Washington Canal Park
Designed by Philadelphia-based Olin, the three-acre park features a skating loop, interactive fountains, seating areas, and open spaces that will be programmed with public events such as movie screenings and farmers markets. A linear rain garden along the edge of the park is the most visible indication of a site-wide rainwater collection system that collects water runoff, held in cisterns under the site, which is then treated and used for the fountains, rink ice, and irrigation.
- The park’s utilities are powered, in part, by 28 separate 330-foot deep geothermal wells, which are expected to reduce overall energy consumption by nearly 40 percent. The park is pursuing LEED Gold certification and served as a pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative.
Olin partnered with the Washington, D.C., office of Studios Architecture, which designed the permanent structures onsite, including a pavilion with a stage in the center of the park, a storage pavilion to the north, and a 9,000-square-foot structure next to the ice rink at the southern end that houses a restaurant, skate rental, and culminates in an acrylic-panel-clad lantern volume that can be used to show movies, or be lit with preprogrammed LED light shows.
- PARK TAVERN/RESTAURANT CAFÉ: A large, light soaked Pavilion with outdoor café seating on the southern block adjacent to the ice-skating path will serve meals throughout the day. The Pavilion will be LEED Gold certified and will demonstrate innovative green building systems (see Sustainability section for more details).
- ICE SKATING: During the winter, an ice path will meander through the Park recalling frozen canals of northern Europe and perhaps the Washington Canal itself, as historical records suggest that ice-skating occurred on the Tiber Creek in winter during the 19th century. Visitors can rest in the Pavilion and sip hot chocolate while watching skaters pass by.
- WATER FEATURES: Canal Park will have two monumental water features/fountains. A large, interactive water fountain with programmable water jets embedded below the paving surface anchors the southern end of the Park. Children will be able to run through the fountain during the summer months, and when the fountain is turned off, the space it occupies can be used as a performance area or as a seasonal plants display during the winter months. In the middle block, a monumental fountain 20 feet wide and 135 feet long sits in the same linear path as the rain garden. The fountain will operate 365 days/year and at its southern end, the water will cascade down an inclined scrim surface. The middle block Pavilion hovers above this plane of cascading water.
- ART AND SCULPTURE: Artist, David Hess, has designed a series of interactive sculptural elements to be located on each of the Park’s three blocks. In addition, a large cube with translucent polycarbonate panels on the roof of the main Pavilion will become a medium for projection art and light displays.
- CHILD / FAMILY FEATURES: Canal Park will be a destination for the whole family with activities such as ice skating in winter, enjoying a meal at the café, jumping through the water fountains and playing with/on interactive sculpture in the Park’s flexible spaces with park-provided toys and games.
- LAWNS / FLEXIBLE PROGRAMMED SPACE: Flexible spaces throughout the park, including the large green on the north block will be used for a variety of programs / events. CPDA, in partnership with the Capital Riverfront Business Improvement District, will host numerous events and celebrations throughout the year including, movies, concerts, holiday and seasonal festivals, farmers markets, art expositions, games, educational and environmental programming, storytelling events, and much more. Check our events page for current information about events.
Washington Canal Park will be located on a narrow three-block site in southeast Washington, DC bounded by I Street, SE to the north; 2nd Place, SE to the east; M Street, SE to the south; and 2 nd Street, SE to the west. The relatively flat, two-acre park space is divided into three separate blocks by K Street, SE and L Street, SE. The site is owned by the federal government and is under the administrative jurisdiction of the District of Columbia for recreation purposes. Until recently the property was used as a parking area for school buses. To begin preparing the site for construction of the park, these vehicles were removed along with the asphalt that covered much of the site, the surrounding chain link fence, and the overgrown vegetation. The site is situated in the heart of an area of the city that is experiencing a major revitalization due in large part to the relocation of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) headquarters, located directly south across M Street, SE, and construction of the new baseball stadium. The land that surrounds the future park is mostly vacant with some development along its western border. However, plans already exist to develop the surrounding land with a mix of uses that will have a high percentage of residential.
The revised concept plan for Washington Canal Park will transform this three-block site into a vibrant community focal point that will provide a much needed recreational amenity to this burgeoning mixed-use community. The design takes into consideration the present and future needs of those that live, work, and visit the surrounding neighborhood, while at the same time creatively incorporating elements of the site’s historical significance. Through a range of programming including a restaurant with outdoor seating, an interactive fountain, flexible open space, a seasonal ice rink, and a children’s play area, each block will possess its own unique identity that will accommodate a wide-range of activities. A linear rain garden, a reference to the former canal, will tie each of the three blocks together into one cohesive experience. Since the park will be constructed well in advance of the full build out of the surrounding community, a key design consideration was the need to create a destination that is flexible enough to accommodate the change that will unquestionably occur in the years to come. Therefore, although the spaces allocated throughout the park respond to specific program requirements defined by stakeholder input, they have been designed in a manner that allows them to remain flexible and able to accommodate change.
The Southern Block (Block One):
The southern block is the most “urban” of the three blocks and will be anchored by a significant, interactive water feature, large pavilion, and an ice skating rink in the winter. The water feature will be design in a manner that will allow the space it occupies to be used as a performance area when the fountain is turned off, or as a seasonal plant display in the winter months. The block will also contain a large, two-level pavilion that will serve as a café and observation area for people to relax and look out over the park. The pavilion is situated along the eastern side of the block at the terminus of a linear rain garden that runs along the entire eastern length of the park. Immediately west of the pavilion is a large, open air plaza that can be used for a wide-range of formal and informal activities. Movable tables and chairs can be placed in this area to provide seating for visitors and patrons of the café. In the summer months this area will be shaded by canopies pulled across the plaza. Immediately north of the plaza shade trees, plant beds, and a curvilinear pathway provide a less urban feel and begin the transition to the next block. During the winter months the fountain area, plaza, and northern pathway will be transformed into an ice skating rink with loops at the north and south ends of the block, inspired by the linear skating canal waterways found throughout the world. The ice skating rink will measure approximately 10,000 square feet in size with the plaza outside the pavilion serving as the main skating area.
The Middle Block (Block Two):
Block two transitions from the harder surfaces of the southern block into a slightly greener, parklike setting. One of the focal points of this block is a small pavilion that hovers above a plane of cascading water. The pavilion serves as a bridge from the sidewalk into the center of the park. Opposite the pavilion is a small panel of lawn that is surrounded on three sides by a broad bench where people can relax during their lunch break. The bench also provides a nice enclosure to allow this area to be used as a children’s play area. To the north, a larger, flexible lawn area provides space for informal gatherings, and special events such weekly farmers’ markets and small festivals.
The Northern Block (Block Three):
The northern block of the park can be considered the most pastoral given the large, open lawn panel that encompasses a sizable proportion of the block. A slight grade change from north to south makes this area perfect for the congregation of significant numbers of people to enjoy summer movies and concerts. Placing a stage or movie screen at the southern end of the block will allow the gently sloping lawn to act as an informal amphitheater; providing a place for people to stand or sit with unobstructed views. A third pavilion is proposed along the northern end of the linear rain garden. During the non-winter months, folding canvas chairs will be rented out of this pavilion. North of the lawn panel, the park transitions back to meet I Street, SE in a more urbane fashion with a bosque of trees set in stone enclosures.
The Linear Rain Garden:
The three blocks will be tied together by a rain garden running north/south along the park’s eastern edge. The garden will function as a stormwater collection basin by filtering and directing runoff from the park, and the roofs of future adjacent buildings, into an underground storage tank. This water will be used to fulfill the majority of the park’s irrigation demands. The types of plantings used within the garden will be representative of the ecological succession of plant communities. Plants will range from open water aquatic species in the southern block, edge condition species in the middle block, to forest species in the northern block. Finally, from a historical standpoint the garden is an acknowledgment of the former canal that once occupied the site. The long, linear shape of the garden references the canal’s form. The three pavilions that punctuate the garden are an extrusion of this form, and also represent abstractions of the boats and barges that once plied along Washington’s canal system.
The revised design concept for the Washington Canal Park reflects a successful integration of history, stakeholder programmatic needs, and environmentally sustainable practices. The overall design of the park is simplistic in its forms, features, and materials; which will ease long-term upkeep and maintenance costs. For example, unlike the previous design concept this proposal utilizes a simple, low-maintenance collection of paving materials such as precast concrete pavers and decomposed granite. Water features within the park also appear to be less complex than what was previously proposed; and the use of the linear rain garden to passively treat the park’s stormwater runoff will lower demand on the city’s infrastructure, and reduce the amount of water necessary for park irrigation. In addition, the lack of period specific amenities that may be shortlived, or cater to a particular user, will allow the park to remain timeless and adapt as the needs of the community change. The abundance of passive open space is a noteworthy feature of the park as it will provide flexible spaces that can accommodate a wide range of passive and active recreational activities. Use of the northern block for outdoor movies, concerts, and special events is an effective use of the site’s natural grade and will help establish this evolving community. Finally, the café will provide a new social gathering place for residents of the neighborhood, visitors to the park, and for those who work nearby.
Size and Design of Southern Block Pavilion:
The design of the southern block pavilion must be given careful consideration so as not to overwhelm the other elements of the park. Including a venue similar to what is found in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden will provide a strong focal point and prominent gathering space within the park. However, its design should not be so unique that it loses its relationship with the rest of the park and instead becomes a stand alone feature located on the edge of the park. The scale and massing of the pavilion should express the same simplicity that is characteristic of the overall design of the park, while its architectural detail can remain modern and similar to the other two pavilions. Furthermore, the inclusion of a second story observation post could create problems related to maintenance and public safety. Therefore, prior to advancing the idea of a second level, considerable thought should be given to the actual programming and monitoring of this space.
Maintenance of the site will be of utmost importance for the park to successfully become a true social nexus for residents of the community and those that work in the area. While the applicant should continue to use Low Impact Development strategies and environmentally sustainable materials, it is important that the use of these materials not compromise durability and longevity.
Definition of Southern Edge of Park:
As proposed, the southern edge of the park has no real definition and lacks a sense of entry. As the “urban” edge to the park this end could be embellished, and delineated more from the sidewalk and street right-of-way, in order to give visitors a sense of detachment from the traffic along M Street, SE and the commercial uses that exist along this corridor.
Pedestrian Safety and Accessibility:
Due to the different programmatic elements distributed throughout each of the three blocks, pedestrian safety while moving between blocks will require careful consideration and attention to detail. Staff is pleased to see that the revised concept plan maintains K and L Streets, SE for both pedestrian and vehicular travel. In order to ensure the safety of pedestrians when crossing these streets, the applicant should incorporate design features that naturally lead pedestrians to designated crosswalks and discourage mid-block crossings.
Consistency of Streetscape Design:
Ensuring that the streetscape along the edges of the park complements that which is currently being constructed in the surrounding area will integrate the park into the community, and help foster a safe environment by maintaining a streetscape that is familiar to residents and visitors. Close coordination with the District of Columbia Department of Transportation will be necessary to determine the correct type of light standards, sidewalk paving and pattern, street tree species, and other curbside furnishings. Consideration should be given to the park’s location, surrounding streets, and relevant standards such as the Anacostia Waterfront Transportation Architecture Design Standards.
Lighting for the site, including the pavilions, will have a major influence on the overall security of the site, and the success of its use during evening hour programming. Lighting should also be responsive to the adjacent residential community by avoiding excessive spillover into those areas.
Washington Canal Exhibit or Interpretive Signage:
The Washington Canal has a unique place in the history of the nation’s capital and its story provides a cultural education opportunity that should be taken advantage of whenever possible. The inclusion of the linear rain garden as a symbolic gesture to the former canal could perhaps be strengthen through the use of a minimal amount of interpretive signage either along the garden or within the large pavilion.
OLIN has led the design and construction of Canal Park in Washington, D.C. The park opens to the public on November 16, 2012. One of the first parks built as part of the District’s Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, Canal Park has been designed as a vibrant social gathering place and an economic catalyst for the surrounding neighborhood. The park is also a model of sustainable design, serving as a pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES™) and a candidate for LEED® Gold certification.
The three-block site was once a part of the historic Washington City Canal that connected the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. The canal was paved over in the 1870s and most recently served as a parking lot for school buses. Inspired by the canal’s heritage, Canal Park’s design evokes the history of the area with a linear rain garden reminiscent of the Washington Canal and three pavilions, designed by STUDIOS Architecture, which recall floating barges that were once common in the canal. The park will feature diverse amenities, including a café with outdoor seating, an interactive fountain, an ice skating path, play and performance areas, and sculptures by artist David Hess. Each block is given its own unique identity within a cohesive urban experience. 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.
In addition to being a vibrant social destination, Canal Park is a model for green infrastructure strategies. The former brownfield has been transformed into a landscape that restores vital ecosystem services that were lost when the site served as a parking lot. Contaminated soils were replaced with a healthy growing medium and the native plant habitat was re-introduced. Canal Park’s stormwater system includes a linear rain garden that spans the length of the park, Low Impact Design tree pits, and two underground cisterns which can collectively hold 80,000 gallons of water. The stormwater system captures, treats and stores almost all of the stormwater runoff generated by the park and neighboring city blocks, which averages to 1.5 million gallons of reused water each year. The treated water is used to satisfy up to 95 percent of the park’s water needs for fountains, irrigation, toilets and the ice skating path. Underneath the park, 28 geothermal wells provide a highly efficient energy supply for park utilities. The wells are forecasted to reduce Canal Park’s overall energy consumption by 37 percent.
Other sustainable features include the use of sustainably harvested wood for benches and architectural elements, electric car parking stations, ample bicycle racks and cross-streets designed to calm traffic speeds around the park and provide a safe pedestrian environment.
“Canal Park is a unique place that delivers an artful assembly of social, economic and environmental performance,” stated Steve Benz, OLIN Partner and Director of Green Infrastructure. “As a successful social space, people can enjoy the re-established natural systems previously lost to development while providing an economic stimulus for the surrounding area.”
Through a close collaboration with OLIN, STUDIOS Architecture designed three permanent pavilions. The largest pavilion, at 9,000-square-feet, will host a café and dining area, as well as utilities that support the park and ice skating path. The structure is made of reclaimed and sustainably harvested wood from black locust trees and is expected to earn LEED Gold certification. The roof also serves as a public plaza and features a large lantern with translucent acrylic panels which will become a medium for projection art and light displays. The pavilion’s sustainable features include geothermal heating and cooling, vegetated roof surfaces, natural ventilation, low-flush toilets and fixtures, energy/water monitoring dashboard systems, and utilization of the park’s stormwater treatment system for non-potable water. Made of similar materials and approximately 150-200-square feet each, a second pavilion appears to float above a linear fountain, while a third pavilion bookends the park at the north and provides storage for park amenities.
In 2009, STUDIOS was selected by renowned landscape architecture firm The Olin Studio and the Canal Park Development Association to design a café/pavilion and associated structures for Canal Park, the first new urban park in Washington in over 20 years and situated within blocks of DC’s vibrant Anacostia Waterfront. Initially engineered in 1810 by Benjamin Latrobe, the original Canal linked Tiber Creek with the historic Washington Navy Yard. The design team transformed an area of vacant lots and abandoned buildings into a sustainable, urban oasis for a new generation of Washingtonians.
Canal Park is intended to be a model of sustainability, exploring the creative, cutting edge of energy efficiency with the intent of being a “zero energy park.” The pavilion structures support this effort and are forward-thinking in their design, and as much a draw as the park itself. These small structures are “jewels in the crown” of the park, with features such as stormwater raingardens, geothermal systems, green roof and operable screen panels for ventilation. The program for the café includes a kitchen, restrooms, dining area indoors (with outdoor dining in the warmer months), and discrete storage.
The original plan for Washington by Pierre Charles L’Enfant in 1794 included a canal that connected the Potomac River with the Anacostia River. Upon completion in 1815, the Washington Canal proceeded east from the Potomac River along what is today Constitution Avenue. At Pennsylvania Avenue, the canal turned south along 3rd Street at the base of Capitol Hill. The canal then made its way along Washington Avenue and South Capitol Street before ultimately connecting to the Anacostia River. While the original intent of the canal was for the movement of commercial goods between the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, its use for such purposes was relatively short-lived due to the increasing use of the railroad to transport goods, and to difficulties maintaining the canal. Since Washington did not have a public sewer system at the time, the poorly maintained and underutilized canal ultimately became a place for residents to dump their garbage and sewage and quickly became a public nuisance and health hazard. In 1872, the head of the DC Board of Public Works, Alexander “Boss” Shepherd, filled in and paved over the canal as part of a large-scale public improvement project to upgrade Washington’s infrastructure. Today, little evidence remains of the original Washington Canal that ran along where Constitution Avenue now exists with the exception of the Lock Keeper’s house located at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW.
Although the current economic crisis has slowed development activity, the area where the proposed Washington Canal Park will be located is currently experiencing a major transformation. The relocation of the United States Department of Transportation headquarters, redevelopment of the Southeast Federal Center, and the construction of Nationals Park has spurred the development of several thousand residential dwelling units, several commercial office buildings, as well as retail and entertainment venues. The land that immediately surrounds the proposed park will eventually contain over 1,000 dwellings and well over a million square feet of commercial and retail space. Upon completion, this area is anticipated to become one of Washington’s most vibrant neighborhoods with Washington Canal Park serving as a social nexus and community gathering space.
- The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) reviewed the previous concept design for Washington Canal Park in November 2006. NCPC commented favorably on the overall design concept and commended the design team for their dedication to using Low Impact Development (LID) design strategies in order to minimize the effects of stormwater runoff. The Commission recommended that the design be simplified and that consideration be given to materials and elements that would be more durable and require less routine maintenance.
Project name: Washington Canal Park
Location: 1100 New Jersey Ave., SE Suite 1000, Washington DC 20003, United States
Type: Park, City Space
Site Area: 3 acres
Project Area: 137,500 sq.ft / 12,774 sqm
Pavilion Area: 5,000 sq.ft / 464 sqm
Project Year: 2006-2012
Opening Date: November 16, 2012
Cost: $42 million
- Development Cost: $12 million
- Construction Cost: $18 million
Completion Year: 2012
Visit Washington Canal Park’s website: here
Client / Owner / Developer: Canal Park Development Association
Landscape Architects: OLIN Studio – Public Ledger Building, Suite 1123, 150 South Independence Mall West, Philadelphia, PA 19106, United States
Pavilion Architects: STUDIOS Architecture – 1625 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036, United States
Stormwater Engineers: Nitsch Engineering
Civil Engineers: Vika Capitol, Inc.
Lighting Designer and Sustainability Energy Consultants: Atelier Ten
MEP engineers: Joseph R. Loring & Associates
Structural Engineers: SK&A Structural Engineers
Irrigation Designers: Lynch & Associates
Ice Path Designers & Fountain Engineers: Stantec Bonestroo Geotechnical Consultants
Soil Consultants: sculptor David Hess
Signage Designers: The Design Theorem
Audio Visual Consultants: Shen Milson & Wilke
Dry Utility Consultants: Richter & Associates
Cost Estimator: Davis Langdon, an AECOM Company.
General Contractor: James G. Davis Construction Corp.
Text Description: © Courtesy of OLIN Studio, STUDIOS Architecture, Washington Canal Park
Images: © OLIN Studio, Bruce Damonte, flickr-Caroline Angelo, Washington Canal Park, James G. Davis Construction Company
Materials & Suplier:
Custom Carpentry for Benches and Site Elements: Chiaramonte Construction Company
Wood for benches and bridges: Black Locust, supplied by Black Briar Farms
Custom Metal Fabrication: Crystal Metal Works
Site Stone Subcontractor: Janiero, Inc.
Granite: ‘Spring Green’ supplied by A Lacroix Granit
Hardscape/Site Concrete Subcontractor: GT Contracting
Unit paving manufacturer / supplier: Hanover Architectural Pavers
Fountain Subcontractor: The Waterworks, Inc.
Fountain Systems Supplier / manufacturer: The Fountain People
Ice Rink Subcontractor: Total Mechanical Services, Inc.
Site Lighting Subcontractor: Valid Electrical
Site Lighting Manufacturer: Hess America (Pedestrian Light poles and Bollards); BK Lighting (Catenary Lights)
Site Utilities and Stormwater Recirculation System Subcontractors: Joseph J. Magnolia, Inc.; Joshua Construction
Geothermal Wells Subcontractor: Allied Well Drilling