The Georgetown Waterfront Park faces the Potomac River in historic Georgetown in the District of Columbia between the Key Bridge, the Washington Harbor Development, and the Whitehurst Freeway Viaduct. The 10-acre park represents the culmination of a 40-year effort to transform the Georgetown waterfront from an obsolete industrial site into a signature civic space meeting both national and local community aspirations. WRT was the lead design firm through a 9-year, two-phased implementation process involving numerous public meetings, fundraising, and coordination with District and federal agencies. Through models and 3D simulations WRT led the community in establishing a clean, balanced design theme that both celebrates Georgetown’s history and looks to the future with green technologies. WRT’s design recalls the site’s heritage, connects the community with the waterfront, addresses site sustainability, and highlights the Potomac rowing tradition.
The design aimed to express the confluence of a historic wharf environment with the garden-oriented townscape that defines Georgetown. This layered approach led to the creation of sectionalized spaces dividing the park into garden rooms, like divisions in a ship’s hull, framed by wide walkways extending the street grid to the waterfront. Overlooks afford long river views and the opportunity to track the site’s history through imagery etched onto tilted granite displays. A promenade links the garden rooms to the water’s edge, where railings were eschewed in favor of planting as a way to dramatize the notion of a waterside garden.
A new bikeway parallels the park below the Whitehurst Freeway, helping to complete the regional DC greenway that stretches from the C&O Canal terminus in Cumberland, Maryland to Mt. Vernon, Virginia. The trail is threaded between the park and the Freeway structure, buffered by a water retention swale that will help filter locally-generated runoff. At the foot of Wisconsin Avenue, the park widens into a large plaza, with a fountain, pergola, and stepped river bulkhead, which facilitate public gatherings during regattas and other civic events. The park’s perimeter lighting matches D.C.’s traditional “Washington” light fixtures, while the interior lights consist of more energy-efficient fixtures that minimize light pollution and help highlight the overlook structures. In addition, railings were designed in lightweight stainless steel to minimize visual obstruction of the river, while the overlook seating elements consist of honed granite extrusions that reference the site’s granite bedrock. The passive recreational areas in the park are oriented to provide the unobstructed view to the Potomac River. Four welcoming plazas are located at the foot of each street, providing extensions that link visitors to the waterfront. Throughout the park are rain gardens and stretches of bio-engineering revetments, which transform the site’s inert bulkheads into habitat-enhanced flood protection features. Substantial new canopy plantings, sloping lawns, and formal and bio-filtration gardens provide greenery and softness in what was once a bare asphalt parking lot. Overall, nearly 80% of former impervious paving was replaced by pervious greenery.
The firm worked with the National Park Service, Georgetown community committees, and the general public to achieve a consensus on design elements for the new park. The design respects the site’s historic importance, enables the community to engage with the waterfront, addresses site sustainability, and enlivens a space that had languished for decades.
Design Firm | Wallace Roberts & Todd
Images | Patrick Obrien and Wallace Roberts & Todd