sight clearing

adapting landscape infrastructure through maintenance

While only seeing one battle, the Civil War Defenses of Washington fortified the capital from Confederate attack, wrapping the fall line from hilltop to hilltop.  40 years later, as part of the The McMillan Plan, they were identified along with Rock Creek Park as forming an integral park system for the rapidly growing city and as landscape infrastructure for:

the maintenance of shade, the preservation of many hilltops where breezes may be caught, the preservation of many of the deep shady valleys in which the cooler air appears to settle on summer afternoons, and the liberal use of fresh running water all about the city and its parks.

As part of the “Parks for the People” competition, this proposal utilizes the Civil War Defenses of Washington as a case study for re-imagining the role of national parks as vital, dynamic places in the context of climate, technological and social change, extending the defensive role in the history of the Fort Circle Parks

Instead of concentrating on the figure and geography of the park network, design exploration concentrated on the specifities of individual parks to understand their continued role as landscape infrastructure for the city.  After visiting just a few Fort Circle Parks, identifying them became instinctual as they occupy the highest points in the city, continue to aggregate public services (particularly schools, libraries and cell towers), and are almost completely reforested, obscuring their origins and their experience as a fort.

Fort Totten Park’s poor soil is exceptional in the network, promoting a mixed Loblolly Pine/Chestnut Oak forest where most are Mixed Oak and Beech.  As such, before the war, the majority of the site was woodland, with only a small orchard in its southern extent, and it’s transition to fort and battery (pictured above) required dramatic clearing.

The official NPS management plan has been to allow forest succession of the fort earthworks in the name of preservation.  As the pioneer trees begin to fall throughout the parks, this strategy should be called into question and is more likely a product of a reduced maintenance budget and low visitorship because of the parks’ topographic separation from surrounding communities.  While the entrance to Totten was a nice, park savannah of picnic tables and grass, all the earthworks were hidden behind forest and brush.

drawing by dasha lebedeva

As a method of maintaining the identity of the park as bluff, fort, and viewpoint, a tree limbing/brush clearing detail was proposed to create a gradient of enclosure from the street to the ridge.  This tactic finds a middle ground between existing trees, forest succession and open view, drawing one into and through the earthworks and directing attention out to the surrounding park network.

This form of maintenance sustains a disturbance-mediated mixed oak forest ecology, noted for its carbon sequestration, habitat and timber value.  While the Fort Circle Parks already appear to be last on the list for any “additional” maintenance, the network could be transformed into a series of timber-biomass, forestry parks, where thinning operations maintain a path system, sight lines and revenue stream, increasing the total carbon storage potential of the forest.  Park experience would shift from second-rate nature to the novelty of a productive forest in the city, juxtaposing simultaneous histories across each site.

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