Proposed Stormwater Wetland

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Wild Wetland

I was back at Dumbarton Oaks Park drawing yesterday. This is the upper most part of the park where the stream begins. I imagine it dammed by a weir and filled with water to create a wetland environment. This would inundate and kill many of the invasive vines that are currently taking over the hillsides and help retain stormwater. It would also become a scaled-up version of the smaller, reflecting pools in the lower portions of the park.

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Gone to the Dogs

I was at Dumbarton Oaks Park recently to do some sketching. I picked a nice spot along the stream edge to draw. It was a Sunday and the park had quite a few visitors. Most of them with dogs. The Park has become a popular place to let pets run off leash. It is a great place for it with the open meadows. However, future plans should consider ways to protect the stream banks from excessive wear. The banks are mostly bare of vegetation that act as an important filter for stormwater entering the stream. I overlayed photographs of dogwalkers from that day onto my charcoal sketch.

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Urban Wild Gardens

Robinson's 'Wild Garden

Garden scholars recognize Dumbarton Oaks Park (as constructed by Farrand) as a prime example of a 19th c. William Robinson ‘Wild Garden.’ The ‘Wild Garden’ was a response to the estate gardens of 19th c. (and earlier) England that emphasized elaborate flower borders with defined edges, clipped hedges and architectural elements.

The ‘Wild Garden’ was intended to give a ‘naturalistic’ character to a managed garden. They, in effect, tried to provide the character of a woodland or riparian system that if truly ‘natural’ would cover hundreds of acres, but in a garden compressed to just a few acres or less. This compression and density of planting had the effect of creating landscapes that


Dumbarton Oaks Park 1940's

required a highly skilled gardener to maintain. In a ‘formal’ garden, even an inexperienced gardener can identify the regulating lines and ‘weeds’ among the desirable plantings. But a ‘Wild Garden’ requires a discerning eye to determine what to should stay and what should go among the climbing vines and highly diverse plant massings.

A ‘Wild Garden’ can truly become wild if left unattended for even a few weeks. So, just imagine what happens when left unattended for 60 years. The result… Dumbarton Oaks Park.


Ampelopsis in Dumbarton Oaks Park

While some aspects of DOP’s ‘naturalization’ have retained the garden’s original character (ex. the managed meadows), others have become downright destructive. The most obvious destructive example is the Ampelopsis invasion (see previous post… Ampelopsis//Devourer of Worlds).

I believe DOP’s ‘Wild Garden’ composition can be maintained in a garden form I will define as an ‘Urban Wild Garden’. The goal of a UWG is to minimize maintenance and provide performative qualities that support urban infrastructures (stormwater management, habitat, human paths and connections, recreation).

Ampelopsis has destroyed much of the previous plant communities in the upper portion of the stream valley. The valley just happens to provide ideal growing conditions for a plant that thrives just about anywhere in DC. One condition it may not do well in is complete water inundation. Carefully changing scales and placement of weirs could create a wetland environment that keeps Ampelopsis in check, retains large amounts of stormwater and increases biodiversity… and creates a beautiful Urban Wild Garden.


Potential Dumbarton Oaks Park Wetland


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Dumbarton Stream Valley Profile

These are stream valley strip sections of the Dumbarton Oaks stream valley. The sections are scaled to 1000′ in length, 50′ in depth. The color gradient is an indicator of slope.¬† It was created from the TIN used in previous analyses.

When read as a series, the steep slope of the left bank is clear. The line density also provides an indicator of topographic complexity in 3 dimensions. Gaps in lines indicate flatness, dense lines slopes in multiple directions.


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Dumbarton Geology

Dumbarton Oaks Park is sited directly on the east coast fall line. This is a geologic seam that runs almost the entire length of the east coast. The fall line divides the piedmont region from the coastal plain. The piedmont is characterized by rolling hills and once rich farmlands. The coastal plain is characterized by flat layers of sedimentary soils.

This location on the fall line gives Rock Creek Park its picturesque character as described by the Olmsted Brothers in 1918. This extreme topographic and geologic shift, as well as sedimentary soils also means it is a highly erosive landscape.

This animation (and above diagram) illustrates the erosive forces taking place on the landscape and abstracts the weirs as insertions acting to hold them back.

Untitled from David Wooden on Vimeo.

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Weirs as Stitch

The weirs are the most recognizable aspect of the Farrand design in Dumbarton Oaks Park. Originally designed to create an aesthetic effect, today the weirs have potential to support a performative landscape.

These animations explore the weirs as seams or stitches in the landscape. The stream is bounded by the geologic escarpment on both sides. The weirs serve to connect the two sides that the stream delineates. The size and number of weirs can be changed to enchance their stormwater detention capacity, in addition to the role they serve as ‘stitches’.

The first study imagines an amplification of scale of the existing weirs.

This second study is a multiplication of weirs. As their scale decreases, their number increases changing the cadence of the stream.

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