay of the city and migrate to utopian "ecohubs" in the middle of the Potomac River.

There, civilization will be reborn amid renewed natural resources, wind- and solar-generated power, clean water and man-made wetlands brimming with wildlife.

Or, a century from now, Washington will be ringed by 2,000-foot towers -- erected on the sites of 28 Civil War forts -- where rain will be collected for water, power will be generated by wind and sunlight, and multitiered hydroponic farms will grow food for the city.

By 2108, heat could be generated by thermal wells. Cars and commuting could be obsolete. The Pentagon might be a peace institute. And elevated farms could grow crops above inner-city neighborhoods.

For three hours yesterday, eight teams of architects and designers, armed with scissors, cardboard, plexiglass, plywood, glue, tape, pushpins and jumbo containers of coffee, raised imaginary Washingtons of the future.

The event was a competition of sorts called City of the Future and was hosted at Union Station by the History Channel, IBM and Infiniti.

The teams, from architectural and design firms and universities near the Washington area and New York City, had been given seven days to come up with visions of Washington 100 years hence, and had from 9 a.m. until noon to assemble their models inside the station.

Missing was the sense of limitless possibilities. Many hinted at a dire future plagued by pollution, shortages of water, goods and energy and the prospect of catastrophe. The future seemed a place for those who might survive the present.

One collaboration of D.C. architects and designers from the firms Envision and IStudio foresaw a city in which the government bureaucracy was moved from downtown and its office buildings converted to hotels, condos and apartments.

"The federal agencies . . . start to become something that provides a barrier to people actually being on the Mall, accessing the Mall and bringing life to the Mall," said IStudio's Rick Harlan Schneider.

Several entries foresaw a critical need for food in Washington's future and designed sci-fi urban farms to meet it.

The elevated farmland was the idea of a team of students and teachers from the University of Maryland.


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