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Civil War Defenses of Washington
Washington, DC

University of Pennsylvania
School of Design

Team Leader
Randall Mason, PhD, Chair of Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning

Leading Discipline
Historic Preservation

Other Disciplines
Architecture, Landscape Architecture

17, Graduate Level

Studio Research

View studio documentation.

Civil War Defenses of Washington

The Challenge

The Civil War Defenses of Washington is a ribbon of 19 Civil War-era fortifications set on forested hills surrounding the nation's capital. This system of earthen buttresses crosses the borders of three states and three national parks—a daunting management challenge that has become still more complex as the metropolitan region has grown up around this 37-mile circle of fort sites. Now situated in socio-economically diverse communities, these landscapes host a range of recreational activities, from concerts to community events, while offering prized vistas of the surrounding city. The challenge before the studio team was to unite the park system’s diverse physical fabric with a cohesive narrative and identity.

Studio Approach

Penn's multidisciplinary studio centers on the question of creating park landscapes that satisfy the public’s desire for parks of a traditional type—whether commemorative or stunningly wild — yet also perform other processes and functions for the metropolitan region: as recreational nodes, community spaces, means of organizing mobility, facilities for environmental repair and awareness, social spaces in which local and regional communities connect, focal points for artistic work, or even potential organization points for new development. A series of visual, design, institutional, and stewardship connections between the 19 fort sites intend to serve as an armature for deploying a kit-of-parts approach to the design and planning of each site. These forts won’t be restored as military defenses. They will now defend Washington, D.C. against contemporary threats common to cities — threats to the health and well-being of citizens, of poor quality urban environments, and of neglected populations.

Key Features

The studio proposes a dual approach of singular, emblematic projects and system-wide moves. Three emblematic projects correspond to three different earthwork conditions. Intact earthworks are targeted to reveal the earthworks in order to activate the landscape for education and conservation. Semi-intact earthworks will be used to interact with the historic landscape through contemporary interpretations of the past. Where no earthworks remain, community engagement will be inspired within the flex space of reimagined forts. System-wide moves include park-wide branding, streamlined wayfinding and functional art, and cooperative management and community engagement through park event programming.

Jury Comments

This is a convincing contribution because of its understanding of National Park Service goals and its ambition to broaden them, making them more inclusive. The students conducted extensive research on the social level as well, contributing significantly to the Park Service approach to historic preservation projects. The studio provided a comprehensive historic assessment of the sites, combined with a thoughtful and practical response to each typology.