In 2012, the multidisciplinary studio team from the University of Pennsylvania was a finalist in the Van Alen Institute's Parks for the People Competition, based on the team's entry for the Civil War Defenses of Washington in Washington, DC.

The Civil War Defenses of Washington is a ribbon of 19 Civil War-era fortifications set on forested hills surrounding the nation's capital. This system of earthen buttresses crosses the borders of three states and three national parks—a daunting management challenge that has become still more complex as the metropolitan region has grown up around this 37-mile circle of fort sites. Now situated in socio-economically diverse communities, these landscapes host a range of recreational activities, from concerts to community events, while offering prized vistas of the surrounding city. The challenge before the studio team was to unite the park system’s diverse physical fabric with a cohesive narrative and identity.

Throughout the semester, the studio's 17 students chronicled their observations, research, and fieldwork on a class blog.

Studio Background

Penn's multidisciplinary studio centered on the question of creating park landscapes that satisfy the public’s desire for parks of a traditional type—whether commemorative or stunningly wild — yet also perform other processes and functions for the metropolitan region: as recreational nodes, community spaces, means of organizing mobility, facilities for environmental repair and awareness, social spaces in which local and regional communities connect, focal points for artistic work, or even potential organization points for new development. A series of visual, design, institutional, and stewardship connections between the 19 fort sites were intended to serve as an armature for deploying a kit-of-parts approach to the design and planning of each site. These forts would not be restored as military defenses. They would now defend Washington, D.C. against contemporary threats common to cities — threats to the health and well-being of citizens, of poor quality urban environments, and of neglected populations.

Competition Board
Site + Context Analyses
Design Principles +
Studio Approach

The studio formulated the following design principles to guide the analysis and proposed interventions for the sites:

Reverence for place: Parks should be designed to cultivate a reverence for place.

Incorporate the past: Park design should incorporate the significance of the past to resonate with contemporary communities and future use.

Respond to changing needs: Parks should be designed to respond to the changing needs (environmental and social) or the site and its context.

Enhance interconnectednessParks should be designed to enhance the interconnectedness of places and people, past and future.

The studio proposed a dual approach of singular, emblematic projects and system-wide moves. Three emblematic projects corresponded to three different earthwork conditions. Intact earthworks were targeted to reveal the earthworks in order to activate the landscape for education and conservation. Semi-intact earthworks would be used to interact with the historic landscape through contemporary interpretations of the past. Where no earthworks remain, community engagement would be inspired within the flex space of reimagined forts. System-wide moves included park-wide branding, streamlined wayfinding and functional art, and cooperative management and community engagement through park event programming.

Parkwide Design
Redesigned + Reinterpreted Landscapes
Jury Comments

"This is a convincing contribution because of its understanding of National Park Service goals and its ambition to broaden them, making them more inclusive. The students conducted extensive research on the social level as well, contributing significantly to the Park Service approach to historic preservation projects. The studio provided a comprehensive historic assessment of the sites, combined with a thoughtful and practical response to each typology."

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