While back in DC recently, I took a look around Southwest DC. There’s much to see, but not much to say. So let me highlight two interesting projects. The first is Hense Brewer’s repainting
of the Friendship Baptist Church building behind the old Randall School. I think it’s a pretty cool way to wait out a development project, at the least.
The Randall School itself has been intermittently poised to become a boutique something or another since 2006, when the Corcoran and Monument Realty bought it. Neither of those institutions is doing so well right now, but Telesis and the Rubell Foundation, a major contemporary art collection, have plans to put an apartment-museum building behind the heritage buildings, with Bing Thom designing. We shall see, yes? The other is Capitol Park Plaza, a midcentury building, which has a surprisingly warm facade for the period.
No surprise to discover that this is one of the buildings in the area designed by Chloethiel Woodard Smith. A noted local architect who happened to be a woman at the time when that raised eyebrows, Smith was quite shrewd here, registering the slab form with details that let humans comfortably occupy austere forms. First, she used tiles to enclose private porches. These balconies are massed in vertical lines at either end and staggered in the middle. This detail diminishes the monotony and overwhelming scale of the building without losing the exhilaration of long lines. The balconies also allow the roof to extend over the building envelope, reducing leaks, while keeping a strong outer volumetric edge that expresses the modernist formal fixation of a flat, uniform edge. The pure geometry of modernist architecture can be difficult or expensive to register in actual building, so in a compromise, Smith simply implies it.
Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in Omaha/Council Bluffs. Image: Nic221 on flickr.
The bridges over the Potomac, Anacostia, and Rock Creek are very important connections over the strongest boundaries in DC. The relatively few crossings are the bane of commuters and a significant impediment to the development and livability of the DC area. So, it’s no surprise that David Garber has been advocating for a pedestrian bridge across the Anacostia. The most recent iterations have been drawing on the NCPC‘s Extending the Legacy Plan (PDF) and subsequent plans. Plus, there have been a slew of impressive and iconic pedestrian bridges popping up in the US. I think that connecting across the river would be great, but maybe something more than just a fixed link would be best for the Anacostia.
For me, the whiz-bang factor of a bridge is offset by the need for this kind of structure to work as an urban space. Creating a more pleasant route for non-motorized commuters is a good enough end, but for more casual enjoyment, it needs some other qualities. Iconic bridges tend to beautifully express directed motion from one end to another, but not the pauses and distractions of a stroll.
In a way, you create a long pedestrian-only space with no activating buildings. Without a mass of people, those spaces are alienating or unsafe.
There are some relevant examples that approach the concept differently:
Continue reading ➞ Anacostia foot bridge: a pedestrian idea?