Washington Canal Park Project Statement
From the outset, Canal Park was imagined to be a great space in a city of iconic spaces – one that would give individual identity to the Southeast District of Washington, D.C., but also be a draw to this newly revitalized community at a regional and national level. It needed to be a flexible and adaptable social space for a neighborhood whose residents were yet to be completely defined – a park that could offer amenities to residents of market-rate and worker housing equally, to allow people a place of their own,whether a single urban dweller seeking a quiet destination or a family of many members enjoying opportunities for recreation, Canal Park offers amenities to celebrate life together.
The three-black long park, once a depot of idling buses, is designed to be the leader in urban environmental strategies: stormwater management at a scale that works with the neighborhood, not just the park itself; energy efficiency in its programming and structures – 28 geo-thermal wells supply energy for park pavilions; soil remediation for this former brownfield; and an urban and urbane plant palette that recognizes both ecological sensitivity and that this park will be used 365-days a year. And the design needed to be deferential to the history of the site – a southern branch of the historic C&O Canal. Canal Park is a pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITE™) and is a candidate for LEED® Gold certification.
The design of Canal Park was led by David Rubin while partner at Olin, in collaboration with STUDIOS Architecture, whose park pavilions are inspired by the barges that used to float through the canal, and the creative engineering concepts of Nitsch Engineering. Together, the team and their consultants have created a park that is forward thinking in energy and resource management, design, and social purpose.
The middle block allows for the set-up of markets and fairs,depending upon the programming schedule, and caters to flexible play and observation – a small lawn area is surrounded on three sides by generously proportioned fixed seating made from sustainably harvested American Black Locust – allowing parents to watch their children in the comfort of a limited access space. The pavilion opposite is a storage unit for play items that can be distributed on the adjacent lawn, as well as container for fountain equipment. But the park-goers see it as an impromptu stage for puppet theater performances or other attractions.
The first block along M Street is the most urban, with an iconic open-joint fountain in which people can play, or when turned off, it can be transformed into a flexible program space. The café along Second Place houses a restaurant, with an accessible green roof which acts as a belvedere for the park, and the bleacher stairs which ascend to it, are focused on the fountain area, to allow people to gather and observe. In the winter months,these stairs allow people to watch their family and friends skate on the nation’s second linear ice skating rink, reminiscent of the tradition of skating on canals in the winter months. A Black Locust “ribbon bench” anchors the fountain and rink on the southeast corner.
The historic canal is also referenced in the rain garden which runs along the east side of the park. Here, Canal Park’s surface storm water is collected as a visible reminder of the working nature of the urban park. The rain garden spans the length of the Park and represents the succession of the Anacostia; the plant palette is a transect of nature, from the open- and edge-water areas of the southern block (sedges and cattails), to the woodland species of the north block (Redbuds and Sweetgums).
But the real beauty of Canal Park is in the extraordinary infrastructure of the park itself. Conceptualized by Nitsch Engineering, the visionary approach to stormwater management demonstrates a unique partnership between public and private entities to implement green infrastructure at a neighborhood scale. Rainwater is collected from the park pavilions and the site in two underground cisterns capable for holding 80,000 gallons for reuse within the park as irrigation, toilet flushing and the replenishment of the ice skating rink and the fountains, satisfying up to 95% of the park’s needs. Because the water demands of the park will exceed the amount of rainwater that can be collected on-site, the engineers proposed extending the system to the as-yet un-built parcels adjacent to the park – piping has been extended beyond the park property to create a neighborhood-scale stormwater management system – a model for future development across the country.
By capturing, cleansing, and reusing stormwater within the site, the project aims to not only reduce the amount of water this is withdrawn from City water infrastructure, but also reduce the amount of stormwater discharged to City drainage infrastructure. Nitsch estimates that once the adjacent building roof drains have been tied into the Canal Park stormwater collection system, the design could save approximately 1.5 million gallons of stormwater on average each year and minimize the region’s development impact on combined sewer overflows polluting the Anacostia River during large storm events.