The 2018 Mid-Atlantic Design Fellowship – Stadiums With a Pulse

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.

The Challenge

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.