Tag Archives: capitol hill

Architecture

Precedents for the 11th Street Bridge Park

I’ve written up a post on the the 11th Street Bridge Park for Greater Greater Washington. It’s an exciting idea, but it’s important to slow down and consider what’s possible.

The Bridge Park is really more of an elevated park than a bridge. But its bridge-like form means it can be much more than just a deck with greenery. Since it’s elevated over water, it offers something special related to depth. Its section can go up into the sky and down into the water in ways that no other park can. No excavation is required, and people on the deck can interact with what’s below.

Since there is only one precedent for such a structure, the Providence Greenway, perhaps it’s worth looking a things that are typologically adjacent: bridges, linear parks, and buildings that address the water in noteworthy ways.

Bridges

The first kind of bridge that’s worth noting is one that carefully frames the intersection of the stream and a road. The Ponte Alexandre III is a well-known example. It’s a tetrapylon, a marker of the intersection of two equal routes.

Another interesting type is a bridge that’s asymmetrical along the axis of the flow. If you have a road, there typically are two directions of traffic. Each one is usually equal in value. A river, however, does have a direction: downstream, downhill. That by itself can be a source of impressive architectural effects – as how water rushes around bridge piers.

With symbolism, you get something very poetic. Otto Wagner’s Nussdorf bridge-wier seems to fight the force of the water coming down to it. Massive stone pylons, scrolling up against a sturdy truss, support columns topped by lions. The design expresses the strength of the flood protection it offered Vienna.

Linear Parks

In the article, I suggested that the High Line was an inappropriate comparison to the Bridge Park, because one is through dense neighborhoods, while the other is over a river. The level of activation influences the level of activity. The High Line has the luxury of limiting access to create a nice level of calm in the city. The Bridge Park will only ever have two entrances. 

But – James Corner: Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the designers of the High Line, made a few design decisions that are worth examining. For one, they distributed little spaces along the way that focus your attention on city life. Even the most jaded visitors end up gawking at the flow of traffic and people-watching.

Waterfront Buildings

At the ICA Boston, a museum on the outer harbor, DS+R turned guests’ attention to the horizon. Every space, like comfortable main porch to the disorienting research room, makes you look at the sky and the water with fresh eyes. 

ICA research room by michelvandenbogaard CC-BY-ND
There’s something surreal about water that’s as relentless as the sky. Take a look at James Turrell’s understanding of the sky. Could a basketball player understand what’s going on here:
Sure. We all know the sky and the water.
Plus, if you want to get beyond vision, steps down to the river, like at the Oslo Opera House might form an incredible amphitheater.
There are a lot of options for this park. I look forward to seeing what the designers come up with. What I think will be important, though, is looking for a designer who wants to relate the communities’ prosaic needs – like a play structure – to fundamentals that are so prosaic we’ve forgotten how wonderful they are.
Local

Duke Ellington May Leave Northwest

This topic is a little out of my usual purview, but it’s worth commenting on because schools are so necessary for smart growth – and are such a bloody issue.

DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee is apparently considering relocating the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts to a more central location. Currently, the school occupies a historically significant building in Burlieth, but if the move goes through, the school will move into the old Logan Elementary building near Union Station. In its place, a new High School serving mostly Ward 2 students (according to Councilmember Jack Evans) would begin operating.

For the most part, I support this move. Locating the building near a metro station will make it much more accessible for both students and teachers. Logan would also require a renovation, which would hopefully allow for some great new architecture and preservation by a local firm. The building seems dilapidated and lacking in the relevant facilities – and theaters demand great architecture. It could be a win-win for DC and its design community.

But much more importantly, opening up room for a new public high school in Northwest will accommodate new families who will undoubtedly come as appropriate development restarts in Northwest. Don’t forget, the building now occupied by Duke Ellington once held Western High School, one of two high schools in Northwest, along with Tenleytown’s own Wilson. Wilson is now pretty crowded. With more residents along Wisconsin and Connecticut, it will need to more room even than what the current renovation will provide. Private schools cannot be the answer anymore – St. Albans, Sidwell, Maret, and GDS are already larger than intended – and the costs of each are way too high for most families, $30,000 per year for some.

Backlash and speculation has (unsurprisingly) followed the discovery of the plan. Is it a racist plot to get black kids out of Georgetown? Apparently some assholes not only think so, but approve. Perhaps its is just a ploy to get better test scores from parents unable to foot private education. That’s plausible to me. Either way, the students are even getting involved, with a blog and a facebook group.

But look at it this way: growth in Northwest means slower growth and minimal displacement in less affluent parts of the city. If a new high school – and a renovated campus in Capitol Hill helps to facilitate those trends, then it is definitely worth it. Even if Jack Evan’s posturing is right, and this school will serve only students in Ward 2, then it will still likely serve African-American students. However, like Wilson, Hardy, and Deal, it should be open to promising students across the city. Compromises that benefit the entire city are absolutely necessary.

There are a lot of “ifs” behind my support. But planning for a future of 600,000 DC residents is necessary, and a new high school in Northwest would play a major role. DC has sacrificed enough school properties in recent years, however, it is time for re-use and revival.