Southwest Waterfront Development
850 Water Street, SW
Dear Mr. Hoskins:
In its meeting of 17 May, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed concept proposals for building design and public space components of the proposed Southwest Waterfront development, also known as The Wharf. The individual building concept designs were reviewed as Shipstead-Luce Act submissions for Parcel 2 (SL 12-081, 900 Water Street, SW); Parcel 3a (SL 12-088, 800 Water Street, SW); and Parcel 3b (SL 12-089, 850 Water Street, SW). The public space elements associated with these three parcels were also reviewed as a concept design submitted directly from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development including designs for the piers, wharf frontage, and streetscapes adjacent to the parcels under review. The Commission expressed general support for the project's planning and the continued development of the design of its components but requested further refinement of various elements. The Commission's comments regarding the individual parts of the project are as follows.
As in their previous review of the project, the Commission members were supportive of the general configuration and massing of buildings presented for Parcels 2, 3a, and 3b. While they noted the simplification of the buildings' highly expressive character, they said that the proposals continue to present a group of overly articulated buildings which compete with each other for attention; they recommended further simplification of the architecture to create a more coherent composition of interrelated buildings. In general, they advised against the use of overscaled and excessively commercial elements, exemplified by the one-story-high letters at the upper levels of buildings and identifying the District Pier; they continued to recommend a less complicated treatment of the buildings rather than a collage of multiple architectural languages. They also commented that many of the presentation graphics showing the buildings set against a background of monochromatic massing made it difficult to understand the project as an ensemble–and suggest a lack of consideration of each building's design as a component of the overall composition.
Parcel 2. The Commission members commented that while some progress had been made to simplify the architectural treatment, the design needs further development to emphasize the pedestrian experience as seen from the ground level with less articulation of the upper levels of the building. Again, while they commended the planning for this massive multiple-use building, they advised more simplicity for most of the exterior of the building, which is predominantly residential and may serve as a background for the more public elements of the program such as the theater entrance. In their discussion, the Commission members generally did not support of the use of monumental pseudo-classical columns at the entrance, which they characterized as a clichéd treatment; they suggested developing a more refined solution for this prominent element within the city's waterfront.
Parcel 3a. Again, the Commission noted the progress made in simplifying the massing and architectural treatment of the proposed office building's elevations but continued to recommend further refining its character as a background building within the composition of the development. They suggested concentrating the expressiveness at the base of the building with a less eclectic, less complicated design approach for the upper levels of the building to create a calmer architecture that contributes quietly to the overall urban design.
Parcel 3b. Noting the improvements made to unify the design of the proposed hotel building, the Commission members suggested further study of the building's exterior elements, possibly using a narrower range of materials. They commented that the colossal clock tower at the western corner of the parcel–not associated with the hotel's entrance and in competition with the nearby theater entrance–is a distracting and unnecessary element; they suggested that the building design would be more coherent without the tower. They also recommended against the large-scale signs and logos at the building's upper levels as excessively commercial for this important site.
The Commission members again supported the general planning for the public spaces and noted the progress made in the development of the scale of the elements and the palette of materials in response to their previous comments. In general, they suggested further design refinement of the ground-level spaces to enhance the character of the development as experienced by pedestrians. They suggested emphasizing two sources of inspiration for the visitor experience: the great amenity of the waterside location and views, expressed through moments of calm that provide opportunities for outward viewing along the wharf; and the site's maritime legacy which could inform further the design of public space elements, such as a sense of softness and motion from the sails, pennants, and banners associated with an active harbor. They endorsed the simplification of the pavilion enclosure at the District Pier but suggested further study of the height and scale of the pylon elements which mark this axis from Maine Avenue to the end of the pier. As with the other proposals for large-scale signs, the Commission members rejected the concept of using colossal letters to identify the District Pier, whose identity would best be conveyed through good physical design rather than enormous lettering. The Commission indicated no support for creating an exemption from existing sign regulations for this development.
In conclusion, the Commission members continued to express overall support for the progress of the development and requested that all the elements be brought again at the concept level for review as a comprehensive design. They anticipate the additional review of the other elements of Phase One of The Wharf, including buildings proposed for Parcels 4, 5, 11, and the yacht club, as well as the concept-level review of the other public spaces. As always, the staff is available to assist you as the project is developed further.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Victor L. Hoskins
Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 317
Washington, DC 20004
cc: Shawn Seaman, Hoffman-Madison Waterfront
Stanton Eckstut, Perkins Eastman / EE&K
Harriet Tregoning, D.C. Office of Planning