Visualizing Cultural Succession along the George Washington Parkway: A Collaboration with the National Park Service

The northern entrance to Alexandria, Virginia along the George Washington Memorial Parkway is an ill-defined landscape today with little clear design intention. By contrast, the original 1932 design for the same place was a formally planted traffic circle that marked the threshold between naturalistic parkway and historic Old Town Alexandria. Mapping the various planting plans for this landscape, the changes in design at the site were documented in a previous cultural landscape report the National Park Service. The findings and recommendations of that report are at a larger scale than the site specific scale at which design decisions are made for the Parkway, therefore an important question remains: How can these historic plans be made more useful in day-to-day management and design of the parkway?

This project is a collaboration between Virginia Tech students and faculty at the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center (WAAC) and the National Park Service landscape architect and GIS specialist for the George Washington Memorial Parkway. It aims to develop a methodology for incorporating cultural landscape information into interactive GIS maps at the scale of individual trees and site specific design. Mapping the changes over time and representing key phases of the landscape in 3D digital models enables the students to simulate the ‘cultural succession’ of this landscape over an eighty-year period. In this real-world scenario, students are engaged in collaborative, experiential learning with the Park Service staff, and bring their innovative visualization skills to the problem of designing and managing an historically important cultural landscape.

Contributor: Paul Kelsch