Dear Mr. Nicholson:
In its meeting of 19 September, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the proposed replacement of the Frederick Douglass Bridge and its approaches at South Capitol Street and the Anacostia River. The Commission raised numerous concerns about the design and procurement process, and did not take an action pending further development and clarification of the proposal.
In their discussion, the Commission members emphasized the necessity for a strong design idea for this important and prominently visible civic infrastructure. They commented that the presented design is little advanced from the nearby uninspired highway bridges built in the last six decades, including the existing Frederick Douglass Bridge and the recently completed 11th Street bridge. They observed that this project provides the opportunity for a more contemporary approach worthy of this symbolic link within the core of Washington, and they encouraged further exploration of a bolder bridge design.
The Commission members acknowledged that the presented design is intended as guidance for a future design–build team rather than a firm commitment to construct the project as proposed, and they expressed discomfort with the potential loss of quality that may result within the design–build process. They suggested that the process could be structured to obtain a more inspired design than was presented, adding that an alternative approach with broader performance–based design criteria could be developed into a more innovative proposal. They urged that the selection panel for the design–build team include designers, and that the scoring process give great weight to design quality and the strength of a guiding idea for the project.
Regarding the planning for the project as a whole, the Commission members supported the proposed oval open spaces at each end of the bridge and encouraged further development of this concept. However, they recommended further consideration of the open spaces as places that would be experienced by people and as potential commemorative sites, rather than emphasizing the solving of engineering issues such as storm water management. In general, they recommended a bolder approach to relating the two sides of the river, commenting that the oval spaces at the ends of the bridge could provide a visual marker for the transition to the opposite side of the river, such as from the south axis of the U.S. Capitol. They observed that the traditional dichotomy of central and outer neighborhoods is currently evolving, and the design of the new bridge should emphasize both ends as important urban neighborhoods.
The Commission looks forward to further review of this important project that will shape the appearance of the Anacostia River and adjacent neighborhoods of the nation's capital. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Ronaldo Nicholson, Chief Engineer
D.C. Department of Transportation
55 M Street, SE, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20003
cc: Sanjay Kumar, D.C. Department of Transportation
Peter May, National Park Service