South Capitol Street at the Anacostia River
Dear Mr. Marootian:
In its meeting of 19 October, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design for the replacement of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge across the Anacostia River, and the related redesign of its approaches along South Capitol Street. The Commission reaffirmed the significance of this major piece of civic infrastructure but did not take an action, requesting additional documentation and providing comments for the development of the design to be presented in a new concept submission.
The Commission members commended the project team for following their advice given in September 2013 to design a bridge and approaches that would contribute to the civic realm and monumental character of the national capital, rather than relying on the more utilitarian approach presented at that time. They strongly supported the intended goal of a graceful span connecting new public spaces at both sides of the Anacostia, serving to integrate the transportation infrastructure with the urban fabric; however, they did not reach consensus on whether the proposal fulfills that goal within the existing context of Washington, D.C.
In their discussion, the Commission members questioned the appropriateness of the bridge type—a multi-arched structure rising 114 feet above a roadway deck suspended by cables—within the context of this city, whose bridges are typically supported from below, allowing expansive views of the urban context from the roadway above; they therefore requested more analysis of whether such a typological change is justifiable for this particular bridge. They raised concerns that the proposed design lacks grace, restricts outward views, and may be too industrial in character for an approach to the monumental core of the city. However, they acknowledged that the current design concept might be successful if refined, and they identified some of the earlier design studies of the bridge—such as with five lower arches instead of the three taller ones proposed—as potentially preferable. To better understand the proposal, they requested additional views of the bridge within the broader context of other D.C. river bridges, the Anacostia riverfront, the nearby baseball stadium, and the city’s skyline. They also requested additional section and elevation drawings to illustrate design alternatives, as well as more information about significant details of the project, such as the intersections of the arches and piers, the pedestrian overlooks, and the abutments.
For the bridge approaches, the Commission members reiterated their past support for organizing the roadways around two monumental ovals that would serve as landscape amenities, with potential future use as commemorative sites. They expressed support for the extensive pedestrian circulation system that would connect these spaces and the surrounding neighborhoods with the bridge walkways. Citing the strength of the proposed terraced landscape design at the abutments, they recommended developing a comprehensive logic for the project’s overall landscape that would create a network of pedestrian experiences, potentially related to the commemorative purpose of the bridge and the legacy of Frederick Douglass. They recommended developing simpler interim solutions for the landscapes within the ovals, each with an identifiable character that is not primarily focused on extensive programming or an unknown future configuration of memorials; for example, they suggested the development of a wetland landscape in one of the ovals.
While acknowledging the constraints of the procurement process and project schedule, the Commission members suggested further consideration of which design choices are truly required and which could be treated with more flexibility. Continuing to emphasize the great significance of this project, the Commission urges consideration of the issues raised during its review, and looks forward to seeing more conceptual analysis and documentation in a future presentation. As always, the staff is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Jeff Marootian, Acting Director
D.C. Department of Transportation
55 M Street, SE, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20003
cc: Alan Harwood, AECOM
Keith Brownlie, Brownlie Ernst and Marks