RFK Memorial Stadium would be torn down to create an urban playground along the Anacostia Riverfront for residents of Washington, D.C. and beyond, under plans by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) that were unveiled at a citywide meeting last night.
OMA partner Jason Long and associate Laura Baird of OMA’s New York office outlined two design proposals—"The Stitch" and a "North-South axis"—for a 190-acre stretch of riverfront known as the RFK Stadium-Armory campus. Currently, it's covered mostly with the 55-year-old stadium, the armory, and surrounding parking lots.
The Dutch firm OMA, founded in 1975 by Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, was hired last year by Events DC to explore ideas for the RFK stadium property after consultants concluded that there is no economically feasible way to renovate the building for continued use as a sports facility. Events DC is the District’s sports and conventional authority. The 75-year old armory would remain.
Ideas in both proposals included a 20,000-square-foot arena for the Washington Wizards and Capitals, to replace the Verizon Center in Chinatown, or a 65,000-seat stadium for Washington’s NFL team, which has hired the Bjarke Ingels Group as its lead designer but has not settled on a site. There was also an option for no stadium or arena at all but other sorts of sports-and recreational facilities.
Other ideas included playing fields, a field house, a water park, an aquatic center, art pavilions, a science center, a new home for the National Aquarium, and a sports complex comparable to Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. Also, hiking and biking trails, community gardens, a floating pool, a picnic area, a skatepark, an ice rink, an ecology lab, and an exercise park.
There were short term and long range ideas. Two manmade islands just off the shoreline, Kingman and Heritage islands, could be made more accessible by a series of pedestrian bridges. OMA’s Long said that since the property is owned by the National Park Service and leased on a long term basis to the District of Columbia, the design team explored recreational uses consistent with the Park Service’s mission.
But Long said OMA also wanted to use the planning effort to introduce a wider range of recreational, cultural, and entertainment offerings. OMA wants to show the potential for creating a new gateway to the nation’s Capitol, including taking advantage of efforts to clean up the Anacostia River and providing more public access to the water’s edge. He noted that the RFK property is just about as long as New York’s High Line and just about as wide as Central Park, two of the most popular and heavily-used urban recreational areas in the country. However, it has essentially been devoted to a single use for decades.
“We wanted to be much more diverse, in terms of programming,” he said. “This site has the scale to be an amazing place in which the city could connect to the riverfront.” The design team did not provide construction cost estimates. The cost of an NFL stadium or basketball arena alone, experts say, could approach $1 billion. The difference between OMA’s two design options was the way buildings were set along the waterfront and how open space was used to connect them with the waterfront and the rest of the city.
One option, called “North-South axis,” would use the site’s sloping topography to conceal a linear “plinth” that spans the length of the site and provides underground parking. On top of this plinth would be a multi-structure sports complex, with a retail promenade at street level.
The linear sports complex could contain either the arena, the stadium, or no large sports anchor at all. A series of stairs and ramps would draw visitors down to the waterfront, which would be transformed with parks, fields and possibly an “urban beach.” The existing road network would be restructured to accommodate traffic while providing multiple access points to the plinth so parking is evenly distributed along the site.
The second option, called “The Stitch,” builds on the site’s existing “funnel-shaped” road network by adding two pedestrian boulevards and weaving circulation access routes through an urban campus. The plan “stitches” together elements of culture, sports and recreation into three zones. To the north, amenities include a sports complex, aquatic center, and farmers’ market. The central zone lines up with the National Mall and features a “grand plaza” for outdoor events. To the south would be a marketplace and retail-lined parking structures. Again, this option could accommodate the arena, the NFL stadium or no large sports anchor.
Long said the OMA team was aware that the Bjarke Ingels Group has been designing a football stadium, but the two design teams have not meet to discuss how BIG’s design might fit onto the RFK site. One of the features of the BIG design, unveiled last month, was a moat around the stadium that could be used for kayaking and other activities. The football team is considering sites in D. C., Maryland, and northern Virginia.
Nearly 400 people came to the two hour presentation at the Washington Convention Center and expressed a variety of opinions.
There seemed to be no clear preference for one option or another, or whether a football stadium should go on the site. Audience members asked questions about a number of issues. They wanted to know whether the plan could be modified to include housing; how traffic flow and access from the Metro could be improved; how to make the site more walkable, and whether a beach would make sense with Washington’s mosquito-infested summers and cold winters. One man suggested moving the National Zoo to the site and selling the zoo property in Woodley Park to help pay for construction.
Long said OMA designers will take the comments into consideration as they refine their plans and analyze costs in preparation for a follow-up community meeting in a few months. He said he was impressed by the turnout and the “high level of discussion” about the preliminary design concepts. “It’s good that people want to hear more,” he said. “It’s great that they want to push it to the next stage.”