NoMa has a park problem. Initially designed as an office park with little thought given to pedestrian- and resident-friendly amenities like, say, grass, the neighborhood has seen a residential development boom and increased cachet from the growth of surrounding areas like Union Market and H Street NE. So it’s trying to make itself more livable, aided by $50 million in city funding to create parks there.
The trouble is, there isn’t that much space for them. So the NoMa Business Improvement District has had to get creative. It’s planning “The Meander,” a winding pedestrian alley between North Capitol Street and First Street NE that will feature retail spaces in the yet-to-be-constructed buildings alongside it. (“We had this kooky idea that this pedestrian corridor could be more than just a corridor,” says BID president Robin-Eve Jasper.) There are planned pocket parks in small spaces like one north of New York Avenue NE owned by Pepco, which the BID is trying to acquire and turn into a two-acre park with easy access from the Metropolitan Branch Trail. There’s the L Street Plaza, where adjacent landowners First Potomac Realty Trust and Perseus Realty have agreed to push back their planned buildings to allow for a public space with room for a farmers market and events.
And then there are the underpasses. Much of NoMa’s appeal comes from its proximity to Union Station. But the tracks emanating northward from the station also divide the neighborhood. Traversing them means navigating one of four puddly, unpleasant underpasses. And so the BID is using about $2 million of its parks funding to spruce up the underpasses, beginning with a design competition.
Today, the BID released the 13 finalist designs from 10 teams, chosen among 248 entries from 14 countries. A jury will select four of the designs to be installed in the underpasses, following a community meeting this Thursday to solicit public input.
The underpasses present different challenges. The K Street one is more than 400 feet long, with no lighting. Florida Avenue is largely vehicular, with little room for pedestrians, while L and M streets are more pedestrianized and L Street has a natural light shaft. But there are certain restrictions common to them all, imposed in part by the multiple stakeholders that control parts of the underpasses, from the District Department of Transportation (which runs the streets) to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (which controls the tracks above). For train safety, nothing can be drilled into the walls or welded there. There can be no painting on the rusticated stone walls.
The finalist designs therefore feature components that hang from the beams above or stand on the ground, and they’re heavy on lights and projections. Some, says Jasper, are over the allowable budget, but most appear feasible. Here they are. Nominate your favorites in the comments, or take the BID’s survey here.
United Visual Artists: a minimalist design with lights that change color and move from one end of the underpass to the other
Thurlow Small Architecture and NIO: projections onto the wall showing motion
Cinimod Studio, LDVC, and TALL: an optical illusion with light that appears circular
Narduli Studio: cameras record activity in the underpass and project the recordings onto the walls over the course of the day
Future Cities Lab: freestanding elements with LED lighting that responds to sound
Lancaster and Matthew Schreiber: two wood-and-metal tunnels within the tunnel
Mik Young Kim: sculptures with changing lights
Thurlow Small Architecture and NIO: LED lighting that mimics rain and responds to motion
Synthesis Design + Architecture and Moritz Waldemeyer: bike racks and a meandering path
Lancaster and Matthew Schreiber: a companion to the L Street design
Mik Young Kim: aluminum mesh that can be lit from above
Dulio Passariello and Ray King: projections that spell out “Florida” in American Sign Language
Citelum US: light projections representing air, fire, water, and earth
Images from the NoMa BID