An artist's rendering of possibilities for the planned 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C.

A Washington, D.C., nonprofit will launch a national design competition tomorrow to turn the remains of a highway bridge that spans the Anacostia River into a public park. The proposed 11th Street Bridge Park would connect the Washington Navy Yard, where there has been a recent explosion of growth and development, and the Anacostia neighborhood to the east. Built on top of piers left over from the bridge, it will cost about $25 million.

11th Street Bridge Park
The bridge as it looks today.

The competition is being organized by the group Building Bridges Across the River at THEARC, in collaboration with D.C.’s Office of Planning and Department of Transportation. Organizers expect interest to run high. The chance to build “D.C.’s High Line” over the water is hard to resist, and the project tackles the big issues that preoccupy designers right now: social equity, public health, and ecology. Scott Kratz, who is directing the plan, says that by early March he had already fielded inquiries from the Bjarke Ingels Group and James Corner Field Operations, among other leading firms.

The competition brief asks teams of architects and landscape architects to design a park that is 1,000 feet long and up to 120 feet wide, and to include an environmental-education center, performance and play spaces, urban agriculture, a restaurant, and launches for kayaks and canoes. Because the center channel of the Anacostia is navigable, the bridge park will have to allow 28 feet of clearance for boats in its middle, but it won’t need to rest flat—it could dip, swerve, or cantilever. “We’re a city of rivers, but nobody defines [Washington] as such,” Kratz notes. “Why shouldn’t we engage our waterfront, like Paris or San Antonio?”

Kratz, who recently left his job as a vice president of the National Building Museum to work on this initiative full-time, has held almost 200 community feedback meetings over the past three years. Surprisingly, he found that residents of impoverished Ward 8, which includes Anacostia, expressed the same wishes for the park as people on the booming Southwest waterfront and around Capitol Hill. “Every single programming idea we’re baking into the design competition, we’ve heard again and again from residents on both sides of the river,” says Kratz.

Perhaps even more surprising is the makeup of the jury. Kratz and veteran competition advisor Don Stastny have assembled a range of experts. The five-person panel includes Howard Frumkin, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington; Toni Griffin, architecture professor and the director of the J. Max Bond Center at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York; landscape architect Carol Mayer-Reed; Michaele Pride, a professor of architecture at the University of New Mexico; and Harry G. Robinson III, dean emeritus of the School of Architecture and Design at Howard University.

Kratz has raised about $550,000 so far and hopes the design competition will spark excitement among donors. Pending an economic-impact analysis, he expects to ask the District government for half of the $35 million needed (the $25 million expected construction costs plus a $10 million endowment to help cover operations and maintenance). If all goes according to plan, Bridge Park will open in 2017.

To enter the competition, teams must submit their qualifications and a short essay on their design approach by April 22. Six to eight teams will be selected for Stage 2, and each will bring on a structural engineer and a lighting designer before four teams are chosen to go on to Stage 3. The winning team will be chosen in October.