South Capitol Street at the Anacostia River
Dear Mr. Marootian:
In its meeting of 15 November, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a proposed final design for the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge and its approaches along South Capitol Street on both sides of the Anacostia River. Citing the importance and large scale of this project, the Commission approved the design, conditional on the resolution of the issues identified below.
The Commission members commented that the most heavily used pedestrian spaces associated with the new bridge may be the recreation trails paralleling the riverbanks, particularly where the trails pass beneath the ends of the bridge. They observed that the design focus has nevertheless been on the two ovals at the bridge landings, which they suggested may not attract the heavy use that is implied by the drawings and design features. They reiterated the fundamental typological distinction that is influencing the design of these spaces—the City Beautiful tradition of formal, axial urban parks and plazas, and the parkway tradition of picturesque, linear landscapes that serve primarily as a visual backdrop to the roadway rather than as occupiable spaces. They commented that the heavy traffic volumes around each oval would discourage many visitors, and that these spaces—particularly the southeast oval—would be used more as pass-through landscapes for bicyclists than as places to linger; they therefore suggested more plantings for aesthetic appeal. They identified the mound toward the southern end of the northwest oval as a potential attraction that could draw people to enjoy the view of the U.S. Capitol and the panoramic riverscape; they recommended additional trees for shade in this area. They also questioned whether the proposed pollinator gardens would be successful if sited alongside heavy traffic, and they suggested careful consideration of the size and location of these features. In general, they expressed appreciation for the added trees compared to the previous submission, commenting that this revision has improved the design.
For the bridge itself, the Commission members continued to emphasize the importance of the bridge’s detailing in the overall success of the design, expressing dissatisfaction with the lack of development of the design since the previous concept review. They expressed strong support for the general design and content of newly presented panels commemorating Frederick Douglass—although they suggested reconsidering their location on the belvederes, where they may detract from views to the water and be invisible to vehicular traffic, perhaps locating them at the bases of the bridge. While they praised the worthy opportunity created by the belvederes as punctuating the experience of crossing the bridge, they requested further development of these areas for pedestrian comfort, recommending a design for the benches more related to the design of the bridge, and a softer pedestrian paving material that could also extend to the bridge’s pedestrian lanes.
In its conditional approval of the final design, the Commission requested the following: that the design team consider increasing the height of the mound in the northwest oval and adding trees for shade on it; that the design of the belvederes be developed to be more comfortable for pedestrians, including pavement and furnishings; and that alternatives be studied for the location and design details of the plaques or other elements that present Frederick Douglass as the subject of this bridge’s commemorative program. Please coordinate these remaining items with the staff in order to complete the final design review process for this prominent addition to the city’s civic infrastructure.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Jeff Marootian, Director
D.C. Department of Transportation
55 M Street, SE, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20003
cc: Alan Harwood, AECOM