CFA 20/JAN/22-4


403 7th Street, SE
Washington, DC
United States

D.C. Public Library
Southeast Neighborhood Library
Building renovation and expansion
Review Type


Dear Mr. Reyes-Gavilan:

In its public meeting of 20 January conducted by videoconference, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept proposal for the renovation and expansion of the Southeast Neighborhood Library, located at 403 7th Street, SE. While endorsing the general planning and massing for the project, the Commission did not take an action and provided the following comments for the refinement of the concept design.

The Commission members recognized the historic significance of the existing 1922 library building, designed by the firm of Tilton & Githens, and its importance as a civic institution for the Capitol Hill neighborhood. They supported the intention to rehabilitate the library’s exterior, the terraced landscape, and the large interior reading room, including the historic entrance sequence leading to this room, while accommodating the expanded program with a new below-grade level and a barrier-free entrance addition at the west. Commenting that the new elements could be more strongly related to the historic building and the neighborhood context, they requested the development of options for the facades of the addition, including an alternative with a more solid character, possibly using masonry, and with less reliance on added shading devices to protect extensive south-facing glazing. They supported the emphasis on bringing daylight throughout the expanded interior, provided that the interventions are compatible with the historic architecture and landscape; they suggested a more historically sensitive treatment for the alterations to the main reading room, such as a more deliberately composed appearance for the new atrium and skylight configuration.

For the design of the site, the Commission members raised concerns that the proposal may detract from the public’s experience of the library within its historic context. Specifically, they cited the abrupt treatment of the prominent new retaining walls at the accessible entrance plaza, recommending that this area be reconceived to have a greener, more welcoming character and be more integrated with the terraced landscape in public space. They also suggested design refinement for the at-grade skylight on the south above the new lower level; generally, they recommended simplification of the terraced landscape to reflect its original low plantings and open design, and to reinforce the architectural strength of the historic building as it meets the ground.

The Commission looks forward to further concept-level review of this important civic project. Please coordinate the next submission with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you.


/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA

Richard Reyes-Gavilan, Executive Director
D.C. Public Library
901 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

cc: Chuck Wray, Quinn Evans Architects