Washington Canal Park

Washington Canal Park

Reclaiming History with a Nationally Recognized Waterfront Park

It was 200 years ago when the first barges floated down the Washington City Canal — a historic transit system that was eventually replaced with modern methods. And yet, until a few years ago, if you wanted to explore this piece of our past, you would have discovered a paved parking lot in its place.

Well, that’s not the case anymore. To pay tribute to the canal and revive the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, we were brought on as part of the team to transform the space into a social destination. The goal? To build a high-end, three-acre park that could satisfy the community's diverse social needs — all with the added challenge of making it LEED Gold® certified, and open before the busy holiday season. Challenge accepted.

  • Project type
    Cultural + Community
  • Architect
    OLIN; STUDIOS Architecture
  • client
    Canal Park Development Association, C Smith
  • awards
    WBJ Deal of the Year, Community Impact; ENR Mid-Atlantic Best Project Award, Landscape, Hardscape, Urban Development; ENR Best of the Best National Project Award, Landscape, Hardscape, Urban Development; AGC of DC Washington Contractor Award, BIM, New Construction, Contractors over $400M

Building a Place to Call Home

This was not your average city park. Together with two nationally renowned design firms, OLIN and STUDIOS Architecture, we constructed an urban oasis along the Anacostia River — complete with an ice-skating rink; a two-story pavilion with a restaurant and ice-skate rental facility; an outdoor movie theater; interactive, programmable water fountains; rain gardens; and sculptures.

In a neighborhood previously known for its lack of amenities, Washington Canal Park brought something for everyone. The first new urban park in the District in over 20 years means that locals no longer have to travel across the city to enjoy public green space, outdoor movies, or concerts on the grass. Instead, this park brings the activity to them — invoking a spirit of connection that we are proud of.

Underground Challenges Earn Above-Ground Success

This project wasn’t always a walk in the park. Once we began excavation, we discovered that a total underground overhaul would be required. The existing utilities — storm, electrical, sanitary, streetlights, and gas — weren't positioned where expected, which required adjustments in the project's design, cost, and schedule. To resolve these issues, our team worked closely with a civil engineer and the water-sewer authority to determine the most cost-effective and time-sensitive strategy to move forward.

A key advantage that our team had was our award-winning virtual construction expertise. Since so much of this job required complicated underground work — from the interactive fountain systems, to the foundations for electrical car charging stations and geothermal wells – we modeled everything virtually to visualize and eliminate coordination challenges before building from the ground up. Adding to the complexity, we built this LEED Gold® certified park with impressive sustainable features, such as the reuse of storm water collected from neighboring DAVIS-constructed building, 200 I Street, to irrigate the site and make it self-sustaining.

Urban Renewal Meets National Praise

Ultimately, we transformed an underutilized parking lot into a vibrant community hot spot — which has made the neighborhood more desirable for developers and residents. While we knew the local community would enthusiastically embrace Washington Canal Park, we never expected the amount of regional and national recognition this project has received — and we’re proud to have been a part of this award-winning team.

Photos by Jim Tetro