Ebb and Flow

DC Water’s new headquarters perfectly blends utility and art. Positioned on a narrow wedge of land in the Anacostia River floodplain, its bold, curvilinear architecture evokes the fluidity of water while also responding to a cramped, problematic site.

Architects in SmithGroup’s DC office spearheaded the 150,000-square-foot project, which houses DC Water offices—previously scattered throughout the city—in one location on DC Water property. The design team solved space issues by positioning the new structure atop a portion of the existing O Street pump station, adjacent to the historic Beaux Arts building housing the main pump station. Two huge trusses intersect, supporting the new, six-story building where it meets the old one. A massive underground web of 100-year-old clay sewer lines, still critical to the city’s infrastructure, was protected during construction.

The building’s south-facing riverfront façade is sheathed in seemingly undulating glass, composed of four-foot-wide planar glass and metal modules. The other façades are more opaque, employing painted-aluminum panels in green tones that suggest patinated copper. Sustainability was key; varied window overhangs protect from heat gain while admitting daylight deep into the interiors, and a second layer of tinted-glass panels clads portions of the façade for further insulation. A lush green roof reduces storm-water runoff and a thermal recovery system captures heat from flowing wastewater for use in the building. LEED Platinum status is pending.

The project also capitalized on the headquarters’ proximity to pedestrian-friendly Nationals Park and The Yards. The team revived a long-defunct block of Canal Street between the new structure and the historic pump station as a connector and installed a waterfront promenade that links to the existing boardwalk.

Architecture: SmithGroup, Washington, DC. Contractor: Skanska, Rockville, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Oehme van Sweden, Washington, DC.