A SIMPLE WALK IN WASHINGTON D.C. AND ALEXANDRIA reveals how nature interacts with our built materials. We consider this a nuisance, a mark of abandonment on our otherwise meticulous hard surfaces, so we continuously rebuild and collect water underground as quickly as possible as to not damage the paving. With rapid urbanization and increasing 100-year storms our materials are falling apart more frequently and nature is reclaiming our urban surfaces. Through conducting a series of daily adventures, case studies, and studying the relationship of the wild and the city and it’s evolution over centuries amongst ecologists, it is evident that the weeds and the damage in our paving are a representation of natural processes. Although this constant deconstruction of infrastructure is viewed as a nuisance what emerges are micro-ecosystems that are dependent on moisture and eroded material that are essential for our development, offering infrastructural and engagement opportunities. What should we do when a place is left alone and becomes reworked by water and reclaimed by nature?
The thesis explores the abandoned Klingle Ford Road in Washington D.C., an official city road that is also a threshold and historic boundary for Rock Creek Park, and the only remaining Ford road. Out of comission for 30 years because of severe flooding, over half of the road acts as a stream bed for the storm-water creek that is adjacent, and the city has long debated whether to rebuild a vehicular road belonging to the city or a wilderness trail belonging to the National Park Service.
In studying the history of the watershed and the road, and documenting soil and vegetation types, it is evident there is a division between more Coastal and urban conditions in the upper reaches, and the rocky Piedmont and forest conditions encroaching the Rock Creek, presenting challenges in maintaining a road. A majority of the road also sits in the 100 year flood zone and has been rebuilt several times collecting a pallete of materials that are sedimenting the stream.
To address these challenges, the goal of the thesis is to preserve and enhance pedestrian and water passage from the National Cathedral to Rock Creek Park through creation of a pedestrian ford, comprised of a path-dam system – a series of traversible dams based on the natural processes of the site and how it has and will change over time.
By studying the intensity and locations of flooding conditions, four distinct moments of collision between the road and water are found, challenging the existing road alignment. The four moments become opportunities to discover the power of water and the natural processes of erosion. The criteria is based on study of dominant patterns of material erosion revealing strengths and weaknesses of both natural and built materials, and the patterns of water. By predicting patterns of waters movement – riffle, scour, deposit, and the dominant erosion types – rills, deposition, gullys, sheet flow, occurring from the upper more urban reaches of the road, to the wet and wild lower reaches, the design emerges by mimicking these processes and simply revealing, carving, and placing existing materials on site.
The thesis project challenges Washington D.C.’s tradition of diverting water into culverts and pipes. It exposes the underground processes of water and the erodible qualities of existing materials in a way that is accessible and engaging through a set of guidelines. The thesis also challenges the methods of research by the civil engineers at the Department of Transportation in Washington D.C. and the horticulturists at the National Park service, seeking to to find a place for landscape architects to intervene in developing infrastructure that preserves and enhances both human and water passages.
Contributor: Lama Hasan – MLA