Southwest Waterfront

Washington, District Of Columbia

Part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original plan for the Capitol, Washington, DC’s Southwest Waterfront has seen better days. At the beginning of the 20th century, it had a thriving commercial corridor and a multi-ethnic community. Urban renewal, that well-intended but destructive force, swept through the neighborhood in the 1950s and propelled it further into decline. Since the early 2000s, the Waterfront has seen some glimmers or revival, but they have been slow in coming.

Which brings us to today. A major undertaking is underway to redevelop the waterfront into a world-class destination, and Perkins Eastman has delivered an impressive plan to lead the way. This $2 billion waterfront development is to be certified LEED-ND Gold, and all buildings are planned to achieve a minimum LEED Silver. It comprises 27 land acres and 24 water acres, and will be completed in three phases. All necessary approvals are complete and the first phase encompasses 1.5 million square feet of development, including a program of office, retail, residential, hotel, and cultural land uses. The first phase focuses on activating water uses through the creation of a programmable pier and transient docking, and is set to begin construction in late spring of 2014.

Southwest Waterfront DC Jazz Alley
The proposal includes placemaking districts such as Jazz Alley. Source: EE&K a Perkins Eastman company.

“The proposed vertical scale at 6 stories plus and the interesting ground plan pedestrian porosity give one cause for optimism,” said juror Will Bruder. Some jurors, however, wished for more from the architecture. “The predictable elevations and renderings provided appear not to live up to the project potentials. This project needs to strive for the authenticity, livability and destination magnetism of contemporary Rotterdam, London or Melbourne.”

Southwest Waterfront DC main walkway
A depiction of the main walkway in the development. Source: EE&K a Perkins Eastman company.

The mix of uses will include 1,350 residential units, 675 hotel rooms, 900,000 square feet of Class-A office, 325,000 square feet of restaurant and retail and 5,000-person theater for live music and cultural events. The theater forms a cultural anchor along with an adjacent public theater, a municipal fish market, and church distributed on the site. The street-level experience has been choreographed to support the connection of many daily activities all within an accessible walking distance. The housing types and program has a range of options including over 145 units of affordable/ 100 units workforce housing.

One of the central lessons Perkins Eastman took away from creating the Southwest Waterfront plan was that it needed to be a place, not a project. They set about creating a series of varied places and a focus on activating the ground level, knowing that that approach would be critical to the vitality of the neighborhood.

Top photo: An aerial of the project. Source: EE&K a Perkins Eastman company.

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