Bridging the Gap: DC To Build First Elevated Park On 11th Street Bridge

Washington, DC’s 11th Street Bridge Park/Photo: OMA + OLIN Anacostia Crossing

There’s a new movement afoot that aims to turn old infrastructure into public parks, breathing new life into spaces that have long since been neglected or forgotten. Of these, the transformation of an old rail line into a 1.5 mile landscaped park on Manhattan’s West Side (the High Line) is perhaps the most well known. Now comes Washington, DC’s own variation on the theme: the 11th Street Bridge Park, the city’s first elevated park that will soon be floating above the Anacostia River.

The ambitious project plans to bridge the gap between adjacent communities who under normal circumstances rarely cross paths. Built atop the piers of the old 11th Street Bridge, the elevated park will serve as a link between Capitol Hill and the historic Anacostia neighborhoods east of the river. The new venue will offer a unique civic space for recreation, environmental education and public arts as well as a one-of-a-kind city garden designed to attract residents from all over the city.

Elevation view/Photo: OMA + OLIN Anacostia Crossing

Going With the Flow

Project Director Scott Kratz initially moved to DC to become the National Building Museum’s Vice President for Education. Soon after arriving, he arranged a meeting with Harriet Tregoning, DC’s then director of planning. During her tenure, Tregoning had played a major role in the reshaping of many DC neighborhoods. Kratz couldn’t know at the time that a simple question would end up turning into a life-changing proposition.

Specifically, Kratz asked Tregoning what was happening with all the construction on the 11th street bridges, one of which appeared to be abandoned. It was Tregoning who proposed using the old bridge to create a park that would ‘stitch’ disparate communities back together. Kratz subsequently became director of the project.

11th Street Bridge Park Project/Photo via Scott Kratz

Why the Anacostia river?

Washington, DC is not known as a ‘river city’, yet it nonetheless sits at the confluence of two rivers: the Potomac and the Anacostia. The 405-mile long Potomac River runs through West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC. The 8.4-mile Anacostia River cuts through Maryland and Washington, DC.

The old 11th Street Bridge, along with its upstream cousin, was built in the 1960s, but had long since outlived its function. Now replaced, it lies just downstream from a complex of three new freeway bridges. Although a series of bridges had spanned the river for centuries, the communities on either side of the river had remained divided, resulting in huge social and economic disparities between the two.

11th Street Bridge Project/Photo via Scott Kratz

Community input drove the design

Partly due to this imbalance, Kratz and his team decided to take an innovative approach to the project. Long before any architect or landscape designer was engaged, they went out into the community to ask the residents for permission.

In the first two years, Kratz estimates that he and his team attended over 200 community meetings. These communities in turn helped drive the programming for the park, inspiring such ideas as an outdoor amphitheater, environmental education center, kayak/canoe launches, intergenerational play space, urban agriculture and public art installations, all of which have since been incorporated into the design.

Exterior view/Photo: OLIN

In 2014, a design competition was launched, attracting 41 architectural, landscape and structural engineering firms from around the world. The design team Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and the landscape architecture firm OLIN (known for the National Sculpture Garden, among other large DC projects) were selected.

Site plan/Photo: OMA + OLIN

Said OMA designer Jason Long (of the winning design),

We wanted the bridge to have a civic importance. It holds its own against very monumental elements within D.C. – but at the same time it’s very approachable.

And the New York Times predicts the park will become a recreation area of national significance.

The Winning Design

Bound by the Washington Navy Yard on one side and the National Park Service’s Anacostia Park on the other, the Bridge Park will be adjacent to the new 11th Street local bridge and link to an existing network of river walk trails. Hopes are that it will become a regional destination and an iconic architectural symbol (the first one to be located in Anacostia) that will take its place among the famous monuments of the city.

Measuring roughly the size of three football fields, the park will include a series of native plantings schemes, rain gardens, water features, an Environmental Education Center (with floating docks for canoes and kayaks) and space for public art. Two large trusses will enclose a 280–person amphitheater.

Section of Bridge Park/Photo: OMA

Water will play a critical role in the project. A main waterfall, located outside the Environmental Education Center, will feature projections of historical images, (such as Frederick Douglas who often took walks there.) Various smaller waterfalls will aid in re-oxygenating the river. The project designers hope that in capturing storm water and creating moving features they can help bring back native mollusks such as brown mussel and brown clams, that will help restore the urban watershed.

Waterfall featuring iconic images/Photo: OMA

The Bridge Park will be high enough to see over the Navy Yard and even afford panoramic views of the Capitol and Washington Monument. A Hammock Grove will promote mental wellbeing, offering a place to stop and linger while taking in the amazing views of the city.

Observation platform/Photo: OMA and Luxigon

The 11th Street Bridge Park is a project of Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR) at THE ARC. THEARC is home to ten of Washington, DC’s best nonprofit agencies who work collaboratively under BBAR’s leadership to provide cultural arts, social services, health care, recreation and educational programs.

Pre-construction of the park began in December. Kratz estimates 1 ½ years for pre-construction and 1 ½ years for construction. Hopes are for the 11th Street Bridge Park to open sometime in 2019.

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