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Green Intentions
GSA sets the stage for the first segment of Washington, D.C.'s Ecodistrict.
Conceptual masterplan showing the Southwest Ecodistrict in 2030.
ZGF Architects / Courtesy NCPC

On September 28, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) published a “notice of intent” signaling its plans to redevelop a large parcel near Washington, D.C.’s L’Enfant Plaza, an office complex just south of the National Mall.

The overhaul of what GSA calls “Federal Triangle South” would be a first step toward realizing the ambitious Southwest Ecodistrict plan, which seeks to transform L’Enfant Plaza—a windswept and cut-off disaster of urban planning—into a mixed-use, net-zero-energy neighborhood that connects to the Mall and the rest of the city.

More prosaically, GSA’s move is also a cost-cutting measure as the agency looks to increase the efficiency of its real-estate holdings. According to the notice of intent, the agency is “aggressively exploring strategies to make better use of these assets and land…in accordance with the June 2010 Presidential Memorandum to dispose of unneeded Federal real estate.”

Officials hope the Southwest Ecodistrict will become an educational showpiece and national model for environmental stewardship.
ZGF Architects / Courtesy NCPC

The area GSA defines as Federal Triangle South includes the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Forrestal Complex, two buildings housing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a GSA office building, and the vacant Cotton Annex.

The 1970 Forrestal building’s days are numbered. Currently, DOE’s huge headquarters spans the 200-foot width of 10th Street, SW, blocking views to and from the Mall. The Ecodistrict plan calls for 10th Street to be opened up and revitalized as a boulevard with stores, offices, and residences, and for a new DOE headquarters to replace Forrestal. (The National Capital Planning Commission, or NCPC, helms the multi-agency group that drafted the Ecodistrict plan; GSA is one of the agencies involved.)

Tommy Wells, the member of the D.C. Council for Ward Six, which includes L’Enfant Plaza, wouldn’t be surprised—or disappointed—to see the Forrestal building come down. “It has been a visual wall between areas north of the Mall and areas on the other side,” he said.

Study model showing current conditions (top row) and the recommended changes at the Southwest Ecodistrict.
Courtesy NCPC

Wells said he envisions the new district as “a live, work, and play area in the heart of Washington,” connected to the Mall and also to the waterfront to the south (another part of the city that will soon be intensively redeveloped). “It’s great for locals, because it activates an area that is otherwise lonely and dead at night.”

Despite the lackluster U.S. economy, development in Washington is going gangbusters, a phase that Wells predicts will continue for 15 more years. “How we build out the city during these next 15 years is the city we’ll live with for the next 100, or 150,” he said.

The GSA will issue a request for information (RFI) within 90 days of publication of the notice of intent and is not responding to “detailed inquiries” before then, according to a spokesperson. NCPC hopes to approve the final version of the Ecodistrict plan in January 2013. The plan will be funded by the federal government, the District of Columbia, and private sources.

Amanda Kolson Hurley