Dear Mr. Acosta:
In its meeting of 21 November, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept submission from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) for the planned improvement of 10th Street, SW and modifications to Banneker Park, as part of the Southwest Ecodistrict Initiative. The Commission expressed its enthusiasm for the project and its support for the general design direction of the proposal, making several recommendations for further development.
The Commission noted the importance of the proposed 10th Street improvements to the successful revival of the Southwest federal district; they commended the NCPC for its initiative to reimagine 10th Street as an important civic space and a link between the National Mall and the waterfront. In their discussion of the proposed concepts for the 10th Street corridor, the Commission members emphasized the importance of finding a balance between cohesive continuity along the corridor and differentiated place–making within it. They commented that the landscape design should derive most importantly from the experience of the visitor, noting that the differing structural conditions beneath the roadbed–which dictate the placement of trees and structures–will not be apparent to visitors and do not need to be so deliberately expressed at the surface. Instead, they suggested that gradated transitions would be more successful than abrupt discontinuities in the landscape; a linear landscape with an established rhythm of elements along it would provide a good framework for incorporating the inevitable changes resulting from the phased implementation of the project. The Commission members encouraged the NCPC to consider the design of 10th Street as model for an innovative streetscape in Washington, with a new planting palette and vocabulary of curb and gutter conditions, lighting, and other street furniture. They discussed the number and design of the water elements, recommending that qualitative performance criteria for water treatment be developed to inform the purpose and location of water features as the plan is developed.
Regarding the proposed interim modifications to Banneker Park to improve the connection between 10th Street and the Southwest Waterfront, the Commission members expressed their support for the general location, configuration, and character of the proposed new stair and accessible path. However, they recommended that the design be refined to be simpler and more responsive to the overlook, designed by Dan Kiley as a layered composition of walls wrapping a core. They recommended that the proposed small retaining walls extending into the landscape from the stair be eliminated and suggested that the curved retaining walls–while appropriately differentiated from the historic overlook walls in material–resemble them more in form with a sloped rather than stepped top. They also recommended that the visual impact of these retaining walls be softened through careful grading and plantings.
The Commission thanks the NCPC staff for its diligence in developing this submission and looks forward to further review of this and other proposals resulting from the Southwest Ecodistrict Inititative. As always, the staff is available to assist you with future related submissions.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Marcel Acosta, Executive Director
National Capital Planning Commission
401 9th Street, NW, Suite 501–N
Washington, DC 20004
cc: Otto Condon, ZGF Architects
Peter May, National Park Service