South Capitol Street at the Anacostia River
Dear Mr. Marootian:
In its meeting of 21 June, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a revised concept design for the approaches to the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge across the Anacostia River. Citing the project team’s responsiveness to its previous guidance, the Commission approved the concept design for the approaches and provided the following comments for development of the project.
The Commission members expressed appreciation for the careful attention to urban ecology, including the collection and treatment of stormwater, the abundance of plantings, and the consideration of wildlife habitats. They supported the concept of linking both ovals, as well as the walks beneath the bridge abutments, to the broader system of trails along the Anacostia River that provides connections to the evolving regional recreation system and to other nearby bridges. For the southeast oval, whose context is largely an open landscape with undefined future building areas nearby, they encouraged further topographic shaping within the oval to create more spatial definition and a sense of place, while acknowledging that much of the area is constrained by below-grade utilities.
The Commission members commented extensively on the proposed concept for the northwest oval, which responds to a dense and rapidly evolving urban context. They observed that the proposed design is handsome but seemingly derived from site geometry with conventional decorative elements. They observed that the concept for the park is neither fully urban, as in a European plaza, nor picturesque in the tradition of American park and parkway design; they suggested that a 21st-century conceptual approach could guide the aesthetic decisions. In general, they supported a strong manipulation of earth forms, the creation of wetland areas to encourage habitat, and the introduction of denser plantings of trees to create a comfortable, memorable space within a large traffic oval. As a matter of urban design, they observed that the role of the oval is to terminate the south axis of the U.S. Capitol as South Capitol Street is diverted diagonally onto the new bridge. However, the proposed configuration of future building sites suggests a weak linear extension of the north–south axis, and the landscape design as proposed would frame the new bridge unevenly. Therefore, they recommended that stronger groupings of trees be used to define the oval and its shifting axes, both within and beyond the oval, supplementing the proposed simple lines of trees along walks. They also suggested that the southern end of the oval could be topographically shaped and elevated to create a mound—as an overlook area that would provide a stronger terminus to the axis, with prospects north to the Capitol, southeast to the bridge, and broadly to the expanse of the Anacostia River.
For the refinement of the design within the northwest oval, they suggested reshaping the plaza at the north end, commenting that the complex alignments of approach walks should not result in an amorphous central space. They expressed appreciation for the scale comparison of this space to the central plaza at Dupont Circle, while observing that the usage pattern would probably be very different: with two sports stadiums in the immediate vicinity, the space will likely be heavily used at times of major stadium events, but relatively unpopulated at other times, even as traffic on the surrounding roadway remains heavy. They suggested that the design take these conditions into consideration, such as by providing a more modest width for the walks within the oval, and they acknowledged the importance of providing pedestrian crosswalks for access. They also emphasized the need to plan for the management of the public space, including maintenance and programming.
Given the massive public investment and the great prominence of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge project, the Commission of Fine Arts regrets that the District of Columbia Government has not submitted the design of the bridge itself for further review beyond the concept phase in order to respond to the Commission’s previous comments provided in two public reviews last autumn. The Commission remains available to advise on and to approve the design of this commemorative structure that will be a highly visible, heavily used, and long-lasting feature of the civic landscape of Washington, D.C. As always, the staff is available to assist you 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: Alan Harwood, AECOM