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Designing Washington, D.C.’s First Semi-Permanent Parklet 

Image © Gensler

When people talk about the layout of Washington, D.C., they frequently mention the city’s heroic boulevards, iconic monumental core and consistent skyline. It’s the little things that often go unnoticed. So when challenged to begin reimagining D.C.’s urban realm, two designers in Gensler’s D.C. office thought less about the monumental city and more about creating small spaces where workers and residents could relax and connect to the city’s fabric in an organic way. To do this, a team of designers has transformed the space outside of our D.C. office at 2020 K Street. What was once an impersonal parking and loading zone is now D.C.’s first semi-permanent parklet, described by Gensler designers Laura Carey and Claire Kang as “flexible, interactive and playful.”

This project sprang from a collaboration with local business leaders. The Golden Triangle Business Improvement District (BID) approached Gensler D.C. in late 2014 about the prospect of designing the parklet. We liked the idea and decided to hold an internal design competition for staff. The selected design, dubbed “parKIT,” is the first installation permitted and established under D.C. Department of Transportation’s new parklet guidelines. Laura and Claire coined the parKIT name in the hopes that it would go viral and be replicated in other locations around the city.

Image © Gensler

Unlike D.C.’s fixed parks and parklets, this project features a series of moveable pieces: a yellow table and chair height wedges that users can reconfigure on a rotating basis. According to the principles established by urban observer William H. Whyte in the 1960s and 1970s, moveable furniture and the provision of choice in seating is one key ingredient in the creation of successful urban spaces.

While we think the parklet will become a popular coffee and lunch destination, the designers also envisioned the moveable modules as capable of accommodating lectures and impromptu sketching classes. Located in a zone that is predominantly a business district, the parklet will provide an opportunity for people to slow down, linger for a few minutes, and mix with people outside of their office buildings. It may also serve as a landmark or destination for the many groups of daycare age children that circulate through this neighborhood during the week. parKIT is somewhat unique because its use is not tied to any adjoining restaurant or retail space; it is operated as an extension of the public realm.

Image © Gensler

Though some might identify parklets as more folly than function, these have become more common and have proven themselves valuable for informal social interaction. Creation of these spaces is also evidence of the “do-it-yourself” city movement, which allows those who live and work in cities to participate in the creation of personal places that give meaning and function to otherwise overlooked areas. To further that idea, the Golden Triangle BID has programmed a series of weekly activities in the parklet, focused around the theme of “Making the City.” These events will include minute sketch classes, LEGO competitions, and informational instruction.

Through parKIT’s implementation, Gensler D.C. hopes to extend an invitation to the larger neighborhood to play, socialize and participate in making the next evolution of our city.

Carolyn Sponza is a Senior Associate and Studio Director in the D.C. office. Interested in all things urban, Carolyn’s 17-year career spans strategic planning, master planning, and architecture projects. She recently published a short guide to pop-up design entitled Conceptualizing Temporary Uses. For more questions about this, or Washington, D.C.’s other planning and urban design work, Carolyn can be reached at carolyn_sponza@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (1)

Thanks Carolyn, nice article. Particularly interesting is the point about it not being tied to any adjacent business or retailer: it doesn't belong to someone, it belongs to anyone. It will be interesting to see how that yellow color and the materials age and weather.
07.25.2015 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

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