Things to Do

A DC Architecture Firm Wants Washingtonians to Rethink Alleys

EL Studio's exhibit and tour will examine possible futures and obstacles to development.

3D viewfinders used in self-guided tours. Photo by Liz Gorman, courtesy of EL Studio.

Local architecture firm EL Studio wants people to rethink alleys, and it’s hosting a November 11 “Alley Hop” in Columbia Heights to showcase the passageways’ potential to become living and social spaces.

From 2-4 PM, three to-scale prototype alley environments will be on display at the pop-up, located in what will be an alley dwelling between Girard and Fairmont streets, Northwest. Just outside, visitors can take maps and 3-D viewfinders into certain nearby alleys for a self-guided tour of their pasts, presents, and possible futures (community gardens, sites for public art, and performance stages are a few possibilities). 

This month’s excursion explores the hidden obstacles to development in Columbia Heights. Those include zoning issues, height limits, use restrictions, parking problems and utility access. 

EL Studio’s Naylor Court location. Photo by Liz Gorman, courtesy of EL Studio.

The company estimates that more than 82,000 single-family residences in DC have alley frontage, which could mean space for 187,900 new residents if alley living was added. By showing communities what development there could look like, they hope the “Alley Hops” build support for the idea. “When you’re designing public space, it’s a slow process,” EL Studio co-founder Elizabeth Emerson says. “You have to do community engagement. You have to have the buy-in of the community.”

They also say that’s why the whole “Alley Hop” experience is designed for everyday residents, not just architecture and urban planning geeks. “This has got to be something that your grandmother could use and could understand,” Emerson says.  

Register for free here.

Zach Bright

Zach joined Washingtonian in October 2021. In the past, he’s written for The Colorado Sun, The Nevada Independent and SRQ Magazine.