A rendering of Bridge District Parcels 1-2 in Washington, D.C.
Secchi Smith, courtesy ODA A rendering of Bridge District Parcels 1-2 in Washington, D.C.

ODA has received approval from the Washington, D.C. Office of Zoning for its design of a two-building, one-million-square-foot mixed-use projectat the heart of the city’s burgeoning Bridge District. The D.C.-based developer Redbrick LMD, which commissioned the project, hopes to realize this district south of the Anacostia River in two phases within a qualified opportunity zone—a distressed area eligible for equity investments that provide tax benefits after 10 years—of its own devising, making it is one of 25 such opportunity zones in Washington and among 8,764 others nationwide. Phase one, currently under construction to the north of ODA’s two parcels, includes the 750-unit residential block dubbed The Douglass, designed by ZGF Architects to be the largest zero-carbon multifamily residential building in the United States as certified by the International Living Future Institute. ODA’s two buildings constitute the second phase for this gateway to Anacostia, a collection of neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River that houses many of D.C.'s lower-income residents, some of whom have faced historical redlining, forms of environmental racism, and violent crime.

The first building in the ODA scheme will include approximately 337 units of market-rate and low-income apartments with a stepped-back façade following the curve of the adjacent Suitland Parkway. Upon completion, the project—which deploys cross-laminated timber on a reinforced concrete podium—will be the largest mass timber project in D.C. and the second mass timber project in the District, coming on the heels of 80 M Street, a mass timber retrofit by the local firm Hickok Cole and the international engineering firm Arup. ODA’s second building will include another 488 units and be constructed with conventional steel and concrete methods. Both structures will be linked by an interior terrace raised on a plinth overlooking leafy Hains Point and the upper leg of Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.

Secchi Smith, courtesy ODA
Secchi Smith, courtesy ODA

Once completed, the Bridge District Parcels will be the New York–based firm’s third D.C. project, following West Half residences overlooking Nationals Stadium that opened in 2021 and its recently completed mixed-use Parcel 8 overlooking the buzzy Southwest Waterfront.

“We’ve seen two types of urban renewal right now—both relevant to D.C.—revitalizing neighborhoods in transition and reconnecting the edges to the city,” says ODA’s Eran Chen, AIA, who founded the 85-person firm in 2007 on the basis that architecture, particularly residential design, must address the public realm while also improving the quality of individual life. “The goal in the Bridge District is to blur the line between communal, private, and public space—not to create confusion, but to create connection.”

ODA is designing more than 24,000-square-feet of retail space across both buildings that will target locally owned businesses as well as what Chen calls “affordable ground–floor programs” geared toward non-profit organizations, artists, and cyclists with a “bike lounge” to take advantage of an adjacent, underutilized bike path. “You don’t have to live in an ODA building to enjoy the fruits of great urbanism,” he says, “because without people, there is no public realm.”

Secchi Smith, courtesy ODA

Building The Bridge District

The Bridge District, named for nearby Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, sits at the nexus of three major city arteries: a green necklace of urban parks, a network of historical forts, and Metrorail’s Green Line. It’s multimodal in transportation parlance, but for decades the area has been defined by derelict parking lots and the thrum of Route 295’s offramps.

Redbrick has billed the development as a “sustainable, wellness-focused neighborhood,” seconded by strategy to use CLT as the primary building method for Building 1. Chen says the structure will use 11’x18’ modules that his team plans to reveal by encasing parts of the structure viewable at street level in glass, calling the project “an urban billboard for sustainability.”

Building articulation
courtesy ODA Building articulation
Ground floor program
courtesy ODA Ground floor program

The advent of mass timber over the last two decades has created a multimillion-dollar industry focused on the manufacture of a family of engineered wood products, their fabrication and panelization, and steadily improving prospects for a robust timber transportation network, and on-site installation. There is at least one mass timber project constructed now in every U.S. state, according to Portland, Ore.–based industry nonprofit WoodWorks, and, nationwide, there have been 1,677 mass timber projects completed as of December 2022.

While mass timber might be slow to be adopted for use in D.C. compared to other world cities like London or Seattle, it has begun to create its own billboard as a sustainable city by pushing a net-zero requirement for new construction and banning natural gas by 2026, among other measures. In 2017, the U.S. Green Building Council named D.C. the first “LEED Platinum City,” and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s “Sustainable DC 2.0 Plan” keeps Washington in top-10 lists like WalletHub’s 2022 “Greenest Cities in America,” addressing a triad of related goals for environmental, economic, and social resilience. Connectivity and density are both central tenets of the 2.0 plan in its sections on the built environment and transportation.

The Bridge District’s counterpart across the river is the wildly successful Navy Yard development that includes the Audi Field stadium, Nationals Park, and Yards Park—an area transformed from a warren of unloved parking lots and industrial buildings into an entertainment district that now generates hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue each year. Hoping to expand its good fortune, the city created the Bridge District in an ambitious gambit to connect its Anacostia neighborhoods to the broader economic boom the rest of the city is enjoying and, in doing so, evince buzzworthy claims of future revitalization.

Secchi Smith, courtesy ODA

In the end, the Bridge District’s challenge will not be how to physically connect two very different parts of the city; it will be how to knit them together to create a steadily improving tax base and economic reality for Ward 8 residents who are the poorest in D.C. with an annual household income of about $68,000, which is less than half of the city’s average of $154,000.

“The future of the public realm is about connecting the fabrics of our cities and their communities,” Chen says, “and the Bridge District is an amazing opportunity to prove why the public realm sustains us—and why it must engage us, socially and economically.”

Secchi Smith, courtesy ODA
Secchi Smith, courtesy ODA

This article has been updated.