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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

"This would be an urban agricultural farm," Isaac Williams, an architecture teacher, said as he held part of a plexiglass model of future Washington with a carpet of green floating on pillars near New York and Florida avenues.

The farm would draw water and power from the ground, he said: "We'd be to able harvest the crops from here and feed most of D.C."

The team from the Washington firm of Beyer Blinder Belle, which won the competition, looked into the city's future and saw "totemic" towers raised on the sites of the old forts, partner Hany Hassan said.

The towers would have to be huge -- taller than the Sears Tower in Chicago -- to harvest the wind for power. The sides of the towers would capture solar energy, and farms would be spread across lower levels.

Hassan's plan envisions the Mall inundated with water from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, much as it was when the Tiber Creek ran where the Mall is now.

"We believe that water is life," he said. "Bring life into the city. Transform what is referred to as the National Mall today . . . to become a water mall, [and] reflect all the monuments and memorials into it."

The team from Sorg and Associates imagined a vast extension of the Mall across the Potomac and enveloping the Pentagon, which would become a peace institute in a new world where security is achieved through diplomacy and ideas.

New York's OBRA Architects saw a future in which technology will eliminate the need for commuting. "Traffic will disappear as we know it," said Pablo Castro with OBRA.

Castro also imagined multi-use "super towers" the size of the Empire State Building. They would be scattered across the city, including around what is now lower Rock Creek Park. "We think in a hundred years the infrastructure . . . will need to be replaced," he said. "All the areas of medium density become areas of high density, and all the areas of low density become parks."

The most apocalyptic scenario was created by a team from the University of Virginia.

"This project starts off by assuming that Washington, D.C., will decline to a certain extent," said Nataly Gattegno, an assistant professor of architecture. "Because of its pollution. Because of its lack of educational infrastructure, lack of actual infrastructure, sewage, water treatment, energy, fuel, coal plants."

That would lead to "citizen engineers" creating river ecohubs capable of cleaning and recycling water, generating energy, cleaning the Potomac, attracting wildlife and essentially saving the city, she said.

"We harvest the decay of the city and build off of it," she said. "It all comes out okay in the end."


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