A New Park Where There Was Once a Canal

Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard has undergone an unbelievable transformation in the past few years. What was once an isolated naval base and seedy area made up of industrial buildings and strip clubs has become home to a real neighborhood — a mixed-use mecca composed of a new headquarters for the U.S. Department of Transportation and a residential and commercial complex, which is also a LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND) Gold project. The new complex, which is called the Yards, features a great new riverfront park by M. Paul Friedberg and innovative green streets by AECOM. These amenities are near a super-sustainable boat pier by local D.C. landscape architecture firm Landscape Architecture Bureau (LAB). Now, the neighborhood, which has seen an influx of upwardly-mobile urbanites, has the new “Canal Park,” a model neighborhood park by landscape architecture firm OLIN and architecture firm STUDIOS that has transformed a three-block brownfield into a simple yet enchanting space.

In recent years, the space was a drain on the neighborhood, a parking lot for buses. But way back when — before it was paved over in the 1870s — the place was part of the historic Washington City Canal, which connected the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. According to OLIN, the new $20 million park is meant to evoke that historic waterway, with a “linear rain garden reminiscent of the canal, and three pavilions, which recall floating barges that were once common.”

Achieving the clear simplicity of the park clearly took a lot of effort. Lining the long, narrow park are lots of space for lounging on nice lawns, metal kinetic-feeling sculptures by David Hess, curved benches, and, in winter, an ice-skating rink.

The rink area is flanked by a cafe covered in publicly accessible green roof. The green roof features what must be a first: signs letting people know to curb their dogs around the sedum.

Underlying the space are some complex green infrastructure systems that help this place give back to the neighborhood on the environmental front. “Contaminated soils were replaced with a healthy growing medium and the native plant habitat was re-introduced.” A linear rain garden, which runs the length of the park, has signs saying “Water is reclaimed and recycled,” helping to explain its role to the visiting public. The rain gardens work together with deep tree pits and underground cisterns to collect, manage, and treat “almost all stormwater runoff on site” and from the neighboring blocks, some 1.5 million gallons of water each year. Treated, recycled water collected in the park is used to “satisfy up to 95 percent of the park’s water needs for fountains, irrigation, toilets and the ice skating path.”

Also, this truly-green park has 28 geothermal wells underground to provide a “highly-efficient energy supply for park utilities,” reducing park energy use by 37 percent. And the park is there to provide sustainable transport solutions for the broader neighborhood, too: it features the first electric vehicle charging stations this blogger has ever seen in person. Two stations with spaces for four cars (we think) can be accessed with a swipe of a credit card.

The wood structures in the park, which were designed by STUDIOS, feature “reclaimed and sustainably harvested wood from black locust trees.” Black Locust is a great alternative to unsustainable rainforest hardwoods like Ipe. The use of this wood in these pavilions is an excellent development really worth applauding.

Additional clear-plastic pavilions scattered at the edges of the park are opaque and both there and not there. They are apparently interactive “light cubes” that can display art and photography.

OLIN says programming will be ramped up to really maximize use of the new park. “The Canal Park Development Association, in partnership with the Capital Riverfront Business Improvement District, will host numerous events throughout the year, such as movies and concerts, holiday and seasonal festivals, farmers markets, art expositions, educational and environmental programming, storytelling events, and more.” The neighborhood clearly benefits.

Image credits: (1-3) OLIN, (4-5) Phil Stamper / ASLA, (6-7) OLIN

6 thoughts on “A New Park Where There Was Once a Canal

  1. secterenvironmentaldesign 12/04/2012 / 4:39 pm

    Functionality, an educational intent, attention to soils and sustainability, and art–this park truly has it all.

  2. designwatcher 12/05/2012 / 10:42 pm

    Although not cited in the article, the park was designed by former Olin partner David Rubin, now of Land Collective it seems. See http://www.land-collective.com. Great work!

    • Loving The Park 12/07/2012 / 12:28 pm

      No designers were mentioned by name. Let me guess, designwatcher is David Rubin?

      • designwatcher 12/10/2012 / 10:15 am

        Sorry, “Loving The Park”. Not an accurate assumption.

  3. Donald Shockey 12/10/2012 / 11:39 am

    Nice, but not remotely enough shade or the potential for it as the trees mature. Was a tree canopy study even done? The architecturally interesting lawn planes are not worth the cost of not enough shade. Parks like this should essentially be minature urban forests.

    • Neighborhood Resident 12/10/2012 / 3:37 pm

      Actually, part of the reason the area has been left open is because they will be showing movies on a large outdoor screen. Views end up getting impeded by large trees. Furthermore, with office/condo/hotel buildings in the blocks due west of the park, there will be plenty of shade provided. DC is know for its open spaces (national mall, tidal basin, haines point, etc) and this fits in nicely. If shade is what you want, Rock Creek Park has plenty of it.

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