HKS’ Mid-Atlantic Design Fellowship (MADF) is an intense three-day charrette for emerging HKS professionals and design students to imagine creative solutions for unique challenges in the mid-Atlantic region. Driven by design, sustainability and community, the MADF strives to showcase emerging talent while fostering relationships among stakeholders. To spark change, the fellowship seeks the difficult and sensitive questions within our communities. This year, we asked our fellows how a derelict stadium could become an anchor for an entire community.
Stadiums have tremendous potential for place-making. They bring people together and channel the spirit of a city in ways few other buildings can. Think of it as a city’s thumbprint — a unique identifier for the larger body of interconnected elements that create an urban fabric. It’s a sensational and immersive atmosphere, but every athletic contest or concert has a final buzzer or closing curtain call. Without a steady pulse, a stadium can’t be the heart of a city.
It’s essential for modern stadiums to be capable of adapting to the needs of active communities, while reflecting the context of the surrounding region. It must accommodate major events that attract tourists and sports fans from across the country, while being flexible enough for intimate experiences that locals can enjoy on a regular basis.
At the eastern gateway of the National Mall in Washington D.C., Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (RFK) has become a point of contention. It’s a mammoth, concrete structure looming over vast surface parking lots. Once a host to concerts and multiple professional teams, this 56-year-old structure has endured beyond its practical life span.
Modern technological and experiential standards have rendered the venue operationally and programmatically obsolete — resulting in RFK losing its anchor team, DC United. Currently leased from the National Park Service, Events DC has enlisted OMA architects in the design of a master plan for redevelopment.
Although OMA has already drafted visionary concepts that reimagine a short-term revitalization, including a sports and entertainment complex, market hall, multipurpose fields, a Robert F. Kennedy memorial and pedestrian bridges, significant challenges remain. Areas of concern require serious attention, study and resolution before any substantial progress can be made.
We asked our fellows to envision a new, forward looking masterplan that incorporates notions of connectivity, mixed use and natural ecosystems. The fellows worked to understand the many stakeholders invested in the future of the stadium and determined the primary values and strategies moving forward. An adjacent riverfront, the number of stakeholders and any number of relevant concerns like equity, resilience, activation, environmental responsibility and public/private ownership were among the many factors considered.
Given the overwhelming scale and time constraints, each team was asked to design a focused intervention for one aspect of the site. They approached the current challenges by questioning the scale and RFK’s connection to the surrounding neighborhoods and riverfront. By repurposing the stadium, we were able to shift the focus of the site from tourism to the local community, all while enhancing the National Mall. A brief description of each team’s plan can be found below, and a more detailed document can be found here.
RFK Memorial Park
Eric Bos (University of Maryland), Jarred McGowan (HKS Washington D.C.) and Lewei Wang (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo).
Inspired by the idea that a public park can celebrate the people it serves, this design establishes RFK as the eastern gateway to the nation’s capital. By activating an existing memorial to Robert F. Kennedy and its powerful location, the stadium becomes an iconic monument to a legacy of social equality. Standing out from a new landscape of level fields and circular depressions, RFK is transformed into a platform for public use and interaction.
Di Chen (Savannah College of Art and Design), Chen-Xie Li (Syracuse University) and Katie Stroetzel (HKS Washington D.C.).
This plan enhances the connection between Capitol Hill and Anacostia neighborhoods by blurring the borders of the campus and the surrounding urban architecture and nature reserves. RFK Stadium will serve as a new node for local recreation, learning and commerce, becoming a catalyst for renewal and growth in the community.
Divya Nautiyal (HKS Richmond), Richard Rozewski (Virginia Commonwealth University) and Janki Shah (Columbia University).
A redevelopment of the stadium positions learning as a driver for community engagement. While restoring the natural wetlands with programs like living classrooms, nonprofits, urban gardens and more, these interventions promote ecological awareness and invite the community to participate. By fostering the relationship between humans and nature, we can serve all of Washington D.C.’s diverse communities.
A Passage To Local
Wenbo Huang (Savannah College of Art and Design), Lorrin Kline (University of Cinncinnati), Katy Owara (Kansas State University) and Zach Wolk (HKS Richmond).
This reorientation and reconfiguration of the stadium invites communities from both sides of the Anacostia River into the site. Bisecting the old stadium and breaking down the scale, this plan creates a more inviting space that is available to communities year-round. Providing multiple opportunities for economic and social interaction throughout the site encourages visitors to create their own individualized experience that memorializes Robert F. Kennedy and the values that he stood for.