New CityCenter Brings Green Public Space to Downtown D.C.

The 10-acre CityCenterDC, the largest redevelopment project currently underway in any downtown in an American city, looks like a people-centric design. Incorporating a generous new park and central plaza, along with green roofs and gardens set within commercial and residential buildings, the development may present an improved model for how to integrate sustainable design elements into a dense downtown area. The redevelopment of the old DC convention center site, which was most recently a big parking lot, is being led by Hines | Archstone. Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, a landscape architecture firm, is creating the site master plan with Foster + Partners, and also leading the development of the landscape architecture (working with DC-based Lee & Associates). Kathryn Gustafson, ASLA, said “in addition to creating a major new residential and retail hub, CityCenterDC will create a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with park and walkways.”

According to Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, the design of the new public spaces were guided by a few core ideas, namely restore the original D.C. street grid, limit car access, and create green public spaces set within mixed-use development. The team recognized the need to restore L’Enfant’s original plan and “reinstate I Street and 10th Street, thereby extending the urban fabric of the city;” integrate the development into the neighborhood by “incorporating small pedestrian alleyways with limited vehicular access”; and create an “inviting and exceptional destination featuring signature retail and dining establishments, engaging public spaces with seasonal programming, and a mix of housing opportunities.”

Using L’Enfant’s original street grid as a “framework” for a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, the development will include a new Northwest Park and central plaza. “The centerpiece of Northwest Park are a pair of fountains which frame the experience of entering the park with the sound of rushing water and a controlled perspective view of the new neighborhood and the entrance to central plaza. On either side of the fountains, two areas provide a variety of seating options under a generous canopy of trees.”

From Northwest Park, visitors will move into CityCenterDC’s central plaza, which the designers hope will serve as a “living room of the larger neighborhood, a public space where people can sit at cafes, meet friends and relax.” The plaza will include a  “dynamic composition of trees, clipped flowering hedges, seating and fountains designed to give the space a sense of longevity and permanence despite being surrounded by two stories of stores and restaurants.” Year-round events are also expected to draw people in.

In addition to the new public spaces, green roofs terraces and gardens will be incorporated into all the buildings of CityCenterDC, creating a “visual experience” for both residents and pedestrians. All those new green roofs may also help D.C. finally take the lead in the race to be the city with the most rooftop green space. In 2010, only Chicago was ahead of the district, adding half a million square feet to DC’s 400,000 square feet.

Learn more about CityCenterDC and see more images of the landscape designs.

Image credits: (1) CityCenter DC Site Master Plan / Neoscape, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, (2) CityCenter DC Park / Neoscape, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, (3) CityCenter DC Plaza / Neoscape, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, (4) CityCenter DC Green Roofs / Neoscape, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

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