Dear Mr. Cox:
In its meeting of 17 January, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the proposed master plan for the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C., located at 3700 North Capitol Street, NW. The Commission reiterated its understanding of the future needs of the Home and acknowledged that development of portions of the property may be feasible. However, the Commission took no action on the submission, raising several concerns that should be addressed before the master plan can be approved.
The Commission emphasized the singular importance of the property and made special note of its history, buildings, landscape, topography, axial relationship to the U.S. Capitol, and its situation as a visual terminus to North Capitol Street in the L'Enfant Plan. The Commission members objected to what they characterized as a lack of a clear design concept in the master plan, commenting that it does not satisfactorily enhance the extraordinary resources of the site nor relate well to the surrounding urban context. Instead, the proposed development treats the site as a patchwork of separate parcels rather than presenting a comprehensive vision.
The Commission members stated numerous concerns with the proposal for Zone A, the most extensive and fully illustrated area of proposed development. They commented that the urban forms illustrated in the plan need to respond better to the context of the site and the grid of the surrounding city; the proposal does little to acknowledge the urban context, including a lack of expression of the North Capitol Street axis in the proposed development. The unspecified use of each structure in the plan, intended to allow response to market forces as the parcels are developed, leaves the design intention for the new buildings ambiguous with no clear concept for the intended mix of retail, office, or residential uses. The Commission also recommended that the design of the buildings in Zone A should provide a stronger spatial definition to the internal open space. Likewise, the Commission members commented that the outer edge should be carefully designed to appropriately address the site's prominent frontage along North Capitol and Irving Streets, proposed to be lined with exposed parking structures.
The Commission members were dissatisfied with the proposed design for new development in Zones B and C, questioning whether the relatively small amount of proposed development would be worthwhile. They expressed concern about the character of the proposed development in these parcels, particularly the inappropriately suburban treatment of the residential buildings in Zone C; they commented that the plan should relate to the adjacent neighborhood's urban pattern and scale to generate the layout of the proposed residential buildings. If possible, the Commission encouraged the consideration of retaining these areas as park land with public access.
The Commission requested a revised submission of the master plan, including alternative designs for development in Zone A that explore a more coherent approach to the site with a reconsideration of building typologies and definition of the urban spaces they create. As always, the Commission staff is available should you require further guidance.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, AIA
Timothy C. Cox
Chief Operating Officer
Armed Forces Retirement Home
3700 North Capitol Street, NW, P.O. Box 1303
Washington, DC 20011-8400
cc: Michael McGill, GSA
Tim Sheckler, GSA
Susie Kim, Koetter Kim & Associates