The meeting was convened in the Commission of Fine Arts offices in the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, at 9:15 a.m.
Hon. Earl A. Powell, Chairman
Hon. Elizabeth Meyer, Vice Chairman
Hon. Edward Dunson
Hon. Liza Gilbert
Hon. Toni Griffin
Hon. Alex Krieger
Hon. Justin Shubow
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Frederick J. Lindstrom, Assistant Secretary
Mary Catherine Bogard (formerly Collins)
A. Approval of the minutes of the 20 June meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the June meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the minutes.
B. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 19 September, 17 October, and 21 November 2019. He noted that no meeting is scheduled in August.
C. Proposed 2020 schedule of meetings and submission deadlines for the Commission and Old Georgetown Board. Mr. Luebke presented the proposed schedule of meetings and submission deadlines for calendar year 2020. The Commission meeting dates would be the third Thursday of each month except August and December; the meetings of the Old Georgetown Board would be on the first Thursday of each month except August. He and Mr. Lindstrom confirmed that this pattern will not conflict with any major holidays in 2020. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission adopted this schedule.
D. Adoption of Old Georgetown Board design guidelines for window and sign submissions. Mr. Luebke requested the Commission’s approval of two sets of guidelines for the Old Georgetown historic district, addressing windows and commercial signage. He said that these guidelines have been under development for more than a year, including repeated consultation with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID), community groups, business representatives, and interested citizens. He expressed appreciation for the cooperation of these parties, which has resulted in a very successful process for developing the guidelines; he particularly acknowledged the leadership of the Georgetown BID in initiating this work.
Mr. Luebke said that the Commission’s Old Georgetown Board adopted the guidelines at its meeting earlier in July, with a few minor edits; today’s approval would confirm the Commission’s direction to the Board to apply the guidelines. Upon a motion by Mr. Krieger with second by Mr. Powell, the Commission approved the two sets of guidelines. Mr. Luebke noted that the Commission has previously adopted guidelines for the review of building additions in Georgetown; future guidelines may be developed to address additional topics, such as storefronts.
E. Philip Freelon, 1952–2019, a member of the Commission from 2012 to 2016. Mr. Luebke reported the recent death of Philip Freelon, who had been a member and vice chairman of the Commission. He recalled Mr. Freelon’s contributions as a designer and critic; his architecture firm’s projects in Washington include two branch libraries and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and he was also involved in the master planning and feasibility study for the renovation of Washington’s central library. Mr. Krieger cited Mr. Freelon as a good teacher. Ms. Meyer suggested obtaining contact information for the family; Mr. Luebke offered to send condolences to Mr. Freelon’s family on behalf of the Commission, and Chairman Powell agreed that a letter or resolution would be appropriate.
II. Submissions and Reviews
Mr. Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting.
Appendix I – Government Submissions Consent Calendar: Mr. Lindstrom said that the only change to the draft appendix is to correct the listing for the Arlington National Cemetery access ramp project to be a concept submission, not a final design. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer, the Commission approved the revised Government Submissions Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler said that the recommendation for one project (case number SL 19-193) has been changed to be favorable, based on the receipt of supplemental materials. Other changes are limited to minor wording adjustments. The favorable recommendations for eight projects are subject to further coordination with the applicants; she requested authorization to finalize these recommendations when the remaining issues are resolved, noting that these recommendations would otherwise be delayed for two months because the Commission will not meet in August. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Griffin, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act appendix.
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Ms. Bogard reported that the appendix has 35 projects; the only change to the draft appendix is to note the receipt date for the revised drawings for several projects. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the revised Old Georgetown Act appendix.
B. National Park Service
1. 18/JUL/19-1, National World War I Memorial. Pershing Park, Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets, NW. New memorial—Sculpture wall, lighting, security elements, and details. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 16/MAY/19-4.) Secretary Luebke introduced the revised concept for several components of the planned National World War I Memorial, submitted by the National Park Service (NPS) on behalf of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission. He said that this is intended as the last in a series of submissions focusing on refinements to the design of the memorial, continuing the development proceeding from the initial concept that was approved in May 2017 and the revised concept approved in July 2018. In April 2019, the Commission reviewed a proposed lighting design and the central commemorative sculpture wall and its elements; interpretive elements were reviewed in May 2019. He said that today’s submission includes design items left unresolved from those previous reviews: a simplified design of the stone base and water cascade on the wall supporting the main sculpture; an analysis of replacing the multi-globe lighting fixtures on the upper terrace; security elements; and the location of a freestanding tactile site model.
Mr. Luebke asked Peter May, associate regional director for lands and planning at the National Capital Region of the NPS, to begin the presentation. Mr. May confirmed that the World War I Memorial project is nearing the end of its review process. He asked Dr. Libby O’Connell of the memorial commission to continue the presentation.
Dr. O’Connell said that the memorial commission looks forward to the completion of this memorial park. She noted that the design team has worked diligently to address the Commission’s comments over the course of the reviews, and appreciates the Commission’s advice and its commitment to this process. She introduced landscape architect David Rubin to present the design refinements.
Ms. Meyer suggested that the Commission review and vote on each topic separately, so that the members can discuss and resolve questions instead of waiting until the end of the entire presentation to give comments.
Mr. Rubin said that when the sculptural elements were presented at the April 2019 meeting, the Commission members had raised concern that the sculpture wall’s base was not successfully integrated with the bronze sculpture; the Commission had suggested the simple and monolithic quality of the Pershing Memorial’s granite walls as an appropriate model. The Commission also suggested that the best solution might have the water cascading from directly below the base of the sculpture. Mr. Rubin said that a challenge arose when the foundry informed the design team that treated water, particularly in a spray, can cause the “bronze disease” of chloride corrosion. The foundry suggested keeping a certain distance between water and sculpture to minimize direct contact, thereby improving the longevity of the sculpture wall and avoiding increased maintenance. The desirable distance to avoid direct contact was determined to be nine inches, which also appears to give a good proportional relation. An additional revision is to eliminate the somewhat classical detailing of the base that was previously proposed.
Mr. Rubin said that the design team has studied the configuration of the stone pieces at the ends of the wall, eliminating the cantilever of the base and pushing the end pieces further back to more fully integrate the rear wall and the sculpture. He presented the four options shown to stakeholder agencies; the resulting preferred solution includes the east-facing cascade and a shadow line beneath the sculpture, with the stone having a monolithic quality whether the water is on or off. He said that the support will read as a unified element that is similar in character to the Pershing Memorial walls.
Mr. Krieger called the proposal an elegant solution. He recalled the Commission’s past concern about the multiple levels of the sculpture’s base, while the current proposal has the appearance of a monolithic stone base; he said that the slightly lower placement of the cascade also helps to improve the setting for the sculpture.
Ms. Meyer expressed surprise that water spraying on bronze is problematic, noting that the two have been used in close proximity for hundreds of years; she questioned whether this is a new concern due to chemicals used in the municipal water supply.
Ms. Meyer identified an issue in the perspective rendering that may detract from the intended effect of solidity and monumentality: lines at the corners of the stones comprising the base would resemble joints, causing the stone to be perceived as a veneer rather than a solid block. She recommended careful detailing that does not conceal the actual structure, and she suggested that the edges of the base be L-shaped pieces of stone instead of two abutting flat pieces. Mr. Rubin acknowledged that the problem may be in the rendering; he said that the end pieces of stone would be solid. He noted that the challenge will be on the rear where the cascade begins to form, because this is a stone that returns and is slightly lower; he emphasized the intent that the base should appear to be composed of solid pieces of stone.
Ms. Griffin asked about the proposed intensity of the cascade; she observed that some renderings depict a torrent, while others show a gentle wash over stone. Mr. Rubin responded that the intensity will be determined when the sculpture wall is completed, at which point the amount of falling water would be adjusted to achieve the desired acoustical quality; it should be loud enough to help mask city noise but not so loud as to be a distraction. Ms. Griffin said this intention relates to the design of the base for two reasons: the cascade was a feature of the historic park that many people want to see retained, and the new cascade’s audibility is therefore important; and the appearance of water washing over stone could reduce the visual heaviness of the base, helping to distinguish base from sculpture so that they do not compete for visual attention. She emphasized that these qualities of the cascade need to be part of the design approval because they are intimately connected; Mr. Rubin confirmed that the intent is to meet both these goals.
Ms. Meyer suggested a consensus that the Commission approve the revised concept proposal for the sculpture wall base, with specific suggestions concerning the solidity of the stone and the effects of the water cascade that can be handled in the final detailing. Chairman Powell supported this consensus; upon a second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission adopted this action. Mr. Rubin added that he anticipates the preparation of mockups for the Commission’s review.
Mr. Rubin presented lighting options related to the existing multi-globe light fixtures on Pershing Park’s upper terrace. He said that these options address the Commission’s previous concerns, and the design team has prepared them in consultation with multiple agencies. He noted that the role of the park is changing from a focus on urban celebration and recreation to a memorial that will fulfill a commemorative, contemplative purpose; he emphasized that this change is key to the design team’s decision-making process.
Mr. Rubin presented a comparative study of photographs of the park from September 2010, which included careful calibration of the lighting levels in the images, along with a comparison to a March 2019 inventory of the site’s lighting fixtures. The study’s conclusion is that the illumination provided by the multi-globe lights has not been consistent, and the park is not a static environment; for example, people move through it, trees lose their leaves, and branches move in the wind. He said that the presented renderings depict the site in winter, with no leaves on the trees.
Mr. Rubin summarized the April 2019 review, when the Commission had noted concern about the proposed removal of the twelve historic multi-globe light fixtures on the upper terrace, emphasizing the important role they play in establishing an architectural vocabulary that shapes space. The Commission had questioned whether the glare from these fixtures is a significant problem compared to the glare from fixtures outside the park. However, he emphasized that the glare from outside the park boundaries is unavoidable and cannot be controlled, so the park fixtures have to be adjusted to create a successful memorial experience.
Mr. Rubin said that one option from April 2019 for the lighting on the upper terrace used a light fixture designated as “number 3,” with a barrel-shaped shade. The Commission had expressed concern about using this fixture throughout the park and especially to replace the distinctive multi-globe light, concluding that using a single fixture for different conditions would compromise the park’s geometric structure and spatial clarity, particularly on the upper terrace. The new options are intended to address the Commission’s concern. He noted that the upper terrace is located behind the sculpture wall, and its lighting has to be handled in such a way as to avoid distracting from the visual experience of the sculpture.
Mr. Rubin said the design team has explored multiple factors based on various criteria, which are presented in detail in the project booklet—such as selecting different fixtures and using baffles to reduce glare. A replacement fixture for the multi-globe light would need to be distinct from others within the park in order to form an architectural edge that would distinguish the terrace’s different character. He added that the design team has also studied the option of reducing the wattage of the multi-globe fixtures while still meeting the minimum lighting needs for safety. He noted that the multi-globe lights cast light in all directions, not just downward; the maintenance and longevity of the multi-globe fixtures is also a concern.
Mr. Rubin presented three alternatives considered for the multi-globe light. One option is to modify the double-headed, pedestrian-scaled light fixture located in the grove along Pennsylvania Avenue—developed for the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC)—to raise its height and focus its light downward. Another option is the light fixture used along the Reflecting Pool near the Lincoln Memorial, which would create pinpoints of light behind the sculpture wall. A third option is the Simes double-slot pole light, which has two identical cylindrical fixtures that focus light on the ground. He noted that all of the illustrated light poles illustrated are depicted at a height of twelve feet.
Ms. Meyer questioned the accuracy of the photo simulations, observing that the PADC pole appears much thinner than the others. Mr. Rubin responded that the existing PADC poles are shorter, and the photo simulation simply shows them as elongated; the poles could be manufactured with a width that is more appropriate for the new height. Ms. Meyer asked if the NPS has evaluated the issue of maintenance; Mr. May responded that the NPS is satisfied with the level of maintenance that each option would require.
Ms. Griffin asked for the project team’s preference. Mr. Rubin said that he prefers the Simes double-slot pole option because it would focus light on the path, producing much less glare, and its strong geometry would fit within the design vocabulary of the park while remaining distinct. Dr. O’Connell added that she also prefers the Simes fixture, because it would safely illuminate the path at night; however, she said the project team is open to the Commission’s advice.
Mr. Dunson asked if the Simes light would illuminate more of its pole than the multi-globe light, potentially resulting in a problem as significant as the glare that has been discussed. Mr. Rubin responded that this is less of a concern because light on the poles would be reflection, not glare; the pole would be somewhat illuminated in each of the three options, but the Simes fixture would not shine directly into eyes. He noted that the multi-globe fixture also illuminates the base of its pole because its light emanates in all directions, including into the eye. Dr. O’Connell added that an array of the Simes fixtures would use twenty-four bulbs; in comparison, Mr. Rubin said that the multi-globe fixtures use a total of 192 bulbs. Dr. O’Connell noted that the larger number of bulbs also requires more maintenance.
Ms. Meyer thanked the design team for its thorough and careful analysis of the lighting issue. She emphasized her appreciation for the response to the Commission’s concerns about the original design intent of the lights in forming part of the park’s spatial organization. She observed that the double-slot pole, although different in appearance, has a similar overall massing to the multi-globe light, a key factor in supporting this option. She added that the Lincoln Memorial light is a background light that would not reinforce the park’s geometry in the same way, and its use here would also diminish the unique identity of the Lincoln Memorial walks. She said that using a modified PADC fixture would also be inappropriate: while this is a good design for a small fixture, stretching it could make it look kitschy. She supported the double-slot light fixture as a very good solution. Mr. Krieger agreed with this analysis and added that this fixture is also least like a pole. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. Dunson, the Commission approved replacing the upper terrace’s multi-globe lighting with Simes double-slot light fixtures.
Mr. Rubin said that the proposed security elements have been developed in consultation with the U.S. Park Police (USPP), which raised concerns about the four main entrances into the park, particularly the northeast edge along Pennsylvania Avenue that would be the most vulnerable to penetration by a vehicle. The design team worked with the USPP to develop options that would balance safety with maintaining a welcoming appearance. He said the solution proposed for the northeast edge is based on the design for the Pennsylvania Avenue bench planter, creating a new version for four locations along this edge. The new bench planter would be differentiated from the existing benches by having a rough-hewn masonry exterior on the sides, with a smooth finish on the top seating surface. He clarified that these would replace the existing at-grade tree planting areas within the sidewalk, adding that improved growing conditions would be provided for the project’s new trees through the installation of greater amounts of viable soil with sufficient percolation and aeration.
Mr. Krieger acknowledged that these bench planters would contribute to protecting against vehicles entering the park, but he observed that the spacing between them would be much wider than is typical between bollards; he asked for clarification of the protection. Mr. Rubin responded that the more important factor is the direction a vehicle is traveling, without making a sharp turn into the park.
Mr. Rubin said that simple bollards would be used at the other three corners, and these would fade into the background because they are similar to other forms in the park. Ms. Gilbert asked whether these bollards could be moved closer to the curb; Mr. Rubin responded that the further they are from the park’s stairs and planter edges, the greater the number of bollards that would be required because of the need to keep a minimum distance between them. Ms. Meyer asked why bollards are needed in front of the long runs of stairs at two of the corner entrances; Mr. May clarified that the purpose is not to protect the park from a deliberate attack but from an accidental errant vehicle. He said that typically when vehicles are driven into parks it is not for an attack, but because their drivers have missed a stoplight or turned into what they thought was a driveway; when they do this, drivers tend not to stop but to continue driving, damaging the park as they go. He said many common vehicles can roll right up a stairway as steep as those in the park; the project team had considered making the stairways steeper to reduce that likelihood, but this would result in too much change to the park’s character. He emphasized that the bollards are a necessary precaution, and the proposed locations will better protect the park.
Mr. Krieger asked if people who actually want to attack a park would not figure out that they have to approach it perpendicularly; Mr. May reiterated that the security concern is less about deliberate attacks and more about drivers who make mistakes. He emphasized that when it is necessary to protect a site such as Pershing Park, which lies along the presidential inaugural parade route, effective temporary measures are taken, such as parking vehicles to block entrances and putting up temporary barriers.
Mr. Shubow asked if the proposed bollards could be encased in stone; Ms. Meyer noted that is an option shown in the presentation booklet. Ms. Gilbert commented that she finds some of these options intriguing, and they might even be used to form a seating area. Mr. Rubin said the intent has been to develop an option that would serve security needs and also have a social use; Ms. Gilbert commented that such barriers would also appear more welcoming.
Mr. Luebke noted the Commission’s extensive past experience in reviewing security installations; the general conclusion has been that when a bollard is designed to resemble something else, it becomes more obvious and distracting. The better approach has generally been to use the slimmest possible bollard with a dark finish, which disappears the most effectively; this is especially important on a site such as Pershing Park, where so much else is going on that introducing another element would be incongruous. Ms. Gilbert said that the option based on an existing park planter is somewhat in keeping with the park’s design vocabulary. Ms. Meyer acknowledged Mr. Luebke’s comment but noted the review of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, when the Commission asked for a security solution other than a bollard; the solution of slicing through a boundary wall led to an improvement in the landscape design. She said that this situation is somewhat similar. She acknowledged that a row of many bollards might seem almost invisible, but having only two at each entrance would likely make them very obvious; she therefore supported using large, round masonry bollards. Mr. Krieger disagreed, commenting that these would look like sawed-off pieces of the Eisenhower Memorial columns, and they would be too large and out of place; he supported using a more modest pair of bollards. Ms. Gilbert asked how far the bollards would be from the bottom of the stairway. Mr. Rubin said the distance would be just over six feet; Ms. Meyer commented that this proximity would be tight.
Ms. Meyer acknowledged the security issues, but she expressed concern that society has gone so far toward reducing any kind of risk that the public realm now appears to be a landscape of fear, even directed towards such ordinary things as cars. She expressed strong objection to the proposed bench planters for the northeast edge. Mr. Krieger cautioned that if planters are not used here, the result may be more bollards. Ms. Meyer said that if security is necessary for this location, she would recommend using a more gentle finish for the proposed bench planters than the deep, aggressive rustication that is illustrated; she agreed with the proposal to differentiate these benches because they are not part of the historic fabric, but the suggested finish appears armored. Mr. May agreed with Ms. Meyer’s concern about overprotection. He said the NPS tries to avoid this appearance, limiting security to the minimum necessary to protect against accidents, and has been resisting proposals from the Downtown Business Improvement District to place security barriers at the curb and around Pershing Park.
Ms. Meyer offered a motion to approve the proposed barrier elements, including the bench planters on the northeast if they are detailed with a less hardened and aggressive finish. Upon a second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission adopted this action. Ms. Griffin requested that the next submission include a rendering depicting the option of a single bollard instead of two at each of the corner entrances.
Mr. Rubin said the next topic is the requirement to install security cameras throughout the park at locations established by the USPP. The cameras would have the same finish as the poles to which they would be attached; as with perimeter security, the expectation is that these security elements will fade into the background.
Ms. Meyer observed that the camera illustrated appears to be blocking the downlight from the lighting fixture above. Mr. Rubin said that the intent is not to add more poles, since they would begin to compromise the park’s design intent; the proposal is therefore to attach cameras only to poles that are present for other purposes. Ms. Meyer asked if the illustrated camera is the smallest available; Mr. Rubin responded that it is the standard size for this purpose. Mr. Dunson asked if the camera could be incorporated into the lighting fixture instead of being clipped onto the pole. Mr. Rubin said the light fixture is not designed to receive a camera, but other features, such as signage poles, might be designed to incorporate a camera. Mr. Dunson commented that the camera would be a distracting visual interruption along the length of a pole; Mr. Rubin said that the cameras would be integrated in the least obtrusive way, and he assured the Commission that not every pole would have a camera. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Dunson, the Commission approved the concept for the inclusion of security cameras.
Mr. Rubin introduced the final element of the presentation, a tactile site model. The proposed location is in the grove area adjacent to the Pershing Memorial section of the park, and the proposed support for the model therefore adapts the simple, linear vocabulary of the Pershing bench. He said that incorporating the model into the interpretation area at the belvedere would be infeasible due to accessibility concerns; however, the proposed design would relate to the belvedere’s design vocabulary. He added that the location in the grove would result in dappled sunlight reaching the model, rather than intense sunlight which could cause the bronze model to become too hot to touch. Ms. Meyer asked for clarification of why the model could not be incorporated into the belvedere; Mr. Rubin responded that insufficient space would be available at the belvedere for wheelchairs to approach the model from multiple directions.
Ms. Gilbert asked for more discussion of the location. Mr. Rubin said the model would not be situated precisely within the grove because it would not be part of the grove’s vocabulary or experience; the dappled light is a desired feature; and an edge location along the north side of the park would not be desirable. Ms. Gilbert suggested that the model could be placed closer to the ramp, where it would have the same quality of light. Mr. Rubin responded that this location has been considered, but moving the model further west would not allow it to be approached from many directions. He said the siting of the model has required striking a balance between treating it as an independent object and integrating it within the park.
Ms. Meyer commented that the proposal for the model is not up to the standard of the rest of the park. Citing a family member who uses a wheelchair, she said that if he were visiting this model at its proposed location he would feel both isolated and on display; providing access to the model from every side could actually interfere with a person feeling part of a community. She said she finds the proposed location to be emotionally troubling because she believes it would objectify the experience of a disabled person.
Dr. O’Connell responded that people in wheelchairs would likely be visiting this memorial every day; even as few as two people in wheelchairs would not be able to visit the model if it were in the belvedere, while the proposed location would allow room to maneuver. She expressed appreciation for Ms. Meyer’s reaction and emphasized that no one wants people to feel isolated, but there is a desire to allow people to have freedom of movement to avoid traffic jams around the accessible ramp. Mr. Rubin said he understood the concerns but added that the tactile model is also intended for people with other disabilities to learn about the memorial; Dr. O’Connell said that it should appeal to children as well.
Mr. Krieger observed that the perspective rendering of the tactile model accentuates Ms. Meyer’s point about isolation. Dr. O’Connell responded that this is because the visitor in a wheelchair is the only person depicted in one of the drawings; if other people were shown around him, he would not appear isolated. Ms. Meyer asked why the model is even necessary if does not fit within the belvedere. Dr. O’Connell said it is for the use of people who are handicapped in various ways, such as people who have trouble reading text or maps; a three-dimensional model allows the same information to be conveyed in a different way.
Ms. Meyer commented that from a distance, the tactile model looks like a chess table, and she questioned whether visitors would even go see it if it is not located within the major viewshed oriented toward the sculpture wall. She acknowledged the project team’s reasoning but asked if the model could appear more connected to the belvedere or to the center of the memorial park. Mr. Rubin responded that the design team will work with stakeholders to find a better location. Chairman Powell suggested approving the concept design, subject to further review; the Commission adopted this action.
Mr. Krieger thanked the project team for its thoughtful responses and willingness to think further about this design. Chairman Powell agreed and conveyed the Commission’s appreciation. Secretary Luebke summarized the next steps in the review process, noting that a few small items require more study, which can be included as part of a final design submission for the entire project that is anticipated for review in September 2019.
2. CFA 18/JUL/19-2, Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historical Park, C&O Canal in Georgetown. Rehabilitation of canal, towpath, and public spaces. Information presentation. Secretary Luebke introduced the presentation on the Georgetown Canal Plan, being developed to enhance Georgetown’s mile-long segment at the east end of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The intent of the plan is to address issues of deferred maintenance, safety, barrier-free access, and pedestrian connections across the canal and along its towpath. The plan also calls for improved lighting and signage as well as the redesign of areas adjacent to the canal to provide opportunities for programming. Several alternatives have been developed that vary from an emphasis on repair and historic preservation to more significant alterations; the Commission may wish to consider the appropriate level of intervention and impact on the park’s historic character.
Mr. Luebke noted that this plan was presented to the Old Georgetown Board earlier in the month, and the Board’s report has been distributed to the Commission members. He summarized the Board’s general support for the project and a desire to maintain the linear continuity of the canal through the park, with the recommendation that any intervention should reinforce the historic industrial character of the canal as it passes through Georgetown. He said that the Board suggested developing an alternative that is more respectful of the historic resources, a strategy that would be positioned between the plan’s no-build and build alternatives.
Mr. Luebke noted the presence of many representatives of organizations and members of the public who may want to address the Commission regarding this project; he described the requested time limits on comments. He asked Peter May of the National Park Service (NPS) to begin the presentation.
Mr. May noted that the Georgetown Canal Plan results from a partnership between the NPS, the D.C. Office of Planning (DC-OP), Georgetown Heritage, and the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID). He said that the proposals have been scaled back from earlier versions, in an effort to find the appropriate balance between the goals of celebrating and preserving the historical park. He said that the additional goal of accessibility includes both the technical requirements of barrier-free access and the general desire to attract people into the park who might otherwise pass by it. He described the plan’s approach as rehabilitation, and more specifically to respect, celebrate, and interpret the historic character of the park. The intent is to reveal the canal’s historic structures where possible, and to interpret them. The plan addresses the park’s significant safety issues and would provide opportunities for programming where feasible, along with needed amenities; the financial sustainability of the project is also a concern. He noted the presence of the park’s long-serving superintendent, Kevin Brandt, who will soon be retiring. He introduced Maggie Downing, the director of public programs and partnerships at Georgetown Heritage, to continue the presentation.
Ms. Downing said that this project’s planning work has been underway for many years, and today’s presentation is still at an early stage in the long process of moving toward implementation. She said that Georgetown Heritage is a non-profit organization that works in partnership with two NPS units—the C&O Canal and Rock Creek Park—that manage park sites in Georgetown. She said that her group assists with the inevitable budget limitations and backlog of maintenance—a severe problem for the canal—and also seeks to revitalize, activate, and interpret the NPS sites so that they can become inviting, inclusive, and inspiring destinations. She said that the emphasis is on creating places where people can learn, and the canal offers much opportunity for learning: subjects could include its history, geophysical and engineering issues, and natural ecosystems. She noted that such lessons are very relevant and important in our time; she said that education and accessibility are the most critical components of the long list of goals for this plan, and they have affected the most recent refinements to the design.
Ms. Downing said that today’s presentation would focus on design ideas, but the planning process has been broadly comprehensive, including education and interpretation. Structural analysis has been conducted of the canal’s components, which may result in federal funding for repairs and preservation; the planned enhancements would build on this infrastructure investment. She said that a financially sustainable project would help to ensure that the canal can be maintained in the future.
Ms. Downing acknowledged that this project requires the involvement of multiple parties—the partners in developing the plan, as well as outside stakeholders and the general public; she noted the dozens of meetings held with outside groups, as well as four large public meetings to gather feedback on the plan. Discussion topics have included coordination with other projects across the city, potential collaborations, and funding opportunities. She said that the response has emphasized the need for balance among the interests of the canal’s many user groups—between preservation and accessibility, and between recreation and the desire for a quiet urban oasis. The options in today’s presentation are intended to achieve balance while creating a spectacular urban park that recognizes the canal’s important legacy as a place of industry and innovation, as well as the community action that saved it from destruction. She added that the no-build option is not being presented; it calls for reacting to the canal’s most urgent problems that are generally evident to visitors, rather than taking a proactive approach to preservation and revitalization. She introduced associate director Kevin Storm of DC-OP, another partner for this project, to continue the presentation.
Mr. Storm commended the development of the Georgetown Canal Plan and acknowledged the work of the partner agencies and organizations. He said that DC-OP has served on the project’s steering committee since the inception of the planning process, serving as the representative agency for the D.C. government. He cited the unique nature of this planning process and the need to balance multiple issues, including preservation, new interventions to enhance the user experience, and improved access. Noting that the interests of the D.C. government generally overlap with the project’s stated goals, he outlined several areas of key concern:
- Repair and rehabilitation, including immediate and future needs; this necessary work will not be emphasized in today’s presentation.
- Accessibility and connectivity, including barrier-free access and broader connectivity to the surrounding neighborhoods.
- Access to open space, which will become increasingly important as the city’s population grows; he noted the need for cooperation between the D.C. and federal governments in the design and programming of public spaces to address a spectrum of park-related values such as interpretation, recreation, and places for reflection.
Mr. Storm said that DC-OP will continue to promote the interests of D.C. by providing design and planning guidance. He introduced urban designer Aaron Kelley of James Corner Field Operations to provide the information presentation.
Mr. Kelley noted the large number of community members in attendance, a reflection of the strong public interest in this project. He noted that his firm is widely known for its work on the High Line park in New York City, but he emphasized that the Georgetown project is not being modeled on the High Line; he said that his firm has done projects with very different characters, and the design process responds to the context and needs of the particular site.
Mr. Kelley presented the design team’s initial drawing upon visiting the site: an inventory of the different types of experiences and character along the canal. This inventory has been further developed through analysis and consultation; he acknowledged the extensive research in the NPS Cultural Landscape Inventory that documents the features of historic significance from 1828 to 1960. The project team includes Lord Cultural Resources, a firm that specializes in interpretation and planning for museum experiences; the goal is to shape the story of the canal into a cohesive and linear narrative, potentially using contemporary and interactive techniques such as site-activated digital media. The linear narrative of the canal could then correspond to the linear geography of the park that would be punctuated by a series of places that celebrate historical moments.
Mr. Kelley said that the canal’s towpath would be the critical element in organizing the park. He cited the public affection for its informal charm and historic significance, but its challenges are also familiar to the public—places of uneven surface and narrow width, sometimes even difficult for people to pass each other. The project team has carefully documented the towpath condition; he presented drawings that highlight the locations where the towpath width is less than four feet, and how the available width for potential widening is constrained by the historic walls associated with the canal. He then presented a diagram of how the towpath could be widened at some locations to provide a more feasible width for a public space, in the range of six to ten feet; ideally the minimum width could be established as eight or nine feet, which in some tight locations would be achieved by cantilevering the towpath beyond the side wall of the canal. He said that this initial study is focused on the towpath’s width; further details such as the surface materials have not yet been addressed.
Mr. Kelley presented a diagram of potential special places along the canal, supplementing the linear towpath and providing opportunities for celebration. He said that these places should have a unifying landscape element, which is being developed as a series of platforms for public use. The platforms have not yet been designed, but the inspiration would be the various platforms, docks, piers, and parked boats that historically existed along the canal. The result would be a series of level changes that are inhabited, consistent with the canal’s historic character.
Mr. Kelley presented more detailed drawings for five key areas that have been identified in the park. Most are illustrated with two options, Option A with slightly less intervention and Option B with slightly more intervention; a third potential approach, the “No Action Alternative,” is not addressed in the presentation.
The first area, “Mile Marker 0,” is at the southeast end of the park where Rock Creek flows into the Potomac River. The location has broad views along the Potomac and historic remnants of a tide lock, a waste gate, and a Mile Marker 0 monument; the Thompson Boat Center is located along the Potomac on the west side of Rock Creek. The diagrammed interventions are intended to reveal the character of the space and its civic potential. A new recreational bridge across Rock Creek would connect to the existing linear trail to the east along Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, and the paths on the west side of Rock Creek would be improved. The mile marker would be rehabilitated and set within a platform, lawn areas would be created, and a stepped terrace would lead down to the river. Option A would retain the boat storage yard on the east side of the Thompson Boat Center; Option B would relocate this function across the creek and to the north, near an existing parking lot, to allow for a larger lawn and stepped terrace. Option B would also include netting that people could recline on as a means of enjoying the park.
The second area, “Rock Creek Confluence,” is located at the east end of the canal where it connects to Rock Creek, several blocks north of Mile Marker 0; the West Heating Plant is immediately to the southwest of the confluence. An area on the north side of the canal has the potential to provide a dramatic view west toward a sequence of rising canal locks, but the view is currently obscured by heavy vegetation; this area would be opened up to reveal the view from a new platform. A new pedestrian bridge across the canal would connect the towpath to the downstream segment of Rock Creek leading to Mile Marker 0, an important addition that would unify areas of the park that are currently disconnected. He described the confluence as a serene and charming space, somewhat quieter than other areas along the canal.
The third area, “The Locks,” includes the locks on either side of 30th Street and the Mule Yard, an open space extending northward into the middle of the block west of 30th Street; mules for towing the canal boats can be seen by the public in this area, and he noted the location of the NPS office for the park, serving as a cultural focus for the canal. This area is envisioned as an improved center for interpretation that would convey the history of the canal. The NPS building would be rehabilitated, and the Mule Yard would be surrounded with trees to provide shaded places for visitors, including several platforms. In Option A, the Mule Yard would connect to a plaza that opens onto 30th Street, and an interactive model of the canal locks would be installed on the east side of the Mule Yard. Option B would locate this model along the towpath, and a new visitor center would be located to the north along 30th Street. Option B would also create a map of the canal’s entire length within the Mule Yard lawn. In Option A, the mule staging area would remain in its current location south of the canal, and swinging benches would be located on the north side along the towpath, resulting in an area that is both playful and educational; Option B would move the mule staging area to be along the towpath beneath a new canopy, giving visitors a closer look at this function.
The fourth area is “The Market Plazas,” extending several blocks westward from the Wisconsin Avenue bridge above the canal. He described this area as the commercial core that best conveys the relationship between Georgetown and the canal, with a very energetic character. This area historically had such uses as mills, power plants, and warehouses; the modern uses are different, but the historic design character remains. He illustrated the cavernous effect of buildings rising along the edges of the canal; the modest interventions are intended to avoid altering this appearance. At Wisconsin Avenue, the modest existing connection down to the canal would be improved; Option A would provide an expanded staircase on the north, while Option B would add an elevator on the north and an additional staircase on the south, along with a boardwalk that could have boats parked along it. The space along the canal could be improved at two locations to provide seating, where people could enjoy an iconic view of the canal that includes brick buildings rising from the canal’s stone edges. A block to the west at Potomac Street, adjacent to the historic market building and plaza, the existing staircase connection to the towpath would be supplemented by a ramp and elevator. The visual and physical relationship between Fish Market Plaza south of the canal and the market building’s plaza on the north would be improved; the existing pedestrian bridge that connects these open spaces, with a sloped walkway and in poor condition, would be replaced by a new bridge that would improve the barrier-free connections in this area. The view corridor toward the Potomac River would be maintained, and a historic water intake feature on the south side of the canal would be given improved interpretation. Trees would be added to shade the plazas, and platforms would be provided for viewing the canal and passing boats. Option B includes a canopy structure at Fish Market Plaza and seating terraces that would step down from the market building’s plaza toward the canal.
The fifth area, “The Aqueduct,” is at the western end of the study area, marking the transition to the forested character of the upstream continuation of the C&O Canal. Key Bridge passes above the canal in the middle of this area; Francis Scott Key Park is immediately east of the bridge on the north side of the canal, and an area called the Stone Yard is on the south side. The context is generally residential, and the interventions would focus on improved connections and accessibility. A kayak launching platform would be provided near the Stone Yard; Option A would also include a garden marked by boulders in this area. To the west of Key Bridge, the remnants of the historic aqueduct bridge would be given an improved setting and interpretation, with a meadow or plaza leading down to an overlook along the Potomac River; Option B would include a pavilion structure recalling a trestle along the former bridge alignment. Consistent with an ongoing planning effort, an improved connection would be provided between the bicycle path to the west and Georgetown Waterfront Park to the east.
Mr. Kelley summarized that the presentation’s description of five key places is intended to convey the larger vision for a single poetic path along the canal.
Chairman Powell invited questions from the Commission members before hearing comments from the public. Ms. Griffin asked for clarification of any conceptual distinction between Options A and B. Mr. Kelley responded that Option A generally gives priority to improving connections, while allowing the existing character of the space to remain; Option B typically includes an additional layer of programming that could be appropriate for the space. He gave the example of Mile Marker 0, where Option B would include recreational nets as “a more provocative interpretation” of the tide lock. Ms. Griffin asked if the connections would provide additional space as well as improve linear connectivity. Mr. Kelley said that the improvement of linear connections is common to both options, as a basic response to the project goals; similarly, rehabilitation would be necessary under any scenario, although not described in this presentation.
Mr. Dunson asked for clarification of how rehabilitation would relate to the interventions that were presented; he noted the importance of stewardship of this historic resource. Mr. Kelley responded that the current study is at the level of a master plan, and the more detailed analysis will be conducted in the next phase. He acknowledged that earlier versions of the plan were too ambitious in trying to address all aspects of the project, and the current presentation is intended to be more limited in the topics it addresses.
Ms. Meyer expressed appreciation for bringing the project to the Commission at an early stage as an information presentation. She said that the work to date will be useful in scoping the project and understanding the capacity of the site, although the forthcoming concept proposal may have very different ideas, which she welcomed. She said that a frustration during her years serving on the Commission has been an artificial debate between design and preservation, which is made more problematic by the use of the term “rehabilitation” as officially defined. She said that the term implies treating a sick patient, without recognizing the long history of change on a site that responds to evolving design traditions and its value as a resource.
In order to evaluate these issues, Ms. Meyer emphasized that documentation of the historic resources is needed—not just in plan but also in section, including the walls and surfaces along with identification of significant structures. This could allow for a better understanding of which structures are obstacles for access, and more broadly what the access needs are at a larger scale. The analysis should also include a drawing that addresses the capacity for change, demonstrating what amount of intervention would compromise the character of the resource. She said that such an analysis could help to avoid a public hearing that focuses on whether to preserve or destroy a historic resource; the focus could instead be on the creative process, which isn’t possible when information about the historic resource is omitted because it would be too boring. She anticipated that the members of the public in the audience will discuss the historic resource, and they may be angry that this topic was not given a coherent treatment as part of the presentation. She said that the conflict among these different approaches may drag on for months, while the goal should be to bring these viewpoints together for a respectful discussion about change and contemporary needs. She suggested that the focus should be on broad tactics of insertion and overlay to activate a space, instead of on a strategy of using platforms as a unifying element. She summarized her preference for a process that is different from what would result from using the NPS guidelines for rehabilitation, which she said tend to devalue the design process and create obstacles to moving forward.
Ms. Meyer also noted the references in the presentation to the quiet character of this park. She contrasted this to her own recollections of visiting the park as a student in the early 1970s, when the park had extensive programming such as concerts as well as fascinating remnants of history and industrial archaeology. She expressed sadness at the park’s current poor condition and lack of programming, and she suggested studying its history more comprehensively rather than relying on recollections from the past ten to fifteen years.
Chairman Powell invited comments from members of the audience, many of whom provided written comments as well.
The first speaker was Lisa Palmer, the vice chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2E; she said that she represents a district that includes part of the canal, and she lives a half-block from it. She described the canal as a jewel of the neighborhood; she enjoys experiencing parts of the park with her family, but is unable to experience other parts because of its condition. She read a resolution adopted by ANC 2E in April 2019 concerning the Georgetown Canal Plan. The resolution supports the planning work and emphasizes the importance of the canal as part of the Georgetown community, for both its aesthetics and its historic value. The resolution supports some elements of the plan, such as improving barrier-free access to the park by widening walkways and providing alternatives to stairs. The resolution notes that the mile-long segment of the canal in this study is only a small portion of the canal’s length; the Georgetown segment has a unique context that includes retail and residential uses, some in historic buildings and others constructed in recent decades. Projects along the canal have already altered its historic fabric. While supporting some of the design ideas as enhancements to the park, the resolution describes several concerns. The plan appears to give insufficient consideration of the effects of the proposal on the residential experience; the ANC therefore suggests adding a project goal for improvements that respect and enhance rather than harm that experience, particularly for those who live along the canal. A more specific concern is that the proposals for Fish Market Square are not consistent with this suggested goal; while the ANC generally supports improvements to this area, the specific interventions could be problematic for the square’s immediate neighbors. Similarly, alterations to the Mule Yard and the relocation of the mule staging area could be problematic for people living close to these areas. The ANC also requests consideration of public safety in the aqueduct area, with enhanced activity and programming that would not be unsafe at night. She concluded by emphasizing ANC 2E’s broad support for improvements to the canal.
The next speaker was Joe Sternlieb, chief executive officer of the Georgetown BID and executive board member of Georgetown Heritage. He said that the 900-member BID is composed primarily of commercial property owners and tenants, but its role extends beyond business improvement; its mission is to build a stronger, more sustainable commercial district while supporting the residential community—preserving Georgetown’s positive features, fixing what is broken, and creating what is missing. One of the BID’s top priorities is to restore and improve the C&O Canal. He acknowledged Ms. Meyer’s description of the canal in past decades, recalling that as recently as the 1980s and 1990s the park in Georgetown was well maintained, with a robust interpretation program, water in the canal, a mule-drawn boat, concerts, and a small visitor center. Due to subsequent budget cuts, maintenance and programming have become very limited. Five years, the BID joined with other neighborhood groups in support of obtaining a new canal boat, only to find that restoration of the canal would first be necessary; the result is the current planning study. He said that the BID was the co-creator of Georgetown Heritage, which is sponsoring the plan and works in partnership with the NPS. He said that one goal is to avoid the fate of the upstream length of the canal, which will never again hold water; the high cost of repairing and maintaining the canal cannot be justified in these less-populated areas, but this outcome in Georgetown’s urban segment of the canal would have significant negative economic and social impacts. He said that the conversion of the canal into a national park should be an opportunity to interpret and enhance it, making it a place for people, rather than an excuse for eliminating all activities and preserving it “in amber.” He described the current condition of the canal as unsafe and unwelcoming for school groups and difficult to visit for people using wheelchairs. The goal is to change this condition, and the significant investment can only be justified if the park will attract more than its current base of users. He cited Georgetown Heritage’s work with the D.C. Public Schools to develop a curriculum for third-graders that would include a field trip to the canal; fundraising is currently in progress to ensure that all of the city’s third-grade students will be able to experience the canal from the new boat that is being built. He summarized that the plan presented today is “relatively well conceived” and results from the work of dozens of professionals, incorporating an extensive inventory of historic resources and evaluation of what interventions would be appropriate. He offered to share more of the background details with the Commission in the future to give greater confidence that the plan is being developed in a sensitive and balanced manner. He added that non-planners may fail to appreciate that this project envisions only a small number of activity areas, each accommodating perhaps fifteen to twenty people, spread out along a mile-long corridor; if more people visit an area, they will likely find no seating available and will simply move on.
The next speaker was David Alpert, founder and executive director of Greater Greater Washington, a news website and advocacy organization that promotes walkable urban communities in the Washington region. He said that GGW supports the concepts of the Georgetown Canal Plan and would like them to go even further to make the canal a useable place for people. He noted that his daughter went to preschool near the canal but, consistent with Mr. Sternlieb’s observation, the students never made use of it. He added that he has enjoyed walking on the towpath many times, but recognizes that others less able-bodied would be deterred by the accessibility problems that must be addressed. He said that the presentation revealed some attractions that he was unaware of, such as the view of the sequence of locks that is currently obscured by vegetation; he expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of making the park’s hidden treasures available for people to enjoy. He observed that the vast majority of the canal’s length is non-urban, providing welcome places for quiet reflection, while this one-mile segment in an urban setting should be designed and managed as an urban park with active public spaces, opportunities for education, and appropriate outdoor recreation. He said that the canal’s current overgrown and derelict quality is not representative of its historic character, which was active and industrial; arguments to leave it in its current state of desolation are therefore failing to recognize the canal’s true historic character, and are based on “misanthropy” rather than historicity. The Georgetown Canal Plan does not attempt to restore the industrial past but does seek to tell its story. He emphasized that cities and civic spaces are inherently places for people, and the best cities design their public spaces for the constructive use of residents and visitors as well as for architectural excellence and beauty. He criticized what he sees as a prevailing planning sentiment that Washington should be stately but largely devoid of activity, commenting that much advocacy for Washington’s parks has the effect of making them static spaces understood from above, rather than as places for adults and children to enjoy the city. He said that many major world capitals have elegance while also welcoming people, without the sense that they are designed to look like models on a table. He acknowledged the Commission’s role in promoting high standards for architectural quality and artistic merit, but he said that an exceptional city does not need to be a vacant city; quality and activity can co-exist. He recommended considering these principles in evaluating this plan; for instance, the existing Fish Market Plaza is mostly empty and not original to the canal, so the question should focus on how to make it a more useful public space. Similarly, the goal for the lesser-known Mile Marker 0 and aqueduct abutments should be to draw people to them for increased awareness and appreciation. He expressed hope that the Commission would not reject useful shade structures such as canopies and trestles, while he welcomed guidance on their design; he noted that the problem of excessively heat is likely to worsen in coming years, and he acknowledged that the addition of shade trees would be helpful. He concluded by reiterating his support for barrier-free access, noting a comment elsewhere that NPS guidelines call for the highest level of accessibility that is reasonable, rather than simply the minimum standard; as with other elements of the plan, these interventions should be designed well. He said that the plan, although limited, would take a few small steps toward improving the canal and is deserving of support.
Pat Tiller addressed the Commission on behalf of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City; he noted that he also had a thirty-year career with the NPS. He said that the Committee of 100 has provided a letter with comments, and an article with comments was published several weeks ago in the Washington Post. He acknowledged Mr. Alpert’s criticism of a misanthropic attitude by some opponents to the Georgetown Canal Plan, which may be directed at the Committee of 100’s position; he said that a recent blog posting on Mr. Alpert’s Greater Greater Washington website suggested that the Committee of 100 is a mean-spirited group that seeks to prevent any change in this mile-long park and throughout the city. He assured the Commission that the Committee of 100 supports a well-designed and growing city that preserves its unique features. More specifically, the Committee of 100 supports giving new life to the Georgetown segment of the C&O Canal; he agreed that it has become seedy and run-down, and like other NPS parks it is in dire need of funding. He said that the Committee of 100 supports the plan’s goals of increased accessibility, citizen use, recreation, interpretation, and public engagement and enjoyment, along with support for respecting the historic property. He said that the Committee of 100’s message is to urge caution and balance; many of the ideas presented today are good, but others are problematic. He asked the Commission not to let the stylish new interventions overwhelm the park’s historic character, which he said is a challenge for both the design team and the review agencies. He questioned Mr. Kelley’s effort to disassociate this project from New York’s High Line, which he said has been an intellectual touchstone throughout the planning process. He agreed with the prevailing sentiment that the High Line is an amazing and well-loved park, with many cities now seeking to imitate it; but he noted that it was created from a derelict elevated rail line of no special historical importance, while the C&O Canal is of far greater significance extending from the presidency of John Quincy Adams to the advocacy of Supreme Court Justice William Douglas and support from President Eisenhower. He said that revitalizing and reimagining this segment of the canal must be approached differently from New York’s adaptive reuse of a train line, a challenging but necessary task. He noted that this project, unlike New York’s, involves renovation of an NPS park, and he said that NPS regulations and policies are consistent with this advice. He gave the example of the rope hammocks illustrated in the presentation: these may be appropriate and fun for the High Line, but they would be questionable placed above a canal in a national park. He suggested consideration of alternative design approaches such as extensive planting of trees and perennial beds. He summarized the Committee of 100’s desire for a better balance between old and new uses, with support for reimagining the canal but with serious consideration of the specific proposals. He noted that the 200th anniversary of the canal is approaching, and the decisions made in this planning process will affect the canal for future generations.
The next speaker was Anne Lewis, a local architect and president of City Wildlife, a non-profit group whose mission includes preservation of Washington’s wild places. Secretary Luebke noted that Ms. Lewis served on the Commission’s Old Georgetown Board from 2008 to 2013. Ms. Lewis said that as an architect, she supports preservation of the canal’s historic character. She agreed with other speakers that some of the presented design features are commendable but extraneous elements that would distract from the canal’s industrial character. She cited examples from the planning at the remnants of the historic aqueduct bridge, which includes an excess of features such as pivoting benches, an art platform, a trestle canopy structure, and a zigzag boardwalk. She said that her organization recommends fewer interventions that are more appropriate to the canal and would allow visitors to shape their own experiences. As an advocate for nature, she expressed concern about the potential destruction of the cultural landscape toward the east end of the park, where the canal terminates at Rock Creek and where Rock Creek flows into the Potomac River; she said that the industrial ruins have merged with nature in these areas, and the three aquatic systems have different aesthetic and ecological functions that converge to provide a rich habitat for wildlife, including birds, insects, land animals, and fish. She said that this relatively private part of the project area is already enjoyed by many birders and naturalists for its peaceful seclusion. In addition to the habitat issues, this area is also a sensitive cultural landscape that could easily be destroyed by the introduction of too many manmade features. She cited a 1925 description by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., of this area as a transition from the broad, open river to the sylvan scenery of the Rock Creek valley, which he wanted to preserve as part of the viewshed of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. She discouraged the effort to treat this valuable area as simply an opportunity for a fun urban experience. She said that the plan’s hardscape terraces along the water would eliminate riparian edges that provide habitat for the plants and animals at the base of the food chain. Aesthetically, the rectilinear design vocabulary
and multiple paving patterns that were presented would be inconsistent with the aesthetics of this wild area, and night lighting would affect the circadian rhythms of wildlife and people. She therefore recommended eliminating the pedestrian bridges and developing a more respectful design approach for the two easternmost areas of the plan—Mile Marker 0 and The Confluence.
Georgetown resident Elsa Santoyo addressed the Commission; she said that she walks along the canal weekly and has led cultural resource architecture projects in Washington and abroad for the past thirty years. She agreed that the canal needs restoration and should better serve the needs of visitors. She described the design team’s initial analysis from 2017 that divided the mile-long park into eight landscape zones, each with distinct physical and historic characteristics, and each to receive a unique design treatment. She recalled James Corner’s discussion of the challenge in maintaining the canal’s heritage and authenticity while also promoting new social uses. She said that the resulting design ideas disregard the park’s visual characteristics, formal relationships, authenticity of materials, and the auditory and visual sensations of this natural refuge nestled between the highly animated social activity corridors of M Street to the north and the Potomac River waterfront to the south. She noted that a pedestrian bridge already exists in the vicinity of Mile Marker 0, and the addition of a new bridge would be unnecessary and would clutter the viewsheds. She acknowledged that the area is currently difficult to find, and she therefore supported the addition of a path along the rear of Thompson Boat Center. She said that the river’s edge at Mile Marker 0 is a sandy beach, as illustrated in the presentation; she encouraged retaining this unusual feature for its physical and auditory qualities, in contrast to the sound of water slapping against hardscape edges along most of the riverfront in this vicinity. Further north at the confluence of the canal and Rock Creek, she discouraged replacing the riparian landscape and meadow with hardscape paths and a new pedestrian bridge. She said that the intended connectivity of nearby path systems would not be achieved due to the interruption of a nearby intersection that was not illustrated in the presentation. She suggested that the design for this area be developed with studies of the impact on plant and animal life as well as any street or traffic signal modifications that would be required to safely connect the recreational path systems. She said that providing barrier-free access while maintaining historic authenticity is clearly a major challenge for the project; the issues include the area’s steep grades as well as the constrained width of the towpath. She cited the lack of topographic and sectional documentation in the presentation, preventing an informed review of the design ideas. She said that the accessibility issue is complex enough to merit a stand-alone study to develop workable solutions.
The next speaker was Jim Wilcox, a Georgetown resident who has previously addressed the Commission and the Old Georgetown Board; he noted that his comments to the Board earlier in July were on behalf of the Committee of 100, but Mr. Tiller is representing that organization today. He said that he is not a design professional but recalls an undergraduate course on landscape architecture taught by Ian McHarg, author of the influential book Design With Nature; he cited the lessons on giving priority to the retention of open space and native vegetation. For the Georgetown Canal Plan, he noted the consensus in favor of restoring the canal, but he said that the applicable standard of design should be more like Georgetown’s Dumbarton Oaks than San Antonio’s River Walk. He emphasized the location of the canal paralleling two busy corridors only a block to the north and south, each with heavy vehicular traffic and congestion; the waterfront to the south also includes a dedicated bike lane and a heavily used waterfront park. He described the canal as a sliver of relative calm and serenity between these two busy corridors, and he questioned why the canal should be “Disneyfied.” He said that the choice is whether to retain the canal’s current understated nature or whether it should be “greatly jazzed up.” He said that some routine improvements should be acceptable to all, such as an improved visitor center, more availability of educational materials, and adequate seating to accommodate visitors. He questioned the presentation’s characterization of the project as primarily focused on accessibility, education, recreation, and restoration; he quoted a BID planning document that included this project as part of a strategic approach to building an economically stronger and more sustainable commercial district in Georgetown, including treatment of the canal park as part of a wider canal district that would have active areas of restaurants and shops. He said that the result of this plan would be to sacrifice a small, quiet, contemplative piece of our nation’s history by filling in this southern area of Georgetown with a new commercial area that is desired by the business community. He concluded by supporting the concerns that have been raised about preservation, green space, wildlife, and vegetation, and the undesirability of creating a much wider towpath, adding hammocks and boardwalks, altering the historic canal wall to add seating and cafe tables, and numerous other features of the plan.
David Miller, a Georgetown resident and business owner, addressed the Commission. He said that the neighborhood and the canal are the focus of his life, and he owns a property with a large patio that overlooks the canal. He said that his comments are changing in response to hearing the previous speakers. Citing the four public meetings that have been held, he complimented the design team, the BID, and Georgetown Heritage for bringing in the community to discuss the possibilities for the canal; he said that multiple versions of the plan have been developed, with changes in response to community comments. Based on his experience walking on bridges across the canal daily for the past ten years, he agreed that the area has been deteriorating; people avoid it because it is uninviting and dangerous, and he disagreed with the descriptions by other speakers of how people currently use the park. He emphasized that the daily experience of the canal gives a different perspective than looking at it as an abstract planning exercise. He acknowledged that the specific proposals would evolve, and he said that the project provides an opportunity for enhancement and economic benefit while keep the historical value of the canal. He said that the result would be positive for Georgetown and for the people who experience the park. He agreed that budget constraints have been problematic, resulting in only emergency repairs rather than proactive work. He encouraged the effort to change the paradigm of thinking about the canal, and he reiterated his support for the work of Georgetown Heritage and its partners. He expressed regret that the comments of some of the other speakers were not given at the previous public meetings, where they could be considered in the context of the viewpoints of Georgetown residents. He concluded by urging focus on the positive aspects of the plan, including necessary repairs, rather than focusing on negatives.
The final speaker was William Freyvogel, who lives in a condominium located along the towpath. He said that he has walked and biked along the canal since the 1970s, when he was a student at Georgetown University, and he has attended most of the community meetings held for this planning effort. He expressed enthusiastic support for the collaborative effort of Georgetown Heritage, the BID, the NPS, and others in working to make the canal once again a special place in the city instead of a dry ditch with weeds and trash. He described the planning by James Corner Field Operations as “nothing short of magical,” although he said that the more recent renderings have been less inspiring than earlier versions of the plan; he attributed the changes to budget concerns, creative differences, and community input, and he acknowledged the need to take a practical approach to the planning process rather than design something that is unaffordable or in conflict with the wishes of neighbors. He said that the current modified version of the plan is nonetheless successful, addressing all of the project’s goals with imagination, vision, and even whimsy—achieving a nearly impossible balance among diverse objectives and concerns. He agreed with other residents about the concern with crowds, traffic, parking, noise, public safety, and other potential side effects of the project; he said that such issues should be addressed in a straightforward manner but should not stall the project with countless reviews and revisions. He noted that similar concerns resulted in unnecessary delay and complication for creating the Georgetown Waterfront Park, and he said that the tortured history of that project—first conceived in 1968 followed by a 26-year wait for the land transfer— should be kept in mind as the canal plan is developed, with the goal of not repeating past mistakes. He added that the work of the Commission is very important and often underappreciated; the Commission serves as gatekeepers of good taste in architecture and design for the capital city, and the projects shaped by the Commission demonstrate the success of its efforts. He expressed hope that the improvement of the C&O Canal would be added to the Commission’s long and impressive list of accomplishments.
Mr. Krieger asked about the next steps in the process and the role of the Commission for today’s presentation; Secretary Luebke said that the project is at an early stage but with sufficient planning to bring it forward for comment as an information presentation. The Commission is invited to provide any general comments about the project’s direction, for the design team’s consideration as it is developed further; the Commission could also provide more specific reactions for the particular areas of the park that were presented.
Mr. Krieger noted that the Commission members have already provided some comments. Mr. Dunson said that the testimony has supported some of the Commission’s earlier comments, such as the necessity of developing documentation of the historic features. The testimony has also highlighted the issue of the viability of some of the interventions compared to restoring or rehabilitating the canal; the challenge is in determining what this project should be, and creating a people place is a difficult goal. He said that the testimony has given the Commission members and the project team a lot to think about.
Mr. Krieger expressed surprise at some of today’s public comments, which he said may have been based on earlier versions of the plan. He said that the overview presented today seems to be a pretty good balance of preservation, interpretation, and transformation. He acknowledged the preference of some people for a stronger emphasis on preservation, but he described his reaction to the plan as generally positive, not as a “trashing” of the environment with ridiculous new interventions. He observed that the plan focuses on limited areas for transformation, with the remainder of the park to receive rehabilitation; he said that the totality does not seem to be an outrageous transformation of the canal environment. He acknowledged that the plan will develop further and will be subject to budget constraints.
Mr. Dunson said that the areas where intervention is most questionable are Mile Marker 0 and The Confluence; he said that these areas should be looked at much more carefully, with more alternatives that are sensitive to the special quality of these locations at the water’s edge. He cited extensive work along London’s waterfront—some of it beneficial and some that was fortunately hidden; he discouraged introducing projections at inappropriate locations.
Ms. Gilbert questioned the presented strategy of using platforms as a unifying element; she suggested that the unifying elements should instead be the approach to “curated decay” along the canal, as well as the movement of people along it, which is linked to improved accessibility. She discouraged the sameness of the interventions at each area, instead suggesting that the unique qualities at each location be embraced—such as the particular materials, widths, and shade conditions. She emphasized that this variety of unique circumstances is what makes the place special, but an appreciation of this was not apparent in the presentation.
Ms. Meyer supported Ms. Gilbert’s reference to curated decay, citing recent scholarship on this topic. The biodiversity and novel ecologies of industrial landscapes could provide an alternative to plantings that would seem to fresh and insufficiently hardy. She expressed appreciation for the depiction in the presentation of Regent’s Canal in London, and she encouraged the inclusion of more examples in future presentations; for instance, Crissy Field in San Francisco had to reconcile radically different stakeholder viewpoints, and it has evolved into a successful example of wildlife conservation, biodiversity, and recreation. She said that achieving such a success in Georgetown could require some sort of structured conversation among the stakeholders, which is a different approach than holding a public meeting for whoever shows up. She said that the public comments heard today do not reflect a wide difference of views, but the broader public discourse in our time varies more widely in considering such issues as an emphasis on humans or nature in public spaces, even though all species need to collectively succeed. She suggested moving beyond mid-20th-century issues to plan for a 21st-century city, with a need to address extreme conditions of flood and temperature that go far beyond our personal differences.
Ms. Griffin agreed with Mr. Krieger that the project has promising ideas; she observed that all of the speakers found some aspects of the project to support, despite having differing viewpoints. She said that the project should evolve further through a process of continual editing, which may be hindered by a lack of clarity in priorities and decision-making. For example, she said that the presented interventions seem to suggest a goal of expanding the capacity for gatherings, as seen in the creation of platforms and terraces; she suggested that the project team step back and consider this topic. She described her own experience with the canal as a place to get away from the activity of M Street, which would suggest a modest scale of gatherings in small groups or school classes. She emphasized the importance of finding the right scale for interventions in relation to a better understanding of the project’s goals, seeking an appropriate balance between adding capacity and creating improved places of respite; she said that this issue may underlie some of the tensions that emerged in today’s public comments.
Ms. Griffin commented that the canal can serve as a unique classroom of the city’s history, including industrial and ecological history. If the project’s priority is to draw more people to understand this history, then the location and scale of interventions could be determined accordingly, along with the degree to which the interventions encroach on the authenticity of the experience. Another priority could be recreation for people walking or bicycling through the park, which would suggest prioritizing safety improvements that similarly would need to be balanced against encroachments; she expressed regret that teachers are now unwilling to bring school groups to the canal, as described in the public comments. Priorities are also needed to guide decisions about whether to keep or alter the park’s riparian edges. She summarized her support for Ms. Meyer’s earlier comments on the need for more clarity in the underpinnings of this project, to assist the Commission in evaluating it. Clear priorities will assist in the editing process, allowing for specific and intentional interventions. She added that the differing viewpoints on the plan may not be far apart concerning the organizing principles, but the project team will need to better articulate the goals and then determine what interventions are appropriate.
Mr. Krieger said that a persuasive observation from the public comments was that this linear park is paralleled by very active corridors to the north and south, and this park should therefore not be designed as yet another active corridor. He suggested drawing a distinction between accessibility and overactivity: the park should be a worthwhile destination for those who visit, but it does not need to draw large numbers of people at all times, which would be detrimental to the character of Georgetown.
Chairman Powell expressed the Commission’s appreciation for the presentation and the public testimony, with the hope that the project will move forward quickly. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
C. D.C. Department of General Services
1. CFA 18/JUL/19-3, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, 925 Rhode Island Avenue, NW (site of the former Shaw Junior High School). New (replacement) school building. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the concept submission for a new building for Benjamin Banneker Academic High School; it would replace the vacant Shaw Junior High School building, which was built in the 1970s and occupies a portion of the proposed site. He noted that Banneker High School is currently located eight blocks north of the proposed site in a building that dates from 1931; this facility does not have the potential for expansion and cannot be reconfigured to meet the school’s anticipated programmatic needs. He asked Sarah Pearlstein, a consultant to the D.C. Department of General Services, to begin the presentation. Ms. Pearlstein said that Banneker High School is a gem in the D.C. public school system, drawing high-achieving students from all eight wards of the city. She introduced architect Omar Calderon of Perkins Eastman DC to present the concept design.
Mr. Calderon said that the concept design is the result of close collaboration between D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) and the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), noting that DPR has come to embrace the potential benefits of sharing outdoor facilities with the new school. He acknowledged the contributions of other stakeholders in the development of the concept design, as well as members of the design team present at the meeting, including landscape architects Sharon Bradley and Bel St. John Day of Bradley Site Design, and architects Sean O’Donnell and Mary Rankin of Perkins Eastman DC. He said that a primary goal for the project is to create an environment for students that corresponds to their high levels of achievement—it is the city’s top-performing high school with a 100 percent graduation rate, and it is ranked among the top 200 schools in the nation.
Mr. Calderon indicated the proposed site for the school, encompassing much of the super-block bounded by Rhode Island Avenue and 9th, 11th, and R Streets, NW, in the Shaw neighborhood. He noted that construction of Shaw Junior High School had involved demolishing many earlier buildings and closing segments of Q Street and 10th Street; utilities remain beneath the 10th Street right-of-way, which is protected by an easement, and a segment of the alley system remains. He indicated two older buildings on the super-block—the Tenth Street Baptist Church on the northwest corner, and the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA on the southeast corner; both will remain in their current locations. The former alignment of 10th Street divides the super-block approximately in half; the abandoned Shaw Junior High School facility occupies two-thirds of the eastern half, and several DPR amenities—including a dog park, skate park, and playground—occupy two-thirds of the western half. He noted that the site is close to several other community resources, including the Watha T. Daniel (Shaw) Library and Howard University. The school would also be a short block away from the Shaw Metro station, which most students would use to reach the school.
Mr. Calderon presented additional views of the site’s architectural context, including an eight-story residential building on 9th Street; a series of new four- to five-story apartment buildings along 11th Street; historic row houses of varying profiles and fenestration patterning on R Street; and the open character of Rhode Island Avenue, with some buildings set back deeply and aligned with the city’s street grid instead of paralleling the avenue.
Mr. Calderon described the existing school building as a series of “pods” along R Street, aligned with the city grid, with areas between the pods serving as outdoor recreation space; a gymnasium and an octagonal auditorium volume project south toward Rhode Island Avenue. He indicated the existing building’s parking garage, set back from the corner of 9th and R Streets without meaningfully addressing the corner; the proposed building would be similarly set back to provide space for an entrance plaza, making use of the existing below-grade space.
Mr. Calderon said that the proposed school building is intended to have net-zero energy use; in support of this goal, a solar analysis was performed to inform the building’s siting and massing, as well as the potential location of solar panels. He said the analysis shows that organizing the building along an east–west axis would be beneficial for providing classrooms with daylight, as well as allowing for optimal placement of solar panels on the roof. A wind analysis was also performed, informing the location of the proposed building entrances to ensure that they would be comfortable and not buffeted by high winds. He said that the new building would therefore be oriented parallel to R Street, with stepbacks to create elevated outdoor spaces.
Mr. Calderon said the overall massing is composed of two basic components: an academic wing focused on a central learning commons atrium, and a community and recreational wing situated toward the west, near the outdoor DPR facilities. He described the learning commons as being organized around an ascending staircase that would link the academic spaces of the school, many of which would be terraced within the learning commons atrium. He said the design would facilitate interdisciplinary learning by providing spaces for project-based and collaborative working groups. He presented a preliminary rendering of the atrium and indicated some of the proposed features, including the introduction of natural light, the combination of traditional and non-traditional classrooms, the ascending staircases and landings within the atrium, the fabrication lab, the enclosed spaces for reading, and art studios with garage door openings; he said the concept also envisions that the landings could be transformed into art galleries. The stairway would culminate in an outdoor space focused on a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum. He said that the design envisions the school as a positive contribution to the Shaw community, and he noted that the community spaces within the school would have their own entrance to allow for access outside of school hours.
Mr. Calderon introduced the landscape design, noting that it is informed by the school’s mission to inspire lifelong learners; it includes spaces that will be conducive for students to linger and spend time on the campus, with sculpted, comfortable spaces where students are able to gather before and after school. He said that the design also seeks to honor Benjamin Banneker, the namesake of the school, through some form of interpretation in the landscape or other outdoor spaces adjacent to the building. He asked Sharon Bradley to present the landscape design in greater detail.
Ms. Bradley said that the intent is for the site and building to work in tandem, with the site providing as much educational opportunity as the school building itself; the design would facilitate the comprehension of the curriculum in an outdoor setting, accommodating students of varying learning styles. She described the site and its context, noting the open character of Rhode Island Avenue, the harder built edge of R Street, and several mature trees at the site’s periphery. She said that the relatively flat, featureless site could be considered a topographic blank slate. She emphasized the important historical and cultural aspects associated with the project: Robert Gould Shaw, for whom the neighborhood is named, was an abolitionist who commanded an all-black infantry regiment during the Civil War; and the legacy of Benjamin Banneker as referenced by Mr. Calderon. She said that the design seeks to meaningfully express the achievements of these historical figures within the landscape—beyond installing simple brass plaques—by creating a civic open space, which would establish a relationship between the well-worn open spaces across Rhode Island Avenue and the newly designed spaces at the school campus and DPR facilities. This design approach would encourage the shared use of the space by those who to not currently enjoy high-quality outdoor amenities.
Ms. Bradley said the site could be divided into several zones, such as recreation and outdoor education, based on its history, existing usage, and physical characteristics; the relatively large site begins to seem much more constrained when the ambitious program is disposed across the landscape. Additional constraints include the site’s edges, trees, and existing DPR amenities that must be retained. Discussions with students, staff, and other stakeholders in the project revealed that many would like this high school facility to be similar to a college campus; the design of the building and site would therefore feature quintessential collegiate elements, such as lawn panels at the entries, that would become as much a programming element as outdoor dining or athletic facilities. The design would also give students freedom of movement, further aiding in the transition from secondary to higher education.
Ms. Bradley said that the design attempts to fit the site elements together in an attractive and logical sequence, and her firm is working closely with Mr. Calderon’s architectural team to ensure that the site programming aligns with the interior building programming; she indicated the outdoor education, dining, and gathering spaces that would be adjacent to relevant spaces within the building, ensuring quick and convenient access. She said that some topography would be created to help provide vertical definition of spaces, such as tilting the lawn panels to create outdoor rooms for student lounging. To express Benjamin Banneker’s scientific legacy in the design of the landscape, stormwater management and watershed stewardship measures are intended to be visible, beautiful, and educational; this would be achieved by massing native plantings into the maximum number of bioretention planting areas possible. Bioretention areas would then be used as teaching tools, both for their intrinsic educational opportunities regarding environmental stewardship, as well as for their botanical attributes and the wildlife that they would attract. She said that Benjamin Banneker’s legacy would also be recognized by a sculpture, facade feature, or paving treatment at the school’s entrance, providing a sense of arrival and identity for the school.
Ms. Bradley described additional features of the site design. The existing dog park would be slightly reconfigured and flanked with bioretention areas to give the area more visual appeal; the existing skate park would also be slightly reconfigured to incorporate a large, mature tree at the corner of the site. The basketball courts would be moved away from Rhode Island Avenue and situated between the dog and skate parks and surrounded with a green buffer. A tennis court would be set back several feet from the avenue and slightly sunken, helping to minimize the visual impact of the required fence that would surround it. The proposed football field is intended to attract more male students to the school, which is predominantly female. Small, peaceful, and contemplative areas would be tucked into various places within the school and on its grounds to provide areas of respite for the students, many of whom experience stress from both challenging family conditions and rigorous academic studies. In addition, high-intensity interval training stations are proposed for the campus, providing additional outlets for stress relief. She said that creative treatments are being studied for the structures that would separate program areas in the landscape; standard chain-link fencing is not being considered for this function. In addition, a rich diversity of organic materials and permeable paving options are being studied for the ground plane.
Mr. Calderon presented a site model and described the proposed concept design for the school in greater detail, along with an overview of earlier concepts that are not being pursued. He indicated the site elements described by Ms. Bradley, noting the civic quality of the proposed entrance plaza at 9th and R Streets near the Metro station. He said that the proposed four-story configuration would result in a smaller footprint than the existing building, allowing more open space to accommodate the school’s outdoor amenities as well as expansion of the existing DPR amenities. The school would be set back twelve feet from R Street, with the fourth story stepped back further to reduce the scale of the building along this residential street; the fenestration would be in a vertical orientation, similar to the neighboring row houses. The building would be two stories at the corner entrance, with a taller element to the south to mark the entry; this element is also intended to reference the ascending staircase of the interior learning commons. Courtyards are planned, with the goal of bringing daylight into the building interior. Solar panels would be installed across the entire roof, with the potential for student access for educational purposes. He indicated the large cafeteria and gymnasium volume that would project southward from the main building, noting that these spaces are stacked to minimize the building footprint; a secondary entrance in this area would provide access from Rhode Island Avenue. He concluded by describing the preliminary material palette, which includes a panelized rainscreen facade system, with the goal of openness and porosity at the entrances and ground floor; solar panels may also be used as shading structures on the facade.
Ms. Griffin observed that the presented design is different from the printed drawings submitted to the Commission members for their review prior to the meeting; differences between the two versions include the building’s floor plan, the secondary entrance from Rhode Island Avenue, and the orientation of the playing field. She questioned the logic of the proposed site circulation—in particular, the character of the entry sequence from Rhode Island Avenue, the route between the school and the basketball court, and the mid-block route between Rhode Island Avenue and R Street. Mr. Calderon indicated the proposed path from the gymnasium to the playing field and DPR amenities to the west, which would be available for student use. Ms. Bradley added that a ten- to twelve-foot-wide path would serve as a north–south connection through the site; she said the path would also help define the school area to the east in contrast to the recreational area to the west. She indicated the proposed sloped lawn panels, as well as outdoor learning and dining areas adjacent to the school building. Ms. Pearlstein said that an agreement between D.C. Public Schools and DPR will allow the fields, the basketball courts, and possibly the tennis court and spaces inside the building, to be joint amenities for both the community and the school. She added that the presented site plan is different than the one shown in the submission materials because internal agency consultations resulted in additional program items. Ms. Brady clarified that school-related basketball would take place in the gymnasium, while the outdoor basketball courts are intended for community use; the playing field would be for both school and community use.
Ms. Griffin said that she is still having difficulty understanding the logic of the proposed site circulation based on the presentation and provided documentation, and that she cannot identify an instinctive rationale for moving through the site. She added that while the project team has generously accommodated many stakeholder needs, the site appears over-programmed. For example, no clear circulation is provided between the skate park, athletic field, and basketball court—all of which are sited immediately adjacent to one another. In addition, the outdoor spaces adjacent to the school, which are intended to be programmatically synergistic, seem disjointed. She asked if some of the programmed outdoor spaces are discretionary, suggesting that the number of program components be reduced in order to create a more logical site plan with better outdoor spaces that have a clearer relationship to the school building.
Ms. Meyer commended the inclusion of a large playing field, which she said should be planned not just for football but for multiple sports played by boys and girls. She commented that the overall landscape design appears quilt-like, with not enough useable space for a large number of high-school-aged students; the site circulation is unclear, the individual outdoor spaces appear undersized, and the overall site appears too small to accommodate the extensive program. She suggested eliminating some programmatic elements, simplifying the interstitial spaces between the remaining elements, and reducing the number of lawns, which she said are chopping up the limited outdoor space. In addition, she suggested planting one large bioswale instead of several smaller ones as presented, thereby creating a higher-performing ecological space and a better learning environment. She also encouraged making the landscape circulation more apparent through the arrangement of trees, such as with single or double rows.
Mr. Krieger asked how many students would be attending the school; Ms. Pearlstein responded that an enrollment of 800 students is expected. Mr. Krieger said that this does not seem to be an overwhelming number of students, and that the outdoor spaces may be sufficiently large. However, he questioned whether the presented site plan accurately illustrates the sizes and delineation of the spaces relative to each other, and he requested a more detailed submission before the Commission provides additional advice on the size and number of program elements. He said that based on the provided documentation, the large plaza at the secondary entrance appears overscaled, while the plaza at the primary entrance appears too small, and he suggested that the site’s open space would be better configured as a series of carefully sized spaces. He added that he attended a school with approximately 5,000 students that did not have much more space than is shown here, and he is therefore questioning the quality of the spaces rather than the total amount of space.
Ms. Griffin asked again which parts of the project are required and which are discretionary, such as whether the school building is required to be located on the northeast corner of the site; she commented that the proposed configuration is ill-fitting and difficult. She instead suggested nestling the playing field in the site’s rectilinear northeast corner, allowing for more freedom in the siting and design of the school building. Mr. Calderon responded that the proposed siting places the school where it would be closest to the Metro station, which many students will use. Ms. Griffin encouraged finding ways to improve the site circulation and the relationship of program elements, which might include moving the location of the school on the site.
Mr. Dunson suggested reorienting the school’s projecting southern volume to be perpendicular to Rhode Island Avenue, which would allow for better definition of the landscape and open up better north–south circulation through the site. In addition, this move would bring cohesiveness to the landscape and allow for a larger, formal lawn that would support the goal of creating a collegiate-style campus for the school. Ms. Bradley responded that the size and configuration of the school and landscape are constrained by existing utility easements within the 10th Street right-of-way. In addition, all DPR facilities have to remain on the west side of the site and in approximately their current configuration, while the school facilities must be to the east. For these reasons, other siting configurations such as a north–south football field were found to be infeasible. She said that the program elements and the configuration of the site plan have been evolving and are still subject to revision, resulting in the underdeveloped site plan. For example, she said that the school’s principal and staff have requested ample outdoor space for large-scale school programming; the site plan has therefore reserved a large block of outdoor space that will be further articulated and programmed as the design is developed.
Ms. Gilbert commented that the dog park may not be a compatible use with the surrounding recreational and school-related amenities, and she suggested consideration of moving it elsewhere on the site or nearby. Ms. Pearlstein responded that the dog park must be kept in its current location because of community and political commitments.
Ms. Meyer expressed support for Mr. Dunson’s suggestion to reorient the southern volume of the building toward Rhode Island Avenue, thereby making the landscape more cohesive. Mr. Krieger said that he agrees with this advice, adding that he believes the school is in the right location based the apparent site constraints; he noted that the currently proposed configuration for the southern building volume appropriately screens the service and loading area along the existing alley. He said that any revisions to the building should be accompanied by more developed description and documentation of the site design. For example, the basic concept of the tennis court is clear enough, but other elements of the landscape are difficult to understand, such as the sunken or raised conditions of the lawn panels and surrounding spaces. He said that he generally supports the interior commons concept, while commenting that the prominent interior stairways appear somewhat steep and narrow. He said that he could potentially support a very general approval of the concept design, but reiterated that much more extensive documentation of the building and landscape design would be necessary for further review.
Mr. Dunson suggested that the interior commons connect directly to the exterior at both ends—at the main entrance plaza, and at the southwestern corner to end at a generous lawn leading to the recreational facilities. Mr. Calderon responded that the learning commons is intended to be a series of ascending spaces with a beginning and end. The commons would begin at the school’s main entrance, where a coffee shop would be located that is intended to entice parents to spend extra time at the school; this area would also have displays of objects related to the school’s history. The upper end of the commons would terminate at a rooftop outdoor space shaded by solar panels; this space would have a view of the Washington Monument, honoring Benjamin Banneker’s role in surveying the District of Columbia. Ms. Gilbert asked if consideration had been given to locating a tennis court on the roof within an air-supported dome, allowing for year-round use of the space for tennis and other activities; she commented that the grade-level outdoor tennis court does not appear to fit in the landscape as designed. Mr. Calderon responded that the entire rooftop is needed for solar panels.
Ms. Griffin emphasized her concern about the potentially poor quality of the outdoor space, and she reiterated that the intended circulation sequences, the relationships among outdoor elements, and the adjacencies between indoor and outdoor programming functions are unintelligible. She said that the clarity of circulation in the landscape has been sacrificed for an excessive amount of outdoor programming, resulting in a design that appears overcrowded. She continued to encourage further study of the number and size of outdoor elements, as well as their relationship to the DPR amenities and to programming within the school building. In addition, she said that further review of the building design would require more developed elevation drawings; Mr. Krieger agreed.
Ms. Meyer said there is a consensus that additional documentation of the site and landscape would be necessary to help understand the programmatic scale of the outdoor spaces; this documentation should include sections that illustrate small topographic changes in key areas, such as the junctions between indoor and outdoor spaces. She also requested information on the number of people that are intended to occupy the spaces, such as whether a lawn is intended for an outdoor class of fifty students. Regarding the tennis court, she said that it has the potential to be a high-quality public space if it is closely bordered by hedges and trees to make it feel like a garden room. She suggested moving the tennis court northward and planting a substantial urban hedge along its southern edge, which would support the design goal of minimizing the visual intrusiveness of tall fencing around it. Finally, she encouraged exploring Mr. Dunson’s suggestion to shift the orientation of the southern volume to align with Rhode Island Avenue. Mr. Calderon agreed to prepare a response to these comments; he added that the site plan is generally successful in grouping together the areas that would be used by the general public, including the outdoor recreation spaces, the gymnasium, and the cafeteria, while responding to the dual D.C. agencies that have responsibility for this site.
Chairman Powell said that the project is heading in an interesting direction, and he thanked the project team for its presentation. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
2. CFA 18/JUL/19-4, Two Rivers Public Charter School at the Young School Campus, 820 26th Street, NE. New two-story freestanding school building and renovations to the existing Charles Young Elementary School building. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposal for a new building for the Two Rivers Public Charter School, joining four existing historic school buildings at the Young School campus on a rise overlooking the Anacostia River. He asked Jacob Marzolf and Natalie Mutchler of Studio 27 Architecture to present the design.
Mr. Marzolf said that Two Rivers Public Charter School, one of the highest-performing charter schools in Washington, currently has three facilities: two schools in the NOMA neighborhood and an elementary school on the Young School campus. The new building would provide room for 300 middle-school students. He said that the school’s mission statement emphasizes the goal of community, and the design is intended to convey that spaces are shared by a community of students, teachers, and parents.
Mr. Marzolf described the somewhat deteriorated site and its context. The campus is located just west of the Anacostia River and Langston Golf Course. A small park is located to the west, at the foot of a hill behind the campus. Development southwest of the campus is also hidden by trees, and an abandoned former school building is located to the south across H Street. A large lawn extends across the front of the campus along 26th Street on the east, centered on the wide, symmetrical front facade of the school building now used as the Two Rivers elementary school; two additional school buildings, including the elementary school of Two Rivers, are located to the north. The proposed site for the new building is at the southwest corner of the campus, behind Phelps High School, avoiding any intrusion on the front lawn of the campus.
Mr. Marzolf and Ms. Mutchler described some of the challenges facing this small and steeply sloping site, which rises ten feet toward the west. Ms. Mutchler noted that the existing Phelps High School is a Georgian Revival building with a cupola, dating from 1931; two later additions were built to its rear, including a gymnasium and a wing containing classrooms, and the new building would be related to these two additions. Mr. Marzolf indicated the location of a Pepco utility vault and room at the rear of the high school, which cannot be moved. A service access drive behind the high school leading to this structure must also be maintained, along with a fifteen-foot setback; he noted that relocating this access to the west is not feasible due to the steep topography at the back of the site, and the drive will therefore remain between the proposed school and Phelps High School. Ms. Mutchler emphasized that this access drive will have the benefit of helping to establish separate identities for the two schools; it will function as an exterior corridor between the two buildings, connecting the new middle school with the old gym, which will predominantly be used by the middle-school students. Play courts would be located between the middle school and the gym, and green space at the back of the site would be used as an outdoor seating area where students can eat lunch. Mr. Marzolf said that these spaces will create a spatial buffer that will enable natural light to enter each side of the new building.
Mr. Marzolf said that most elementary school students are currently driven to school and dropped off at the intersection of 26th and H Streets, and cars then turn around in the Phelps High School parking lot along H Street. The proposed site plan includes a small circular drive for drop-off in front of the new school’s entrance; a bioretention swale would be planted in the center of the circle, and other bioretention areas would be planted in the green area behind the new building. Students arriving by public transportation would continue to enter the campus by walking up the steep hill from 26th Street toward the new middle-school building.
Mr. Marzolf said that the program for the school encompasses 90,000 square feet; the design team has been focusing on the development of the internal spaces and only recently has begun considering the exterior. The core of the building would be a central community gathering space, and each grade would have its own smaller community space with a connection to the outdoors. He said that the roof is projected to be 80 percent green for sustainability needs and to meet stormwater management requirements. The roof parapet would be shaped to visually mimic the slope of the hill, and the green roof is intended to look like a part of a continuous expanse of green—a flat field between the slope of the front lawn to the east and the steep slope to the west. He said that the existing topography would be maintained as much as possible, while altering the grade where needed to allow daylight into the school; a monitor window would bring daylight into the central community space.
Mr. Marzolf said that the proposed facades attempt to relate the new building to the existing Phelps High School through emphasis on the horizontal datum. The new building was first conceived as a three-story structure, but massing studies suggested this would be out of character with its neighbors, so the proposal now is for a two-story structure that would occupy a larger area while remaining visually subordinate to the high school. He added that although the new school would have a more modern design character, it is intended not to contrast strongly with the historic buildings on the campus. Ms. Mutchler added that because the new school will be a detached building, its design can be used to create a sense of identity within the larger campus community; she said that Two Rivers has done this at its other locations through the use of distinctive materials and colors.
Ms. Mutchler indicated the proposed building’s cantilevered corner over the entrance, serving as a large, open gesture that welcomes people in and reaches out toward the community; Mr. Marzolf said that the building mass has been carved away to frame the entrance and to foster a sense of protection. Ms. Mutchler said that using wood at the entrance and continuing it into the central community space will impart a sense of nature to the school; she added that the wood will acquire greater tonal richness as it ages.
Mr. Marzolf concluded with three newly developed perspective views of the exterior, illustrating alternatives for the materials. The first option uses a bright color for the first story—a design hallmark of the Two Rivers schools—and a sustainable wood product for the second story. The second option has facades of red brick, as recommended by the D.C. Historic Preservation Office staff, to match the other buildings in the vicinity. The third option uses brick for the first story and wood for the second story. He added that the project is being brought to the Commission at a relatively early stage due to the fast schedule, with the expectation of a final design submission in September for completion by August 2020.
Ms. Gilbert asked for clarification of the design intent for the student drop-off; she asked how many cars would be arriving and what the procedure is for the other schools, suggesting that the new circular drive could be developed as the main drop-off point for multiple buildings. Mr. Marzolf agreed that this is the intention; he said a sidewalk would be built to connect this drop-off area to the nearby elementary school. Ms. Mutchler added that a second entry point at the other side of the campus is also being considered; she noted that all of the traffic within the campus is related to the schools, and their starting times could potentially be staggered so that, for example, the elementary-school students could be dropped off at the circle before the middle school students arrive. Mr. Marzolf said that a new entry point to the campus would be constrained by the challenging topography, and expansion of the existing parking lots would require massive retaining walls.
Ms. Griffin asked about the date and style of the three existing buildings. Secretary Luebke responded that they date from the mid-1930s to the 1950s; the earlier buildings are brick Colonial Revival and the later structures have a more functionalist style. Ms. Mutchler noted that the buildings also have more recent additions.
For the exterior materials, Ms. Griffin said that she could support a new building having a special character, but it needs to have some relation to its neighbors; she therefore encouraged the use of brick on the first story to relate to the nearby brick buildings. She expressed general support for differentiating the first and second stories with different materials, as illustrated in the third alternative, but she also encouraged further study of extending the brick through the second story as seen in the second alternative. She questioned the rationale for the articulation of the windows and encouraged further exploration of their design.
Ms. Griffin asked more generally how the building is intended to relate to its context. She commented that some of the design moves appear random, such as the fenestration pattern and the undulating roofline. Mr. Marzolf responded that a horizontal roofline would make this two-story building appear flattened, especially if different materials are used for each floor; the proposed roofline, mimicking the profile of the area’s hills, is intended to add a sense of movement so the building will not appear static. Ms. Griffin suggested that this relatively small building could have the outline of only one hill on each elevation, instead of four; the concept could be simplified for a cleaner massing while still suggesting movement.
Mr. Krieger commented that the design is generally successful, within the limitations of the site. He said the interior space looks promising, although he asked how noise would be controlled. He questioned the scale of the drop-off area, which appears to have room for only one car. He asked whether any of the open space around the abandoned school to the south could be used; Mr. Marzolf responded that this area is not within the project limits.
Mr. Krieger said that giving the second-floor rooms high or sloped ceilings would justify the roof form; but without this purpose, he objected to the roofline as a false gesture. Mr. Marzolf responded that the design had originally used sloped ceilings, but the long-term intention is to add a third floor to the building in the future; the roof has therefore been designed as a concrete slab with a structure that would allow for this addition, and the rolling shape of the parapet is a way to add liveliness while accommodating this limitation. Ms. Griffin commented that the potential third story adds another dimension to how the facades should be treated, including the exterior materials and the organization of the windows: the challenge is to design a two-story building that would also look appropriate if a third story were added to it.
Ms. Gilbert asked whether an access path could be built across the large green lawn at the front of the campus, observing that such a path with groups of trees would create a beautiful approach where there is now no direct route. Mr. Marzolf responded that when the proposal for a nearby parking lot was being considered, the D.C. Historic Preservation Office objected to altering this lawn, but he said that the proposal for a new campus access point would include consideration of adding trees. Ms. Gilbert encouraged the design team to think more broadly about the entire green space of the campus and how to create a more biologically diverse and enjoyable design.
Mr. Shubow supported Ms. Griffin’s recommendation to use brick for at least the first story. He reiterated her concern about the apparently random arrangement of windows, lacking a clear rhythm or sense of order; Mr. Powell agreed.
Upon a motion by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the concept design with the comments provided.
3. CFA 18/JUL/19-5, Capitol Hill Montessori School (formerly Logan Elementary School), 215 G Street, NE. Building modernization and additions. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 18/APR/19-6.) Mr. Fox introduced the revised concept design for renovation of the Capitol Hill Montessori School; the project includes side and rear additions to the historic school building, as well as a new site design. He said the Commission gave a general approval to the concept in its April 2019 review of the project, expressing support for the overall configuration and massing of the proposed additions. For the development of the design, the Commission had suggested using a common aesthetic for the additions, expressing some preference for the proposed brick pavilions as being a successful reinterpretation of the architecture of the existing school. The Commission had also provided suggestions for refining the historic entrance plaza and the outdoor play area. He said that the revised concept maintains the overall massing and configuration of the proposed additions, while featuring new facade treatments; the site design has also been revised. He asked Joe Olmstead of the D.C. Department of General Services to begin the presentation.
Mr. Olmstead said that the project team has met with staff from the Commission and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office to help incorporate the Commission’s comments into the current iteration of the design. He introduced architect Ronnie McGhee of R. McGhee & Associates to present the revised design.
Mr. McGhee described the scope of the proposal, indicating the three-wing configuration of the existing north-facing school and the proposed additions to the south and west. He said this strategy for siting the additions is consistent with the historic expansion pattern of the school, and the size and scale of the western addition is similar to the wings of the existing building. Circulation between the old and new buildings would be provided by walkways at the ground- and second-story levels; he indicated the various circulation paths through the school complex. The middle school program would be located in the historic building and would be largely self-contained; the main entrance for the middle school would be the existing courtyard entry between the historic wings. The lower, upper, and primary schools would be accessed through a new entry in the southern courtyard between two of the new additions. He said that because the new additions would substantially decrease the area of open space on the site, the remaining green space will be especially important for the Montessori pedagogical program, which focuses on connections to the outdoors. He said that the design seeks to provide visibility or access to outdoor green space for many of the classrooms, even those on the upper levels; the roof of the western addition would also have occupiable outdoor space. He added that the interior finishes would include natural materials and textures, such as wood, to reinforce this aspect of the pedagogical program.
Mr. McGhee said that one revision to the design is the inclusion of a skylit sunken commons area, located adjacent to the library volume of the existing school. He said this option was introduced with the elimination of the proposed below-grade classrooms; the remaining below-grade spaces will instead be used for staff or service functions. In addition, based on the Commission’s advice, the western addition has been moved further to the west, opening up more room in the new courtyard space. He noted that the size and scale of the western addition’s window and roof elements have been reduced in the revised concept. The play area has also been revised; however, he noted that the parking lot in unchanged and continues to have the minimum number of parking spaces required by zoning regulations.
Mr. McGhee presented the proposed exterior treatment of the new building additions. Wood has the potential to satisfy the goals of durability and of incorporating natural elements into the design; it would be used in a panelized system of exterior slats and screening, as well as for fencing and other building elements. The base of the additions would be a dark brick, and precast concrete panels would be used on the facades. He cited precedents illustrating the desired connections between the indoor and outdoor learning environments of the school, as well as the appearance of the gymnasium volume proposed for the western addition. He then described the proposed massing of the western addition, noting that its prominent north elevation is intended to relate to the historic wings of the school; the proposed fenestration pattern is derived from the regular pattern found on the historic buildings. He then presented perspective views of the proposal, noting the varying scale of the surrounding architectural context. He indicated the planted roofs on the southern additions, as well as the various stormwater management areas on the site, and he asked landscape architect Bryan Hanes of Studio Bryan Hanes to present the revised landscape design.
Mr. Hanes presented a series of sections, elevations, and perspective renderings of the proposed design. The middle school play area to the southwest would be defined by a seven-foot-high mound; a lower mound would be provided as a play area for younger children, adjoining a flat area of turf. Adjacent to this play area and the parking lot would be a new entrance connecting to the western addition, for use by lower, upper, and primary level students. The stormwater management area in the southern part of the site would be bridged by a boardwalk for recreational and educational use. To the north, the proposal for the historic courtyard entrance along G Street has been revised to accommodate both circulation and social interactions, with stairs, ramps, benches, and trees.
Mr. McGhee concluded the presentation by summarizing the revisions to the design in response to the Commission’s advice: the development of a single architectural vocabulary for the new additions; the shifting of the western addition toward 2nd Street; and the improvement of the hierarchy and organization of the historic entrance courtyard design.
Mr. Krieger questioned the circulation path from 2nd Street and the parking lot to the new entrance alongside the western addition; he asked if parents and children would have to walk through the parking. Mr. McGhee responded that a pathway protected by an overhang would be provided along the south edge of the western addition, leading from the sidewalk to the entrance. Mr. Krieger observed that the views presented by Mr. Hanes do not depict the parking lot, which would be immediately adjacent to the play area.
Mr. Krieger expressed strong general support for the project and commented that the design has progressed, particularly the overall planning and spatial organization. But he said that the facades—particularly on the western addition—are a “mess.” He expressed concern about the large number of materials proposed for the western addition, especially when compared to the existing historic wings and the proposed southern additions; he characterized the material palette as lacking control, with the materials appearing to clash. He clarified that he is not advising that the historic school be replicated; instead, he encouraged emulating its design sensibility of using legible primary and secondary materials—the primary facade material is brick, and the secondary material of stone is used for the quoining. He said that the proposal to replicate the color of the historic stone quoining extensively on the facades of the new additions—without regard to architectural hierarchy or material—is an approach that is not consistent or appropriate. He advised editing down the material palette and formulating a stronger rationale for the use, color, and configuration of each material in the composition. Mr. McGhee responded that only three exterior materials are proposed for the new additions—precast concrete panels, brick, and glass; Mr. Krieger observed that wood is also proposed. Mr. McGhee said that the rendering may not accurately represent the intended materials and colors of the design; for example, all of the orange-brown slats would be the same wood material. He added that natural elements would be found throughout the design of the new building, not just the front of the western addition; the intention is not to literally match the historic building, but to use wood on the north facade to announce that wood is infused into the nature of the building in a contemporary manner.
Ms. Griffin expressed support for the proposed connections between the indoor and outdoor classroom spaces, commenting that this would likely be a wonderful learning environment for students and staff. She said that appropriate additions to historic buildings often pay homage to their historic context without strictly recreating it, and she found that the projecting element on the north facade of the western addition would be a successful compliment to the historic school. However, she agreed with Mr. Krieger’s comments regarding the proposed number and color of materials and their deployment on the facade, particularly the beige panels and dark-colored brick. She said that the various colors appear to be in competition, and the extensive use of wood belies the historic building’s concept of treating only special areas with this material. She suggested that the design of the facades be streamlined, maintaining a connection to the historic buildings while toning down the palette to allow for the special spaces to be more pronounced. She also suggested that the bases of the additions be red, rather than dark gray as proposed. She summarized that the bases of the additions should be considered as background in the facade composition, allowing for the special areas, such as the projecting front element on the western addition, to appear more prominent.
(At this point, Ms. Griffin departed for the remainder of the meeting.)
Mr. Krieger emphasized the need for a broader conceptual refocusing of how materials are used in the design, particularly in relation to the more coherent palette found on the historic buildings. Ms. Meyer agreed that more study is needed of the relationship among the selected materials and their proposed use in the design; she observed that wood is being used in two different ways in the proposal, both in reinforcing the large two-story mass and in relatively minor details. Mr. Krieger said that an entirely wood-clad building would be wonderful for this project; Mr. McGhee agreed.
Mr. Shubow agreed with the concerns raised regarding the number of materials and the color palette proposed for the new additions in relation to the historic school buildings. Mr. Krieger clarified that he is not seeking a historicist design, rather conceptual clarity with regard to the materials as used on the historic buildings. Mr. Powell agreed that the designs for the buildings and landscape have advanced, but suggested consideration of refining the color palette, perhaps by using a red-colored brick for the bases of the new additions. Mr. Dunson suggested further study of the multi-story wooden element on the north facade of the western addition, commenting that it appears out of proportion with the wings of the historic school; Mr. Krieger agreed.
Ms. Meyer expressed appreciation for the modifications and adjustments to the landscape design. However, she said that the play area would still be severely compromised by the parking lot, and this configuration may have a negative impact on the emotional health of the children, who could feel as though they are caged in by the fencing separating the two areas. She reiterated her comment from the previous review that the 25 proposed parking spaces will not be necessary in the future, and she encouraged the school to incentivize carpooling and other alternative modes of transportation. She emphasized that these modifications would be critical to providing an outdoor environment compatible with the Montessori educational program. Mr. McGhee said that the design team has limited control over the required number of parking spaces, but some additional measures could be taken to make the interface between these two program areas more comfortable, such as screening.
Ms. Gilbert expressed appreciation for the simplification of the design for the historic entrance courtyard and other small landscape spaces on the site, citing the improved access to light and air, as well as the increased flexibility of these spaces. She agreed with Ms. Meyer’s assessment of the play area, and she also questioned how each age group would be separated within the relatively small area; she suggested additional simplification as well as careful study of the selection of play equipment. Mr. Hanes responded that the space would have few pieces of play equipment; he added that each area is intended to be more conducive to a particular age group, while acknowledging that the age groups may overlap because of the lack of specialized play equipment.
Mr. Dunson questioned the proposed configuration of the parking lot, suggesting that it be reoriented to be parallel to 2nd Street; he said this would help the play area be a contiguous, unified space, rather than wrapping around the parking lot as proposed. Mr. McGhee responded that orienting the parking this way would not accommodate the required number of spaces; the proposed configuration also allows for the combined off-street loading area and basketball court. Mr. Dunson asked if service or drop-off functions and play would happen at the same time; Mr. McGhee said that the two functions may unfortunately overlap. Mr. Dunson said that this conflict raises safety concerns, and he advised that this small area intended to accommodate both loading and play requires further study. Mr. McGhee said that the design team shares these concerns, but he noted that children would not walk directly through the loading zone, and visual screening is proposed; he added that truck loading would not occur during school hours.
Chairman Powell summarized the Commission’s appreciation for the presentation. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
At this point, Ms. Meyer departed for the remainder of the meeting.
G. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
SL 19-194, 555 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (The Newseum). Building alterations and additions to adapt for use by Johns Hopkins University. Information presentation. Ms. Batcheler introduced an information presentation on planned modifications to the Newseum building to serve as a consolidated location for Johns Hopkins University’s D.C. programs, which are currently housed in several buildings along Massachusetts Avenue, NW, east of Dupont Circle. She said that in January 2019, the university bought the building from its original owner, the Freedom Forum; the Newseum is expected to cease operating at this location by the end of 2019. The existing building, designed by the Polshek Partnership and completed in 2008, includes a residential slab to the north, which will not be altered, contiguous with the Newseum facing Pennsylvania Avenue. She said that in its reviews of the original design, the Commission supported the layered massing and the relationships with adjacent structures and the surrounding street grid. The current design team includes Ennead Architects (the successor firm to the Polshek Partnership) and SmithGroup; consultation is underway with several of the agencies that will review the design, including the National Capital Planning Commission, the National Park Service, and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, as well as the Commission of Fine Arts. She asked Lee Coyle, senior director of planning and architecture for Johns Hopkins University, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Coyle said the intention of the design is to transform this building into a new home for the university’s programs; he added that its location on Pennsylvania Avenue is commensurate with Johns Hopkins’s world-class leadership in education and research. He introduced Richard Olcott of Ennead Architects to continue the presentation.
Mr. Olcott said that this project will create a new and progressive identity befitting the building’s new purpose as an educational facility that will also accommodate public use, particularly on the ground floor. He described its location on Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House, at the point where Constitution Avenue joins Pennsylvania Avenue; the immediate context includes plaza areas and a fountain.
Mr. Olcott described the existing museum building as being organized in three large blocks or bars that step back from Pennsylvania Avenue, with the second and third bars rising successively higher than the first; the primary feature of the front facade is an enormous expanse of glass overlooking the avenue. The ground floor is set back from the Pennsylvania Avenue property line to provide a more generous sidewalk space, particularly toward the east end of the frontage to align with the setback of the adjacent Canadian chancery building. The National Park Service has jurisdiction over much of this sidewalk area, including some of the space within the property line; he said that the irregular jurisdictional boundary appears to result from the footprint of a building that was previously on this site. On the upper stories, the projecting Pennsylvania Avenue facade is generally set back six feet back from the property line; it supports a multi-story expanse of stone panels inscribed with the First Amendment, projecting to the property line, that will remain the property of the Freedom Forum and will be removed from the building.
Mr. Olcott indicated the museum’s existing main entrance toward the center of the Pennsylvania Avenue frontage; the university intends to move the front door approximately fifty feet to the east, closer to the adjacent Canadian chancery. Part of the wide sidewalk near the relocated entrance would be raised several steps to form a shallow plinth, resulting in a more welcoming and monumental entrance sequence. A cantilevered canopy above the new entrance would project to the property line. He said that even though the existing front facade is glass at the ground floor, it appears impenetrable; the planned modifications would result in improved views into the building. New amenity spaces would open off the sidewalk, including a space on the east that could be used for a café with outdoor seating.
Mr. Olcott said that the existing museum space has many different floor levels; some would be removed and others added to create a simpler interior configuration. Interior circulation would be clarified, with the primary circulation spine extending straight back from the front door. Two new floors would be inserted in the area behind the huge front facade opening that is now occupied by a television studio in order to create a major interactive space, called “the Studio,” that would be extend to the front facade; classrooms and offices would be located farther back, and a large existing theater would remain. The only other change to the overall building mass would be to widen the elevator overrun penthouse on the roof; the street edges and regulating lines established for the existing building, which define a strong relationship with the Canadian chancery, would be maintained. The existing series of rooftop terraces, including one on top of the front bar with an expansive view, would also remain.
Mr. Olcott described the existing and planned exterior materials. The existing facades are almost entirely glass, with a cool palette of green glass, white glass, and white metal. However, he noted that Pennsylvania Avenue is defined by brick sidewalks, and nearby buildings are masonry in warm tones, including Tennessee marble and Indiana limestone. To better suit this context, and also to refer to the traditional brick buildings on the main university campus in Baltimore, the building would be given a warmer material palette: glazing composed of a copper interlayer set between two layers of clear glass; metal in warm tones of copper and bronze; and Tennessee marble in a light pink shade—the same stone used on the two buildings of the National Gallery of Art on the opposite side of Pennsylvania Avenue. He indicated the use of the copper-accented glazing to wrap around the Studio’s floating volume, accentuating the view to the west; exterior fins would be constructed of the same copper glass. He noted that the facades would have fifty percent more stone facing, but because much of the glass on the existing building is opaque, the interior would receive the same amount of daylight. The large frame of the front bar would be opened up, broadened at the top and on the west side, and wrapped around the east corner to address the Canadian Embassy and the Capitol while highlighting the new entrance. This facade would maintain the existing six-foot setback from the property line, although the volume of the Studio would project three feet forward. He summarized that the new Pennsylvania Avenue facade would complement the monumentality the monumentality of the context while having a new and more open identity.
Mr. Krieger asked about the horizontal lines depicted on the rendering of the building; Mr. Olcott responded that these would be sun-shading louvers. He clarified that the existing building has white glass fins on the second bar, which would be replaced with horizontal fins of the copper layered glass to relate to the front bar, where the same kind of fins would be used on the projecting glass volume; the new fins would be the same depth as the existing fins. He presented a rendering of the nighttime appearance of the building, an important factor because it will frequently be used for evening programs.
Mr. Krieger commented that the design is a great improvement over the existing building in its materials, volume, and iconography. Observing that the design appears well advanced, he asked why the project has been submitted as an information presentation rather than for concept review. Secretary Luebke responded that this procedure results from regulatory processes for sites along Pennsylvania Avenue: the successor agencies to the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC) will evaluate whether the design satisfies the established guidelines, including consideration of this Commission’s assessment. He also recalled that the Commission’s past review of the Newseum included concerns about its height. Mr. Dunson observed that nothing in the proposed design contradicts elements approved in the previous design, such as the setback lines.
Ms. Gilbert asked for clarification of the public uses envisioned for the ground-level spaces. Mr. Olcott said that the goal is to have greater public accessibility than at present, and the expectation is that these two spaces could house a café opening onto the very broad sidewalk space on the east, and a bookstore or gallery on the west; he added that the café space may not have a public connection to the building’s interior.
Mr. Shubow commented on the outstanding national importance of Pennsylvania Avenue, particularly this segment between the Capitol and the White House. He observed that buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue are typically masonry structures, and the presence of a glass building is therefore contrary to the character of the avenue and indeed of the monumental core; he questioned whether the existing building should have been approved. He commented that the proposed design is an improvement insofar as it has more stone, but he would prefer even less glass, and he suggested additional detailing to refine the large expanses of unrelieved stone on the facades. He observed that the proposed glass volume, cantilevered from the Pennsylvania Avenue facade, would project from the continuous street wall into the axial view toward the U.S. Treasury and White House; he requested that the next submission include an illustration of the view northwest along Pennsylvania Avenue. Mr. Krieger expressed doubt whether the projecting volume would actually block the view, noting that existing facades recede and project along Pennsylvania Avenue. He reiterated that the presented design would be a great improvement over the existing building; Mr. Dunson and Mr. Powell agreed. Mr. Dunson commented that the color of the planned materials would recall the university’s Baltimore campus, while also helping integrate the building with the Canadian chancery to the east and other buildings to the west. He called it a welcome addition to the avenue that would improve upon the dated appearance of the existing Newseum.
Mr. Powell asked for clarification of the projecting glass studio space, observing that it appears much more subtle in the model and more prominent in the renderings. Mr. Olcott responded that the design team has considered the scale of the facade, concluding that this projection would provide visual relief along the 200-foot length. Mr. Powell said that his greater concern is the color, which is depicted in one rendering as much deeper in tone; he said the lighter tone in another rendering appears more sophisticated.
Summarizing the general support for the project, Chairman Powell said that the Commission looks forward to review of a concept submission. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
Chairman Powell departed at this point, and Mr. Krieger presided for the remaining agenda item.
E. United States Mint
CFA 18/JUL/19-6, 2020 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Program. Reverse designs and a common obverse design for five-dollar gold, one-dollar silver, and half-dollar clad coins. Final. (Previous: CFA 21/FEB/19-Admin-G, election of jurors for competition to select artists.) Mr. Simon introduced the set of three non-circulating commemorative coins; they will share the same design, although their material, size, and denomination will differ. He said that these coins will have a convex shape, an unusual technique that has been seen with recent coins commemorating baseball and Apollo 11. He provided samples of these past convex coins in the two larger sizes. A sample of the small gold coin is not available; it would be approximately the size of a nickel. He noted that the presentation has been updated to highlight the newly identified preferences of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He introduced April Stafford of the Mint to present the design alternatives.
Ms. Stafford described the background of basketball, which was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, a physical education instructor at a YMCA training school in Springfield, Massachusetts; the YMCA students soon spread the sport around the world, fulfilling Naismith’s vision of a simple, popular game. She noted that basketball is unusual among major American sports in having a specific inventor and origination. She said that the game embodies the seven “Naismith values” of teamwork, sportsmanship, fitness, leadership, integrity, respect, and perseverance. She summarized the legislative authorization for this set of coins, which honors the hall of fame’s 60th anniversary. The legislation specifies curved coins, with the convex reverse depicting a basketball; a national design competition is required for the design of the concave obverse, with the participating artists selected by a jury. She acknowledged the assistance of Mr. Dunson and Assistant Secretary Lindstrom in serving on this jury.
Ms. Stafford presented twenty obverse design alternatives from the artists selected through the juried competition, along with twenty alternatives for the reverse that were generated by the Mint’s usual pool of staff and outside artists. She noted the preference of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for obverse #19 and reverse #17. The CCAC recommended two specific pairings: obverse #19 with reverse #1, or obverse #2 with reverse #18.
Ms. Stafford described obverse #2 as a dramatic depiction of a slam dunk, with the player wearing a jersey with the number 60 in reference to the hall of fame’s 60th anniversary; she said that the concave shape would accentuate the player’s legs coming forward in the perspective view. Mr. Krieger observed that the phrase “In God We Trust” is positioned between the player’s feet, giving the appearance that the text will be stepped on.
Ms. Stafford said that obverse #19 depicts three players reaching up to a basketball, conveying the game’s hands-on action and the constant struggle for possession of the ball. The combination of three players reaching in unison is intended to represent the sport’s universal appeal, and the arms are elongated to emphasize the game’s physical and mental exertion. The subtle background of the design includes a rim and net. She said that the hall of fame especially supports the message of inclusivity in this design, which includes men and women, with two standing figures and one in a wheelchair.
Ms. Stafford described the preferred reverse designs identified by the CCAC and the hall of fame. Reverse #1 fills the convex surface with a basketball, placing the required inscriptions on the surface of the ball. Reverse #18 is similar, with the addition of two figures at the center reaching up to a ball. Reverse #17 fills most of the surface with a basketball, leaving space for inscriptions at the periphery of the design, and showing a rim and net toward the bottom of the composition. She said that the hall of fame officials prefer #17 because the ball’s position partially within the rim suggests the action of the game, along with a preference for separating the inscriptions from the surface of the basketball.
Ms. Gilbert asked if the lettering fonts on the obverse and reverse would be coordinated for the selected pairing; Ms. Stafford responded any such needed alterations could be made. Mr. Krieger suggested supporting the hall of fame’s preferred pairing of obverse #19 and reverse #17. Ms. Gilbert agreed that these are powerful designs; Mr. Krieger added that they complement each other, with the obverse focusing on the players and the reverse conveying the game’s action. He questioned the details of the composition in obverse #19, observing that the two standing players appear to be touching the ball, with the standing man having the best control of it, while the player in a wheelchair is reaching for the ball unsuccessfully; he suggested adjusting the design so that all three players are reaching equally toward the ball. Mr. Dunson agreed that the solution should be to have none of the players touching the ball, instead of all three touching it. Ron Harrigal, the Mint’s manager of design and engraving, responded that this concern could be addressed as part of some needed adjustment for obverse #19 to fade out the design near the coin’s border, in order to assure adequate metal flow as the coin is struck; Ms. Stafford added that the engravers would ensure that the wheelchair remains legible in this adjustment.
Mr. Shubow questioned the concept of obverse #19, showing an apparent competition for a jump ball between a standing man, a standing woman, and a man in a wheelchair. He also questioned the elongation of the players’ arms, which gives a cartoon-like appearance. Ms. Stafford reiterated that a slight elongation was intended by the artist to convey the tension of the reach for the ball, and she noted that the concave shape of the obverse could affect how the arms are perceived. Mr. Harrigal said that the artistic details would be studied more carefully in the sculpting process, including consideration of anatomical correctness as well as the curved surface. Mr. Krieger agreed that the elongation may be less apparent when the design is projected onto a concave surface; he added that the basketball net in the background of the design may also be less prominent in the finished coin. Secretary Luebke acknowledged the artist’s intent in elongating the arms, while suggesting that the Commission’s concern is that the resulting composition may look like poor artistry. Ms. Stafford responded that the engraving process would include consideration of the artist’s intent, and Mr. Krieger suggested relying on the Mint to resolve the concern of exaggerated elongation.
Mr. Dunson observed that some of the design alternatives include Naismith’s name, but it is not included in any of the preferred designs. Ms. Stafford responded that the Mint included Naismith’s name in the list of optional text that was provided to the artists, in addition to the legislatively required text. She said that the hall of fame officials have recognized the primary goal of commemorating the Basketball Hall of Fame, with additional inscriptions being secondary.
Ms. Gilbert offered a motion to recommend obverse #19 and reverse #17, as preferred by the hall of fame, with the comments to coordinate the text fonts and study the elongation of the arms. Upon a second by Mr. Dunson, the Commission adopted this recommendation; Mr. Shubow voted against the motion. Mr. Krieger asked if more than three affirmative votes are needed; Mr. Luebke clarified that the four participating Commission members constitute a quorum, and the three-to-one vote is sufficient for an official action.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 4:32 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA