Dear Mr. Ayers:
In its public meeting of 20 October conducted by videoconference, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a revised concept submission for the renovation of and alterations to the American Institute of Architects national headquarters and site at 1735 New York Avenue, NW (case number SL 23-004). The Commission approved the revised concept with the following comments and recommendations for the development of several components of the landscape design.
The Commission members expressed appreciation for the simplification of the proposed solar panels and their supporting structure at the facade of the headquarters building, commenting that the similarity in the shape and color of the supports for the solar panels and the proposed garden trellis helps to unify the design of the building and site. They recommended that other secondary elements throughout the site— such as the proposed fence, gates, and railings—be treated in a similar way so that they recede as background to the primary elements of trellis, wall, and boardwalk. This treatment would also allow the garden to serve as a cohesive, unifying space between the site’s two buildings of very different architectural styles—the Brutalist headquarters building and the Federal-era Octagon house. They commented that the revised design for the trellis, a cloud-like assembly of wooden elements resembling tree branches, is successful; they recommended attention to the positioning of its supports in relation to circulation routes through the site.
For the main site entrance from New York Avenue, the Commission members commented that the widening of the zigzag sloped boardwalk results in a generous and inclusive entry sequence. In contrast, they found the height and design of the proposed security fence and gates to be unwelcoming and lacking in transparency from all but the elevational view; they therefore recommended a lower, more open design for the fence and gates. They also questioned the continued proposal to use Colorado red sandstone for site walls and benches, commenting that it appears to be a remnant of an earlier design idea and that, as now presented, the material’s meaning is too remote from the original conceptual connection to the story of race and labor in early Washington buildings. While they found the latest concept for the sandstone— a progression from roughly quarried stone walls to honed stone benches, representing the material transformations inherent in the building industry—to be logical, they also recommended consideration of returning to the stronger conceptual story of the links between race, labor, and architecture. They recommended using salvaged brick or stone to provide a genuine connection to this story, both along the zigzag walkway and at the plaza associated with the trellis.
The Commission requested further concept-level review of this project to address these comments. Please coordinate the next submission with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you with the development of the design.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
American Institute of Architects
1735 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20006
cc: Christian Wopperer, EHDD Architecture
Michael DeGregorio, Hood Design Studio