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Blue Current DC


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dmadsen, hanley wood, llc

Project Name

Blue Current DC

Project Status

Concept Proposal


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Project Description

On August 18, CallisonRTKL/Arcadis took home the top prize for their entry, Blue Current DC, into the Open Architecture Collaborative’s National Treasure Design Competition Awards. The competition promotes climate mitigation in the nations’ capital. Participants created proactive mitigation strategies for low-lying waterfront areas of the National Mall with the goal of protecting the country’s national treasures—its monuments. A panel of distinguished judges included Katharine Burgess AICP; Jon Penndorf AIA, LEED AP BD+C; Ashley Wilson AIA, ASID; and Jay Wilson LEED AP BD+C.

Flood-prone DC is a historic, important city in the United States, and many of its most valuable and significant monuments are extremely vulnerable to flooding as they are located in the lowest-lying points of the city. These sites are becoming more and more at risk as climate change worsens.

“Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing humanity today,” said Alexis Goggans, the keynote speaker at the awards ceremony. “Our existing infrastructure simply cannot keep up with global warming.”

Blue Current DC aims to mitigate these effects and protect vulnerable areas through a four-part strategy: protect, collect, direct and connect. These strategies all revolve around the creation of a large-diameter stormwater pipe that encircles the National Mall. It acts as a levee to protect against rising tides, a tool to direct and collect stormwater in controlled retention facilities, and a piece of conveyance infrastructure that connects the city through a bike path. As water moves through the pipes, it will also pass through energy harvesting turbines, providing emergency power to the city.

“Too often designing for resiliency occurs as a reaction to a singular disaster, Katrina for New Orleans or Sandy for New York City,” said Laura Cohen, one of the Blue Current DC team members. “Rather than waiting and reacting to an event, we wanted to create a proactive intervention that would become a permanent, visible part of the landscape and the city and an active amenity for the community during both wet and dry conditions.”

The proactive, holistic approach would benefit D.C. not only in times of storm and emergency, but also during dry times, when the levee and bike path could be enjoyed by citizens. It would generate 4.5 miles of new and enhanced bike trails, 100+ acres of renovated park space, 2.5 miles of naturalized shorelines, protection from 500-year flood events and more. The judges, who spoke at the event, said they chose Blue Current DC for its innovative, rule-breaking approach and for its interdisciplinary methodology.

“Last night’s event was just the beginning. OADCD is creating a platform of dialogue between designers, engineers, policy makers, and community leaders. These dialogues become the basis for each of us to move forward and develop innovative approaches to resiliency in our communities,” said team member Augustina Soler. “The event for us, was an opportunity to collaborate across disciplines, inspire and learn from one another, and plant the seed for future work and outreach.”
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