Washington, DC

People and Products

On a hot June day in Washington Canal Park, swimsuited kids kicked a ball as they splashed around a shallow fountain. Close by, a mother hung a pi'ata from one of the park's looping metal sculptures by artist David Hess. If you looked north, you could see a solitary woman doing yoga on the grass. To the south, people in Washington Nationals caps drank iced tea and Bloody Marys at an outdoor caf'.

That might seem like a lot of activity for a 3-acre park, especially in a newly redeveloped neighborhood. But it's exactly what the designers had in mind. 'It's jam-packed,' says Steve Benz, the partner in charge of the project at the landscape architecture firm Olin. 'The intention was to provide a diversity of activities and places that would appeal to a wide range of people.'

Washington Canal Park opened late last year, one small piece of a new multibillion-dollar district that is emerging on the north bank of the Anacostia River in a once-neglected section of Washington, D.C. Just a couple of blocks to the south, closer to the water, sits the 5-year-old Nationals baseball stadium, the main catalyst for the emerging Capitol Riverfront area. Rising next to it is The Yards, a 5.5 million-square-foot mixed-use development with a waterfront park by M. Paul Friedberg and Partners.

A few blocks inland, the Canal Park site was a less obvious candidate for regeneration. It had been a canal in the 19th century, connecting the Anacostia to the Potomac River. By the 1870s it was being used as an open storm sewer, and in the first part of the 20th century'following reports of passersby falling in and drowning'it was paved over. The District of Columbia acquired the site in the 1940s and most recently used it as a parking lot for school buses.

In the early 2000s, plans coalesced for a new federal Department of Transportation headquarters near the site and the redevelopment of a large public housing complex into a mixed-income residential project. The city eyed the former canal as a centerpiece of the reborn neighborhood. It set up a public-private partnership with developer WC Smith to fund and oversee the project. 'We were brought in to create a park for a neighborhood that did not yet exist, using public open space as an economic driver,' says David Rubin, the project's original lead designer, who has since left Olin and is now a partner at Land Collective.

The design team responded by knitting a host of spaces and functions into a varied but cohesive landscape. The park stretches across three narrow blocks. The northern block is the most passive and 'serene,' says Benz, with a bosquet of trees leading to an expanse of grass. The middle block mixes pastoral spaces with active ones, like the fountain. Floating above the water is a small pavilion for performances.

The southernmost block is the busiest, with a 250-foot-long ice-skating loop that defaults to a gathering space in warmer seasons, and a 4,000-square-foot pavilion that houses the Park Tavern restaurant, restrooms, and a skate-rental booth. Working closely with Olin, architects from Studios Architecture designed the structure to suggest that the landscape is peeling up. At the base, a concrete plate forms a bench where people can lace their skates, and then it folds sharply to become a set of stairs up to the sedum-planted roof. Above the skate rental booth a white acrylic cube hovers, both a beacon and a projection screen for movies and art.

The building's small footprint and 360-degree visibility were tough constraints, says Brian Pilot of Studios, who led the pavilion design with David Burns. 'There's no back side, no alley side. The roof is an equally important elevation, with neighboring buildings looking down on it.'

Not visible are the below-grade systems that make Canal Park a working landscape. Large cisterns hold storm water that supplies the fountain, the irrigation system, the ice rink, and the toilets. Ample rain gardens on the eastern edge of the site filter runoff, and geothermal wells heat and cool the Tavern. A pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a voluntary set of guidelines and benchmarks for landscape design, the park treats 100 percent of the storm water that hits it'and the neighboring three developments.

Between the Canal Park's November opening and the end of February, almost 20,000 people used the skating rink, well beyond expectations. In the warmer weather, the park hosts a farmers' market, movie nights, and lunchtime concerts. Since it's not located on a major thoroughfare, it 'has to try a little bit harder to get noticed,' Pilot says'and, so far, it seems to be working just fine.

Amanda Kolson Hurley is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.


Owner: Canal Park Development Association

Landscape Architect:
150 South Independence Mall West, Suite 1123
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Personnel in landscape architect's firm who should receive special credit:
David Rubin, ASLA, Partner

Steve Benz, PE, LEED Fellow, Hon. ASLA, Partner

Sophie Robitaille, RLA, ASLA, Associate

Kathy Lynch, Project Manager

Shu-Fang Liu, RLA, LEED AP, Senior Landscape Architect

Rebecca Popowsky, RLA, LEED AP, Landscape Architect

David Witte, Landscape Designer

Architect: STUDIOS Architecture, dcpc

Vika Capitol, Inc. (Civil)
Nitsch Engineering (Stormwater – design phase only)
Joseph R. Loring & Associates (MEP)
Stantec/Bonestroo (Fountain and Ice Rink)
Richter & Associates (Dry Utilities)
SK&A Structural Engineers (Structural)
Soil Consultants (Geotechnical)

David Hess (Artist/Sculptor)
Lynch & Associates (Irrigation)
The Design Theorem (Signage)
Atelier Ten (Lighting Design)
Atelier Ten (Sustainability)
Davis Langdon/AECOMM (Cost Estimating)
ETM Associates, Inc. (Public Space Management)
Jeff Wilson (Specifications Writing)
Shen Milson & Wilke (Audio/Visual)

General Contractor:
James G. Davis Construction Corp.
12530 Parklawn Drive
Rockville, Maryland 20852

© OLIN / Sahar Coston-Hardy
© Bruce Damonte

© James G. Davis Construction Company

CAD system, project management, or other software used: AutoCAD



137,500 square feet



$16.5 million


Completion Date:

November 2012




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


Note PV1 refers to Pavilion 1 (south block), PV2 refers to Pavilion 2 (middle block) and PV3 refers to pavilion 3 (north block)

Structural system
PV1: post tensioned cast-in-place concrete, left exposed as exterior finish
PV1 cube and PV2: Steel frame
PV3: concrete masonry block

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project: concrete by Baker DC LLC.  Steel framing by Crystal Metalworks Inc.

Exterior cladding
Precast concrete: PV1: Custom board-form Precast concrete.  contractor: Caretti Inc.

Wood: PV1 penthouse, PV2, skate rental and ice resurfacer pavilion: Black locust
PV1 bleachers, PV2 stage: Ipe
PV1 interior: reclaimed unfinished Hemlock Bearwood

Masonry: PV1 interior finish: Verastone Ground Faced CMU.  PV3 and PV1: Ernest Maier EMCO Type I hollow CMU.  installed by Caretti, Inc

Metal Panels: PV1 and PV2: Americlad AC-1200 dry-joint aluminum composite panel system. Installed by Ridgeview Glass Inc.

Metal/glass curtain wall: PV1 storefront: YKK YWE 60T wall system with operable windows. Solarban 70XL glazing.  PV1 skylit vestibule: Custom assembly by Supersky.  All glazing installed by Ridgeview Glass, Inc.

Rainscreen: see metal panels

EIFS, ACM, or other: PV3: Sto StoCoat Acryl Plus exterior finish system/a

Moisture barrier: Aquafin-Integra Coat Waterproofing Slurry, Cetco Volclay Untraseal and Bentoseal Waterproofing, installed by Propsect Waterproofing. Also, see Roofing

Curtain wall: see Metal/Glass Curtain Wall

Other cladding unique to this project:
Acrylic Light Cubes:  PV1 light cube: 3Form Chroma renewable matte finish with vision plus projection film.   PV3: 3Form Chroma renewable matte finish. 
Fabricated and installed by 3Form

Guardrails: PV1, PV2: custom stainless steel cable rails by Crystal Metalworks Inc.

Built-up roofing : Henry Hot Rubberized Asphalt waterproofing,  installed by Prospect Waterproofing Company.

Elastomeric: PV3: Firestone Non-reinforced White EPDM membrane

Metal: continuous Stainless Steel coping by prospect waterproofing company.

Tile/shingles: see landscape pavers

Other: Greenroof: American Hydrotech Garden Roof extensive assembly.

Wood frame: see Metal/Glass Curtain Wall

Metal frame: see Metal/Glass Curtain Wall

Pavilion Lighting: PV1, PV3: (note, in dispute with MFR.) Lightwild Lumenpower Plus 2.1 Linear, cool white and RGB (RGB on PV1 only)
PV1, PV2: io Lighting luxrail LED handrail.  PV1 “underpass”: B-K Lighting ArtiStar MR16. PV2 exterior: Axis Lighting, Wet Beam.  

Other lighting controls: PV1 Lantern Video Projectors: Projection Design professional projector series F32 with custom outdoor enclosure w/ Thermal Edge compact air conditioners.
PV1 Integrated A/V/Lighting Controls: Custom by RCI Sound Systems: AMX touch panel interface, BIAMP Nexia PM DSP Presentation Mixer, Crown CT series 2-channel amp, various additional A/V components.

Energy management or building automation system: Critical Systems LLC custom HVAC Direct Digital Control System. Installed by Joshua Construction Inc.

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability: Natural cross ventilation in restaurant via high-low operable windows in YKK window wall.  Geothermal Heat Exchanger.