Water and City design

The Tidal Basin and the Washington Channel are the two water sources most influenced by human development in Washington DC. The Tidal Basin is designed as a water reservoir with water from the Potomac River. The water level of the Tidal Basin is managed which is a common design found in Dutch delta designs. According to the National Park Service, when water enters the basin from the Potomac river, similar amount of water exits through the gate connecting with the Washington Channel. Thus, the water level is maintained. At the same time, this transition of water aims to reduce and wash out the sediment in the Washington Channel to prevent sediment building up on the riverbed. There is never tides or waves find on the surface of the Tidal Basin, which makes it very artificial and suitable for boating. The artificial design of the Tidal Basin resembles the ideas addressed by “The Making of Dutch Landscapes”. Just like the polders with dikes and dams around, concretes and gates construct the Tidal Basin and keep the water surface calm. The water and land are planned to be under human exploitation.

The Washington Channel is planned for navigation and trade. It lies between the East Potomac Park and DC. The water of the Washington Channel converges with both the Potomac River and Anacostia River. This feature of Washington DC is similar to certain geographic features and channel designs of Dutch Delta cities. The urban cities are all surrounded by water and developed channels to navigate and utilize. Like the Dutch cities, channel in Washington DC along with the Tidal Basin are designed to preserve deeper water for navigation and transportation. However, Washington DC is not a city built on bogs and prone to flooding. Unlike the multiple water channels that are interwoven into the city of Amsterdam, the Washington Channel is the only channel of the DC area. Water features are important in shaping the design of DC but it is not as crucial as it is in Dutch, in which water plays a deciding role in building a city.


4 thoughts on “Water and City design

  1. Nice comparative analysis. I like, too, how your schematic map emphasizes the human-made nature of the basin, the channel, and Haines Point. Do you think people “naturalize” them now and have no idea they were created only relatively recently? Also: note that the old Washington canal itself–running down what is now Constitution Ave and across the Mall, was filled in I think in this same era. DC has never really been an important port (vs. say Baltimore or even Richmond), so I’m wondering how the designers were thinking bout the Chanel and the wharf when they were built?


  2. I’ve always loved city maps. It fascinates me to see which parts were clearly planned and which parts haphazardly came together. Coming from a city which is very much the latter, the first time I saw a map of DC it looked so beautiful to me because of its clear intent and design. When I visited Ford’s Theater, the museum had a map of DC when Lincoln was president, and I realized how much of the National Mall was reclaimed from the Potomac. Much of the shoreline along the river, including the Tidal Basin and the Lincoln Memorial, are constructed rather than natural. I never knew exactly how the Basin worked or why it was built however, so it’s very interesting to read your explanation. I’m finding that more and more cities have interesting parallels and contrasts to make with Amsterdam.


  3. Firstly, I really like your illustration––it’s simple but well done! You very eloquently described the workings of the Tidal Basin, and connected it to the Dutch Delta. Even though I live in DC too, I actually learned quite a bit from you here, which is really cool. I like how you’ve weaved in and out of talking about DC and the Netherlands (Amsterdam), in your writing; it makes the similarities and differences between the two cities clear and intriguing. Your concluding analysis of how the two waterways effect the architectural design of the cities is insightful. I agree that while the iconography of Amsterdam’s design is very interwoven with the Delta, the Potomac River and Basin are important to DC, but perhaps not the most famed aspects of DC’s design overall.


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