300 7th Street, SW
Dear Mr. Wiedefeld:
In its meeting of 20 June, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design for the renovation of and additions to an existing nine-story office building at 300 Seventh Street, SW, for the headquarters for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). The Commission approved the general concept design with the following comments provided for the development of the proposal.
The Commission members commended the design for its aspirations to activate the site and contribute to the neighborhood’s streetscape and architectural character, noting that the proposal would be a great improvement over the existing building. However, they recommended further development of the design to advance the general concept as presented, and they commented that this building should have a strong civic presence befitting its new role as the headquarters for the region’s public transit agency. Acknowledging the reality of the property as a commercial office building with multiple tenants, they found that the expression of this civic identity must occur at the lobby. Despite the design’s intended openness, they observed that the building would continue to present certain moments of impenetrability: the blank eastern facade of the main office block, areas of solid wall flanking the retail suites, and even the private-space quality of the glassy entrance lobby.
Therefore, the Commission members recommended several refinements to the concept design to address these concerns. For the base of the building, they expressed support for the proposed biomorphic, curving character of the enclosing walls, but they identified a lack of clarity in whether the building should be perceived as a volume standing on a podium or a volume with separate pieces attached to it; they recommended developing the base to be as open as possible and to minimize odd, inaccessible planted areas around the building perimeter. They recommended considering the lobby as part of the base’s sinuous architecture, emphasizing the continuity of the public entrance with the public space outside it, and avoiding special paving treatments that typically signal private space. Noting that the base includes several retail spaces, they questioned whether the neighborhood would support this amount and configuration of retail, and they suggested considering a strategy for alternate uses in these locations. They also requested that signage for the retail occupants, and particularly for WMATA as the main occupant, should be carefully designed. For the architecture of the office block above, they questioned the appropriateness and energy efficiency of the proposed exterior of all-glass curtainwall, and they suggested studying the articulation of the curtainwall system and its configuration of fins; they also suggested inserting windows within the solid wall of the service core on the east facade. For the development of the site, they recommended unifying the design to maximize openness toward the street, possibly informed by the biomorphic character of the base, and they suggested revising the configuration of the park at the site’s east end to avoid bifurcating it with a diagonal path.
In approving the general concept, the Commission members requested that a revised concept design be presented, including plans and elevations, that addresses these concerns in the development of the design. The Commission looks forward to the review of the next submission. As always, the staff is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Paul J. Wiedefeld, General Manager and CEO
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
600 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
cc: Brian Pilot, Studios Architecture