The subject of Washington’s buzziest architecture competition isn’t a Smithsonian museum or a downtown office building, but a series of concrete piers jutting out of the Anacostia River a dozen blocks east of Nationals Park.
More than 40 architecture teams comprised of 82 firms initially expressed interested in designing a park traversing the Anacostia — what could become a local version of New York’s High Line Park — atop piers that held up the old 11th Street Bridge before it was replaced.
The four finalists submitted their proposals to the project’s organizers Tuesday, and they leave nothing to the imagination: there are amphitheaters, education centers, dining piers, urban gardens, waterfalls, climbing walls and an array of eye-catching architectural features, any of which could transform the old bridge site into a distinctive landmark.
Scott Kratz, director of the 11th Street Bridge Park, said the project has the chance to bring needed attention to a river that has suffered environmentally and long served as a barrier between the majority of the city and some of its poorest communities. He said he was thrilled at the quality of responses.
“These are some of the best designers in the world and their work reflects that,” he said. “We were hoping that the proposals would not just be shades of gray and we received reds and blues and greens and purples. They are all so different while still responding to the community’s vision.”
The teams will come to Washington to present their ideas to a jury of experts in design, architecture, health and economic development on Sept. 29-30 and a final decision is expected Oct. 16.
Whoever is named the project’s designer will do so with a caveat, as some $40 million needs to be raised to build and operate the park. The project is a collaboration between the D.C. government and the non-profit Building Bridges Across the River, and already the D.C. government has committed to providing $14.5 million of the $25 million construction price tag, Kratz said.
Here is an initial look at each of the proposals. In addition to the jury, public input will play a factor in making a final selection, so for readers interested in taking a more detailed look at the proposals and offering opinions, please take our poll. (All images are courtesy of the architecture teams, via the 11th Street Bridge Park.)
Balmori Associates / Cooper, Robertson & Partners
Three concepts shape the proposal from Balmori Associates and Cooper Robertson, both of New York. The predominant architectural feature is an undulating overheard feature called “the Walk,” meant to evoke the daily strolling routine of Frederick Douglass, the famed abolitionist whose former home in Anacostia is a National Historic Site.
“The structure allows for the design of a suspended deck giving freedom to the overall shape, program, and topography of Bridge Park and permits the deck edge to be varied, thin, and elegant,” the team writes in its proposal.
This bridge would meander side to side as it crosses the river, a design the team calls “the Thread.” In the center of the bridge is “the Clasp,” a prominent events space that hangs out over the water.
The architects said they hoped their project “can help re-connect the diverse neighborhoods on both sides of the river, re-engage the Anacostia River, improve the general quality of public health through physical and social activity, and generate new jobs for local citizens of the district.”
Olin, based in Philadelphia, and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, in New York, propose two grand ramps that slope from either end of the bridge, creating a series of paths and a giant ‘X’ shape that would serve as an easily recognizable symbol on the river.
“The intersection point of the two paths shapes the central meeting point of the bridge—an open plaza that provides a flexible venue for markets, festivals, and theatrical performances held throughout the year,” the companies wrote in their submission. “The paths that frame this plaza further enhance the bridge as a hub of activity, providing a sequence of zones designated for play, relaxation, learning and gathering.”
On the slopes, the companies propose a series of special spaces, among them an amphitheater, an urban agriculture center, an environmental education center and a boat launch. Other features include a sculpture garden, interactive art features and a “hammock grove.”
Wallace Roberts & Todd / Next Architects
Philadelphia-based Wallace Roberts & Todd teamed with a firm based in the Netherlands, Next Architects, to propose a bridge with a billowy canopy that its designers liken to a “noble and grand old tree” in that it “fulfills multiple and vital needs: providing shade, funneling prevailing breezes, supporting greenery and solar panels, framing public art, and creating the setting for gatherings, frolic, and play.”
“We aim to spotlight the Anacostia River as a bountiful, beautiful, and exciting watercourse, a place where the juncture of human and natural ecologies ‘land’ as a productive, fun, and life-affirming exchange,” they write.
Beneath the canopy and surrounding it the team plans a staggering 35 different amenities arranged in four zones along the length of the bridge and overflowing onto parkland along the eastern banks of the river.
The centerpieces are an amphitheater and a three-story community and education center. For foodies there is an urban farm, market, greenhouse and dining piers. For recreation there are trampolines, climbing nets and an urban beach.
Stoss Landscape Urbanism / Höweler + Yoon Architecture
The submission from two Boston firms, Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Höweler and Yoon, is rooted in the history of the river, to the days when ferries escorted workers from Anacostia to their jobs at the Navy Yard on the west side of the river.
“These ferry crossings became as much places of congregation and assembly, places of social exchange, as they were places of passage,” they write. “Our proposal for the 11th Street Bridge Park puts in place a new crossing, one that establishes new connections across and to the Anacostia River and to the burgeoning and socially and culturally rich neighborhoods along its banks.”
They propose a series of angular walkways and park spaces along the bridge and extending along the eastern bank of the river. Two raised structures pop from the bridge’s main plate, creating space for an environmental education center and other enclosed features.
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