2051 and 1951 Constitution Avenue, NW
Dear Ms. Varnon:
In its public meeting of 21 May conducted by videoconference, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a revised concept design for the renovation of and additions to the Marriner S. Eccles Building (2051 Constitution Avenue, NW) and the Federal Reserve Board–East Building (1951 Constitution Avenue, NW, the former Interior South Building), as well as associated site work for both properties. Citing the overall responsiveness to its previous comments, the Commission approved the site design and the architectural proposal for the Eccles Building with the following comments; the Commission did not take an action on the architectural proposal for the FRB–East Building, requesting further development of the design.
Regarding the site design, the Commission members complimented the project team for the development of both landscapes to protect their existing Beaux-Arts character, to accommodate functional needs such as perimeter security, and to create opportunities for public occupancy; they cited in particular the addition of large trees to enhance the setting of the buildings. While they supported the revision to the front building yard of the FRB– East Building to substitute a post-and-rail barrier system for the previously proposed retaining wall, they recommended eliminating the proposed hedge, which they cautioned could damage the root systems of the existing mature trees. They expressed appreciation for the revised design of the plaza at the new west entrance of the FRB–East Building, but they raised concerns that the associated sunken garden extending to the north side of the building—intended for employee use—would likely require the imposition of a program of operational management, signs, and barrier elements in order to control this space; they also recommended simplification of the many elements of the water garden along the north retaining wall.
For the Eccles Building, the Commission members approved the overall design as presented, subject to several conditions. They praised the solution proposed for enclosing the building’s courts, noting the symbolic opportunity for the reference to the Board’s twelve branches on the vertical glass panels of the skylight. They also expressed general support for the revisions to the facade design proposed for the infill additions at the courts, citing the wider module of the glazing derived from the historic building’s window dimensions, as well as the use of bronze for the fins. However, they raised concerns about the appropriateness of the projecting fins in contrast to the smooth, planar quality of the historic building’s walls, particularly at the attic story of the main block; they recommended further study of this detail, potentially differentiating the mullion and fin design at the attic level to bring further scale and detail to the fabric of the infill. While they approved the proposed penthouse additions as part of the proposal, they specified that these should not be enlarged in height or footprint from what was presented.
While noting the simplification of the design and general responsiveness to their comments given in the last review, the Commission members did not take an action on the renovation of and additions to the FRB–East Building. In their discussion, some members commended the contemporary character of the proposed addition as highly compatible and successful in reinterpreting the massing, proportions, formal hierarchy, and modular expression of the historic building; they suggested that further subtlety could be used to articulate the glazing system by extending the lines of such elements as spandrel panels from the old facade into the new elevations, bringing more liveliness into what may be an overly spare design. Other members continued to object to the addition as a glass box that is reminiscent of a commercial office building, glowing at night, that would present an unacceptable contrast to the solid masonry architecture of the historic building in its monumental context; they also questioned the asymmetrical and insubstantial character of the fritted glass panels flanking the outside corners of the addition, and they requested a simpler design that would make the entire property legible as a comprehensive, unified design. In conclusion, the Commission members acknowledged their lack of consensus regarding the design of the FRB–East Building addition, and they requested further development of the design in response to their comments.
The Commission appreciates the great challenge presented by this complex of significant buildings, landscapes, and public spaces involving the adaptation of historic structures for contemporary needs while honoring the civic legacy that they embody. Please coordinate continued review of the project with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Director, Management Division
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Washington, DC 20551
cc: Rod Henderer, Fortus (Callison–RTKL)
Tom Jester, Fortus (Quinn Evans Architects)
Alan Ward, Sasaki Associates