The High Line at High Tide

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OMA and OLIN’s winning proposal.
Courtesy OMA/OLIN

Washington D.C.’s 11th Street Bridge Park could eclipse the High Line and become the new gold-standard in turning outdated infrastructure into dynamic public space. After a seven-month design competition to reimagine an old freeway bridge that stretches across the Anacostia River, a proposal by OLIN and OMA has been selected – and it is equal parts infrastructure, public park, and architectural playground. The envisioned elevated space would be built atop existing piers and stretch across the Anacostia River, from the city’s Navy Yard to Anacostia Park.

In their project brief, OLIN and OMA describe “Anacostia Crossing” as a “place of exchange” and a space that is “more destination than elevated thoroughfare.” This is realized through two sloped ramps that rise from either side of the bridge and form an “X” halfway across the Anacostia. This intersection creates a plaza that could be used for festivals, markets, and cultural events. As these paths continue to rise, they carve out spaces for a moss garden, hammock grove, rain gardens, a sculpture park, and an environmental education center. At the water’s edge, there are new wetlands and a kayak launch.

“These thoughtful designers – some of the best architects and landscape architects in the world – have taken community driven ideas and created a compelling new space that will connect two historically divided parts of the city while adding a new shape to the capital’s iconic monuments,” said Scott Kratz, the director of the competition, in a statement.

 
   
 

This proposal was unanimously selected by the competition jury and also won a public poll that allowed locals to pick between an impressive final four. In September, after submissions were received from 80 design firms, the competition announced its short-list: Balmori Associates/Cooper, Robertson & Partners, Stoss Landscape Urbanism/Höweler + Yoon Architecture, Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT)/NEXT Architects, and, of course, OLIN/OMA.

Shortly after those schemes were unveiled, Kratz told AN that the overarching goal of the competition is to create an architecturally distinct structure that can support community health initiatives, improve the environment, and serve as an economic engine.

 

“We hoped that when we launched this there would be interest from the best and brightest in the design world and we couldn’t be happier with what the teams submitted,” he said. Hoping to involve the public in every step of this process, the competition’s organizers quickly set up an online survey for the final designs and hosted three exhibitions in Washington.

Given the scale and grand gestures of the winning design, it would be easy to dismiss the whole thing as an eye-catching proposal that will never be realized. But in a city known for dysfunction, Kratz is confident that the 11th Street Bridge Park can, and will, get built.

The city of Washington has already committed $14.5 million to the project and another $1 million in pre-capital campaign has been provided by public and private donors. Through naming opportunities and donations from individuals and philanthropies, Kratz is confident they can raise $40 million for the capital campaign. “We are going to hit that number,” he said. “It is going to take a lot of hard work, but we will get there.”

The other finalist proposals included:

   
Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Höweler + Yoon Architecture
Courtesy Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Höweler + Yoon Architecture
 

Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Höweler + Yoon Architecture framed their proposal, called “The Crossing,” as a central meeting place that pays homage to the ferries that used to cross the river. “Our proposal for the 11th Street Bridge Park puts in place a new crossing,” explained the team in its design statement, “one that establishes new connections across and to the Anacostia River and to the burgeoning and socially/culturally rich neighborhoods along its banks.” To achieve a sense of connection and place, the team laid out angled paths that cut across the river and create grassy lawns above the water.

 
Wallace Roberts & Todd/NEXT Architects/Magnusson Klemencic Associates.
Courtesy Wallace Roberts & Todd/NEXT Architects/Magnusson Klemencic Associates
 

WRT and NEXT Architects’ Anacostia Landing—a “21st Century model of ecological place-making”—rebuilds natural habitats along the water and adds a host of programmatic elements along the main structure, including an amphitheater, market, climbing wall, urban beach, dog park, community and education center, play garden, fishing pier, café, hydroponic garden, and a “floating classroom.” Above the bridge structure the design calls for a billowing canopy that the team compares to a “noble and grand old tree.” That structure is intended to provide shade and support solar panels.

   
Balmori Associates/Cooper, Robertson & Partners.
Courtesy Balmori Associates/Cooper, Robertson & Partners
 

Balmori Associates/Cooper, Robertson & Partners’ proposal, “Bridge Park,” is defined by an expressive archway known as “The Walk,” which is intended to evoke Frederick Douglas’ daily crossings over the river. Extending from the shore to the center of the river is “The Clasp,” a grand plaza with gassy areas, amphitheater-like seating, and water features.

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