The meeting was convened by video conference at 9:02 a.m.
Hon. Elizabeth Meyer, Vice Chairman
Hon. Toni Griffin
Hon. Alex Krieger
Hon. James McCrery
Hon. Justin Shubow (from agenda item II.F.2 onward)
Hon. Duncan Stroik
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Frederick J. Lindstrom, Assistant Secretary
(Due to the absence of Chairman Powell, Vice Chairman Meyer presided.)
A. Approval of the minutes of the 17 September meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the September meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the minutes.
B. Dates of next meetings. Secretary Luebke presented the dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 19 November 2020, 22 January 2021, and 18 February 2021. He noted that no meeting is scheduled in December, and the January meeting is scheduled on a Friday to avoid conflicting with the Presidential inauguration events earlier in the week. The public meetings of the Commission and the Old Georgetown Board have recently been held by video conference due to the public health emergency; if the video conference format continues through January, the Commission could consider whether returning to the regular Thursday schedule, with a meeting on 21 January 2021, would be preferable.
C. Report on the approval of two objects proposed for acquisition by the Freer Gallery of Art. Secretary Luebke reported Chairman Powell’s approval the previous day of the Smithsonian Institution's proposed acquisition of two artworks for the permanent collection of the Freer Gallery of Art. The bowl and the jar are both Japanese stoneware from the early 20th century, with ash glaze and an iron brown underglaze. The bowl depicts an orchid and mushrooms; the jar depicts a Zen monk who popularized a 17th-century form of the tea ceremony. He noted that these artworks are being donated, and the approval of the Commission’s chairman is required by a codicil to Mr. Freer’s will.
II. Submissions and Reviews
Secretary 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 reported that the appendix has six projects, an unusually low number, with no change from the draft that was circulated. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the Government Submissions Consent Calendar. Mr. Luebke noted that the total number of cases being submitted for the Commission’s review has been holding steady, notwithstanding the continuing public health emergency. Mr. Lindstrom added that the number of government cases has been increasing; the past year’s total of consent calendar cases is 37 percent higher than in the previous year.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler said that the draft recommendations for three projects were changed to be favorable based on the receipt of supplemental materials (case numbers SL 20-179, 20-203, and 21-022), and one recommendation was changed to note that the project is not within the Commission’s jurisdiction (SL 21-023). One case has been added at the end of the appendix (SL 21-024), after resolving a procedural delay in its initial submission. Three cases from the draft appendix have been removed and are being held open for review in a future month (SL 21-007, 21-016, and 21-017). Other revisions are minor wording changes and the notation of dates for the receipt of supplemental materials. The recommendations for ten projects are subject to further coordination with the applicants, and she requested authorization to finalize these recommendations when supplemental materials are received. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix. (See agenda item II.I for an additional Shipstead-Luce Act submission.)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Ms. Stevenson reported that the appendix has nineteen projects; all supplemental materials were received prior to sending out the draft appendix, and no changes have been made. Upon a motion by Mr. Krieger with second by Mr. Stroik, the Commission approved the Old Georgetown Act Appendix.
At this point, the Commission departed from the order of the agenda to consider items II.C and II.F.1. Secretary Luebke said that the Commission had identified these as submissions that could be approved without presentations.
C. Smithsonian Institution
CFA 15/OCT/20-2, Freer Gallery of Art, 1050 Independence Avenue, SW. Courtyard accessibility and landscape improvements. Final. (Previous: CFA 18/JUN/20-4) Secretary Luebke said that the project team has consulted extensively with the staff to resolve the design issues. Vice Chairman Meyer expressed appreciation for the restrained design approach in providing barrier-free access to the courtyard; she also commended the design team’s careful research of the Freer Gallery’s original design by Charles Platt, who was an accomplished garden designer as well as an architect and painter. Upon a motion by Mr. Krieger with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the proposed final design.
F. D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development
1. CFA 15/OCT/20-5, Parcel 17, St. Elizabeths East Campus, 1201 Alabama Avenue, SE (at 12th Street). New six-story office building with occupiable penthouse—Site design. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 17/SEP/20-8) Secretary Luebke said that the current submission focuses on the design of a public park that would be located between the proposed building and a future development site on Parcel 17. He noted that the submission is a revised concept, and the entire project for the building and park will be submitted again as a final design. Mr. Krieger expressed appreciation for the responsiveness to the Commission’s previous comments, and he urged continued refinement to make the character of the park as expansive as possible while minimizing the impact of the service drives that would frame it. Ms. Meyer suggested that this could be achieved by developing the ground plane design with a more subtle transition between porous and paved areas. Upon a motion by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the revised concept with these comments.
The Commission returned to the order of the agenda with item II.B.1. Mr. Luebke noted that the presentation for each project will be limited to fifteen minutes, at the Commission’s request. Vice Chairman Meyer noted that the Commission members received the submission materials in advance of the meeting, and she asked the presenters to focus on significant design issues or on the revisions to previously reviewed projects; she said that the time limit will allow more opportunity for the Commission’s discussion of the projects.
B. U.S. Department of the Army
CFA 15/OCT/20-1, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Southern Expansion Project. Final. (Previous: CFA 17/OCT/19-6) Secretary Luebke introduced the proposed final design for the southern expansion of Arlington National Cemetery. He said that the Commission approved the concept design in October 2019, with the recommendation to better integrate the existing Air Force Memorial within the expansion project, and to further study the circulation route north of the pedestrian entrance pavilion in order to improve the visitor experience through clarification of the spatial organization. The Commission had also raised questions concerning the treatment of the former vehicular turnaround at the north end of the Air Force Memorial, recommending that it be redesigned as a place from which to view the dramatic expanse of the Arlington National Cemetery landscape. He said the refinements in the final design, including changes to the streetscape and the pedestrian crossings at Columbia Pike, will be presented by several members of the project team: Col. Tom Austin, chief of engineering for Arlington National Cemetery; project manager Gregg Schwieterman of HNTB; Lee Becker of Hartman-Cox Architects; and landscape architect Elliot Rhodeside of Rhodeside & Harwell.
Col. Austin said that before the onset of the current health emergency, Arlington National Cemetery typically had 20,000 visitors daily, with an average of ten wreath-laying ceremonies and up to thirty interments each day. The cemetery is running out of space; at the current rate, it will have to be closed to new interments in approximately twenty years. Two solutions to this problem have been identified: tightening the eligibility criteria for burial at the cemetery, and adding more space for burials. Federal legislation in 2017 authorized the acquisition of two parcels of land immediately to the south—the sites of the Air Force Memorial and the former Navy Annex, called the “Southern Expansion”; this addition of about fifty more acres provides enough land to accommodate approximately 80,000 new interments and is estimated to be sufficient for the next 150 years. The Southern Expansion site is highly visible, and the project team has worked closely with stakeholders representing many levels of federal, state, and local government, as well as veterans and their families, interest groups, and visitors to the cemetery.
Mr. Schwieterman presented the refinements to the entrance sequence for vehicles and pedestrians, as well as the integration of the cemetery expansion with the Air Force Memorial. The cemetery expansion project, in conjunction with the preceding roadway project, will provide a wide bicycle path along the edge of the cemetery, landscape buffers, and a signalized crosswalk across Columbia Pike to connect the cemetery with a new parking garage to the south. Refinement of the new entrance sequence has resulted in eliminating redundant walls and circulation space at the Air Force Memorial. Within the cemetery, a new multi-use path would lead north from this entrance area to connect with the cemetery’s main entrance at Memorial Avenue.
Mr. Schwieterman described the entrance experience for those arriving in vehicles. After passing the access control point and reaching the parking garage on the south side of Columbia Pike, visitors would go to the garage’s top level to reach the Columbia Pike crosswalk and the pedestrian entrance to the cemetery; the garage would serve to reconcile the 100-foot grade difference between the cemetery entrance and the land to the south. Design details have been developed to provide a consistent vocabulary of visual cues for pedestrians and drivers, beginning at the garage, to subtly extend the cemetery’s characteristic geometries and materials; for example, the entrance would use the same masonry and design vocabulary as the cemetery’s stone boundary wall. The visual cues would partially replace traditional signage, and the extended threshold into the cemetery would set the stage for the entire entrance experience, evoking a sense of reverence.
Mr. Becker presented the refinements to the integration of the new cemetery entrance with the Air Force Memorial; he expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to work with James Freed’s design for the memorial. He noted that the design has changed substantially from its first iteration, in which the Air Force Memorial had remained an independent precinct with its own entrance and traffic circle; during the design process, the memorial has gradually become more integrated into the cemetery expansion. He said most elements of the memorial have not changed in the revised design: approach drives and walls, the memorial pylons, and an open vista to the east. In response to the Commission’s previous comment that the parallel Delta and Air Force Memorial Drives did not work well together alongside the cemetery entrance, Delta Drive was eliminated and the layout reorganized to make Air Force Memorial Drive the primary circulation route. This change requires relocating the memorial’s two large commemorative walls, the Pioneer Quotes Wall and the Dedication Wall. He indicated the proposed new location of the Pioneer Quotes Wall along Air Force Memorial Drive, at the west end of the wide walkway that is meant to resemble a runway leading to the memorial pylons. The reconfigured wall would reuse the existing stones, including their inscriptions with several quotations that would be on the wall’s east side; the west side, facing the columbarium, would have the seals representing the five divisions of the American military. The Dedication Wall would be situated at the north end of Air Force Memorial Drive, on its east end, just before the new viewing platform.
Mr. Becker indicated the proposed pedestrian entrance building, where visitors will be screened before proceeding into the cemetery. The building is intended to be quiet, simple, and reverent, with a design that strongly relates to the design of the adjacent Air Force Memorial to create a unified entrance experience. Leaving the entrance building, visitors would be facing north, looking at a grove of flowering trees planted along Air Force Memorial Drive; the memorial would be on the east, and the columbarium area would be on the west. The cemetery’s internal tram system would have a stop in this area, connecting to the rest of the cemetery including the existing main entrance and welcome center.
Mr. Becker said that the design of the new columbarium remains essentially the same as previously presented, composed of four groups of five outdoor rooms separated by green spaces. The double-sided columbarium structures have been designed as arrays of niches for urns surrounded by an exterior frame of marble; the simple forms are based on the design geometries used in the cemetery’s headstones and in the Air Force Memorial. Each niche would have a standard cover provided by Arlington National Cemetery; the niche covers are intended as the focus of the columbarium design, set against the simple, restrained design of the marble walls. The ends of the columbaria would be plain marble with a single vertical channel extending down the center that will direct the flow of water away from the primary faces, also serving to visually articulate the wall’s two sides of niches. He emphasized that the columbarium complex has been designed so that most areas would have broad views north across the historic cemetery landscape; some of the columbarium walls would be lower—only two tiers high instead of the typical five—to allow for these views.
Mr. Becker said that the committal shelter has been designed to accommodate the carefully choreographed interment ceremonies. It would be located at the north end of the central cross-axis through the columbarium composition, opposite the service and restroom building at the south end; both of these structures would use the cemetery’s existing material palette, employing the same granites such as Jet Mist, Chelmsford, and Absolute Black, whose quiet tones work together well. The service building would have an attached pergola on its north facade; the committal shelter would be open to the sky at its center, and it would have open views of the cemetery to the north.
Mr. Rhodeside described how the organization of landscape and architecture in the new columbarium complex would create a distinctive place, united by an overall tree canopy and a ground plane planted highlighted with an herbaceous layer; three lawn areas would separate the groups of columbarium rooms. He said that the broader landscape design of the Southern Expansion area is intended to continue the landscape character of Arlington National Cemetery, distinguished by its rolling terrain, lawns, and green borders along winding roads, with groups of trees shading the burial areas. Illustrating a view from the cemetery toward the Air Force Memorial, he said this beautiful, seamless landscape composition will remain the iconic image of Arlington National Cemetery for centuries.
Vice Chairman Meyer thanked the project team for the presentation and for their hard work. She opened the discussion by noting the compelling issues concerning the refinement of the entrance design: she observed the substantial difference between the initial proposal, which was oriented to the automobile and to service operations, and the current proposal, which emphasizes the site’s contemplative purpose and its orientation to pedestrian use. She commented favorably on how the new columbarium will closely relate to the cemetery’s existing columbarium type. She compared the subtlety of the rainwater channel in the columbarium walls to a Stockholm cemetery designed by Gunnar Asplund, where water is allowed to run freely over the stone, leaving stains as visible marks of weathering to become part of the memory and meaning.
Ms. Meyer noted that the grading plan was reviewed during the conceptual phase; she recalled that it was one of the most remarkable grading plans submitted during her time on the Commission, with careful attention not only to interment but also to the experience of the landscape. She encouraged the project team to realize how important the grading is to the design; even though it may not be apparent during the construction phase, she emphasized that it can make the difference in the landscape being an extraordinary experience instead of a bad grading project. She urged paying close attention to maintaining this experiential quality as the design is implemented; Mr. Rhodeside assured the Commission they would.
Mr. McCrery asked why the architecture of the columbarium complex has so little detail. He said the water channels on the sides of the columbarium walls are the most interesting feature of the architecture, but otherwise the columbarium is designed merely as cubic volumes, as boxes for boxes. He observed that the presentation included much talk about reverence, but the columbarium walls look like they could be anywhere; he recommended further refinement of the architectural design. Ms. Meyer noted that the cemetery has an existing typology for its design elements, as seen in the Commission’s review of several projects for the cemetery over the last several years; she suggested that Mr. Becker explain these parameters. Mr. McCrery asked Mr. Becker to extend his comments to include the design of the committal shelter and other buildings.
Mr. Becker responded that when he visits cemeteries abroad, particularly the military cemeteries maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, he is always struck by the quietness of their structures: the headstones are all very simple, unarticulated forms, with no inscription other than the name of the person buried there, and they are regimented in lines that march across the picturesque landscapes, expressing the egalitarian spirit of national service. He said that the proposed columbarium is likewise designed with a repetition of identical elements in order to create a simple, quiet, and reverent precinct within the romantic landscape of the cemetery, with the niche covers providing the primary visual detail. He added that the Air Force Memorial is also very simple in its geometry, and it is moving because of this simplicity.
Mr. Becker said that the design of the committal shelter is distinguished by the large oculus opening in the center of its roof. He described the sequence of a service at the shelter, with a caisson arriving and “Taps” played from a nearby knoll. Mr. McCrery said he understands how the committal shelter works, but he reiterated his objection to its design, saying that it could as easily be a coffee table. Mr. Becker responded that more articulation had been considered, either around the oculus or to express beams on the ceiling; but since the goal is for the shelter to be a background building, it was decided this could best be achieved through a simple, quiet design. He added that the oculus will have a frosted glass clerestory, admitting daylight that will move around the shelter as the sun moves throughout the day. He reiterated that using a lot of detail to articulate this structure seems out of character with the simple designs of the columbarium, the headstones in the cemetery, and the Air Force Memorial.
Mr. Krieger complimented the design of the cemetery expansion for its restraint. He emphasized that the columbarium complex is a place that should highlight funeral services and convey respect for those interred here; it is not a place for architectural display. He said he thinks the design is a very intelligent way not to overdo what does not need to be overdone.
Mr. McCrery noted that Ms. Meyer had referred to the magnificent cemeteries of Gunnar Asplund, but he said that Asplund’s cemetery buildings, while remarkable in their simplicity, are full of detail seen in their rich treatment of profiles, materials, proportions, and compositions. He observed an apparent desire not to design in order to somehow put people at the center or to evoke reverence; however, he emphasized that not designing is a poor way to achieve this. He said that other buildings and structures throughout the cemetery are superb works of architecture, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is not simple but achieves a beautiful, quiet, and reverent effect while having a great deal of exquisite detail. He commented that this project does not seem like an effort to integrate the Air Force Memorial into the cemetery but instead to integrate the cemetery into the memorial—an approach that avoids the difficult task of architectural design, using simplicity and reverence as the reason for avoiding it. He called the design a missed opportunity and said it should be reconsidered; he added that the proposed landscape composition is wonderful. Mr. Becker reiterated his belief that the design is appropriately subtle.
Mr. Stroik thanked Mr. Becker for his presentation, and for the beautiful marble work of the proposed columbarium structures. He said that he finds the most compelling part of the project to be the committal shelter, although he would prefer its oculus to be open to the elements. In considering logical ways to incorporate more detail within this proposed design, he suggested using actual rather than implied beams, and establishing a boundary in the floor paving. Other enhancements could be to suggest capitals and bases on the supporting columns, and adding some detail around the oculus; he cited the work of Mr. Becker’s firm at the National Gallery of Art, where an open oculus was added above the north lobby. He summarized his recommendation to study whether a little articulation of the pavement, columns, beams, and oculus could heighten the dignity of this severely simple design.
Mr. Becker responded that some of these ideas have already been considered, and more study will be needed as the design moves into the next phase of development. He said the expression of beams had been looked at, but it was decided that the circle of the oculus should be the focus of the ceiling plane; he noted the subtle detailing surrounding the oculus’s circular form, which he said is reminiscent of the work of Paul Cret. He did not think that adding capitals and bases to the columns would be helpful because it would be counter to the simple character of the surrounding columbarium, but he agreed to consider changes to the proportions and tying the shelter design to the ground plane.
Ms. Griffin noted Mr. Becker’s description of the committal shelter as the major architectural element in the composition. If this is the case, she said, it does not need to resemble the columbarium, but she agreed with the suggestions that it could have a heightened architectural expression. Mr. Becker referred again to the overseas American military cemeteries: their most powerful quality is the rigorous geometries created by the ranks of headstones extending through the romantic landscapes—he described them as clicking into alignment, illustrating a shared spirit of patriotic sacrifice. He emphasized that this is the basis of the design, and every element should relate to that. Ms. Griffin agreed, but she noted that often when the Commission sees a project that is predominantly a landscape design, with buildings ancillary to the landscape, the buildings are depicted only schematically as renderings in the presentation, not allowing the Commission to understand what the architectural proposal actually is. She said this is a similar situation to the recent review of the McMillan Community Center, when the Commission decided more clarity and information was needed to understand the architecture. For this cemetery proposal, she said it would be helpful to see elevations for the committal shelter, the service building, and the columbarium so the Commission members can feel comfortable supporting the architecture as well as the landscape.
Vice Chairman Meyer suggested a consensus for general support of the landscape strategy and how the buildings relate to this; noting the many structures in the project, she agreed that the Commission should see additional depictions of the buildings that will enable a better analysis of them. She added that these drawings should also clarify the issue of scale and convey key details of such things as the transition between ground and column, and between column and beam. She said the Commission could approve the landscape component of the proposal while requesting these additional drawings. Secretary Luebke said the construction drawings that have been submitted would likely not resolve the points in question, which are fundamentally conceptual; he noted that the project is submitted for final review, and the Commission may therefore want to give specific direction on whether to add architectural detail, perhaps resulting in another cycle of review.
Mr. McCrery responded that seeing more detailed drawings of this design would not contribute to its improvement; he reiterated that the question is not about the details but about the design. Ms. Meyer noted that the concept design for this project was previously approved by the Commission; Mr. McCrery emphasized that the current final design submission is not up to the standard of the architecture established by the other buildings at Arlington National Cemetery. Ms. Meyer commented that the design for this committal shelter is actually much better than for most of the others in the cemetery; Mr. Stroik agreed that the cemetery’s other committal shelters are weak. He asked if the shelter’s massive marble elements, particularly the columns, could be made of fewer stone blocks or even single monolithic blocks; he said this could be wonderful and powerful. Ms. Griffin emphasized that she cannot comment on architectural details without seeing plans and elevations of the buildings in context to evaluate whether their vocabulary is consistent with their landscape setting.
Vice Chairman Meyer suggested a motion to approve the final design for the landscape while requesting an additional submission on the architectural elements, to include drawings that will clarify the issues raised in this discussion such as detailing of the committal shelter as discussed by the Commission. Upon a second by Ms. Griffin, the Commission adopted this action, with Vice Chairman Meyer, Ms. Griffin, and Mr. Krieger voting in favor of the motion and Mr. McCrery and Mr. Stroik voting against it.
Vice Chairman Meyer encouraged Mr. Becker to return with photographs of other structures at Arlington National Cemetery so the next presentation can convey a context for the proposed work. She thanked the project team for what she thinks will be an extraordinary addition to the cemetery, and she said the Commission looks forward to another presentation.
C. Smithsonian Institution
CFA 15/OCT/20-2, Freer Gallery of Art, 1050 Independence Avenue, SW. Courtyard accessibility and landscape improvements. Final. (Previous: CFA 18/JUN/20-4) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
D. U.S. General Services Administration
CFA 15/OCT/20-3, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, St. Elizabeths West Campus, 2701 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE. New ten-story office building for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the proposed office building for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), to be constructed as part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) headquarters complex on the St. Elizabeths West Campus. He said that this is the first new building proposed for this area of the campus and is consistent with the amended campus master plan that the Commission reviewed and approved earlier in the year. The building would be sited within the complex topography of the Richardson Quadrangle plateau and the ravine at its northern edge, east of the campus parking garage and adjacent to the historic power plant and ice house. The new 630,000-square-foot building would allow for the consolidation of the majority of CISA operations in one location. It is designed as a series of stacked bars, situated around a central open court, that are offset from each other to help bring light into the building. The lower four stories would be built into the ravine, with the upper six stories rising above the plateau level; the siting also allows the building to address the geotechnical necessity to stabilize the ravine slope. The ravine itself would be transformed into an accessible, park-like greensward at the center of the campus. He noted the extensive historic preservation review process for the campus redevelopment, which has resulted in the decision to retain the two adjacent historic industrial buildings. He asked Kristi Tunstall-Williams, deputy director of the Office of Planning and Design Quality of the National Capital Region office of the General Services Administration (GSA), to begin the presentation.
Ms. Tunstall-Williams said that the building would be located on a difficult site that transitions between the lower and upper parts of the campus; in addition to the topographical change, the site transitions between the historic groupings of utilitarian buildings on the lower campus and the more formal buildings on the plateau’s administration row, which was designed by the firm Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge in the early 20th century. She noted that the location and massing of the building were established by the most recent master plan amendment, which was the subject of two years of historic preservation consultation; the current design process for the building includes additional historic preservation consultation. She said that when the master plan was amended, the building occupant had not been determined; now that it has been designated as the headquarters of CISA, the project team is working to incorporate CISA’s specific program requirements and accommodate the more than 3,000 employees who will eventually work in the building. She introduced architect Toby Hasselgren of ZGF Architects and landscape architect Hallie Boyce of OLIN to present the design.
Mr. Hasselgren said that the design considers several factors that were discussed during the master plan amendment phase, including the building’s massing, height, scale, and views into and out of the campus. Other considerations include workplace efficiency, security, building identity, environmental performance, and stabilization of the failing ravine slope. He noted that the maximum cost has been set at approximately $350 per square foot, requiring a rational and efficient approach to the design; program flexibilities and other savings are also being considered to achieve GSA’s target efficiency.
Mr. Hasselgren said that the proposed massing responds to important reciprocal views to and from the plateau area by maintaining visual porosity in certain locations; other considerations include axial connections on the campus and how the new building would fit into the historic context. In addition to stabilizing the ravine slope, the design approach of merging the building and landscape provides the additional opportunities to create a sense of place and to keep the building’s apparent height low as it steps down the slope. The retaining walls at the ravine edge would form the building walls, with the intention of seamlessly integrating the landscape and building. He said that the building’s architectural expression is inspired by the three distinct landscape types seen on the campus: the field condition of the plateau, which creates the sense of a vista toward the building; the verticality and veiling of the woodland, which inspires the building’s vertical expression and the treatment of the environmental performance features on the facade; and the transitional character of the ravine in which the building is rooted. He said that this concept of rooting the building in the earthen hillside has also informed the warm material palette, intended to evoke and respect the context and further integrate the landscape and building.
Mr. Hasselgren presented perspective renderings of the proposed building. He indicated the relationship between the industrial character of the historic power plant, which features two prominent smokestacks, and the vertical expression of the new building’s facade. On a section drawing, he indicated how the ravine slope would be retained by the building and how most indoor spaces would be daylit from at least two exposures. The building would have three entrances: a VIP entrance on the plateau, a visitor entrance halfway down the slope, and a staff entrance on the north at the ravine. He said that the architectural composition of the staff entrance includes several elements drawn from the building’s architectural language, arranged to indicate the presence of the entrance and further integrate the building with the landscape. Visitors would enter the building after exiting the campus parking garage, moving through a secure above-ground passageway into an enclosed courtyard, and passing through security screening. The VIP entrance would be composed of architectural elements similar to the staff entrance; it is intended to be warm and inviting. The visual presence of the service and loading area would be mitigated through the use of a berm, security fence, and green roof.
Ms. Boyce said that this area is located at the juncture of the rolling topography of the Piedmont plateau region and the flatter topography of the coastal plain, and the campus is set upon a promontory that is part of the system of bluffs that creates the topographic bowl of central Washington. She said that the site’s basic landform has an inherent drama, with the plateau, steep slopes, and ravines; it has also developed the characters of an arboretum, meadow, and woodland across the varying topography. The proposal would augment the existing tree canopy on the plateau to encourage the growth of the arboretum character for the next 50 years. The existing curvilinear paths and drives within the plateau would be extended to the new building to accommodate fire access and a vehicular drop-off area on the south side of the building, facing the south woodland; however, the general intention is to prioritize the pedestrian experience on the campus. She said that the planting palette would feature native species, with the preserved and newly planted areas including the lawn area adjacent to historic Building 64 on the plateau, the lawn at the center of the plateau, and the meadow landscape within the ravine. The plantings would also be part of the site’s stormwater management system of infiltration, capture and reuse, which would include bioswales, stormwater terraces, rain gardens, and green roofs.
Ms. Boyce said that the existing landscape types on the campus would inform the design of three new outdoor “rooms”: the ravine plaza, the courtyard, and the south woodland. The ravine plaza would allow people to move between the different elevations of the ravine and plateau, beginning at a plaza space adjacent to the new building, continuing up the ravine along an orthogonal switchback path with landings to pause and sit, and ending at an overlook at the plateau elevation; a staircase along the retaining wall would provide more direct access to the plateau. The courtyard space would feature a bosque of trees, along with flexible seating and raised planters with seasonal plantings to attract pollinators. The south woodland, which was once a deeper ravine that was subsequently filled with fly ash, would be designed with a series of curvilinear paths and a boardwalk spanning a bioswale that is part of the stormwater management system.
Vice Chairman Meyer thanked the project team for its presentation and welcomed questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. McCrery asked about the selection of stone for the landscape and building; Ms. Boyce confirmed that the same type of stone would be used in both material palettes. Mr. Krieger observed that the presentation did not include drawings of the building facades that would face into the courtyard; he suggested developing an iconography for these facades that is different from the main facades. Mr. Stroik noted that this new building will house an important national institution, and he asked what federal buildings or similar buildings in the Washington area were studied as precedents. Mr. Hasselgren said that the project team took its primary cues from the campus itself, which includes the recent U.S. Coast Guard building; the recently renovated and expanded Intelligence Community Campus—Bethesda was also studied.
Ms. Meyer asked if the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has led to any changes in the building program or design, such as in the visitor entrance experience or the programming for the landscape. She cited her experience at the University of Virginia, where major donors for new buildings are requesting that all windows be operable, which is a significant departure from current practice. Mr. Hasselgren said that he is not aware of any changes to the program due to the pandemic. Mr. Krieger asked for more information on the environmental performance of the building. Mr. Hasselgren said that the goal is to achieve a high-level LEED environmental rating; solar panels would be placed on the roof, green roofs would be used, and the building would be oriented to reduce solar heat gain. Regarding operable windows, he said that this may be a security concern, and he asked Ms. Tunstall-Williams to address this issue.
Ms. Tunstall-Williams said that GSA has been looking extensively at how the pandemic may affect the design and operation of federal buildings; the current decision is to make changes only to mechanical and ventilation systems, but the potential for operable windows could be explored. She noted the recent large shift to telework, and as a result government agencies would be able to provide flexible and properly distanced workspaces within the same footprint. She said that changes will also likely be made to workforce management, such as ensuring safe entry into the building and appropriate worker behavior. Ms. Griffin asked if consideration has been given to decreasing the size of the building in light of increased telecommuting. Ms. Tunstall-Williams responded that the demand by DHS for office space on the campus is much greater than can be accommodated; instead of making the building smaller, GSA would likely respond to reduced space needs by bringing in additional components of DHS that are currently in leased space outside the campus.
Mr. Krieger commented that including operable windows in the design would make the project much more expensive, since it would require more complicated and costly mechanical systems. He complimented the project team for accommodating the 600,000-square-foot program without hiding the building or overpowering the sensitive context, and he also praised the consistent use of the selected contemporary architectural language. He acknowledged the intention to use the same material for the landscape retaining walls and the lower portion of the building; however, he observed that this is not clearly shown in the provided documentation.
Ms. Meyer expressed appreciation for the way in which the design process has resulted in a material palette not just informed by the landscape, but that is a part of the project’s conceptual idea. She reiterated her previous comments in support of the design, commenting that the building itself is an act of “topographic imagination.” She encouraged the next presentation to be more explicit about how the proposed landscape and building are influenced by the stone, wood, and brick found in the larger existing context. In addition, she requested the development of axonometric drawings illustrating the relationships between the building’s interiors and the exterior landscapes at various floor levels; she said these drawings would also help in coordinating the landscape and building designs.
Mr. McCrery expressed support for the landscape design. He said that he likes the proposed switchback path leading through the ravine meadow, but he asked if a curvilinear path was considered, which would be more thematically consistent with the other paths and drives on the campus. He also asked for more information on the proposed character for the meadow areas within the ravine, which appear as clipped lawns in some of the presented drawings. Regarding the building proposal, he commented that it is a well-designed example of its type of architecture, which he characterized as a thin or lightened version of Brutalism, which is typically more massive. He strongly encouraged the design team to avoid the use of any sheet-goods or a panelized facade system, commenting that although this would reduce labor and cost, it would also reduce the architectural quality of this federal building; he cited areas in the drawings that appear to be control joints between preassembled wood panels, commenting that it cheapens the architecture and undermines the project’s conceptual basis.
Mr. Stroik commented that he finds the large and complex building to be overwhelming and Brutalist in appearance. He acknowledged that its site is away from the public realm, but he emphasized that it is a national building; he expressed concern that most people who experience the building will find it reminiscent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building on Pennsylvania Avenue, which is not welcoming or accommodating. He added that perhaps the only good thing about the proposed building is that it is not in downtown Washington and would therefore be less influential on people and society. He said that he does not find the proposed building to be civic, national, or federal in appearance, and it reminds him of a building from the 1960s, which most people consider to be a bad decade architecturally. He said he does not see much in the design that conveys its importance as a homeland institution; it makes the agency appear scary, which is not a positive connotation for the country, GSA, DHS, or the building’s future employees. He said that the design is unfortunate, but he does not have great suggestions on how to improve it; the design team has taken a very big building and made it big, and it does not have a scale that is particularly harmonious. He said that the presentation did not provide adequate precedent images, but it did include a couple of smaller-scale brick buildings that were nice. He emphasized that he is looking for a broader approach to federal architecture that takes lessons from buildings constructed before 1960, which is a whole history of architecture that is not being considered. He observed that places like Paris, New York, and Washington have some really great large buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries—eras in which architects figured out how to design large buildings very nicely. He summarized that he is concerned that the government is spending a lot of money on a homeland security building that is not an icon of security, and whose appearance would not make people feel safe or have trust in our institutions. He reiterated his concern that this would be the next version of the FBI building, which most people want torn down.
Ms. Meyer said that Mr. Stroik has raised some interesting issues; while many are outside of the scope of this project, there are some points that the Commission could consider. She said that for better or worse, the proposed building’s architectural character is consistent with the image of the federal government in recent years. She acknowledged that we might be nostalgic about what a federal, civic, or national building is; however, homeland security is currently not about making people feel safe, but is instead about a culture of fear that has been perpetuated in Washington for two decades. She cited the scale of bollards, the hardening of entrances, and the consolidation of these kinds of programs. She said that we are having to deal with the design ramifications of broader government policies that have led us to conceptualize “federal,” “homeland,” and “security” as about being afraid rather than feeling safe. She said that we cannot be nostalgic about federal architecture, given that the programs accommodated in these buildings are quite different today than in the past; buildings can be clad in a veneer of nostalgia, but this would not change the nature of the entrances to these buildings, the hardening of their public spaces, and the degree to which we are creating a surveillance state.
Ms. Griffin agreed with these observations, commenting that architecture needs to respond to its time. She suggested that this may be a moment to take a step back and reflect on the architectural vocabulary or point of view that is being established on the campus by the emerging collection of new and old buildings. She said she does not recall if the previous or current master plans have taken a point of view that has strongly shaped the appearance of new projects, but she strongly encouraged having such guidance. She complimented the research and presentation of the material palette, which she praised as rich, contextual, and very strong. She encouraged someone outside the purview of the Commission to think broadly about what federal buildings mean as an overlay onto the historic campus. She said that Mr. Stroik and Ms. Meyer are raising important points based on their perspectives, and the shared concern is that these issues should be considered more holistically.
Ms. Tunstall-Williams acknowledged the comments, and she cited the long history of building campaigns on the St. Elizabeths campus: the earliest construction from the 1850s to 1880s that resulted in the recently restored Center Building, the early-20th-century plateau buildings, the mid-century developments on the East Campus, and the current interventions. She cited other recent buildings on the West Campus with a similar architectural aesthetic and material palette—the Coast Guard building and the west addition to the Center Building—that have served as the starting point for the current proposal. In addition, the historic preservation consultations have included many different stakeholders who have facilitated robust discussion about the new building’s potential architectural expression and materiality, resulting in the advice that the new architecture should be respectful of the historic campus, should be differentiated from the old, and should be of its time. These discussions have also explored how to fit the rather large new buildings into a campus that is mostly of a smaller scale. Ms. Griffin acknowledged the reminder that the massing was outlined in the master plan; she suggested that future presentations of buildings on the campus include information on the particular set of past decisions from which the projects spring, especially since the composition of the Commission can change within the timeframe of a single project.
Mr. McCrery said that the comments regarding this project are representative of the Commission’s ongoing discussion about whether architecture needs to be of its time. He said that he agrees with Mr. Stroik’s comments, adding that the project looks like the main concert venue at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Virginia. He said the proposed building is no more “of its time” than a modern-day building in a traditional style, such as Mr. Stroik might design in his own architectural practice; the only thing that makes the proposed building of its time is the date on the drawing, not its style. He emphasized the fallacy of saying that this or any other architecture is or is not of its time, and yet the argument arises at the Commission’s meetings each month. He described the proposed design as nostalgic for the Brutalism of the 1960s and 1970s, even though it may be dressed up with wood, stone, and patterned brick, as seen in the work of Carlo Scarpa. He identified this as an architecture nostalgic for a bygone era of Modernism, which is a style that has run out of ideas and is therefore going back and mining itself for earlier eras of perceived successful designs. He said that the only part of the project that is actually moving in a new design direction is the landscape architecture, which does not harken back to an earlier period of landscape design but is instead drawing on some great traditions and successful strategies of design, including renaissance and baroque planning and the beautiful, romantic landscapes of Frederick Law Olmsted, and then pushing it forward. He said that he is exasperated and no longer willing to agree with people saying that this type of architecture is of its time and expecting the Commission members to go along with it.
Vice Chairman Meyer said that the Commission members are welcome to disagree but should also respect the opinions of others; Mr. Krieger said that some of the comments of the Commission members have not seemed respectful. He observed that the proposal is being described as nostalgic for Modernism, but these comments also seem to encourage a nostalgia for an even earlier time. He described some of the comments as being subjective, as is true about most architectural criticism and other judgments. However, he urged appreciation of the collaboration between the client and design team to express something that they feel is appropriate for this project. He said that he could consider some of the other Commission members as being nostalgic for the 19th century, and that in his subjective opinion, the image of the proposed building is quite powerful; he does not see the relationship to concrete Brutalism at all, but instead sees an interesting design combination that reacts to and brings forward the stacks and other features of the historic industrial buildings in the foreground. He said that he would like to see an additional level of carefully demonstrated details of the materials used in both the building and landscape, as well as more information on the window systems and how glass is used on the lower levels. However, he emphasized his conclusion that the design on the whole is very powerful—a well-conceived and contemporary way to resolve a building on a hillside that could have been much more brutal than it actually is. He expressed admiration for the choice of materials, the massing system, and the stated intentions that he believes will continue to improve the project as it moves forward. He acknowledged that this is his opinion, while observing that other Commission members are asserting their own opinions as being factual truths.
Vice Chairman Meyer said that Mr. Stroik initiated some very useful conversation, but the review should now conclude with any additional design suggestions. Mr. McCrery noted that he had offered comments and compliments for the proposal. Mr. Krieger offered a motion to approve the concept design with the various comments to be considered as the project moves forward. Upon a second by Ms. Griffin, the Commission adopted this action, with Mr. Stroik voting against the motion. Vice Chairman Meyer said the Commission looks forward to reviewing the next submission of the project, and suggested that GSA could also provide more clarity about how the design of the federal government’s buildings and landscapes may change in response to the ongoing pandemic, whose long-term effects could last a decade or more.
E. D.C. Department of Transportation
CFA 15/OCT/20-4, Intersection of New York Avenue, Florida Avenue, and 1st Street, NE, including Reservation 185. New public spaces created at reconfigured intersection. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the concept design for the 1.3 acres of public spaces, called “Virtual Circle” that would be formed by reconfiguring the complex intersection of New York and Florida Avenues and First Street, NE. The overall reconfiguration, which is not directly the subject of today’s review, is being undertaken by the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) to improve circulation and safety for vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians; this project includes the acquisition of a privately owned parcel that currently contains a Wendy’s restaurant, and the number of street intersections within the project area would be reduced from five to three by eliminating some street segments. The design for the public spaces is submitted by DDOT on behalf of the NoMa Parks Foundation, which is managing the concept design phase; at a later stage, DDOT will take over the project for the public spaces. He noted that the design encompasses three spaces, each roughly triangular and separated from each other by the new street configuration: Parcel 1 on the west would be a passive, flexible green space that could be used for programmed events; Parcel 2 in the middle would have a more open character, with public art; and Parcel 3 on the south would be a recreational play space, incorporating an existing landscaped space adjacent to the headquarters of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. He asked Amanda Stout, DDOT’s deputy chief officer for project delivery, to begin the presentation.
Ms. Stout provided an overview of the project area, which is well known to the public as a problematic intersection. The problems being addressed include the unusual geometry of the streets, the closely spaced intersections that together form the larger intersection, and the accommodation of vehicular turning movements. She described the current situation as very dangerous for vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. The D.C. Government is moving forward with a safer redesign of the intersection that includes relocation of the Wendy’s restaurant and acquisition of its site; she said the intersection improvement is a priority project with committed funding and an accelerated timeline. The design would add protected bicycle lanes and more pedestrian crosswalks, and it resulted from extensive studies, data collection, and community engagement. She noted that the intersection design has been approved by the Federal Highway Administration, involving review of the number of through lanes and turn lanes as well as traffic operations. The intersection design has also been reviewed for historic preservation impacts.
Ms. Stout said that the subject of today’s review is the three public spaces that she described as exciting parts of the intersection project. She noted that the center space is on the site currently occupied by the Wendy’s restaurant. The intended next speaker—Robin-Eve Jasper, the president of the NoMa Parks Foundation—was temporarily unable to join the meeting due to technical difficulties. Ms. Stout noted that DDOT has been partnering with the foundation and the associated NoMa Business Improvement District; they held a competition to select the designer for the public spaces, and she introduced landscape architect Thomas Balsley of SWA/Balsley to present the proposal.
Mr. Balsley said that the goals for the public space design include enhancing the visual experience for people who pass through the area as pedestrians or in vehicles, and addressing the shortage of park space for this emerging neighborhood so that new and longtime residents will have the opportunity to meet, rest, and play. He described the characteristics of the site, which is located at the edge of the historic L’Enfant Plan for Washington. He said that this convergence of avenues might typically have been treated as one of the city’s circles, but this was not the historical design; as Washington has grown, the significance of the location has changed from being at the edge to being within the city. He presented a diagrammatic map showing the site in relation to nearby areas of the L’Enfant city, where the squares and circles add richness to their surrounding neighborhoods. On a map of open spaces in the vicinity of the NoMa neighborhood, he indicated the plentiful parks and public spaces in the wider area, but he noted the lack of such spaces within the neighborhood itself; he described NoMa as “park-starved,” and he noted that the few available public spaces tend to be designed for very active uses. He said that the design process has included consideration of past studies and ongoing public outreach.
Mr. Balsley presented a plan of the public space parcels that result from the new intersection design. The site constraints include underground utilities that follow the current street alignments and will remain as the streets are reconfigured. Environmental constraints for the pedestrian experience include the traffic noise from Florida and New York Avenues, which the proposal attempts to mitigate as part of creating a pedestrian-friendly environment. He presented a circulation diagram, indicating the improved routes for pedestrians to make neighborhood connections across the project area as well as reach the public spaces within it. A diagram of the design framework identifies the programmatic role of each public space: “Socially Active” to the west; “Focal Point” at the center; and “Art + Play” to the south. He emphasized that even with these different roles, the intent is for the spaces to be perceived collectively as a place within the city; early design sketches show the development of ideas for unifying the spaces through elements such as paving and trees.
Mr. Balsley said that two design concepts were developed for presentation to the community earlier this year. Concept A uses fragments of circles as a unifying feature, with earth forms and screening elements that would give pedestrians safe, quiet recreational spaces. Concept B treats the landscape as a series of small islands to break down the spaces, while providing a similar sense of buffering from the avenues. He said that the strong preference of the community and the client was for Concept A, which has subsequently been developed further through consultation with the Commission staff, resulting in the current proposal. He noted that the recent refinements include reducing the extent of sloping berms to use them only along Florida and New York Avenues, and to create a stronger relationship between the west and center parcels to facilitate their occasional use as a combined event space in conjunction with a temporary closure of First Street that separates them.
Mr. Balsley presented a series of illustrative plans, site sections, and precedent images to illustrate the proposal. He noted the common themes among the open spaces of defining circles with the paving and creating small rooms within the parcels, shaped by berms and rows of vertical posts serving as “virtual screens.” He emphasized that open sightlines are an important feature of the project, contributing to the sense of safety within the public spaces. He presented photographs of the existing conditions in comparison to perspective renderings of the transformation into the proposed park spaces. The west parcel could accommodate a range of activities with a flexible lawn space, possibly with a food service kiosk within the park or food trucks alongside it. The central parcel is envisioned with an iconic sculpture at its center, which would serve as a gateway focal point for drivers coming over the New York Avenue viaduct to enter central Washington; he noted that this parcel is surrounded by busy streets, and people are therefore less likely to linger here, although the sculpture itself may draw people to visit. The southern parcel would have a quieter design, intended to serve as a place of play and relaxation for people of all ages.
Vice Chairman Meyer invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Ms. Griffin characterized the existing intersection as very messy, loud, big, and vacuous; she said that some of these characteristics may remain, especially the noise, in part due to the heavy volume of truck traffic on Florida Avenue. She questioned whether the problem of noise has been sufficiently addressed in the design; the concerns include the proportion of hardscape to softscape, and the use of open rows of vertical posts to give a sense of enclosure to the park spaces. Mr. Balsley responded that the proposed sloping berms are positioned alongside the avenues with the intent of providing protection from traffic noise; the inner faces of the curved berms are designed as seating walls that face into each parcel, with the back of each wall rising to follow the shape of the earthwork. He said that the inner space of the parcels would be surrounded by planted areas and would have visual and acoustic protection from the busy avenues; he noted that berms would be more effective than rows of trees in absorbing noise.
Mr. Stroik expressed appreciation for the presentation and the large number of images that were prepared; he acknowledged the complexity of the project’s context. Observing the profusion of roads that pedestrians would need to cross, he asked if consideration was given to resolving the intersection configuration with an actual traffic circle, perhaps in conjunction with eliminating the segment of First Street that passes through the project area. Mr. Balsley responded that the configuration of streets was established prior to the current design effort for the public spaces. Ms. Stout reiterated that traffic volumes on each street segment were reviewed with the Federal Highway Administration; she said that the decision was that First Street will need to remain as a functioning road, although it could occasionally be closed off for special events such as festivals. She noted that community’s desire to enhance connections between the NoMa neighborhood to the south and the Eckington neighborhood to the north, including connections by car and bicycle; the project includes two-way bicycle lanes, and First Street would carry two-way traffic. Concerning the possibility of a circle to handle the traffic movements, she said that the current configuration of one-way street segments has led to the “virtual circle” label for the intersection, but the resulting configuration is difficult for drivers to navigate; the planned reconfiguration deliberately eliminates the one-way segments and provides for two-way traffic throughout, relying on careful study of signal timings and turning lanes. She said that the resulting design for the intersection is intended to work well and more safely for all types of users, including pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
Noting that small parks of a comparable scale are seen along major streets elsewhere in Washington and other cities, Mr. Stroik asked if any of these were studied as successful precedents that could inform the design of these public spaces, with the goal of creating places that people will use and feel comfortable being in. Mr. Balsley said that he has studied such spaces extensively, and particularly in the northeastern part of the country; some have traditional park designs that are being transformed through programming, while others have more contemporary designs that reflect the current culture of play and recreation. He said that today’s design proposal reflects our current culture and the opinions expressed by the community, while also reflecting the importance of this site in relationship to the L’Enfant Plan. Mr. Stroik asked for specific examples of Mr. Balsley’s favorite parks that are comparable to these spaces; Ms. Meyer said that these questions relate to the concern, which she shares, that the proposed public spaces are over-designed for their small scale. Mr. Balsley cited Discovery Green in Houston as a significant public space; Ms. Meyer observed that it is much larger than these parcels. Mr. Balsley cited Pacific Plaza, newly completed in downtown Dallas, as a smaller-scale example of a space with programmatic elements, and he suggested Main Street Garden Park, also in Dallas, as an additional example.
Mr. Krieger observed that the proposed design is clearly much better than the existing conditions. He said that eliminating some traffic lanes would be desirable, observing that the roadways seem to be designed for a forecast of pre-pandemic traffic volumes that may seem outdated as the design is finalized over the next few years; he suggested not basing the layout on past ideas of the requirements for moving traffic. He agreed with the concern about over-designed spaces, commenting that this impression may result from presentation renderings that depict the three public spaces as being full of people; he questioned whether all three spaces would routinely attract so many visitors, but he observed that the design tends to be based on this assumption. He suggested reducing the extent of paved area and adding some additional planted area, noting that this change would also help to mitigate the air pollution from the traffic, which surprisingly was not listed as one of the environmental issues in designing the parks. He noted that the opportunity to temporarily close First Street would provide an abundance of pavement to accommodate special events, and the parks therefore do not need to be designed to provide so much paved area. He also suggested a more imaginative design approach for the crosswalks, perhaps with a different material or color, to place equal emphasis on the movement of pedestrians rather than primarily emphasizing the automobile environment.
Ms. Griffin expressed support for Mr. Krieger’s comments, which she said align with her own concerns. She observed that the immediate context for these public spaces is commercial office buildings and mixed-use development, more than housing with children or adult residents seeking recreational space; the design could therefore have more planted space and less paving. She suggested more careful consideration of how the west and south parcels relate to abutting properties, and she encouraged more care in designing the three parcels to work together as components of a single larger space, rather than designing them in isolation. She agreed with the concern of other Commission members that the parks may be over-designed.
Mr. McCrery observed that the three park spaces, although very different in their character, share the common design feature of a strongly defined circle; the three circles appear to be of approximately the same size, even though the parcels differ greatly in their configuration. He said that the aerial perspective view along New York Avenue illustrates the problem of too many parts among the three parcels—berms, benches, screens, circular lawns, and sculptures or playground equipment. He summarized the problem as a design that is too focused on relentless activity, with no sense of rest and repose; he suggested addressing this imbalance in the next submission.
Mr. Stroik reiterated his regret that a true traffic circle is not being created at this intersection. Observing that the rows of vertical poles resemble water jets in the renderings, he wondered whether the public spaces should include water features. He cited the desirability of interactive features for summer enjoyment, as seen in a water park, although he acknowledged that such an active play area may not be desirable alongside the heavy traffic; he suggested that at least some simple fountains, pools, or vertical jets could be considered. He agreed with the other Commission members that the proposal appears cluttered, and he suggested fewer elements that are simpler in their design character, such as the plantings.
Ms. Meyer supported the comments of the other Commission members while raising additional concerns with the design approach. She observed that the effort to unify the three parcels has been addressed with the graphic device of the circle, rather than designing for a greater spatial unity. She suggested that the vocabulary for achieving a spatial coherence is already present in the design: the architecture of the trees and the berms or tilted ground planes on each of the parcels. She observed that the berms are primarily along New York Avenue, while they could be used instead to more strongly mark the edge of the L’Enfant Plan along Florida Avenue. She observed that the three parcels in combination would have a scale that could be successful within the large area of the intersection reconfiguration; but the design challenges are more problematic if the parcels are perceived separately, particularly the middle parcel that has the difficult challenge of establishing a sense of place within a diffuse space that is not defined by any adjoining buildings. She recalled the hybrid park–plaza projects that were built on the periphery of Barcelona in the 1980s and 1990s, using the architecture of trees to establish spatial continuity while manipulating the ground to define rooms within the broad spaces. She said that this design approach of creating a formal “field” of trees would be more successful than the graphic device of circles, which she said creates unnecessary fussiness. She suggested refining the design to emphasize one of the avenues, and then configuring the lawns and paved spaces to work within this framework. She also suggested that the design team advise the client that the wish-list of park features is too big for the available space.
Ms. Meyer cited a 2017 article by the English authors Clare Rishbeth and Ben Rogaly—“Sitting Outside: Conviviality, Self-Care and the Design of Benches in Urban Public Space.” She said that the article addresses the role of benches in encouraging people to sit outside in the company of strangers, and she observed that the proposed seating edges along circulation routes are entirely consistent with the benefits described in the article. These include a sense of self-care, which could encompass immigrants or minority-group members developing the ability to feel at home in a place and become part of a group while also remaining separate, and having one’s presence recognized by people walking by. The benefit of conviviality involves being at ease with different people. She said that the proposed design already has these strengths, providing a place for newer and longer-term residents to meet one another in a healthy public space, and she suggested eliminating design features that do not contribute to this role. For example, she recommended specifying trees with the type of leaf texture that would absorb particulate pollution from the cars; charred bamboo and some newer types of concrete could provide similar benefits. Seating surfaces of wood may be the most comfortable in the summer, while the heat absorption of concrete may make it the most comfortable for seating in the winter. The design of other surfaces or even the screens could benefit from further research into the advantageous properties of different materials, as an acknowledgment that the setting for these public spaces is not an inherently healthy environment. Rather than paying for the public sculpture or other extraneous features, she suggested focusing the budget on extraordinary benches and on high-quality materials for the ground plane to tie the streets to the parks.
Ms. Meyer summarized the apparent consensus to request another concept-level submission that has a simpler design, allowing time for the client to be convinced of the need to simplify the programmatic goals. She suggested that no vote is needed on the current submission. Ms. Jasper, as the client for this stage of the project, asked to speak. She said that these public spaces, and the NoMa Parks Foundation itself, are a response to the dearth of public spaces in the NoMa neighborhood, which was previously an industrial area without a legacy of parks. She said that even an acre of park space is an important benefit to the community, and the planned reconfiguration of this intersection has provided a welcome opportunity for the foundation to partner with DDOT in the public space design, improving on the original intent to simply provide grass panels. She said that a recent study by the D.C. Office of Planning showed that a surprisingly large number of people are using the open space around this intersection, even in the unwelcoming current configuration; with the improved design, and potentially a long-term reduction in traffic volumes as a result of the pandemic, the public spaces may become even more heavily used.
Ms. Jasper noted the discussion of comparable open spaces that can serve as precedents for this proposal. She offered the example of South Park in San Francisco, which is the inspiration for the sculpture circle within the south parcel; she said that South Park could share in the criticism of being over-designed, but it is actually very successful. She also cited the many small privately owned public spaces in San Francisco, often containing artwork and serving the social role described by Ms. Meyer. She said that these are typically very useful spaces in the community, notwithstanding the large numbers of pedestrians and vehicles that are often passing nearby. She said the design team has achieved an admirable balance of programming and simplicity, and she asked the Commission to consider these issues from the client’s perspective.
Ms. Griffin commented that this area of Washington has changed significantly over the past fifteen years, and an interesting combination of different types of populations is now present in the neighborhood; she said that the information about the surprisingly high use of the area’s public spaces is helpful for the Commission to hear. She observed that the city has many residual open spaces such as these three parcels, and their usefulness to the community is varying. She noted that the precedents help to reinforce some of the concerns raised by the Commission; for instance, South Park has more greenscape than hardscape, and it is designed to allow different groups to use different parts of the park. She supported the consensus to provide comments without action today, allowing the project team to consider the issues raised and to prepare a new concept submission, with the goal of achieving a better balance between community needs and design concerns. She emphasized that a refined design could be developed that is an interesting and active part of the neighborhood, consistent with the project goals.
Ms. Meyer agreed with these comments, observing that the project should meet the urban design obligations of visual coherence and environmental comfort, which is undermined by the current reliance on the graphic device of circles as a unifying feature that ends up contributing to the problem of a design that is confusing and overly complicated. She also noted that South Park is a somewhat larger space, and she suggested that the proposal and the precedent parks be illustrated by comparative sections that include the spatial definition provided by nearby buildings, if any. She commented that the weak architectural framing of the three parcels results in a greater need to rely on trees, benches, and berms or tilted ground planes to provide a sense of spatial enclosure.
Ms. Griffin commented that the design’s reliance on circles seems somewhat forced in these three spaces, and a better approach may be to develop a shared geometric vocabulary that is derived more naturally from the context, which could result in a stronger sense of design unity across the entire project area. Mr. Krieger reiterated his suggestion for a more creative type of crosswalk design, which he said could further contribute to the goal of visually unifying the project area. Ms. Meyer agreed, suggesting that the special crosswalk treatment could include a different surface material as well as a special color.
Mr. Balsley responded that public space design usually involves dispersing a program across a singular park area; this project is especially challenging because it involves unifying fragments of public space that are divided by streets. He emphasized that the design approach has been to establish programmatic goals for each parcel based on its context. He noted that the west parcel will be defined by buildings along its entire western edge—the existing Peoples Building and an adjacent development parcel that is currently a surface parking lot—and he said that the proposed design takes its cues from this edge, designed to be a place for social gatherings and small events. The south parcel abuts the site of a federal office building that is not designed to contribute to the synergy of its surroundings, and this parcel is therefore designed as a quieter, more reclusive space with multi-generational appeal; he noted that its focal feature is a play element, not a sculpture. The center parcel, surrounded by streets, is not designed to attract gatherings; people would more likely visit it briefly to see the sculpture. He summarized the intended goal of each parcel fulfilling its own function while all three also work together as one larger place. He acknowledged that the number of people in the parks would vary greatly with the time of day and week. He offered to explore the design further in response to the Commission’s comments.
Vice Chairman Meyer clarified that the Commission is not recommending abandonment of the ideas concerning the types of activities that would be encouraged at each of the parcels; the advice is to reduce the reliance on the circle form as the method of signifying the parcels’ differences. She emphasized the desirability of the three parcels contributing to the comprehension of a single larger space, which could best be achieved through a continuous datum and a more thoughtful architecture of trees; she said that the trees in the proposal appear to be residual elements. She said that the programming within the spaces could be the next step, but little programming is actually necessary, despite the over-programming trend of recent decades; a sufficient and important goal for a great public space can be simply to provide a place for people to sit in the company of strangers, sharing a comfortable environment that might include choosing a different parcel depending on the season or the time of day. She said that these should be the essential design elements, and other parts of the project are less critical.
Vice Chairman Meyer summarized that these open spaces will be a great addition to the neighborhood, and the Commission is enthusiastic about the project; the advice is intended to ensure that the scale of the design is appropriate. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
F. D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development
1. CFA 15/OCT/20-5, Parcel 17, St. Elizabeths East Campus, 1201 Alabama Avenue, SE (at 12th Street). New six-story office building with occupiable penthouse—Site design. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 17/SEP/20-8) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
(Mr. Shubow entered the meeting during the discussion of the following agenda item.)
2. CFA 15/OCT/20-6, Parcel 6, St. Elizabeths East Campus (2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE), At Cypress Street and the temporary 13th Street, SE. New seven-level parking garage structure. Final. (Previous: CFA 16/JUL/20-7) Secretary Luebke introduced the proposed final design for a 750-car parking garage of precast concrete on the St. Elizabeths East Campus. The garage would accommodate the parking currently provided at a temporary surface parking lot that is the site of a planned hospital building. He noted that the Commission approved the concept design at its July meeting, with the comment that more attention should be given to the aesthetics of the garage’s facades, using architectural screening or other methods, until the adjacent building is constructed that will conceal much of the garage’s exterior. He said that the project has been only slightly revised since the concept phase, with the addition of plantings and minor adjustments to the color of the architectural elements.
Vice Chairman Meyer, noting the day’s long agenda and the Commission’s advance review of the submission materials, suggested that the Commission discuss the project without a presentation. She said that the Commission is concerned about the design and visual impact of the garage, particularly in the short term before the adjacent building is constructed. Secretary Luebke said that the project team is available to answer questions.
Mr. Krieger expressed appreciation for the attempt to hide the parking garage with some landscaping. However, he said that his reaction to the design is very negative: it appears low-quality and featureless, resembling a utilitarian, conventional garage constructed in previous decades that we would now regret. He encouraged adding detailing to the facades, as already shown on the garage’s stair and elevator tower. Vice Chairman Meyer noted that these concerns were conveyed in the previous review, but the design has not substantially changed; she summarized the advice to pay greater attention to the proportions of facade openings and the material selections for the fascias.
Mr. Stroik agreed that the garage has a regrettable, obsolete design character. He observed that garages are necessary, functional buildings that few like to see; their utilitarian purpose does not lend itself to meaningful architectural design. However, he said that this garage’s location on the historic St. Elizabeths Campus necessitates an architectural approach, and he suggested that the garage be designed to look more like a building, which could be accomplished through several strategies. One would be to use brick to frame panels and openings with building-like, human-sized proportions; alternatively, the garage could be further hidden by other buildings, an approach often taken in new developments. He also suggested moving the location of the sloping vehicular ramps to the less visible sides, which would allow for the primary facade to have a building-like appearance with horizontal slabs.
Mr. McCrery agreed with these comments. He suggested that the project team study the Green Square Parking Deck in Raleigh, North Carolina, which he characterized as an amazing project that he considers a real work of architecture—a building that fulfills the program of a parking garage, rather than a work of engineering that is covered up. He strongly advised this design approach for the garage proposal at St. Elizabeths.
Mr. Krieger commented that a limited budget may be the reason that the design includes only the bare essentials of a garage, and a building-like design would be considerably more expensive. He suggested consideration of less expensive solutions, such as facade screening structures. He cited new garages by the architecture firms Machado Silvetti and TEN Arquitectos on the campus of Princeton University, where wire mesh is used to screen the facades; he said the mesh gives a sort of brilliance to the structures by catching the light and softening the heavy, undetailed materials and slot-like configuration of the facades.
Ms. Griffin commented that the greatest attention should be given to the facades that will remain exposed, since the primary street facade will eventually be hidden by the planned adjacent building. She agreed that the garage cited by Mr. McCrery displays a wonderful application of screening: the mesh creates the illusion of a fairly detailed facade but is actually a very simple screening system. Mr. McCrery added that this garage also has solar panels and electric car charging stations. Ms. Meyer noted that newer, less expensive versions of this type of garage have been constructed at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where the screening provides physical support for vines and thick vegetation; this gives the garage facades the appearance of vine-covered campus walls. She emphasized that the proposed garage is on the St. Elizabeths Campus, not a speculative suburban site, and the design therefore needs more development.
Noting the apparent lack of support for the project, Vice Chairman Meyer suggested that the Commission not take an action, instead conveying the many comments that have been provided. She said that the proposed planting strategy would not be sufficient, since the plantings would take many years to provide adequate cover to the facades; screens would have a more immediate impact. She observed that the garage would be a large structure that will have an enormous impact on the everyday experience of residents and employees, and its proposed design is inconsistent with the high quality of the historic and new buildings on the campus.
Vice Chairman Meyer invited a response from the project team regarding the issues that have been raised. Ana Baker of Cunningham Quill Architects said that she agrees with many of the comments, and similar concerns were expressed by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) regarding the appearance of the garage and the timeframe for the planned adjacent building. She said that because of the future building, the project team’s strategy has been to save public funds and not put excessive detail into a facade that will eventually be hidden; the proposed design revision is therefore to provide additional vegetated screening, which was requested by HPRB. In addition, the project team decided to focus its design efforts on the stair and elevator tower since it would remain visible after the adjacent building is constructed. She added that the project team will study the garage examples cited by the Commission members.
Ms. Meyer acknowledged the dilemma faced by the project team, but she said that the design quality of the entire garage should be considered in the current review process; she suggested that a more refined exterior for the tower could be developed at a later date, rather than focusing the current budget on only this one part of the garage. She added that Mr. Stroik’s suggestion to relocate the ramps away from the primary street facade could substantially improve the project, since creating an acceptable design for this facade would be difficult if it has sloping ramps.
Secretary Luebke recommended that the project team consult with the staff before the next submission; Vice Chairman Meyer agreed. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
G. D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation
Secretary Luebke introduced two projects submitted by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, both located in Fort Lincoln Park near the Anacostia River at the northeastern border of Washington. The first project is the renovation of the overall park, focusing on the playground at its center; the second project is a new community center building to the northeast, to be built on the site of the recently demolished Thurgood Marshall Elementary School. He noted that Fort Lincoln Park possesses a rich history: during the War of 1812, this location had a role in the Battle of Bladensburg, when the District of Columbia was attacked by British forces; during the Civil War, Fort Lincoln was one of a series of forts constructed to encircle the city; and from 1870 to 1968, the Fort Lincoln Park site was the location of the National Training School for Boys, under the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. In the late 1960s, it was designated an urban renewal area; 4,500 new housing units were subsequently built in the neighborhood, and the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School and the park were built to serve the community.
1. CFA 15/OCT/20-7, Fort Lincoln Park, 3291 Fort Lincoln Drive, NE. Renovation of park and community pool. Concept. Mr. Luebke said the existing Fort Lincoln Park and its playground were completed in 1980 to a design by landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg in collaboration with architect Jerome Lindsey. He introduced Brent Sisco, planning and design officer with the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, to begin the presentation for the park and playground.
Mr. Sisco said that the D.C. Government has been working with Studios Architecture since the spring of 2020, conducting community meetings and sponsoring a survey that elicited over 400 responses. He listed the project goals of celebrating the site’s history, reviving the landscape, enhancing the park as a vibrant center for the community, and encouraging an intergenerational experience. The members of the design team then presented the renovation proposal for the park and playground: architect Marnique Heath of Studios Architecture; landscape architect Jeff Lee of Lee & Associates; and landscape architect Charles Birnbaum, the founder and president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation. Ms. Heath said that the park has formed the center of the Fort Lincoln Park community for the last forty years and is now in need of rehabilitation. Mr. Lee also emphasized the park’s valuable role in the neighborhood, and he described it as a hidden gem for the city.
Mr. Birnbaum described the historical significance of the park’s design by M. Paul Friedberg, including its historic context and its design vocabulary; he noted that his research has enabled him to create a design framework for the park’s rehabilitation. He said the primary area of the park is its historic core, where the fort had been located and which Friedberg made the focus of his design. He described the core’s distinguishing characteristics: it has an irregular form, which does not follow an existing urban grid; it has dramatic topographic variation, with over fifty feet of grade change; and the high points of this topography provide dramatic panoramic views of the broader landscape, emphasized in Friedberg’s design. Mr. Birnbaum likened the park’s aesthetic to the picturesque image of a summerhouse on a hill, a visual quality that would more commonly be seen in parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. Finally, he said, because of the site’s rich embedded history, Friedberg did not need to invent a narrative for adventurous play.
Mr. Birnbaum provided a brief sketch of Mr. Friedberg’s career, illustrating several key projects, notably the Jacob Riis Houses in New York City from 1965, designed in collaboration with landscape architect Lawrence Halprin; in Minneapolis, the sequence of Peavey Plaza, Loring Greenway, and First Bridge Park, from 1974–76; the Buchanan Street playground in Washington, D.C., built in 1968 under Lady Bird Johnson’s beautification program; and Pershing Park, also in Washington, of 1981. He noted that the Commission of Fine Arts approved the design for Fort Lincoln Park in 1976.
Mr. Birnbaum presented a range of images to illustrate the character of Friedberg’s design for the park. Friedberg had located the playground in a topographic depression, or bowl, that was the location of the historic fort; fortifications that are no longer extant had been built around the rim of this bowl. Friedberg’s general design principles included the idea of landscape as a stage, and of play as an activity that is both independent, individual, and collective; he considered play to be an important activity for all ages, and believed playground areas should encourage freedom of movement. He explained that Fort Lincoln Park’s combination of park and playground was a hybrid design, similar to Peavey Plaza’s combination of a park and plaza.
Mr. Birnbaum said that Friedberg’s design had defined play spaces within the park landscape, as well as a terrace on the high point of the topographic bowl. Open timber-framed pavilions on the terrace were designed to suggest tree houses and provide panoramic views across the park; they have strong silhouettes, with concrete supports that resemble the specimen trees planted on the terrace, and built-in benches that define their perimeter edges. A fountain at the center of the terrace served as a community hearth or gathering space. Friedberg’s design also integrated bike racks into the low retaining walls. Much of the ground plane was paved with brick and tile in a wide variety of materials, shapes, and patterns, including square, rectangular, and hexagonal pavers; a curved brick that may be unique to this site was used on some sloped surfaces. He noted that the paving retains a high degree of integrity. The play areas remain in their original locations; pavilions, light fixtures, trees, the embankments, and the fountain still exist, although the fountain is no longer functional and the original playground equipment does not remain. Many incompatible features—benches, picnic tables, and asphalt bike paths—were subsequently added to the park with little relation to the historic design.
Mr. Birnbaum said that Fort Lincoln Park and the playground are likely eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. He has determined that the appropriate preservation treatment standards are preservation and rehabilitation: the goal will be to rehabilitate the historic core, applying the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation of individual landscape features, and to create a model for stewardship of the entire park.
Mr. Lee said that a tree inventory is underway to assess the health and character of existing trees; this will assist in determining how to augment the trees and adapt the historic plantings to the larger park planting plan. Along the western and southern edges of the park, the strong tree canopy that formerly had lined Fort Lincoln Drive would be restored.
Noting that many people use the park as a shortcut, Mr. Lee said one objective is to have the park continue to serve as a connection between neighborhood areas. He indicated problems with the existing circulation system, including a lack of barrier-free access. The revised circulation system is being designed to tie the park together, connecting the historic core with the new community center to the north, and would be fully accessible. The primary new path would run along the edge of a wooded area at the top of a steep slope; paths would be kept out of open spaces to avoid intrusions into vistas. Exercise stations would be located along a connecting trail. New playground equipment would take inspiration from the lost equipment of the Friedberg design, using railroad ties and other timber to create a new adventure park that meets current safety standards
Mr. Lee indicated the Theodore Hagen Cultural Center at the southern end of the park; he said that the current project includes extending the deck of the community swimming pool located here. Additional pedestrian paths, paved with the hexagonal asphalt tie used throughout the site, would tie the cultural center’s driveway into the park’s larger circulation system. He noted the importance of barrier-free access to the cultural center and its community garden, which are used by many older people.
Vice Chairman Meyer invited comments from the Commission members on the park proposal before continuing to the presentation of the new Fort Lincoln Community Center. Mr. Stroik said he enjoyed learning about Friedberg’s work; observing that many of the presented photographs depicted an empty park, he asked if the park usually has many visitors and, more generally, if parks built in the 1970s typically need to be rehabilitated to attract people. Mr. Lee responded that Fort Lincoln Park is actually very heavily used. He said that many people use the tennis courts and the baseball fields, and hundreds had participated in the community outreach meetings and the community survey, more than is usual for such events. Mr. Birnbaum emphasized that the D.C. Government has been a good steward of Fort Lincoln Park; he added that the park feels safe because it has many people using it, and there is no vandalism or graffiti. He said that visitors can easily envision the Friedberg design, which retains a high degree of historic integrity, and its value to the community is recognized and respected.
Ms. Meyer observed that the presentation lacked any diagram showing how much of the historic design remains in good condition, how much can be repaired, and how much needs to be entirely replaced; she emphasized the need to clarify the proposal’s material integrity in order for the Commission members to evaluate the design. Mr. Lee responded that this will be shown in detail at the next presentation; most areas are in good condition, and complete replacement would generally be limited to the playground area. Mr. Birnbaum elaborated that the goal of the project is to respect Friedberg’s spatial and visual design intent, and to preserve and rehabilitate the existing historic features. He said that in the years following the park’s completion, some discordant features such as picnic tables were added in the meadow and other areas. However, within the topographic depression at the center—the historic location of the fort—there is the opportunity to interpret Friedberg’s intent through a contemporary lens, adding new elements that will use the historic design vocabulary.
Ms. Griffin expressed appreciation for the comprehensive overview and context. She agreed with Ms. Meyer’s comments that the presentation materials do not clearly convey the scope of rehabilitation versus replacement or reconstruction; she said the Commission needs to know where materials are proposed to be changed. She noted her support for integrating new elements into the design instead of simply replicating the historic components, which would keep the park locked in a particular time. She also said she finds a lack of clarity in where new paths would be built and where existing paths will be replaced or repaired. To make sure the design is moving in the right direction, she suggested a subsequent submission that would clarify the proposal. Mr. Lee responded that the circulation system would be rehabilitated within the historic core, as outlined on the site plan; the only change would be the addition of an accessible route via ramps leading to the child development center in the proposed community center to the north, an area which lies outside the historic core.
Ms. Griffin said that an example of her concern is that the documentation refers to repairing or replacing brick paving in particular areas, but it is not clear how much would be repaired or replaced, nor what the replacement material would be. Mr. Lee responded that all of the brick pavers, stone wall, and scored concrete would be replaced in kind. Mr. Birnbaum clarified that the park has areas that do not contribute to the historic design; these could accommodate incompatible contemporary activities. However, within the historic core, all extant historic materials would be rehabilitated or restored whenever possible. He gave the examples of the historic light fixtures, all of which would be restored or rehabilitated, and of the northern path leading into the park from Fort Lincoln Drive, which would probably be doubled in width for accessibility using new paving that would replicate the historic scored concrete. The trees along this path would be replanted to recreate the historic allée. He emphasized that the goal will always be to preserve or rehabilitate the remaining historic features, or when necessary to replace them in kind.
Ms. Griffin expressed confidence in the direction of the concept design, but she reiterated that a diagram showing repair versus replacement is needed for the Commission to understand the proposal. Vice Chairman Meyer said that a large-scale feature like the ramp will require an understanding of its impact on the site’s topography, particularly the earthwork in the playground. She emphasized that the next presentation must also include documentation, such as a section axonometric or a physical model, to understand the impact of the proposal on the historic Friedberg design. She added that these comments should not be construed as a criticism of the conceptual direction, but the concept proposal needs to be resubmitted with documentation for another review before the final design submission. Mr. Lee said that a site visit by the Commission, when feasible, would be helpful for understanding how Friedberg’s design of the circulation and spatial sequence had made full use of the site’s varied topography.
Ms. Meyer commented that it is somewhat fortunate that the park has not been rehabilitated before now, because notions have changed concerning what constitutes appropriate children’s play; she said there was a period of attempting to eliminate risk from playgrounds, but now it is recognized that children grow in confidence and strength when their play includes risk. She encouraged the continuation of Friedberg’s adventure-based design approach of creating a playground that supports the intellectual, physical, and emotional confidence of park users of all ages. Mr. Krieger asked about the condition of the park’s tennis courts and baseball fields; Mr. Lee responded that they are heavily used and well maintained.
Vice Chairman Meyer offered a motion to approve the concept plan, with the expectation that the design team will return soon with documentation of the location and proposed treatment of historic materials, and also where changes would be made to improve accessibility. Noting that the best kind of sustainability reuses existing materials rather than removing them, she said the next presentation should address whether there is a plan to reuse deteriorated materials within the park. Upon a second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission adopted the motion. Vice Chairman Meyer emphasized that the project has support from the Commission members, who want the project team to be good stewards of this historic resource.
(Comments on the park design continued during the discussion of the next agenda item.)
2. CFA 15/OCT/20-8, Fort Lincoln Park, 3100 Fort Lincoln Drive, NE. New community center building. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the second project for Fort Lincoln Park, a concept proposal for a new community center building to be constructed on the level site formerly occupied by the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, which was recently razed. The program includes an early childhood education facility, wellness and fitness centers, and other amenities. The new building would have a radial plan, with two wings or bars extending into the park landscape from a central core, and a third wing embedded in the hillside. He described the design as featuring a strong masonry base, informed by existing stone retaining walls; the floors above would be treated in a lighter vocabulary, giving the character of floating above the heavy base. He introduced the design team to present the proposal: architects Marnique Heath and Andrew Domnitz of Studios Architecture, and landscape architect Jeff Lee of Lee & Associates.
Ms. Heath said that the community center would be located in the northern part of the larger renovation project for Fort Lincoln Park. Like the park and playground, the new community center’s design was developed in close collaboration with the community. She said the building is intended as both a literal and figurative extension of the park, shaped by the same ideas that M. Paul Friedberg established for the park and playground: the landscape as a stage, freedom of movement, adventurous play for all ages, and visitors simultaneously acting as both viewer and viewed.
Mr. Domnitz described the characteristics of the site. The park as a whole is a large naturalistic area within the city, with good connections to its neighborhood. The site for the community center has dramatic topographic variation, with steep, significant slopes to the north and south, including a deep depression on the south that he described as a forbidding moat; the elementary school had connected with the rest of the park via a bridge over this moat. He said that the proposal will enhance the qualities of Friedberg’s landscape architecture and emphasize the variety of topographic elevations. The building has been designed to be approachable from all sides, with the different wings providing multiple facades and allowing access from multiple directions. Vehicular access would be from the east, and pedestrians would be able to approach the building from the west and south.
Mr. Domnitz said the building will contain 35,000 square feet of floor space, divided according to three general functions corresponding to the plan’s three bars: one-third for fitness and wellness services, one-third for community activities such as cooking and crafts, and one-third for early childhood education, which will be a daycare center operated by a third-party vendor.
Through concept diagrams and sections, Mr. Domnitz illustrated how the proposed building is organized as a pinwheel, with wings extending from its core to define and shape spaces within the landscape. This pinwheel configuration would allow an interplay between the interior and exterior spaces; the several facades and the large windows would provide many views between the building interiors and landscape. The sculptural roof forms would appear to float above each of the different bars of the building, tying them together. Above the wing embedded into the hillside, a portion of the roof would be tilted to serve as an extension of the adjacent amphitheater, creating almost a theater in the round; a public lawn on the roof would adjoin the amphitheater. An elevated running track would encircle the upper part of the gymnasium wing and would extend alongside the roof of the embedded wing, creating a changing series of views into and through the building and out to the park landscape.
Mr. Domnitz said the design will allow visitors to approach the building from all sides; two main entrances at the east and west would open into the central lobby, where an administration desk would be located so that staff members can see both entrances. The building would function as a shortcut for people walking across the park, bringing more activity to the interior space. There will be a variety of vantage points from which to view the building within its park setting; the scenic quality would be emphasized by the sculptural shaping of the roof planes.
Mr. Lee presented the site design, noting that the open lobby would enable the staff to monitor activities in the park as well as in the building. The two main entrances are intended to make the building appear open and welcoming. The entrance plaza at the end of the vehicular drive, along the southeast face of the building, would function as an assembly point; a ramp cut into the hillside would connect this area to the historic core. He indicated the eastern ridge line, where a path system would be located to connect the northern area with the rest of the park; this system would be laid along the edge of a flat area, creating open access to a recreational field for activities such as picnics or ball games, which are not accommodated within the historic core. Other site amenities would include an exercise fitness area at the edge of the woods, which he described as an adventure playground for adults; a fitness area next to the community center, serving as an indoor-outdoor space for activities such as yoga or Pilates; and exterior spaces adjacent to the demonstration kitchen that can serve as outdoor classrooms.
Mr. Domnitz said the proposed materials palette is intended to recall Friedberg’s wooden design for the historic core of Fort Lincoln Park. To appear firmly rooted in the landscape, the building wings would be clad in a relatively heavy masonry, recalling the masonry-clad embankments beneath the historic pavilions; other materials would recall the lighter wood structure of the pavilions. He illustrated the proposed design from different perspectives, indicating a covered arcade outside the gymnasium where people could sit and watch activities inside through a window. He said that the rhythmic pattern of the fenestration would encourage movement into the lobby. The wing dedicated to early childhood education would have its own material identity within the established language, inspired by forms within the park. Because the historic core has an elevation fifteen to twenty feet higher than the grade at the entrance to the community center, people in the core will be able to see into the atrium and through the large clerestory into the gymnasium.
Vice Chairman Meyer thanked the design team for its informative presentation and invited comments from the Commission members. Mr. Stroik observed that the presentations for the two projects at Fort Lincoln Park had discussed the work of Friedberg at length, but the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School was built before the Friedberg design; he asked whether the school had fallen into disuse because it was a failure as a work of architecture or for other reasons. Mr. Sisco responded that he understood the school had been closed because of declining enrollment, and the building then became a draw for criminal activity; he added that the current DPR director had attended this school and loved it.
Mr. Krieger commented that the design appears to be a very imaginative solution for a community center. He noted the difficulty of extending landscape ideas into a large building, but he said that some of the design ideas in this building seem successful, such as treating the building as a stage from which to see and be seen. He said he anticipates that such ideas will continue to be advanced as the design is developed, and he expressed appreciation for the attempt to incorporate some of the historic park’s conceptual design ideas into the building design. He complimented the design team and offered support for approving the submission.
Noting the overall aesthetic refinement of the design, Mr. McCrery commented that the proposed playground area for young children looks like an afterthought, seemingly contrary to the design spirit of the pinwheel arrangement. He recommended better integration of this area with the geometries of the building footprint so that it will look like an integral part rather than an appendage. Similarly, the clipped octagonal shape of the fitness area near the woods also does not appear well integrated into its immediate landscape; questioning the derivation of its form, he suggested that it might be more successful if it follows the undulating topography at the site’s periphery.
Ms. Meyer said Mr. McCrery has identified the key weakness of the community center’s site design: the landscape additions here appear to refer to the geometry of the Friedberg park, because of their configuration and their somewhat hexagonal shapes, and not connected enough to the geometry of the new community center building. She suggested also considering how these areas may work within the vocabulary of the new roof structures, which create their own kind of topography through a different form language. She said that Mr. Krieger’s comments about the difficulty of developing a building concept out of a landscape interpretation have reminded her of Inside Outside: Between Architecture and Landscape, a 1999 book by Linda Pollak and Anita Berrizbeitia that discusses reciprocity as an operation whereby a landscape idea transgresses a boundary and generates a building, and vice versa. She called the proposal a great example of this idea, and she suggested relating the children’s playground and the fitness course to the new building in order to help clarify the distinction between the park’s historic core and its periphery.
Vice Chairman Meyer suggested a consensus that the Commission strongly supports the proposal, with some suggestions for its refinement. Mr. Krieger offered a motion to approve the concept design, with additional consideration about the relationship between the historic core and the community center, and with additional attention to the young children’s playground; he added that the agility fitness area, being somewhat farther away, could be more independent in its design character. Upon a second by Mr. Shubow, the Commission adopted the motion. Vice Chairman Meyer said the Commission looks forward to seeing the design as it is developed, as well as to a future site visit.
(At this point, Ms. Griffin and Mr. Stroik departed for the remainder of the meeting.)
H. D.C. Department of General Services
1. CFA 15/OCT/20-9, School-Within-School at Anne M. Goding Elementary School, 920 F Street, NE. Building renovation and additions. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the proposal to renovate the existing Goding Elementary School building for use by a charter school tenant. He said that the building was constructed in 1959, with only a few improvements since then; it is a four-story brick structure, located just outside the northern boundary of the Capitol Hill historic district. The south-facing school occupies the full width of the 900 block of F Street, NE, with minimal parking and only limited areas for outdoor activities; students are able to use the adjacent Sherwood Recreation Center, which occupies the north half of the block. He noted the substantial slope across the site, with the grade at the rear approximately one story lower than the F Street frontage. He said that the charter school uses the student-centered Reggio Emilia educational philosophy and serves students from throughout Washington. The proposal includes extensive facade alterations, interior reconfiguration, and a 7,000-square-foot addition on the north; the new facades would include colored metal surrounds, solar shading screens, and a pale gray paint for the brick. He asked Nicholas Williams, the director of facility planning and design for the D.C. Public Schools, to begin the presentation; Mr. Williams introduced architects Salo Levinas and Maria Gorodetskaya of Shinberg Levinas to present the design.
Mr. Levinas said that the addition is designed to respect the existing building and maintain some sense of its integrity; the design is also intended to respect the adjacent Capitol Hill historic district and the neighborhood. He presented photographs of the existing building: the classrooms occupy the main block extending east-west along F Street, and the gymnasium and cafeteria occupy a lower wing extending north-south along 10th Street. He said that the proposal is intended to eliminate this sense of separation between uses, in keeping with the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education; the design would unify the architectural language on both the interior and exterior.
Mr. Levinas indicated the proposal to extend the classroom floors northward by approximately ten feet, an economical place for expansion that would respect the integrity of the building. The primary entrance would be on F Street; the preschool area would be one level below, opening out at grade on the north. He indicated the outdoor play area adjacent to the preschool classrooms; it would be protected by planters from the parking area at the north edge of the site, and the design goal is to configure the screening so that students would not see the cars. The older students would also be able to cross the north side of the site to reach the Sherwood Recreation Center; their route would similarly be screened from the cars with a planted wall. At the third floor, a large outdoor classroom would be located on the roof of the existing gymnasium; he noted that this outdoor area would be an important educational feature, and its location avoids the problem of the scarcity of ground-level open space on the site.
Mr. Levinas presented the elevations and indicated the areas where the existing building would be expanded, primarily near the gymnasium. He noted the challenge of respecting the original building’s architecture while adding to it, as well as altering it to provide the indoor–outdoor connections that are important to the Reggio Emilia philosophy. The increased openness is primarily on the north, facing the open space of the recreation center and avoiding alterations to the primary facade along F Street. The new construction would have a brick exterior, similar to the existing building, and all of the brick would be painted with a pale whitewash to minimize the distinction between old and new facade materials. The window frames would project outward, with subtly colored surfaces on the inner edges corresponding to the interior colors of the classrooms; perforated screens in the upper part of the south-facing window surrounds would provide additional solar protection. The brick wall above the main entrance would have colorful identification signage for the school; the entrance itself would be enlarged to a double-height opening, corresponding to the height of the adjacent music room’s windows. The corner of the site near the entrance would have small gardens for use by the students and parents, helping to integrate the school with the community. He emphasized that the landscaped space on the site is an important feature for the school.
Mr. Levinas concluded by summarizing the range of exterior materials for the project: brick, stucco, glass, and metal. He said that the exterior is intended to express the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy that guides the interior of the school, while also establishing a dialogue with the neighborhood. Similarly, color is intended as a subtle component that helps to unify the building and relate it to the neighborhood.
Vice Chairman Meyer invited comments from the Commission members. Mr. McCrery asked about the reason for choosing specific colors, rendered as yellow and green variants of chartreuse as well as a whitewash of the brick. He also expressed concern about the proposed placement of a private corporate logo on the facade of this public school building, and he asked about the use of fencing along the site perimeter. Mr. Levinas responded that the logo corresponds to this charter school, and its use on the facade is intended as a routine means of identifying the school for the students, parents, and community. A fence of vertical metal pickets is proposed along the sidewalk edges; it is shown as brilliant white but could be a dark color if preferred by the Commission. Mr. McCrery asked if these are shown as independently anchored pickets, similar to bollards; Mr. Levinas clarified that it is intended as simply a continuous picket fence. The exterior accents are intended as a continuation of the interior classroom colors, expressing the important concept in the Reggio Emilia philosophy of connecting the interior to the exterior, and of conveying to the community a sense of what happens inside the school. He said that students are encouraged to continue the educational experience inside and outside the school, including play areas. He added that initial design studies included more color, but the current proposal uses pale tones.
Ms. Gorodetskaya clarified that the proposed colors in the logo and accents are part of the Reggio Emilia system and are typically used on its schools. She also emphasized the role of the whitewash in unifying the building’s exterior, addressing the challenge of matching the new brick to the existing facades. Mr. Krieger supported both of these concepts for the use of color. Noting the possible optical illusion of the projecting window surrounds, he asked if the replacements for the existing windows would be in the same plane as on the existing facade. Mr. Levinas responded that the plane of the windows would not change, aside from minor adjustments for an insulated window assembly. The intent is simply to add projecting surrounds, which would provide solar protection; the projection would be less on the north facade. Mr. Krieger said that the illusion of a setback window plane, as suggested in the renderings, could be an interesting feature of the building. He said that opinions on color may vary, but his own view is that the world could use more color, especially in Washington D.C.; the association of the proposed colors with the Reggio Emilia system provides an additional reason for supporting the proposal.
Mr. Krieger said that the brick treatment should be considered carefully, with distinctions between whitewash and paint, varying long-term maintenance requirements, and factory-applied finishes compared to on-site treatment. Mr. Levinas clarified that the current proposal is for a type of paint, but the exact treatment will be determined after mockups that will allow for closer study of the appearance and durability. He said that a mismatch of the new brick would imply a lack of respect for the existing building, and the proposed concept is intended to provide a uniformity to the exterior. A process under consideration is a whitewash followed by sanding to reveal the original brick color while concealing the mortar; he said that the results of the mockups could be presented to the Commission. Mr. Krieger observed that the proposed accent colors would look better alongside the muted treatment of the brick, rather than placing these colors alongside exposed red brick. Mr. Levinas said that some early studies showed the entire facade painted white, but this seemed excessive; Mr. Krieger agreed.
Mr. McCrery joined in supporting the proposed treatment of the brick as a unifying design gesture; he emphasized the importance of preparing mockups, and he suggested doing them on the existing building facade. He observed that the existing red brick is not particularly beautiful and does not need to remain exposed. He commented that the brick treatment would give a strong emphasis to the accent colors, and he asked for clarification of their relationship to the interior rooms. Mr. Levinas said that the choice of interior colors for the classrooms is still being studied for its effect on student education, and the color from the window surrounds might be used for only one interior wall; he said that the intent is for some perceptibility of the exterior accent color continuing to the interior. Mr. McCrery commented on the appropriateness of a building’s exterior having a different appearance than its interior, and he said that this distinction will not shock people, including children. He said that the more likely reason for the accent colors is simply a desire to introduce color to the building’s exterior, and he questioned whether the accents are an appropriate design feature in the context of this neighborhood. He said that regardless of whether this building is within the boundary of the historic district, the context is clearly a beautiful Victorian neighborhood, and the proposed use of exterior color would be jarring. He observed that the scale of the existing building is already inconsistent with the context, and its architect surely never intended it to be compatible. He sharply contrasted this building’s design approach with the many good public school buildings in the neighborhood that fit in well with their Victorian surroundings. He said that the proposed introduction of color to the exterior would draw unwanted attention to this building’s incompatibility with the neighborhood. He expressed agreement with Mr. Krieger that the projecting window surrounds would provide an interesting visual effect and would be an improvement to the building’s architecture, but he recommended against the introduction of the accent colors that are derived from the school’s logo. Mr. Shubow said that he agrees with these concerns about the use of color.
Ms. Meyer commented that the intended use of color to establish the school’s inside–outside relationship highlights the need for greater attention to the outside of the school. She acknowledged the careful study of the existing building’s geometry and of the insertion of punched windows, but she contrasted this with the haphazard placement of generic community garden boxes near the main entrance. She observed that these boxes are not related to the proportions, rhythm, and geometry of the building’s windows and piers, and the proximity of the site’s perimeter fence would make many of the plots difficult to garden. She said that the presence of the community garden boxes is acceptable, and they are seen successfully alongside other schools in the Capitol Hill area, but this site’s outdoor space should be more thoughtfully designed. She expressed support for the proposed lower-level configuration for the preschool students, likening its angular walls to the work of Josep Antoni Coderch in Barcelona; she suggested using this geometry as inspiration for the western part of the F Street frontage, instead of the curvilinear geometry that is proposed, with the goal of integrating the site design approach for the entire F Street frontage. She said that further consideration of these issues could inform the treatment of the window surrounds; she supported the painted colors that are proposed, but she said that a wood surface is another alternative. She summarized the importance of designing the site’s landscape as an important part of the building’s public face.
Mr. Krieger agreed with these concerns, but he noted that the appearance of the site would be quite different after the building is in use and the students are tending the garden boxes; as plants grow, he said that the landscape would take on the appearance of the other school sites in the area that Ms. Meyer had favorably cited. Ms. Meyer suggested a more decisive attitude on whether this is a designed landscape or an outdoor work area for children, parents, and teachers; as garden plots, the layout could be studied more thoughtfully, such as by considering the placement of compost bins and hose connections, or the appropriate depth of planting beds in relation to the length of children’s arms. She emphasized that the proposal does not appear successful as presented, and it needs more care; Mr. Krieger agreed that the intention is not clear.
Ms. Gorodetskaya noted that the building facade is placed at the property line, and the proposed site design would largely be in public space; the design for this area is currently being updated and will be reviewed by the D.C. Government agencies that regulate the treatment of public space, in addition to review by the Commission. Mr. Levinas added that the programmatic goal for the western part of the F Street frontage is a place where people can congregate, including students, parents, and neighbors; this would balance the garden program for the site’s southeast corner. He acknowledged that the site design is still being developed in consultation with school officials and parents, and a more detailed proposal will be provided to the Commission. He also observed that the neighborhood is not homogeneous in color, due to a wide variety of architectural details such as doors. He said that the proposed design is intended to respect the scale of the neighborhood; for example, the double-height openings are comparable to the two-story row houses in the area. He said that the proposed use of color is intended to be subtle but playful, adding something distinctive to the neighborhood. He emphasized that the design is intended to announce the school’s presence in the neighborhood, and specifically to announce its special role in using the Reggio Emilia approach, along with establishing a compatibility with the neighborhood; he summarized that the design communicates the school’s purpose in a playful way, rather than being bland or having the appearance of an office building.
Mr. Krieger agreed with this response concerning color, reiterating that this topic typically leads to a variety of opinions. He observed that the proposed use of color and the whitewashing of the brick would be helpful in reducing the apparent scale of the building, in comparison to the photographs of the existing conditions. He emphasized his support for the proposed use of color, while inviting further exploration of the specific choices. Mr. McCrery suggested that the further exploration include the possibility of using natural materials, which have natural colors. He said that many types of metal are available with different colors that would not require painting; similarly, wood can be obtained in various colors that age in different ways, often beautifully. He said that these natural colors would go well with the whitewash, which he supports as a treatment for the brick. He encouraged this design approach rather than specifying a strong color from a paint manufacturer’s color selection guide. He also commented that the proposed architecture has an admirably playful quality that does not need to be emphasized further by strong colors, and he agreed that the double-height main entrance and adjacent large openings—in conjunction with the smaller window elements—would be successful in relating the scale of this building to the neighborhood.
Vice Chairman Meyer suggested a consensus to support the concept proposal while requesting further study of how color or texture may be used for the window surrounds. She suggested that the design team consult further with the staff in addressing the concerns that have been raised; the goal is to develop a final design that the project team is proud of and that the Commission believes will result in an enduring public building, as a school should be. Mr. McCrery agreed but suggested that the Commission specifically request development of a thoughtful design alternative that relies on natural materials; Vice Chairman Meyer suggested that this be presented as an intermediate submission, prior to development of the final design. Secretary Luebke summarized the two issues that emerged from the discussion: the use of color in the window surrounds, and the site design along F Street. Mr. McCrery noted that the site design issues are subject to a separate review process for public space, and he supported the suggestion for an intermediate-stage review as these parts of the design are developed further.
Ms. Meyer offered a motion to approve the concept with the comments provided. Mr. Krieger seconded the motion, with the clarification that he does not share the objection to the proposed use of color. Ms. Meyer noted that the motion includes the request for an alternative using natural materials, while still allowing for an alternative using applied colors as currently proposed. The Commission adopted the motion with this understanding. The Commission members encouraged further consultation with the staff and noted that the scope of the intermediate review could be limited to the design development issues that have been identified.
2. CFA 15/OCT/20-10, Henry Smothers Elementary School, 4400 Brooks Street, NE / 1300 44th Street, NE. Building renovation and additions. Concept. (Previous: CFA 17/SEP/20-10) Secretary Luebke introduced a second concept submission for the renovation and expansion of Smothers Elementary School. He said that at the first review in September 2020, the Commission did not take an action but provided comments concerning a lack of clarity in defining the design’s vision and goals. The Commission had also determined that some details of the building and its organization needed reconsideration, including: the design of the proposed new entrance at the corner of Brooks and 44th Streets; the potential reuse of the historic main entrance to simplify the grade changes; the design of an enclosure for the kindergarten play area; reconfiguring the plan to avoid blocking the windows on the east side of the existing multipurpose room; and studying the composition of the proposed brick brise-soleil to avoid a random appearance on the new classroom wing. He asked Nicholas Williams of the D.C. Public Schools to begin the presentation. Mr. Williams introduced the design team, which includes architects Mathew Pickner, Edgar Moreno, and Sarah Woodhead of the DLR Group, and landscape architect Bruno Carvalho of Carvalho & Good.
Mr. Moreno expressed appreciation for the Commission’s previous comments. He summarized that the existing Henry Smothers Elementary School is a 44,000-square-foot building that occupies most of its 1.6-acre site. The school was built in phases from 1923 to 1939, and it has been little changed since then. He noted that 44th Street on the west is the busiest of the three adjacent roadways; the school faces south onto Brooks Street. The proposal includes adding a classroom wing on the west side of the existing building, and another addition on the northeast that would contain a gymnasium and additional special-use spaces. He asked project architect Sarah Woodhead to address the Commission’s questions about clarification of the guiding vision.
Ms. Woodhead said that the mission of Smothers Elementary School is to help students reach their potential through rigorous and exciting learning experiences provided in a safe, nurturing environment. She emphasized that Smothers aims to serve as a beacon of hope for families living east of the Anacostia River; the location of the school within its neighborhood is important to the community. She said the proposed design attempts to interpret the educational program by looking at the building from both inside and outside, balancing the focus on the student experience with creating an appropriate civic presence for the school building. She also noted that the school commemorates Henry Smothers, who founded a school in 1823 to serve African American children; his school provided hope to its community that was facing the difficulties of living in antebellum Washington.
Ms. Woodhead said that a guiding image for the design is contained in the word “interwoven,” and the theme of weaving has inspired the design for a building that will honor historical events within a contemporary context. This theme will be physically expressed through the combining and layering of different elements and details that will leave the historic fabric visible within the new; other weaving techniques still being explored include mullion patterns and the incorporation of color in the facades. She said the project team is also identifying places in the design where the story of Henry Smothers can be told.
Mr. Pickner described the architectural proposal in more detail. The weaving motif would be explored in the western addition, where a brise-soleil composed of brick screens would be supported one foot in front of the west facade by a framework constructed of steel tubes. The brise-soleil would employ the brick language of the original building while shielding the west side of the new addition from intense afternoon sunlight, allowing for large windows in the new classrooms. He said that as the screen moves across the facade, its bricks would be twisted in various configurations; the design is still under development.
Mr. Pickner indicated the proposed new entrance on the western addition’s Brooks Street facade, near the corner of Brooks and 44th Streets; this would lead into a new glazed entrance lobby. In response to the Commission’s recommendation to create a more engaging experience at this corner, the design team has been exploring ways to improve the proposed ramp and stair access from the sidewalk to the entrance and to expand the outdoor stairway and seating. He described two new options, the “pathway” and the “landscape” designs, that have been developed as alternatives to the design presented at the previous review. The pathway option would integrate the ramp into the entrance sequence by extending it to the right and left of the stairway in order to traverse the grade change of 9.5 feet; the ramp sequence would cross the stairway on a middle landing, and plantings would be interspersed throughout the composition. The landscape option would have a simpler ramp configuration entirely to the east of the stairs along Brooks Street; this option would include more landscaped areas along both streets and would eliminate the need for the retaining wall along Brooks Street, as required in the pathway option. For each of the options, he indicated the different opportunities for gathering areas, seating, plantings, retaining walls with murals or special materials, and historical markers describing the life and achievements of Henry Smothers. He said the project team prefers the landscape option because its cascading plantings on the slope would have a softer, more inviting appearance and would preserve the hillside while providing greater safety and visibility at the corner. The landscape option would have a larger area of permeable surfaces and fewer retaining walls; historical plaques could be located at the seating areas and on the ramp landings.
Mr. Pickner described the response to the other issues that were previously raised by the Commission. The kindergarten play area beneath the new western addition would be protected by a low fence, and the fence itself would be screened by a hedge on the side facing the play area. Nearby, the egress-only stair from the upper classroom levels would be treated as an architectural design feature; it would be wrapped with a perforated metal screen that provides another place to incorporate the story of Henry Smothers. For the eastern windows of the existing multipurpose room, which would be blocked by the proposed northeastern addition, he said that exposure to the exterior or a sunlit atrium would not be feasible due to the programmatic adjacency requirements. Nonetheless, the design team is committed to preserving the character of the multipurpose room, and the proposal is therefore to backlight the eastern windows to create the illusion of daylight.
Mr. Pickner concluded by presenting the proposed elevations, materials, and energy efficiency features. The rear facade on the north along Clay Street would be clad primarily with brick and fiber-cement panels, which would be composed to differentiate the massing and break down the visual scale. A large wall of windows would provide daylight to the new gymnasium room and to the library media room above it, although the size of the windows had to be reduced from the previous proposal to meet the net-zero energy goal. A play area would be located on the roof above the library; most other roof areas would have photovoltaic panels, which would also be placed above part of the rear service drive. The east facade of the western addition, where extensive glazing is not desirable, would have panels featuring a large graphic that is still being designed.
Vice Chairman Meyer opened the review for questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Krieger endorsed the project team’s preferred “landscape” option for the treatment of the corner entrance as the best choice, commenting that it would be less daunting to climb and more appealing because of its small sitting areas that are incorporated at the landing and among the plantings. Noting his past skepticism of whether the project could achieve the intended net-zero energy consumption, he acknowledged the inclusion of more illustrations of photovoltaic panels and other energy-efficient features; although he said he is still not quite convinced that the project would achieve the desired targets, he expressed confidence that this will be figured out. He summarized that the project team has responded to the important issues, and the design is progressing satisfactorily.
Mr. McCrery questioned the intent to design the brise-soleil as an internally reinforced brick screen that would be only one brick deep. Referring to the work of architect Louis Kahn, he commented that its design seems to run contrary to the nature of brick; he stressed the importance of considering the capability of materials, and he expressed skepticism about the long-term durability of the brise-soleil design. Ms. Meyer suggested requesting the preparation of a full-scale mockup of the brise-soleil for inspection by the Commission or the staff; this would also increase the client’s confidence in the proposed design. She recalled that the Commission more often requests full-scale mockups for major public buildings, such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where the exterior cladding plays a fundamental role in the experience and meaning of that building; she added that producing mockups is a much easier undertaking for a smaller building, such as a school. Mr. McCrery agreed that a mockup would be helpful; in addition, he recommended that the project team should engage a structural engineer and consult with the Masonry Institute about the brise-soleil to ensure the design will work. Mr. Krieger agreed with these suggestions.
Ms. Meyer said she agrees with Mr. Krieger that the landscape option for the new corner entrance is best, commenting that it will function as the kind of public entrance space a school should have—an inviting, safe, and attractive place for students to gather or wait for rides. She noted the description of the hill at this corner as a feature of the neighborhood’s vernacular cultural landscape; she therefore recommended developing the entrance elements as incisions into the hill, set within consistent and restrained plantings that support the memory of this feature, instead of the intrusive fussiness of the plantings that were illustrated in the presentation. She said that this minor issue could be addressed as the design is developed, and she commented favorably on the proposed shaping of the ground and the interwoven treatment of the steps and planted areas at the upper end of the entrance sequence. She emphasized that the design has come a long way, and she believes this corner will be a great meeting place; she described this project as one of the nicer small public school designs that the Commission has reviewed recently.
Mr. McCrery offered a motion to approve the concept design with the comments that have been provided. Upon a second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission adopted this action.
I. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
SL 21-008, 2626 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (Salvation Army National Capital Area Command). Office building. Replacement building facades and additions for residential use. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the concept design for the expansion of an existing office building that would be converted into apartments. He noted the building’s prominent location at the eastern edge of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. Along with the adjacent nine-story building to the east, the block defines the urban edge of Pennsylvania Avenue where it crosses the Rock Creek valley into Georgetown. The lot is irregularly shaped, fronting on the diagonal of Pennsylvania Avenue on the north with service from L Street within the city grid on the south. The existing five-story building was constructed in 1974 and has been the local office of the Salvation Army; the minimally articulated exterior is red brick with horizontal windows of dark-tinted glass. The proposal would convert the building to residential use with 49 apartments, adding four stories above the existing building and extending a five-story volume into the area currently occupied by an open service court in the southeast corner of the site. The existing parking garage beneath the building would remain, entered from the lower grade of L Street on the south. The project also includes landscape improvements to the National Park Service parkland immediately to the west of the building. He asked Kevin Sperry of Kevin & Asako Sperry Architecture to present the design.
Mr. Sperry acknowledged the assistance of the Commission staff in several consultation meetings, and he said that the project team has also met with the staff of the National Park Service (NPS) concerning the adjacent federal parkland, which may appear to be the side yard of this building. He noted that the site’s zoning allows for a 100-foot-tall building plus a 20-foot-tall penthouse. He presented the existing floor plans, totaling approximately 34,000 square feet, and a site plan showing the roughly trapezoidal shape of the lot that results from the diagonal of Pennsylvania Avenue; he said that the proposed design is intended to express the complex geometry of the context. He indicated the dead-end terminus of L Street immediately south of the site, as well as the NPS lot that frames the site immediately to the west, to the south across L Street, and to the north across Pennsylvania Avenue. He noted that this building and its neighbor to the east are the only buildings of the West End neighborhood that are located west of 26th Street, which is generally perceived as the neighborhood’s western edge; as a result, these buildings have the character of being part of the park more than belonging to the West End. He described the attractive views from the upper floors across the parkland toward Rosslyn and the Potomac River to the south, Georgetown to the west, and the Rock Creek valley continuing to the north. The site is effectively at the top of a hill, with the topography descending toward Rock Creek; he said that the building is somewhat difficult to see from vehicles on the parkway, which is approximately 28 feet below the site’s grade, in part due to the extensive tree cover within the park. In contrast, the building is prominently visible along the level alignment of Pennsylvania Avenue, particularly from its bridge across Rock Creek and from the top of the exit ramp leading up from the parkway. He presented a series of photographs to demonstrate where the views toward the building are open or screened.
Mr. Sperry described the results of studying the prevailing materials of buildings in the West End neighborhood. The pattern tends to be materials of white metal, glass, and concrete for buildings toward the northeast; tan brick toward the middle of the neighborhood; and red brick toward the neighborhood’s western edge. However, he noted that the building neighboring this site to the east is stone and tan brick, and the proposal is therefore to use a similar palette of color in order to provide a consistent character for this isolated pair of buildings west of 26th Street. The proposed materials are stone and panels, without repeating the brick of the neighbor. He emphasized that the character of the park is also an important influence on the design: the project is intended to quietly fit in with the natural context, to improve the park rather than detract from it, and not to have the building stand out like a beacon on a hill. He presented photographs to illustrate the natural character of the park, which includes forest, exposed rock, and the water of the creek; these park elements have been translated into the building materials of wood, stone, and glass, which he said would be brought together into a very simple design that is true to the context.
Mr. Sperry presented several photographic simulations of the proposed building within its context, seen in aerial views and from the city streets. He indicated the shifting floor plate alignments in the upper part of the building; he said that this gesture is intended to break up the massing, to establish the effect of the building’s base, middle, top, and upper crown, and to emphasize the relationship of the building’s lower part to the Pennsylvania Avenue alignment while the upper part that rises above the tree line would generally relate more closely to the park. He said that the south side of the proposed building expresses most strongly the interplay between the orthogonal grid of L Street and the angle of Pennsylvania Avenue, as seen in the intersecting volumes of the massing. He clarified that the lower six floors would generally occupy the rectangular footprint of the existing building, extended to the infill addition at the southeast; the floor plates above would be angled in various ways. He indicated the different geometry of the upper floors, intended to break up the large volume of the building; he noted that the initial design was one story taller, but the height has been reduced in response to the consultation with the staff, and the top floor has been stepped back to have the appearance of a penthouse. He noted that the lower height of the proposed infill to the southeast is intended to avoid blocking some existing upper-floor windows on the building to the east; the result is a more interesting massing and a large sixth-floor terrace for the shared use of the residents.
Mr. Sperry presented additional perspective views, emphasizing the effort to relate the building to its surroundings through materiality, color, and massing, instead of simply creating a 100-foot-tall box that would have an obtrusive appearance. The proposed facade pattern is intended to provide a balance of vertical and horizontal emphasis instead of the strong horizontality of the existing windows and bays; as an example, the existing building’s twenty-foot-wide bays would be subdivided into ten-foot-wide bays. He said that the balconies recessed into the massing of the building and the large upper-floor terraces would provide opportunities for plantings. He presented a street-level perspective view of the building entrance along Pennsylvania Avenue, including a marquee that projects in a broad curve toward the sidewalk; he said the design is intended to provide a strong entrance sequence, establish a strong base for the building, and provide some privacy for the second-floor apartments. He noted that the interior enclosure at the northwest corner of the ground floor would be recessed from the facade plane to provide an extensive shared-use terrace facing north and west, located alongside two resident amenity rooms. He presented additional drawings of the stone facade panels, indicating the vertical striations on some panels to give a sense of texture and verticality for the building. The recessed balconies would have side walls of wood along with metal framing; he noted that the vertical pickets of the balcony railings would contribute to the vertical emphasis of the facades.
On the site plan, Mr. Sperry indicated the proposed enhancements to the NPS lot on the west. He said the NPS staff requested that this park area be improved as a transitional space but not turned into a special destination. It would serve as a pedestrian connection between Pennsylvania Avenue and L Street, possibly informal or with a defined path. Shade trees and native plantings would be provided; the proposal also envisions bringing in boulders from the Rock Creek Valley, potentially to provide informal resting places to supplement the seating in this area. He noted that a landscape architect will soon be added to the project team. For the south side of the site, he indicated the two existing parking access ramps that would remain; the first-floor apartments on the south side would be above these ramps.
Vice Chairman Meyer recalled the Commission’s past review of a planned apartment building designed by Eduardo Souto de Moura at the opposite end of the Pennsylvania Avenue bridge, on the edge of Georgetown; she asked if that building has been considered as part of the context. Mr. Sperry said that he is aware of that project, as well as the plans for the nearby West Heating Plant along Rock Creek; these were discussed during the consultation meetings with the staff. He noted that these projects are within Georgetown and are appropriately designed for that context; he acknowledged that the Souto de Moura building is particularly important to consider due to its proximity, and he said it shares with today’s proposal an emphasis on recessed balconies although differing in size and materials.
Mr. Krieger asked whether the material described as stone would actually be stone veneer panels, precast concrete, or some other type of imitation stone. Mr. Sperry said that many different materials have been considered, and a sample of the proposed material has been submitted for inspection. Secretary Luebke displayed the sample, describing it as precast glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) with integral color of pale gray; the striations would be approximately a half-inch wide. Mr. Sperry said that the material selection is still being studied; in consideration of the existing steel structural system and its tight spacing against the property line, the intent is to select a material that is thinner and less heavy than natural stone. Additional criteria for the selection include a masonry character, a matte finish, and the opportunity to have a strong texture on some panels in order to create the desired patterning on the facades. He emphasized that the perception of the building from a distance is important, and the appearance may change somewhat as the viewer gets closer to the building and begins to appreciate the texture.
Mr. Krieger asked for clarification of whether the expanded building would be supported by the existing structural system, or whether a new system and foundations would need to be introduced. Mr. Sperry said that the initial analysis of the structure, conducted while the tenant is still occupying the building, suggests that the spread footing foundations will need to be enlarged and some of the steel columns will need to be reinforced. A shear wall on the south would also be introduced in response to the increased height of the building. Mr. Krieger asked why the existing building wouldn’t simply be demolished, noting that such decisions sometimes relate to changes in zoning such as the allowable density. Mr. Sperry clarified that adapting the existing structure is less expensive than creating an entirely new building; the decision is not affected by any zoning considerations. He noted his experience with adaptive reuse projects and the desirability of maintaining some sense of connection to the history of a building, even if only by keeping its structure. He added that if further investigation of the structural issues results in a different financial conclusion, then the proposal to retain the structure could be reconsidered.
Mr. McCrery expressed enthusiastic appreciation for the presentation, describing it as the best that he has seen as a member of the Commission, and complimenting the client and architect. He cited the analysis of the project’s impact on distant views as especially helpful, serving as a model for other architects to follow in their presentations. He questioned the proposed design for the entrance, commenting that this building deserves a better marquee; he suggested further study to eliminate its looming character and perhaps develop a stronger relationship between the interior and exterior, both at the entrance and along the terrace at the building’s northwest corner. He described the rotated alignments of the upper floors as resembling a Rubik’s Cube; despite his skepticism, he said that it seems to work, although he questioned the use of the building’s northeast corner as the fixed point for the rotations.
Mr. McCrery commented that the proposed GFRC panels can be a good material, but many poor-quality versions of it are sold; he emphasized the importance of selecting a material of high quality from a reputable company, and he discouraged selecting the material based on bid prices. He also recommended obtaining custom-designed L-shaped components of the GFRC system for the building’s corners, noting that this will be better in structural integrity, appearance, attachment, and waterproofing, which justifies the expense of obtaining these pieces. He summarized his encouragement for development of this interesting design.
Mr. Krieger noted that a GFRC system could allow exploration of a range of profiles for the panels, and he encouraged further design study beyond the two choices of flat or striated that are currently used in composing the facades. He described the proposal as an interesting beginning, and he encouraged consideration of more imaginative combinations. As an example, he said that the pattern and scale of the striations will have a significant effect on the building’s appearance under different conditions of light and shade. Mr. Sperry agreed and said that the currently selected material is a high-quality, off-the-shelf product; the manufacturer has the capability to create custom shapes, and he acknowledged that the choice of materials will be critical to the success of the project.
Ms. Meyer joined in supporting the proposal as an exciting project. She recommended careful study of the impact of the building’s light at night; she noted that the quality of the light would be different when coming from the recessed balconies or directly from windows. She acknowledged that residents would turn their lights on or off as they choose, but the building’s glow could be studied and addressed as part of the design process. Noting Mr. McCrery’s comment about the entrance marquee, she recommended similar reconsideration of the ground plane at the entrance, describing the proposed design as not commensurate with the elegance of the proposed building. She observed that the top edges of the planters appear not to be aligned, failing to provide a consistent horizontal datum; and the stair and ramp would be separated by an awkwardly small planter that would not have enough soil to support health plant growth. She suggested developing a simpler design with a taut, crisp, and carefully considered language as seen in the design for the rest of the building. She also recommended careful study of the site’s northwest corner, where the row of planters would turn the corner toward the park.
Ms. Meyer observed that an apartment occupies much of the first-floor frontage along the adjacent park, and she recommended that the public circulation zone be pushed farther to the west, away from the building facade, for improved privacy. She suggested a linear massing of plants in this area as a drift, while discouraging the planting of an allée. She noted that the NPS staff may not be considering the needs of the building’s residents, such as privacy, when advising on the design of this space. Mr. Krieger observed that the center units on many floors have a deep, narrow configuration that could result in poor daylight for the interior spaces.
Mr. Shubow expressed concern that the facades may end up resembling a waffle iron; he encouraged a stronger emphasis on verticality, whether through the striations of the facade panels or other design techniques. Ms. Meyer agreed that the detailing of the texture on the panels could make a big difference in the appearance of the building, and she encouraged careful study of this issue. Mr. Krieger suggested combining this study with his encouragement for using more than two types of panel textures for the facades.
Vice Chairman Meyer noted the Commission’s specific, supportive suggestions, and she requested an action on the submission. Mr. McCrery offered a motion to approve the concept with the recommendations provided concerning the design of the building and landscape, along with the request for continued consultation with the staff. He noted that the landscape-related comments will be particularly helpful as a landscape architect is added to the design team. Secretary Luebke said that the consultation process was exceptionally collaborative and productive; Mr. McCrery commented that the success of this process is evident in the resulting design. Upon a second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission adopted the motion.
Vice Chairman Meyer concluded by emphasizing for the project team the importance of the parkland along Rock Creek to many people in Washington. She noted the presence of remarkable buildings along the edge of the park, and she encouraged developing this project as an additional example. She said that the Commission looks forward to further review, and she requested that material samples be provided before the project is submitted as a final design.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 3:51 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA