Prince George's County, MD

National Harbor

Washington DC’s Premier Entertainment Destination on the Potomac River

status

Phase One Completed 2008

client

The Peterson Companies

expertise

Public Realm + Open Space, Hospitality + Entertainment

services

Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, Master Planning

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A Waterfront Centered Around Experience

Attracting 28 million annual visitors, National Harbor’s 1.5 miles of activated public waterfront makes it a destination unlike any other.

Situated along the banks of the historic Potomac River, National Harbor is an ambitious 300-acre mixed use development designed to encompass multiple hotels, 2,000+ residential units, and over 1 million square feet of commercial space.

Central to this vibrant community is a 1.5-mile-long waterfront, called Harborwalk, which features the district’s main gathering space, National Plaza, and grants access to over 200 retail shops and restaurants. Waterfront views and public access set this site apart, along with an activated public realm, clear and efficient wayfinding, and the opportunity for memorable seasonal experiences.

A magnificent collection of public art, a robust calendar of events, and iconic attractions that surprise and delight–such as “The Capital Wheel”, a 180-foot-tall observation wheel that provides panoramic views of National Harbor and beyond–round out this entertainment destination, fulfilling the client’s vision of creating the greatest public amenity on the Potomac River.

Our Vision

Transform a Waterfront Into a National Icon by Curating a Distinct Identity

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Designed to reinforce its distinctive riverfront location, the National Harbor master plan emulates historic river town settlements with the grid road network, building masses, and public spaces oriented toward the water to maximize scenic views. Featuring a central tree-lined promenade called American Way, multiple flexible event spaces, and a sand beach and public pier, the expansive public realm weaves together a robust fabric of residences, offices, shops, restaurants, entertainment, and hotels for a truly walkable development.

LandDesign’s experience with similarly scaled mixed use destinations, knowledge of the market, and keen sense of stewardship of place led to our involvement in the master planning and implementation of the first phase of development. Built on a scale rarely seen, the first phase of development encompasses a collection of uses spanning 12 blocks, along with all street infrastructure and associated streetscape elements, bringing a critical mass of uses to ensure an activated and exhilarating waterfront.

Working in collaboration with several consultants over the course of a decade, the master plan evolved to respond to market demands with the main vision remaining intact: to create an extraordinary brand for the community with a legible, distinct identity derived from the physical and cultural attributes of the region.

The Challenge

Creating a Destination That Will Meet the Demands of Today and Evolve Over Time

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Envisioned as both a national destination and mixed use community, National Harbor demanded everything LandDesign had to offer: experience in mixed use development, public open space, destinations, and waterfront developments. A project of this magnitude required close collaboration with all our services, including input from our civil engineers, landscape architects, and master planners.

The client, one of the region’s largest privately-owned real estate development companies, required a dynamic, adaptable master plan to fulfill the needs of the large crowds and varied programming anticipated. Flexibility was built into the master plan to creatively adapt to evolving user demands.

The master plan for National Harbor was created following extensive financial analyses and market studies, interviews with many national and international first-class hoteliers and retail and entertainment companies, frequent discussions with public officials and meetings with neighborhood groups and civic associations, numerous plan revisions, and a comprehensive study of the land.

Our Approach

Optimize the Waterfront With an Activated Public Realm and Timeless Brand

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Physical

Sensitively locate development to preserve significant views of prominent landmarks in the DC metro area, maintain important axes, and enhance natural features of the site

Functional

Encourage visitors to experience the development by foot through a series of public spaces that visually and physically connect users to the waterfront

Social

Design for longevity by infusing the public realm with a timeless brand, durable materials, and a variety of flexible spaces, providing a platform for community events and memorable experiences

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Physical

Sensitively locate development to preserve significant views of prominent landmarks in the DC metro area, maintain important axes, and enhance natural features of the site

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Functional

Encourage visitors to experience the development by foot through a series of public spaces that visually and physically connect users to the waterfront

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Social

Design for longevity by infusing the public realm with a timeless brand, durable materials, and a variety of flexible spaces, providing a platform for community events and memorable experiences

Spurred Development

The first phase of development, with the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center as anchor tenants, established the brand identity and provided the infrastructure to make future phases possible. Since its completion in 2008, LandDesign has engaged in subsequent phases and updates, leading the design and implementation of Potomac Overlook, The Haven, and, most recently, the repositioning of American Way. National Harbor continues to embody its long-term goal of creating a mixed use community that effectively and efficiently meets the region’s commercial, residential, retail, and entertainment needs while openly embracing and carefully preserving its historic, natural setting.

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Unlocked Potential

Despite National Harbor’s prime location, prior plans to develop the site failed. In 2008, the site’s development potential was unlocked with the re-construction of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, which carries the Capital Beltway over the Potomac River. A new, exclusive vehicular exit off the Beltway to the property, and direct trail connection from the bridge, water taxi, and bike share provide visitors multiple ways to access National Harbor through a natural, park-like procession.

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Sensitive to the Land

Rising 150 feet above the Potomac River shoreline, the design vision for National Harbor embraced its natural setting, with the goal of improving stormwater runoff quality and restoring wildlife habitat

Protecting the Potomac Watershed

In its original form, the land had contributed to excess stormwater runoff into the Potomac River from adjacent properties, including agricultural and gravel mining uses. The master plan incorporates techniques and practices–such as two stormwater management ponds, Panorama and Betty Blume, flanking the site’s entrance–that minimize and treat the site and an additional 100 acres of the surrounding land’s stormwater runoff, reducing the levels of pollutants entering the Potomac River.

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A Stable and Productive Shoreline

Abiding by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental requirements, the design successfully stabilized the shoreline with stone revetment and beaches. To benefit aquatic life, the foot of the stone revetment was planted with submerged aquatic vegetation to create an undulating intertidal habitat, while a tidal wetland marsh was established at the southern end of the property, providing habitats for crab, fish, waterfowl, and other key species in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

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Placemaking Components Lend Vitality and an Iconic Identity to National Harbor

A commitment to public art and programming reinforces the development’s brand identity, enhances the guest experience, and generates community pride. National Harbor’s public spaces act as a backdrop for the development’s magnificent art collection, comprised of over 45 public artworks. Additionally, paving patterns, furnishings, and light fixtures were selected for their nautical style.

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