The Human Dimension

Written by Scott Kratz

One of the most unique aspects of the 11th Bridge Park is that it has been driven by the community since the project began. To date, the staff has held over 500 meetings with the community to help select the future Bridge Park programming activities and even help determine the winning design team. In fact, another two public meetings scheduled this Saturday. This aspect of the Bridge Park is definitely something to be proud of: we are building a bridge by the people, for the people. Sound familiar?

The beauty of the chosen design lies in the programed spaces that allow for a variety of uses, all without losing what the renowned architect and urban designer Jan Gehl would refer to as the “human dimension.”

We have learned a tremendous amount from site visits to similar parks and public spaces across the nation, and what is clear is that successful spaces play a role in engaging their users. In his book Cities for People, Gehl stresses the importance of creating spaces at a human scale that fits the needs of individual visitors. After all, there is no better way to judge a space than by its compatibility with the user.

There is more to the success of the bridge than its connection with the communities that will surround it. As you likely already know, the Bridge Park design competition concluded in 2014 and the OMA + Olin team submission was chosen as the winner. Aside from engaging people at a local scale, their design engages people at the scale of the entire D.C. metro region. Because of its shape, the park has the potential of becoming an iconic image of Washington, D.C. due to the symbol it not only represents metaphorically, but also depicts physically.

The design suggests an “X” shape signifying an exchange between two places, Anacostia and the Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront. What is so powerful about the design is that it was not only created in the spirit of bridging two communities, it also acts as a meeting ground, an interface. Aside from encouraging a flow of people, ideas, traditions and capital from one side of the river to the other, the bridge serves as a place where people from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs can mix. It is in this subtle duality of purpose that the bridge thrives. The bridge will provide a place where residents whose paths normally do not cross can meet.

Through its design, the park furthers the engagement of the community members, tying together a variety of interactions all anchored in a human dimension.