by Carol F. Stoel
What can Van Ness, DC be? Great minds have come to similar conclusions.
As the Van Ness Vision Committee was busy developing a vision for that Connecticut Avenue strip, UDC Associate Professor Kathy Dixon was giving her graduate architecture class a similar assignment: Concentrate on an intersection of Connecticut Avenue and develop a plan for a pedestrian-friendly, retail-rich and community-oriented environment.
Looking for a site on the Van Ness Corridor – a place where one might wish to linger, transact business, or meet friends – both groups settled on the extended intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Windom Place.
Connecticut Avenue, with some shops and businesses, is not a friendly place for pedestrians, as twice a day during the week it serves as a major commuter thoroughfare. Windom is a short, rarely-traveled street, but located at the western end is the beautiful new UDC theater, and at the eastern end is a somewhat obscure entrance to Soapstone Valley Park, an extension of Rock Creek Park.
UDC’s class tackled the project as a team, with individuals taking the lead on different segments. They resolved that the best option would be to create a circle, similar to DuPont Circle, and build an underpass under the circle.
This would move the commuter traffic and enable Windom to become a pedestrian walk.
It would also allow the UDC farmers market to grow, new retail to develop, and a community culture to flourish.
At the theater end of Windom, a plaza would house a café, fountain, and water park.
And on the other side, a small stage would frame the entrance to Soapstone and tie the cool greenery of the park to the urban environment. (To see more, click here to download a PDF of the team’s final report.)
UDC students in Dixon’s class are not your typical architecture graduate students. They bring a wealth of work and life experiences to their urban design pursuits and are fortunate to have Professor Dixon as their teacher.
Typical of many architecture professors, Kathy Dixon is a practicing architect, whose firm is based in Maryland. Over the last twenty years, the firm has taken on the full range of projects, from air traffic control tower to a fire house and police station. She is the past president of the National Organization of Minority Architects and takes an active interest in the careers of her students who look as promising as their Van Ness vision does.
Interestingly, the UDC plan, developed separately from the Vision Committee’s, shares many concepts, such as a splash park and cafe seating near the UDC theater and the vision of a grand promenade that would visually, if not physically, connect the east and west sides of Windom Place. One can see principles of good urban design and planning as advocated by Jane Jacobs in her seminal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, represented in both plans. The main difference is that the students could dream without constraints while the Vision Committee’s plan, drawn up by Travis Price and his team, had to be doable.
And now that the Van Ness Vision Committee is moving forward with plans, it’s hard to imagine our neighborhood without a central focus. We learned at a meeting at UDC in December that next steps include meeting with the various DC government agencies and putting together a plan for moving this along. This could be very exciting.
Late News: UDC Architecture Department Nears Full Accreditation
During an interview with Ralph Belton, associate professor and chairperson of the Division of Urban Architecture and Community Planning, I learned that UDC has earned Candidacy for Accreditation from the National Architecture Accrediting Board, a significant step for the university and all its current and past architecture students.
Only graduates from accredited schools may take licensing examinations and if the accreditation is granted, it will be retroactive for all UDC graduates. Furthermore, if successful, UDC will be the first and only urban historically black public university in Washington, DC to house a fully accredited architecture school. Professor Belton has been working toward this goal for many years and is one of the reasons it might finally happen.