Canal Park Opens to the Public

OLIN has led the design and construction of Canal Park in Washington, D.C. The park opens to the public on November 16, 2012. One of the first parks built as part of the District’s Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, Canal Park has been designed as a vibrant social gathering place and an economic catalyst for the surrounding neighborhood. The park is also a model of sustainable design, serving as a pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES™) and a candidate for LEED® Gold certification.

Plan view of Canal Park. Each of the three blocks that make up Canal Park feature distinct programming, yet they are tied together using a cohesive language of materials and plantings.

The three-block site was once a part of the historic Washington City Canal that connected the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. The canal was paved over in the 1870s and most recently served as a parking lot for school buses. Inspired by the canal’s heritage, Canal Park’s design evokes the history of the area with a linear rain garden reminiscent of the Washington Canal and three pavilions, designed by STUDIOS Architecture, which recall floating barges that were once common in the canal. The park will feature diverse amenities, including a café with outdoor seating, an interactive fountain, an ice skating path, play and performance areas, and sculptures by artist David Hess. Each block is given its own unique identity within a cohesive urban experience. The Canal Park Development Association, in partnership with the Capital Riverfront Business Improvement District, will host numerous events throughout the year, such as movies and concerts, holiday and seasonal festivals, farmers markets, art expositions, educational and environmental programming, storytelling events, and more.


Canal Park will serve as a vital civic amenity to the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, offering active year-round programming and much needed park space for this growing community.

In addition to being a vibrant social destination, Canal Park is a model for green infrastructure strategies. The former brownfield has been transformed into a landscape that restores vital ecosystem services that were lost when the site served as a parking lot. Contaminated soils were replaced with a healthy growing medium and the native plant habitat was re-introduced. Canal Park’s stormwater system includes a linear rain garden that spans the length of the park, Low Impact Design tree pits, and two underground cisterns which can collectively hold 80,000 gallons of water. The stormwater system captures, treats and stores almost all of the stormwater runoff generated by the park and neighboring city blocks, which averages to 1.5 million gallons of reused water each year. The treated water is used to satisfy up to 95 percent of the park’s water needs for fountains, irrigation, toilets and the ice skating path. Underneath the park, 28 geothermal wells provide a highly efficient energy supply for park utilities. The wells are forecasted to reduce Canal Park’s overall energy consumption by 37 percent.


Top: Canal Park’s linear rain garden is one piece of a larger stormwater catchment, filtration and reuse system. Bottom: 28 geothermal wells, as shown in this three-dimensional model, provide a highly efficient energy supply for park utilities and features such as the ice skating path on the southernmost block. Bottom image © James G. Davis Construction Company

Other sustainable features include the use of sustainably harvested wood for benches and architectural elements, electric car parking stations, ample bicycle racks and cross-streets designed to calm traffic speeds around the park and provide a safe pedestrian environment.

“Canal Park is a unique place that delivers an artful assembly of social, economic and environmental performance,” stated Steve Benz, OLIN Partner and Director of Green Infrastructure. “As a successful social space, people can enjoy the re-established natural systems previously lost to development while providing an economic stimulus for the surrounding area.”


Canal Park will be active both day and night. Sited atop the largest of the park’s three pavilions, a large lantern with translucent acrylic panels will become a medium for projection art and light displays.

Through a close collaboration with OLIN, STUDIOS Architecture designed three permanent pavilions. The largest pavilion, at 9,000-square-feet, will host a café and dining area, as well as utilities that support the park and ice skating path. The structure is made of reclaimed and sustainably harvested wood from black locust trees and is expected to earn LEED Gold certification. The roof also serves as a public plaza and features a large lantern with translucent acrylic panels which will become a medium for projection art and light displays. The pavilion’s sustainable features include geothermal heating and cooling, vegetated roof surfaces, natural ventilation, low-flush toilets and fixtures, energy/water monitoring dashboard systems, and utilization of the park’s stormwater treatment system for non-potable water. Made of similar materials and approximately 150-200-square feet each, a second pavilion appears to float above a linear fountain, while a third pavilion bookends the park at the north and provides storage for park amenities.

The OLIN team, led by Partner and Director of Green Infrastructure Steve Benz and managed by Associate Sophie Robitaille, directed a team of fourteen consultants on the project, including architects STUDIOS Architecture; stormwater engineers Nitsch Engineering; civil engineers Vika Capitol, Inc.; lighting designer and sustainability energy consultants Atelier Ten; MEP engineers Joseph R. Loring & Associates; structural engineers SK&A Structural Engineers; irrigation designers Lynch & Associates; ice path designers & fountain engineers Stantec Bonestroo; geotechnical consultants Soil Consultants; sculptor David Hess; signage designers The Design Theorem; audio visual consultants Shen Milson & Wilke; dry utility consultants Richter & Associates; and cost estimator Davis Langdon, an AECOM Company.

  1. John Harned says:

    What is the area (SF) of the Ice Rink?

    • OLIN says:

      The ice rink is approximately 11,100 square feet.

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