American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2007 Student Awards
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Plugging In: Bringing the Stream Back to Watts
Toshihiko T. T. Karato, Student ASLA
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
Faculty Advisors: Elissa Rosenberg, ASLA and Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA

"Lyrical. Visitors would be transformed by this place. A great concept that could convert this park into a safe, valuable, much needed resource for this neighborhood. Well presented with great sections and a beautiful palette; organized in a very successful manner."

— 2007 Student Awards Jury Comments

Project Statement
“Plugging In” is comprised of garden corridors extending throughout the Watts Branch watershed that will filter and collect stormwater and people. At its heart is a hybrid environmental education center/park, a living room in the neighborhood: a safe place to be together with neighbors and the stream, a place to which one can belong. This proposal is predicated on the idea that rediscovering one’s immediate environment can be a source of collective neighborhood identity.

Project Narrative

Design Intent:

“Plugging in” reclaims Watts Branch as the watershed’s backyard. It provides a safe playground for children, where they can take risks and learn about where they live. This new Lederer Environmental Education Center is a hybrid park, the neighborhood living room where residents can gather to play, learn, and work. The building bridges the street and the stream, reinforcing the idea of watershed. The park provides an ideal space to observe change: gardens highlight the seasons, the riparian terraces flood, children grow. Through a common understanding and everyday experience of the watershed provided by the park’s extension into corridor gardens, the children reinforce their sense of belonging to Watts Branch.

Project Location:

The project is located in northeastern Washington, DC along Watts Branch, one of the primary tributaries of the Anacostia River. This area is the “other Washington,” neglected and forgotten, where poverty and violent crime is a daily reality and parks have become a haven for criminal activity. The home of its iconic historical figure, Marvin Gaye was unceremoniously torn down, its location all but forgotten. Along the Watts Branch, the recently renamed Marvin Gaye Park extends from the Anacostia eastward to Maryland. “Plugging In” is centered on the portion of the park currently occupied by the Robert F. Lederer Nature Center and Youth Garden and extends to the edge of the Watts Branch watershed.

Site and Context Investigation:

Site and context investigation was done through archival research, analysis of existing mapped data, and interviews. The site visits helped provide a sense of place and understanding of the quality of the neighborhood and its social characteristics: a trash filled stream, an open drug market in broad daylight, children being held hostage by the street crime. The week after our visit the mutilated body of a 15-year old boy was found. The stories shared by the residents further reinforced the desire and need for safe places in the park for children to play. A local non-profit, Washington Parks and People, provided information on the types of activities they believed would help the park regain its former importance.

Design Program:

The program was to design an expanded facility for the Lederer Center. The corridor gardens filter and collect people and water from the ridgeline to the creek. The hedge filter at the northern edge of the site allows eyes on the street to provide a sense of security in the gardens. The gallery, classrooms, research facility, basketball courts, and chess tables collect people from all walks of life, discouraging an open drug market. Along the creek the back porch terraces down to the creek, expanding the floodplain, and creating an enclosed stream-room for gathering.

Environmental Impact and Concerns:

As an environmental education center, the purpose of the new Lederer Center is to improve and monitor Watts Branch Creek. Corridor gardens provide biofilters to minimize the effect of street runoff on the quality and quantity of water in Watts Branch, rejuvenating the stream. From the green roof on the building to the onsite demonstration gardens of the bioinfilters, the project is to be a demonstration of responsible stormwater management. These areas also provide much-needed habitat for migratory birds and riparian animals. While the intended increase in human interaction with the riparian corridor will have a negative impact on the lives some species, the benefits of a community that understands the ecological, cultural and social value of its watershed will far out weigh these impacts.


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