Over the past six months, representatives of NoMa have contemplated whether they should turn one of their neighborhood’s grimy underpasses into a silent movie theater. Or a giant optical illusion. Or a sign-language classroom.
Finally, they’ve settled on their first answer: a never-ending rainstorm.
NoMa, you see, has a problem with parks. Which is to say, it doesn’t really have any. The neighborhood was designed for offices, with little thought for the residential population that might someday inhabit it. But in recent years, the population has skyrocketed. When the Metro station opened in NoMa in 2004, and for several years after, the neighborhood had zero residences. Now there are more than 3,000 of them.
Courtesy of $50 million from the city, the NoMa Business Improvement District is trying to retrofit the neighborhood with attractive public spaces. Some of them will be traditional parks, like a small one north of New York Avenue NE and a plaza on L Street NE. But lacking spaces for a full slate of proper parks, the BID also has to be creative. So last year it launched a design competition to overhaul its four less-than-attractive underpasses below the railroad tracks. The BID is spending $2 million of its parks funding on the underpass transformation.
And the NoMa Parks Foundation has selected its first winner. The underpass on M Street NE will be redesigned by a team of Rhode Island-based Thurlow Small Architecture and the Dutch firm NIO, who pitched a concept called, simply, Rain.
The team actually proposed the idea for L Street NE, but the NoMa representatives opted to move it to M Street. The proposal is still in the conceptual design phase, but the idea is for LED lights inside hundreds of polycarbonate tubes to produce the effect of raining. As people move through the space, the rain will appear to move with them—-a similar concept to the Rain Room that drew large crowds to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2013.
“Our tunnel proposal for NoMa does what all good urban parks do: It offers a moment of openness, a space to breathe, and a place where thoughts can drift away,” the design team said in a statement.
The BID will hold a community meeting on April 27 to solicit public input into the project. Construction is expected to begin this fall.
Rendering, from the design team’s initial submission, courtesy of NoMa BID