CFA 15/FEB/18-5


Potomac River between Georgetown and Rosslyn, Virginia
Washington, DC
United States

D.C. Department of Transportation
Francis Scott Key Bridge
Architectural lighting
Review Type


Dear Mr. Marootian:

In its meeting of 15 February, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept proposal for nighttime aesthetic lighting of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which crosses the Potomac River from Georgetown to Arlington, Virginia. While encouraging the general concept of lighting the bridge to enhance appreciation of its design character, the Commission did not take an action on the proposal, providing the following comments to guide the development of the design.

The Commission members emphasized that the Washington riverscape is a key component of the city’s monumental core; over time, it has been carefully studied and the river edges deliberately acquired as public lands in order to create a dignified context for the national capital. They questioned the current proposal for the lighting of a single bridge in the absence of a broader master plan for lighting that considers all of Washington’s major river bridges, with the goal of establishing standards and a hierarchy that is appropriate for this nationally significant setting. They recommended that the Key Bridge proposal be informed by such a study to assess the impact of the lighting of bridges on important existing cultural landscapes such as the National Mall, the C&O Canal, and the George Washington Memorial Parkway, as well as on wildlife habitats along the Potomac River.

The Commission members expressed support for the presented proposal to light the bridge’s primary and secondary arches, while also noting the more subtle effects of lighting the surface of the bridge piers featured in the other alternatives. In addition, they noted that the Key Bridge is currently undergoing improvements that include new deck lighting, whose visual effect should be accurately documented in the simulated views of the proposal for lighting the lower part of the bridge. In their discussion, they strongly discouraged the proposal to include programmable colored lighting, which may result in a shift in the perception of the bridge as imparting commercial messages or other unintended associations; they commented that the design goal should be limited to highlighting the bridge’s architectonic features, rather than to paint the bridge with colored light. They said that further review of this proposal requires the preparation of an on-site mockup to enable further evaluation, and that any potential use of color would need to be limited and carefully controlled through a management plan.

The Commission looks forward to further review of aesthetic lighting for the Key Bridge as part of a broader plan for the nighttime appearance of Washington, and in conjunction with a mockup of the proposal. As always, the staff is available to assist with future submissions.


/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA

Jeff Marootian, Director
D.C. Department of Transportation
55 M Street, SE, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20003

cc: Joe Sternlieb, Georgetown Business Improvement District