Intersection of New York Avenue, Florida Avenue, and 1st Steet, NE, including Reservation 185
Dear Mr. Marootian:
In its public meeting of 15 October conducted by videoconference, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the concept design for the three public spaces associated with the planned reconfiguration of the intersection of New York and Florida Avenues and First Street, NE. Citing numerous concerns with the proposal, the Commission did not take an action and provided the following comments for the development of the design.
Acknowledging the great opportunity to reconfigure this complex intersection as a gateway into the historic L’Enfant city and to provide a much needed neighborhood park, the Commission members noted that the current urban site is large, poorly defined, and noisy—and they said the park requires a stronger spatial unity than what is proposed. They raised strong concern that the repetition of a circular shape in the plan of the three triangular parcels is only a graphic device that would not actually link the parcels together in a single, legible design; instead, they recommended defining the public park with a unifying formal idea derived from the geometry of the surrounding context of streets and buildings, using an architecture of trees and the manipulation of the groundplane to create a strong identity for the public park. They encouraged careful study of successful public spaces of comparable scale as precedents, whether in Washington or elsewhere, to inform this design which must function at both an urban and a neighborhood scale.
In general, the Commission members found that the design proposes too much pavement and hardscape in relation to planted areas; they strongly recommended that the park be revised to contain more green areas, which will help to mitigate the difficult conditions of heat-island effect, traffic noise, and air quality. They observed that the design appears to be driven by program elements associated with spectacle and consumption rather than everyday relaxation, play, and encounters with neighbors, and they recommended reconsidering the balance of these within the spatial constraints of the site. They suggested that the opportunity of occasional closures of First Street could relieve demand for extensive paved spaces within the park, and they recommended considering a differentiated visual and material treatment for crosswalks, and possibly for First Street, to emphasize the pedestrian experience. For the two park parcels adjoining city blocks, which may be more suitable for active uses, they suggested designing for a closer relationship with the existing or anticipated buildings and landscapes. For the central parcel that is surrounded by streets, they questioned whether it is an appropriate location for so many active park features and suggested that it be designed more as a flexible, unprogrammed landscape; in lieu of a sculpture in this space, they recommended using the project’s resources on high-quality, durable materials throughout the project. They commended the incorporation of linear benches into the berm edges as supportive of the positive civic experience made possible by the park; they encouraged further study of how the configuration of the berms could contribute to the broader unity of the park design within the intersection.
The Commission looks forward to a further concept-level submission that responds to these comments. Please coordinate the next submission with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Jeff Marootian, Director
D.C. Department of Transportation
55 M Street, SE, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20003
cc: Thomas Balsley, SWA/Balsley
Robin-Eve Jasper, NoMa Parks Foundation