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The 11th Street Bridge Park gets a brilliant design. Will it succeed?

The organizers behind the 11th Street Bridge Park have picked a design that could be the city's most brilliant piece of architecture in decades. Now comes the hard part: making this vision work in a spot surrounded by water rather than homes and businesses.


The winning proposal concentrates activity on the east side of the Anacostia River. All images from the design team.

From a field of four competitors, the jury picked a design team led by the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), best known in the United States for the Seattle Public Library, and landscape architect OLIN Studios, which designed Canal Park near the Nationals ballpark and will renovate Franklin Park downtown. Together, they created a design that can do what the bridge park's organizers wanted: reconnect neighborhoods on both sides of the Anacostia to the river and each other.


A diagram of the different activities on the bridge.

In the best case scenario, someone walking along the Anacostia up from Poplar Point in summer 2018 would see the riverbanks rise gently for hundreds of feet, crossing to form an X shape. At first glance, it's simple: almost like two logs falling across a stream, some kind of primitive bridge. But up close, the renderings and plans show a string of spaces that would appeal to people across the city.


A section showing how the park is laid out.

The design creates iconic spaces and helps reconnect Anacostia to the river

From a functional perspective, it's best to look at the design like it's an extension of the ground on either bank. A long bar from Capitol Hill interlocks with a loop from Anacostia, making the bridge feel like an outgrowth of the banks and not a discrete transitional space. Multiple programs fill in the in between space. Some are shady and enclosed, like the amphitheater, while others are open and dramatic, like the overlook.


An outdoor theatre would have multiple levels.

The designers also chose to place the anchor elements, like the environmental education center, the cafe, and the playground, closer to the Historic Anacostia side. One reason is to encourage more people to visit the east bank, which I-295 cuts off from the river.

Anacostia also needs those activities more, especially the play space. They will serve a basic need while also generating the traffic that makes parks feel safe. What's better is that the environmental education center has eyes on both the main deck and the secluded space below it.


A detailed section drawing. Click to enlarge.

As the section above shows, the cafe also sits between levels, so someone sitting on the upper lawn can see through the restaurant and onto the environmental center's boat launch below.


Views extend across different levels, improving visibility and making the site feel safer.

The other elements, like the dramatic overlook, the main plaza, and the amphitheater sit closer to the Navy Yard. These are iconic attractions, for tourists, local bikers passing by, and I suspect even weddings, like at New York's equally dramatic Fort Tryon Park.

Finally, the ecological design is appropriately balanced. Along the main paths are spaces that people can play on. They're visible, but not in the way are the hands-off landscapes, like wetlands, oyster banks, and swales to filter rainwater. OLIN found a way to integrate ecological urbanism into the project without compromising the people habitat. They even proposed a wooded berm to block out traffic noise from I-295.


Section drawing showing the design's ecological features.

The project reflects the sophistication of the designers, who have shown that they can stand up to criticism and push their designs as the demands of money, politics and gravity weigh down their vision.

Public input can help this bridge soar

How will the organizers and their team face down the remaining challenges? Some are design issues, as competition entries are never quite figured out, and designers often fill renderings with aspirational eye candy. I think the public can help in this case by identifying those problems constructively and allowing the design team the room to solve them.

Scott Kratz, the man behind the bridge, has done that. He deserves commendation for the long-running and effective public outreach that formed the foundation of the competition designs. Respecting residents as experts in their own lives and the designers as experts in their fields, he has arrived at something that could work well. More of that is ideal.


Trees could buffer the park from I-295.

The bigger challenge is getting people there. This bridge is in the middle of the river, with the Navy Yard at one end and a highway interchange at the other before reaching nearby neighborhoods. That means there's little of the incidental activity that helps public spaces like this to be busy and safe.

New infill development could help, like the planned Maritime Plaza along the river on the north side. So would the redevelopment of Poplar Point, if it ever happens. Even without those, adding more destination activities to the nearby riverbanks, as in the WRT/NEXT design for the bridge, might have the same effect.

If the city builds the streetcar across the river, including a stop at the bridge park, it would open easy access to the park up beyond the immediate neighbors.

But a growing appeal around the park could cause a rise in rents and influx of expensive retail, displacing the groups the bridge was meant to serve. The four or so years before the park opens could be spent developing strategies to add housing diversity without disrupting lives and preventing the poor from enjoying the benefits of good urbanism and great architecture. The bridge has been an excellent catalyst for design, perhaps it can also be a great catalyst for social policy.

In Washington, some people criticize proposed buildings or developments to kill them and preserve the status quo. Meanwhile, designers criticize something with the hope of refining it. What can we refine with the 11th Street Bridge Park? Now is the time to start talking.

David Catania on Metro, economic development, streetcars, affordable housing, bike lanes, building heights, and more

We chatted with David Catania, DC councilmember at large and an independent candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia, today at noon. Here is a transcript of the discussion.


Photo by tedeytan on Flickr.

David Alpert: Welcome to our chat. I'm here in Catania HQ with Aimee Custis, Ashley Robbins, Jonathan Neeley, and Abigail Zenner. We'll get started in just a minute.

I am going to be asking questions verbally to Mr. Catania, who will answer verbally. Aimee, Ashley, and Jonathan will be taking turns typing in his words.

That means that if there are any typos, they are our fault and not Mr. Catania's. We suggested this arrangement to ensure we can get a lot of questions and answers in (it has nothing to do with Mr. Catania's typing ability).

I want to ask as many of your questions as possible. Please tweet them with hashtag #ggwchat and I will be able to post them directly to the chat.

David Alpert: Okay, David Catania is here with us. Let's get started!

Welcome to the chat, Councilmember Catania!

David Catania: Thank you very much! I'm really excited to participate. I've been looking forward to this conversation for a long time and I'm eager to get started!

David Alpert: To get started: What makes you the best candidate for mayor of DC?

David Catania: The District of Columbia has had reversals the last twenty years. When I first joined the council, we had a pretty bad budget shortfall. We've worked very had to reverse this trajectory. I have the vision and the values to make that happen.

It's a combination of record and experience coupled with the items I helped champion in my 17 years, and in our vision statement, which you can find at cataniaplatform.com, people can see the specifics of what I'd like to do to secure our city's future.

David Alpert: What initiatives from other cities do you admire and which you would like to bring to DC?

David Catania: During this campaign I've been talking a lot about what Mayor Bloomberg has done at Roosevelt Island. Specifically, the partnership between the city and Cornell and Israel Institute of Technology. It's a very ambitious $2 billion program to double the number of engineers and people with Ph.Ds in engineering in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg understood that financial services is a sector of the economy that's shrinking in New York. Doubling the number of engineers and individuals with PhDs in engineering is critical.

In 2000, I authored the New Economy Transformation Act, which included a host of incentives to bring tech companies to the city. We've been successful under this program. There were financial incentives, and other incentives. We've brought over 200 companies to the city. These companies, in order to grow, have to have a work force that permits them to grow, and that means more engineers than we are producing here locally.

Engineers are incredible job multipliers. Every engineer produces 4.2 jobs. In our city, our two largest industries are government and legal services, and these are not growing industries, in fact they're shrinking. The next mayor has to be consumed with how we'll continue to grow our economy, and I propose an increase in new economy companies.

I'd like to see this growth located on the St. Elizabeth's campus, the same campus as Homeland Security. Successful innovation is often the function of a partnership between government, education, and private sector. I see the St. Elizabeth's campus as a focal point for opportunity in our city.

David Alpert: OK, let's talk about transit for a bit. Andrew asked: In the several years that I've been a resident of DC, late-night, off-peak, and weekend Metrorail service has slowed to a trickle, while WMATA's much-touted bus investments have had little tangible benefit for riders. What will you do to encourage Metro to provide services that are more useful to DC residents?

David Catania: Many of the issues surrounding late night service with Metro is a function of our underinvestment in maintenance in the past. The system is really under a great deal of duress because of that lack of investment, which means it's often harder for us to keep the system in service.

Some of the ideas that are proposed under the Metro Momentum plan, which include additional pocket tracks and investments, will help with reliability but over the next 25 years will cost quite a bit.

I think there's quite a lot we can do about late night service for public transit across the city. It means greater investments in dedicated bus lanes and extended hours, and it means increasing our maintenance budget for Metro through a dedicated funding service so we're not constantly putting band-aids on a system with a legacy of underinvestment.

David Alpert: You mentioned the streetcar program. Earlier this year, the DC Council diverted much of the funding for the streetcar program to tax cuts. What's your plan to fund the streetcar program, and how soon would you enact it once mayor?

David Catania: I'd like to first explain, I have a long history with the streetcars. It started with Dan Tangherlini in 2002 who was with WMATA and I was a WMATA alternate.

In 2004, the very first streetcar proposed was the Anacostia light rail program. It was budgeted, and shepherded it through not only the Council but also WMATA, and I was there ten years ago for the groundbreaking.

The complications associated with the right of way meant that line was moved to H Street. I think it's important to explain this. When it came time to purchase the first three cars, I was instrumental in identifying the first ten million dollars for the first three cars.

In 2004, Dan Tangherlini and I took a leap of faith and bought the cars before we had a system. I believe that created a momentum for the light rail system that has seen it to fruition.

The council during the six-year capital improvement plan did reduce the nine million dollar investment not by half, but significantly. I'm still dedicated to the entire North-South and East-West lines. It may take a few more years to accomplish than proposed but we have to be flexible with it.

When I'm elected mayor, I'm going to look at ways at capturing increased property values and increased assessments of light rail, so the system can be funded by the virtue of increased property taxes created by the increase in property investment.

At the end of the day, its not about whether we'll build East-West versus North-South. I plan to be a part of completing that commitment.

David Alpert: Years ago, you argued that it was important for the streetcar to start in Ward 8. But a lot of people in Ward 8, including the councilmember, don't support it. Do you still think we should build the streetcar there, and if you're mayor, how will you work with Ward 8 to build support for it?

David Catania: I don't think there was ever any accurate polling to suggest a lot of people don't support it. To the contrary, I think there's a lot of evidence people do support it. And that Ward 8 is one of the most transit-dependent communities in the city.

I stand by that view and I hope we can reengage CSX regarding the right-of-way along the Anacostia. National Harbor is essentially the downtown of Prince George's County and I'd like to be able to connect people to opportunities there.

David Catania: Absolutely. I think we're going to learn some lessons the hard way with how we're approaching light rail on H Street. I think it would have been smarter for us to have designated rights of way down the street rather than on the sides. I think that's going to create safety traffic, transportation, and delivery issues.

We're expecting 170,000 additional residents over the next 25 years. We have to find a way to efficiently and safely and economically transport individuals around the city. I'm a fan of dedicated bus service as light rail, but when I look at he capacity of light rail cars than buses, light rail has double the capacity of buses. There's a great case for efficiency in dedicated lanes for light rail and for the expansion of the system.

David Catania: This is a more than $20 billion expenditure over the next 25 years. I've been very vocal about themed to have a designated funding source for wmata. For all jurisdictions that participate, I think there's great value in certainty. For some that might mean an additional funding source. Before we talk about funding Momentum, we have to talk about our existing capital improvement plans.

I'm sure your readers appreciate that, for instance, when were purchasing the additional cars to fund a eight car service, because we don't have a dedicated funding source, Metro isn't always able to exercise options on procurements. We have to start from scratch.

That's an incredibly inefficient way to purchase cars or other materials for our system. So a dedicated funding source will rationalize our funding with respect to our existing needs. Going forward, I'd hope that dedicated source would lead to additional resources.

I for one would lead that as the mayor of the District of Columbia. Metro is the tie that binds us, and if we don't take care of it, it will lead to our undoing. I'd look at gas tax, I'd look at regional sales tax, and I'd look at capturing value from the properties that are immediately adjacent to Metro stations that bear the greatest benefit from proximity to Metro.

David Alpert: Let's move to housing and development for a bit.

David Catania: The city doesn't have a housing plan, period. And I appreciate the often narrow self interest, but as a mayor, you have to house the whole family. That means there's a focus on individuals below 30% AMIwe need to have a focus on them. We have individuals who require partial assistance, and then we have those who make very good livings but there's still a lack of affordability.

We need to look at a couple of things, one, the city owned land that's in our possession and how we make that available. We look at easing and improving the regulatory ability to get licenses issued and plans approved and that means sitting down with planners and developers about what they're facing. I think we have quite a lot of unallocated federal resources$110 million for affordable housing that went unused.

Simply put, we lack a plan, and it's one of our biggest challenges. We used to have a really robust HPAP program, a housing purchasing plan. In 2008, we spent nearly $30 million helping individuals purchase their own homes, with up to $70,000 per family in down payment and closing cost assistance.

So, NYC provides a great example on how to provide mixed income housing opportunities. They merge federal resources with local support. In New York, they take their tax-exempt bonds, which we presently don't use all of ours, and we marry them with 30-year exemptions on property tax in exchange for 20% of the units in the building being available to low-income individuals.

So it gives you the opportunity to have mixed income in what are otherwise, higher income buildings. The city's been able to produce thousands of units that aren't strictly market based.

David Alpert: You mentioned city-owned land. The council is now debating whether to require a certain amount of affordable housing in any project built on public land. What do you think about such a requirement?

David Catania: On its face, it's very compelling. But having hard and fast percentages can play mischief in advancing housing generally. For example, when we try to do mixed-income development. It's illustrated in our New Communities projects. We try to create mixed income in communities where there's no demand for middle income, so the entire project stalls because we have these artificial expectations.

In theory, I absolutely support the requirement of low and moderate incomes in housing developments. But we have to look project by project and at the end of the day the financials have to work.

One of the things I want to focus on is that we spend a lot of time talking about new construction and at the same time we're ignoring the avalanche we're facing in the world of preserving existing affordable housing. There are more than 50 buildings under affordability covenants that in the next give years will be released from those covenants.

These are buildings that were financed with federal low income housing tax credits and federal tax-exempt bonds. These buildings lose any limitations on increases in rent, we're facing an avalanche of thousands of units that will lose affordability in the next five years.

I appreciate that we should be focused on building new units but as much attention must be focused on preserving existing units. Up until now, I've seen no plan of this. Recently, I was able to intervene and help the residents of Museum Square keep their apartments, but we need a global solution to these affordability challenges.

David Alpert: AC asks: You've talked a little about existing supply, but a lot of affordable housing advocates in the city are curious to hear you on record about Inclusionary Zoning. Can you tell us where you stand on that program?

David Catania: I supported inclusionary zoning in 2006. Inclusionary zoning is a fantastic principle, but it has yet to produce any meaningful supply. In the first five, six, seven years of inclusionary zoning, fewer than 100 units were created, and I think the real number is closer to 50.

We need to understand more deeply why inclusionary zoning is not producing the supply that we were anticipating and hoping for. So often we can have really terrific ideas that fail in execution, and we need to circle back and examine why that is. Sometimes you need mid-stream corrections.

Utilize a provision in the bill that I authored in 2002, which gives the District the opportunity to purchase when Section 8s are coming out. The reality is that individuals who are in building-based Section 8 apartments are not able to purchase the units, so giving those tenants the opportunity to purchase is to give them something that isn't real. That's what lead me to the district opportunity to purchase so that we can, as a city, manage these purchases. I think it's an indispensable tool and one that's never been used in maintaining affordability.

David Catania: To be clear, in the old city, I don't favor any change to the height requirement. In the rest of the city, I think these issues should be decided by our local legislature and local mayor with input from the population.

I personally am not keen on the notion of raising the height limit in our city. I believe there's plenty of infill capacity in our city to meet needs, but you can never say never. At this point, I don't support it though.

David Alpert: Especially when the height limit restricts the amount of housing near existing transit.

David Catania: One of the things that we can do is expand the quantity of transit. Light rail provides that opportunity. I agree if we were holding steady in our current infrastructure, it does really push greater density around those locations. But if through dedicated bus lanes and an expansion of light rain, we could extend the transit capacity throughout the city, it diminishes the need for intense density around a few locations.

David Catania: I think the community has done an excellent job in putting together this 25-year plan. One of our biggest challenges, if I'm not mistaken, that it's a nearly $50 billion investment and only half the funds have been procured, so we're going to have to get creative in terms of financing.

Financing aside, I think there are a lot of exciting components. The two-year plan has some elements I'd like to move forward with immediately, from Klingle to Anacostia trails. Sidewalk safety and dedicated bus lanes are important. The continued focus on pedestrian safety is important. There are many elements in the two-year plan and the 25-year plan that are exciting.

The challenge is for us to make the investments today and begin planning today for that transition. I'm eager to get started with this execution. We're going to have 140,000 new residents over the next quarter century.

In terms of an organizing philosophy around transportation, there are issues with ethics, engineering, education, and enforcement. Each of them plays a role in building a balanced, community-centric transportation system.

David Alpert: You mentioned a few elements like buses and sidewalks but we haven't gotten to talk yet about bicycles. ChrisRHamilton asked in the last chat: Progressive mayors across the country have started to compete for businesses and the best and the brightest young folks by making their cities the most bike-friendly. While the District is making good incremental progress on becoming more bike-friendly, largely following the initiatives started under Mayor Fenty, do you envision ramping up the pace of change in installing protected bike lanes, bike parking and bikeshare so that it is more transformative or do you think the current pace of change is good enough?

David Catania: There are many core elements of moveDC that I embrace, including 200 miles of bike lanes. When I go back to the issues of education and enforcement, I think we've done a really terrible job of educating the public on what bikes contribute to our community. Obviously, there are huge environmental benefits from cycling. It also helps dramatically reduce demand for existing roadwayswe're up to 14,000 cyclists.

The third area which is rarely talked about is how cycling contributes to the economic development of our city. Many people bike out of economic necessity. But for othersthe cost of operating an average medium size sedan in our country is between $8,000 and 9,000 per year. If we can convince more of our residents to forgo that investment and instead use bicycles, they'll spend those thousands of dollars here locally in housing, retail and supporting our local economy. This may be overly simplistic but if you look at 14k cyclists forgoing that 8k a year, there's over $100 million in economic opportunity for our city when we're not buying cars and fighting wars overseas but instead investing in our communities. It's a very powerful economic development tool and we've never communicated that importance to the population.

Long story short, count me in. There are very important tools for our city. The better opportunity is to educate our city as to where they're located.

We can get really into the weeds about how some of our streets are better for bike lanes than others. Our one-way streets that are 30-feet wide provide great opportunities for one lane of traffic, one lane of bikes, and one for parked cars.

I prefer to look at things where we can have win-win instead of zero sum. The bike plan isn't taking anything away from drivers but is in fact is a traffic calming device.

David Alpert: You talked about a win-win and not zero sum, but bike planners have concluded that not everywhere is it possible to build a bike lane without taking away any parking or any travel lane. How do you balance the need to get community input with the fact that at some point, not everyone is going to be on board with everything?

David Catania: It's really a challenge to make generalized answers to hypotheticals. I've made it a practice to cast a wide net and bring people together, and it doesn't mean everyone gets exactly what they want, but that there's a give and take and sometimes you lose in some items and lose in others. I know tough decisions have to be made. But you have to make them.

David Alpert: You've talked in your platform about Vision Zero, the idea that no loss of life or serious injury is acceptable within a given area's transportation system. How, specifically, would you start taking action on Vision Zero?

David Catania: Sweden has figured out how to reduce their deaths by more than 40% by a combination of engineering and values. I commend both the mayors of San Francisco and New York for executing elements of Vision Zero. I think education is an incredibly important element.

One of the things I like about the Swedish model is the emphasis on simple things. When you open the car door, you open it by using your right hand rather than your left. It actually physically forces a person to turn and get accustomed to looking for a cyclist. That's a simple example.

Through engineering roads that are safer, establishing consistent speed limits depending on the likelihood of pedestrian use, issues of concentration at the most dangerous intersections. The use of engineering and evidence and education to lower incidents. There are ways for us to take elements and execute it right away.

So creating an infrastructure that accommodates those with an underpinning of the value of human life is something I don't think we do here, and we should. Respect for human life and understanding human frailties.

It's looking at educating our population, at re-engaging a traffic enforcement division. The enforcement in our own city is a missing component as well as the underlying respect for human life. Educating pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers is critical. And having an enforcement mechanism.

David Alpert: And that's all the time we have. Thank you so much for joining us for the chat!

David Catania: I just really appreciate the five of you coming over and going through this trouble. And I appreciate people weighing in with their questions.

We're a growing, vibrant city. For that to continue, we have to pay attention to the fundamentals of not just transportation and housing, but also issues of crime, economic development education, and at the same time we have to be prepared for crises as they come whether they be Ebola or it be changing economics.

And I really appreciate everyone coming today and the opportunity to share with your readers.

David Alpert: Thank you so much to David Catania, to all of you who submitted questions on Twitter, to our super tweeter Abigail, and to our tireless and lightning-fast typists Aimee, Ashley, and Jonathan.

Please post your thoughts on Mr. Catania's statements in the comments on the post. And thank you all for joining us today!

Landover is not the place for the FBI

The owners of the Prince George's County land where Landover Mall used to sit are lobbying to locate the FBI headquarters there rather than near the Greenbelt or Franconia-Springfield Metro stations. But a site not easily accessible by Metro isn't the best location for the FBI.


Photo by Jonathan on Flickr.

While building the project in Landover might be cheaper to start, the long-term costs to local governments and regional workers, including added traffic and longer commutes, would be far, far higher.

Prince George's Metro stations are the least used in the system (averaging 4,716 daily boardings per station in 2012, compared with 8,478 systemwide). While other counties promoted walkable development around their stations to maximize their investment in Metro, most Prince George's stations remain isolated parking lots with little or nothing to attract activity and train rides.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

Intelsat building gets a greener, but not more urban front

The former headquarters of Intelsat, a space-age building on Connecticut Avenue near the Van Ness Metro, will get a new entrance. The change will soften a harsh corner, but it won't fully repair this non-urban building's relationship to the street.


the new proposed entry. Bottom: the plaza today. Image from VOA via NCPC.


The existing plaza. Image from Capital City, yeah! on Flickr.

The current entrance on Connecticut Avenue is set back far from the street and up a huge flight of steps. It's not ADA compliant, and it's a pretty bleak, bricked-over expanse. The building's new owner will remove the plaza and replace it with a garden, fountains, and a more visible entrance.

How this building came to be

The building, rebranded "4000 Connecticut Avenue," is a product of DC's unique relationship with the federal government. The State Department owns the land as part of the International Center, a campus meant for embassies and governmental buildings. It leased it to Intelsat when that was still an international treaty organization.

After Intelsat went private, Congress changed the law in 2008 to legalize Intelsat's lease. That opened the door for the 601 Companies to acquire the lease and reposition the building as an office building.


The existing site plan with pedestrian improvements. The main entrance is at the right. Image from VOA via NCPC.

Opened in phases between 1984 and 1988, the building is one of the more notable modernist buildings in DC. Its architect, John Andrews, was an influential Australian architect who made his name designing dramatic brutalist buildings in Canada.

By the time Intelsat ran a competition to design its headquarters in 1979, the two energy crises had put the focus on efficiency. Architects worried that the new expectations would smother exciting design under layers of insulation. And so Andrews' building won heaps of praise for delivering the large, energy efficient buildings corporations wanted without losing any of the expressive geometry he was known for.


Sectional diagram showing the ideal air flow. Image from the October 1985 Architecture Record.

One thing that earned Andrews particular praise is the way he repeated the same three or four elements, like the octagonal blocks, round towers, and courtyards, to create different effects. The main entrance on International Drive looks like a Battlestar Galactica set. The south entrance is a quiet corporate park. And the north entrance, at Van Ness and Connecticut, closest to the Metro and points downtown, echoes the monumental entries of neoclassical federal buildings and their brutalist successors.


Section through the main entrance, showing the steep climb.

What didn't work, and what will get better

Unfortunately, like most grand entries of the period, the entry comes across as stark and intimidating. So it makes sense that 601 Companies wants to make it more welcoming and visible as it becomes the main entrance of the building.

The changes, designed by VOA Associates, will also improve pedestrian circulation around the building, especially the green area along Connecticut which is apparently called "Squirrel Park."


The new entryway will get rid of a large decrepit plaza. Image from VOA via NCPC.

More openness of the park areas is great. Like a suburban office park, the grassy areas around Intelsat are unwalkable or underused. These changes will make them more into an asset to the community. To me, new entry area is definitely an improvement, aesthetically, making it much more inviting. There are more places to sit, the high-end granite and marble will be nice additions, and the front door details are more humane than Andrews originally planned.

But it still feels like a more ambitious alteration would be appropriate. The accessible entrance is still separate from the main one, and the renovation does not fix the fundamental error of the building, one that goes back to when the site was the secluded campus of the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST).

Now, the site supports an office building that is part of the city. Andrews's building has a lot of value architecturally, but its value to creating a distinctive place around a Metro station is equally important. The site deserves a bolder adaptive reuse, one that will fill in some of the unusable green space, correcting its outdated disconnection from the neighborhood, even as it preserves the existing building. A good adaptation would make the geometry of original building even more powerful.

But for now, this is okay.

Architects try to spruce up NoMA's underpasses

Projectors could shine interactive art or sign language shapes on the walls of NoMa's underpasses. Large sculptures made of LEDs could give visual interest to the ceilings and walls. Ten teams of architects envisioned ways (some dubious) to illuminate and enliven the tunnels where K, L, and M streets and Florida Avenue cross under the railroad tracks.


Image by Citelum US.

The NoMa Parks Foundation, which is affiliated with the local BID, is conducting a design competition for the underpasses. Now, these are dark and unexciting spaces; while they will still be underpasses, NoMa hope to make them more appealing ones.

If successful, they also could help knit together both sides of the railroad tracks by creating some concrete sense of place adjacent to the urban fabric on either side, instead of just a dead zone. Some of the architects seem to have devised interesting ways of doing that; others perhaps missed the mark.

K Street

K Street is one of the hardest. It has narrow sidewalks flanking four lanes of car traffic. Relatively few pedestrians cross here.

Some of the designers seem to have embraced the car-oriented nature of this underpass and don't really try to create a pleasant pedestrian space, while others think more broadly.


All photos from the NoMa BID created by the respective architect teams.

United Visual Artists proposes linear lines of light that visually extend the street grid through the underpass. It's simpleperhaps too simple.

Thurlow Small Architecture + NIO uses the many columns which hold up the bridge between the lanes of traffic to create a moving zoetrope effect. This seems like a terrible idea as it only works at high speed, making it clearly geared to the driver and not the pedestrian, but at the same time, would distract drivers who need to be watching the road.

Some cities including New York, San Francisco, Mexico City, and Kiev have put images like this in their subway tunnels (sometimes as ads). That seems like a much smarter location since riders aren't operating the train.

CINIMOD + Studio LDVC + TALL designed a series of arcs around each end of the underpass which gradually line up to form a geometric ovoid shape as you approach the underpass. This seems like it would work well at pedestrian scale and speed and give more of a sense of the underpass being something to go to instead of merely through.

L Street

In contrast to K Street, L Street has very wide sidewalks but just two lanes of traffic. This creates far more opportunities to do something with this space. This also is the underpass with the most submissions (five).

A rendering from the NoMa Public Realm Plan showed the area packed with good-looking stock photo people like a rave is going on or something. In reality, this will still basically be a sidewalk between places, but the teams tried to make it a sidewalk you want to go to.

Narduli Studio devised a clever idea: a series of cameras that take photographs of the pedestrians and cyclists walking by, then project silhouettes of them on the wall that gradually fade over time. This would create a continuity between who is here now and who was here before, populating the underpass with the people from the past. When trains rumble overhead, the light pattern will add waves to represent sound.

Future Cities Lab (top above) and Mik Young Kim both created variants on the "make something artistic out of LEDs." Future Cities designed a weaving truss while MYK shaped them into a tree that will change color. The tree idea could give some natural feel to a place that is very utilitarian.

Thurlow Small Architecture + NIO, the people who also suggested the zoetrope, suggest suspending rods overhead that will sway back and forth to make it look like it's raining. I fear making people feel like they're out in the elements in bad weather is not a good way to make an underpass a welcoming space.

Lancaster + Matthew Schreiber's idea is to turn a wide sidewalk into what's effectively a much narrower one by building a big wooden structure with vertical poles that make a gentle arc. It's visually interesting, but makes both the center and side sections vary in width, constraining pedestrian and bicycle flow.

M Street

All three of designs for M Street are based on LED light strips.

Lancaster + Matthew Schreiber have another of their space-eating wooden structures.

Synthesis + Architecture & Moritz Waldemeyer would suspend some long lines of webbing. This also seems to cut down significantly on the space available for walking.

Meanwhile, Mik Young Kim (which proposed the tree of light for L Street) suggests an undulating "energy field" along the ceiling and wall, with sections popping out to form benches.

This one looks interesting, so much so that their rendering shows all of the pedestrians gawking at the ceiling but getting in the way of others. Also, apparently people would take photos of models on bicycles inside the underpass.

Florida Avenue

Citelum US's proposal, called "Luminous Aether," does the most to link the underpasses to the concept of parkland (which is very scarce in NoMa and was part of the impetus for the competition). Projections on the walls would rotate between the concepts of air, water, earth, and fire, each interacting as people walk past.

The proposal by Dulio Passariello + Ray King would project six hands on each wall making the American Sign Language letters for F-L-O-R-I-D-A. A background projection would change color throughout the day as speakers play the music of Duke Ellington and the sounds of a Florida beach.

This, especially the hands, goes the furthest to relate to the actual surrounding community as Florida Avenue connects the Metro station to Gallaudet University. Unfortunately, the Gallaudet community has not been involved in the process thus far, so this might need changes to comply with guidelines about the light and color necessary for deaf persons to see each other sign in the underpass.

Which do you like?

Overall, the CINMOD light circles (K Street), Narduli persistent mural (L Street), Mik Young Kim energy field (M Street), and Passariello sign language mural (Florida Avenue) seem best. I also really like the Citelum "Luminous Aether" projections, and perhaps that could go on one of the other underpasses (like K Street, whose designs aren't the most exciting). It's also worth considering using the Mik Young Kim tree instead of the energy field for M Street if there is room.

It's a little disappointing that so many of the designs focused on LED light strips or projections. While it's perhaps natural that designs for underpasses would be about light, they also could do more to create actual places for people to go.

Update: Tony Goodman, ANC commissioner for the area, wrote in an email:

In general I think that the designs should be brighter and more cheerful, while avoiding new obstructions that block pedestrian and bicyclist flow. For L & M Streets there should be more opportunities for people to sit, linger talk and sign as M Street especially is an increasingly popular meeting place for people in the neighborhood.

This project is entirely within public space and paid for with public money, so it's essential that the community is more involved in the implementation than they have been in this RFP process so far.

What do you think?

See Metro's architectural types appear over time

Yesterday, I introduced you to Metro's eleven types of station architecture. Now, you can watch the designs as they appeared with the growth of Metro in this animated GIF.


Image by the author.

In 1976, Metro opened with just two architectural types, the Waffle for underground stations and Gull I for aboveground ones. Today, it's grown to eleven basic styles and six unique designs.

In some cases, expansion brought many stations of the same type, like the 1984 extension of the Red Line from Van Ness to Grosvenor which added four new Arch I stations. But in other cases, the types were somewhat mixed, such as the 1991 tunnel for the Yellow and later Green Line from Gallery Place to U Street.

To learn more about these styles, see the original post.

Metro has eleven types of station architecture. Learn them all with this one interactive map.

Metro is well known for its distinctive vaulted station ceilings, but not all stations are the same. There are eleven different basic architectural station designs in the Metro system. Let's see where they are.


Click the circular icons at the top to highlight the stations with that design.
Click anywhere on the map to return to the original view.

Waffle Arch I Arch II Twin Tube Gull I Gull II Alexandria Peak General Peak High Peak Tysons Peak Gambrel Unique

Note: For the purposes of this discussion, I'm using some of the station type names from the Washington page of NYCSubway.org. In other cases, I'm using my own term.

First, the underground stations.

Waffle

By far the most common station type is the "waffle" style vault envisioned by the CFA and Harry Weese. This station type is present at 32 stations, including most of the downtown stops. These vaults are characterized by the smaller rectangular coffers that line the walls, making them look somewhat like a waffle wrapped around the train room.

Most of these stations were constructed using the pour-in-place method, though Dupont Circle was constructed using precast panels.


U Street. All photos by the author.

The waffle design first appeared when the system opened in 1976. The final two waffle stations, Waterfront and Navy Yard, opened in 1991 when the Green Line started running.

Arch I

Following the waffle designs, Metro started using a different design with precast sections to save money. These stations, which NYCSubway.org and I call "Arch I," are somewhat similar to the waffle design, but instead of featuring several rows of narrow rectangular coffers, this design places just two coffers on each half of the vault.


Tenleytown

These stations only appear on the Red Line's western end. They first appeared in 1981 with the extension from Dupont Circle to Van Ness. The final time was three years later with the extension to Grosvenor.

Arch II

Similar to the Arch I stations along the Red Line, the "Arch II" stations were built using the precast method. These stations have three coffers on each half of the vault rather than just two.

There are only a few of these stations, mostly in the newest subway stations in the system. Strangely, Mount Vernon Square, which opened in 1991, has an Arch II design, despite opening at the same time as other waffle stations at Shaw and U Street.


Columbia Heights

Twin Tube

The final type of underground station is the twin tube design. This style is used at the super-deep Wheaton and Forest Glen stations, which were bored out of seperate tubes. Instead of one broad vault for a platform and both tracks, each track has its own smaller chamber, connected by a corridor near the center.


Forest Glen

The lower level of Fort Totten has a somewhat modified version of the twin tube style, even though it's not very deep. In fact, half the platform is open to the elements.

The stations at Wheaton and Forest Glen opened in 1990. The lower level of Fort Totten opened in 1993.

Aboveground stations

In addition to the four underground station styles, there are seven aboveground station types. They fall into three categories: gull wing, peaked, and gambrel. The curving gull canopy types contrast with the more angular peaked styles. The gambrel canopies are more evocative of the underground vaults than the aboveground canopies.

Gull I

The original aboveground station type is the "Gull I" design. The roof looks like a seagull in flight. The canopy is exposed concrete like the underground stations, and the curve of the arch is reminiscent of the underground vaults.


Rhode Island Avenue

This station type has been around since day one of Metro in 1976. This roof type was most common in the aboveground stations that opened in the late 1970s.

This type most recently appeared in 1993, when the lower level of Fort Totten opened. The canopy on the lower level matches the one on the upper level (opened in 1978), but it was not constructed until the Green Line was built. The last completely new station with this canopy type was Van Dorn Street, which opened in 1991.

Gull II

After Metro completed the 1968 Adopted Regional System with the extension to Branch Avenue in 2001, the agency decided to make a break with the brutalist style of the older stations. Three stations opened in 2004, all beyond the original 1968 vision for Metro.

There are notable differences in color, materials, and motif elements. But the design is similar enough to Gull I to look like a modernized version. So I refer to this type as "Gull II."


Largo

The other big change in direction is that these stations don't include the Vignelli-designed platform pylons that are Metro icons.

Alexandria Peak

Two of the stations that opened in 1983 included a different canopy, largely because the city of Alexandria was worried the gull style would clash with the architecture of Old Town. These "Alexandria Peak" stations appear at Braddock Road and King Street.


King Street

The Alexandria peak stations have a simple triangular roof with a transparent pointed skylight running the length of the platform. The canopy at King Street is broken so that it does not interrupt the viewshed of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.

General Peak

This style first appeared in 1980, when Addison Road opened. These stations feature a flat concrete roof that tapers toward the tracks and a glass peaked skylight running along the platform. The style is very different from the Gull I style, but the materials are similar. This style was fairly common in aboveground stations that opened in the 1980s and 1990s.


Greenbelt

High Peak

These stations are similar in style to the General Peak stations, and in fact, I haven't always counted them in separate categories. But what I'm calling the High Peak stations are quite different, especially in scale, with a canopy that towers above the platform.


Southern Avenue

While the General Peak stations have a roof not much higher than the top of trains, the High Peak stations have a roof that is higher than the mezzanine and never drops to a lower level. It makes for a dramatic space above the platform, though it offers less protection from the elements.

This canopy type became more common in the final few stations of the Adopted Regional System. It's only present at Franconia-Springfield and three of the stations that opened in 2001 with the extension to Branch Avenue.

Tysons Peak

The Silver Line stations also offer a break from earlier designs, as the 2004 stations did. These canopies are lighter and feel more modern than the brutalist Gull I, General Peak, and High Peak stations.

These canopies are similar to the General Peak type, with tapering toward the tracks and a transparent peak along the platform. But the materials harken back a little to the Alexandria Peak stops.


Spring Hill

Gambrel

The Gambrel style also appeared with the Silver Line's opening this summer. The high vaulted canopies at these stations also feature metallic, lighter materials.

The high, arching vault-like superstructure is a tribute to the original vaulted subway stations, though these are all above ground.

The "Gambrel" name comes from the gambrel roof, which is a two-sloped type of roof, common in some barns.


Tysons Corner

Unique

In addition to the eleven basic station types, six stations have unique designs that are not replicated anywhere else in the system. The unique designs are sometimes the result of geographic constraints but in other cases were the result of design decisions.


Huntington

Anacostia

Huntington and Anacostia are both unique stations due to geography. Between Eisenhower Avenue and Huntington, the Yellow Line runs on a viaduct over a broad valley (and the Beltway). But after crossing Huntington Avenue, the line intersects a steep hill, and the south end of the station is actually underground. Because it's elevated at one end and underground at the other, Metro used a unique design.

Anacostia is unique because the water table meant the station couldn't be very deep. So there wasn't enough room for a high vault above the tracks. Instead, the station has a bunch of smaller vaults running perpendicular to the tracks.


National Airport

Arlington Cemetery

National Airport opened in 1977 with a modified version of the Gull I design, necessary because the two platforms are very narrow. When the new airport terminal was constructed, a new northern entrance was created, and Metro built a full-length canopy over each platform. But the canopy extension didn't match the older roof or any other in the system.

Arlington Cemetery is a very simple station. The only section of the platform that is covered is the part directly below Memorial Avenue. Another interesting feature is that while the station is at ground level, the mezzanine is below the tracks, rather than above as is usually standard.


Prince George's Plaza

West Hyattsville

Prince George's Plaza is built in an open cut. Unusually, the parking garage sits atop the station and serves as the canopy. It's a quite unique design, and the hedges growing along the exposed walls west of the garage give a nice aesthetic.

West Hyattsville, which opened in 1993 along with Prince George's Plaza, is also unique. It's a pretty standard side platform station like Eisenhower Avenue and Cheverly. But Metro did not use the modified Gull I canopies as at those stations. I'm not sure why a different design was used here, but I think it looks fairly sleek for a brutalist station.

Events roundup: Streetcars, tech, tours, and more

If you're a streetcar fan, bike enthusiast, history buff, or social media nerd, heads up! There are terrific events coming up that you should check out. Do some family biking, speak up at a hearing, or have a drink and nerd out about social media.


Past Transportation Techies meetup. Photo by Ted Eytan.

All that and more is coming up our events calendar in the coming days, so read on and mark your calendar.

Overhead wires: Care about the K Street Transitway and DC Streetcar? Head over to Carnegie Library tonight at 6 pm to share your views with DDOT and FHWA. Some elements are contentious, especially whether to allow overhead wires anywhere along the route.

Tech for transit: The monthly Transportation Techies Meetup is also tonight, at 1501 Wilson Blvd. Hear about three local projects and their impact on local transportation: Conveyal and Arlington County's Transit Tech Initiative, Boontrek, and TransitIQ. Doors open at 6:00 with pizza and drinks, and the presentations start at 6:30.

DesignDC: The American Institute of Architects continues its DesignDC conference through Friday. The event is pricey, but there's a great student discount, and you can also register for just the closing plenary, which promises to be pretty cool: Stephen Chung, host of PBS's Cool Spaces: The Best of New Architecture is speaking.

PechaKucha: Friday night, get your (brief) talk on in Silver Spring at a PechaKucha Night (co-hosted by GGW's own Dan Reed). If you've never experienced it, a PechaKucha is a speaking event where each presenter has 20 slides, and 20 seconds per slide. You won't be bored! Plus, for just $5, snacks, beer, wine, and sodas are included.

Bring your little ones: Saturday at the Deanwood Rec Center, check out the second annual Let's Move! DC Children and Families Health Expo. Check out cooking demonstrations, fishing and dance lessons, music, games, a farmers market, clinics by the Street Basketball Association, and a lot more.

Ride with WABA: Curious about the growing trail network in Southeast DC? Saturday at 1:00 pm, join WABA to pedal through a tour of about 10 miles, looking at the Suitland Parkway, Oxon Cove Trail, and the planned-but-unbuilt South Capitol Street Trail.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at events@ggwash.org.

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