The meeting was convened by videoconference at 9:02 a.m.
Hon. Billie Tsien, Chair
Hon. Hazel Ruth Edwards, Vice Chair
Hon. Peter Cook
Hon. Rodney Mims Cook, Jr.
Hon. James McCrery
Hon. Justin Garrett Moore
Hon. Duncan Stroik
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
A. Approval of the minutes of the 18 November meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the November meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. P. Cook, the Commission approved the minutes.
B. Dates of next meetings. Secretary Luebke presented the dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 17 February, 17 March, and 21 April 2022.
C. Commission of Fine Arts Strategic Plan for 2022–2027. Secretary Luebke reported that the revision of the Commission’s Strategic Plan has been completed; this document serves as the guide for the agency’s activities. He acknowledged the participation and advice in recent months of the staff and the Commission members, particularly Mr. Moore. He noted that the Strategic Plan has already been circulated to the Commission members for final comments and concurrence; it will now be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget, and it will replace the previous Strategic Plan on the Commission’s website.
D. Confirmation of the approval of the recommendations for the December 2021 Old Georgetown Act submissions. Secretary Luebke asked the Commission to take a formal vote to confirm the Old Georgetown Board recommendations that were circulated and endorsed in December, when no Commission meeting was held. He noted that a public comment letter has been received concerning a project on Orchard Lane; the letter raises some procedural questions that the staff considers non-substantive, as well as more substantive issues that have already been addressed by the Old Georgetown Board. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission confirmed its approval.
II. Submissions and Reviews
Secretary Luebke introduced the two appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting. He noted that the Old Georgetown Board did not hold an early January meeting, and the customary appendix for Old Georgetown Act submissions is therefore not part of the Commission's agenda. (See agenda item I.D above for Old Georgetown Act submissions from December 2021.)
Appendix I – Government Submissions Consent Calendar: Mr. Fox reported that the consent calendar has six projects; the only change to the draft appendix is the addition of one case at the end, for rooftop cellular antennas at Van Ness Elementary School at 1150 5th Street, SE. Upon a motion by Mr. Stroik with second by Mr. P. Cook, the Commission approved the revised Government Submissions Consent Calendar. Secretary Luebke noted that Mr. Fox has taken over the management of the direct government submissions upon the recent retirement of Frederick Lindstrom.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler said that two cases listed on the draft appendix have been removed and are being held open for consideration in a future month (case numbers SL 22-044 and 22-050). The recommendations for three projects have been changed to be favorable with comments and conditions (SL 21-135, 22-045, and 22-052). Other revisions are minor wording changes and the notation of dates for the receipt of supplemental materials. She said that the recommendations for four projects are subject to further coordination with the applicants, and she requested authorization to finalize these recommendations when the outstanding issues are resolved. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix. (See agenda item II.G for an additional Shipstead-Luce Act submission.)
At this point, the Commission departed from the order of the agenda to consider items II.B.2, II.C, and II.E. Secretary Luebke said the Commission had identified these submissions as ones that could be approved without presentations.
B. National Park Service
2. CFA 20/JAN/22-2, Edward J. Kelly Park (NPS Reservations 105 and 378), Virginia Avenue between C and 21st Streets, NW. Alterations to and repair of the below-grade garage, and replacement landscape. Final. (Previous: CFA 20/FEB/20-2) Secretary Luebke said that the replacement of the landscape, with a modified design, results from repairs to the parking garage located beneath the park; the project includes a small, at-grade access pavilion for the garage. While the site consists of National Park Service reservations, the garage and park are largely operated as an adjunct to the adjoining Federal Reserve campus to the south. He noted that the project has undergone a thorough review process, and it is now submitted as a final design. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the final design submission.
C. American Battle Monuments Commission
CFA 20/JAN/22-3, East Coast Memorial, Battery Park, State Street, and Battery Place, southern end of Manhattan Island, New York, NY. Flood prevention project—elevate waterfront promenade. Concept. Secretary Luebke said that this project results from a broader flood prevention project to elevate the waterfront promenade at Battery Park, where the memorial is located. Due to the raising of the existing grade of the promenade in relation to the memorial, minor modifications would be made to the access connections between the promenade and the memorial’s plaza. He noted that most installations managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission are located abroad, but several are within the United States. Mr. Moore expressed strong support for the project; he emphasized the importance of addressing climate change and the protection and resilience of the coast. He commended the project team for being sensitive to the memorial’s commemorative landscape and improving barrier-free connections while responding to the larger challenge of a rising sea level. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Dr. Edwards, the Commission approved the submission at the concept level. Noting the support for the design, Mr. Luebke suggested that the Commission delegate further review to the staff, which will include checking the completeness of the final design documentation. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery, the Commission adopted this delegation as part of the concept approval.
E. D.C. Department of General Services
CFA 20/JAN/22-5, Anacostia Recreation Center at Ketcham Elementary School, 1929 15th Street, SE. New community recreation center building and activity fields. Final. (Previous: CFA 15/SEP/21-3) Secretary Luebke said that this project has been through two previous reviews, and the current submission responds to the Commission’s previous comments. Chair Tsien noted that the Commission members have no further comments. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. R.M. Cook, the Commission approved the final design submission; Mr. McCrery voted against the motion.
The Commission returned to the order of the agenda with item II.B.1.
B. National Park Service
1. CFA 20/JAN/22-1, World War II Memorial, West Potomac Park, 17th Street and Independence Avenue, SW. Install plaque with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's D-Day Prayer. Final. (Previous: CFA 20/MAY/21-1) Secretary Luebke introduced the project submitted by the National Park Service, in cooperation with the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, for revisions to the final design for the Franklin D. Roosevelt D-Day prayer plaque, to be added to the Circle of Remembrance at the World War II Memorial. He said that the Commission had approved the final design in May 2021, with several items identified for further review delegated to the staff: details of benches, handrails, and entrance paths; design of the plaza’s grading and drainage; details of paving and decorative bronze inlays; and the final layout of the prayer plaque. He said the staff has continued to work with the project team, and the current proposal regarding these outstanding issues is responsive to the Commission’s previous guidance. However, the current proposal also includes omitting the central medallion from the design of the plaza; this feature, derived from the World War II Victory Medal, had been intended to repeat the medallion design within the pavement of the two arched pavilions in the main part of the memorial. The revised plaza design, while omitting the medallion, would retain the inlay of a circular garland comprising olive branches and stars in a band surrounding the center of the plaza. He introduced Peter May, deputy director for lands and planning for the National Capital Area of the National Park Service, to begin the presentation.
Mr. May said the project for the addition of the prayer plaque had originally been intended to be very modest, but its scope grew in an effort to achieve a level of prominence that would be commensurate with the gravity of the D-Day prayer that will be displayed on the plaque; as the project became more ambitious and expensive, the design and review process has extended over several years. While the Friends of the World War II Memorial had raised enough money to fund the addition of the plaque, the enlarged scope has made the project so expensive that now, in its final phases, there is not enough funding available for some additional features, most notably for the bronze medallion inlay at the center. Although progress has been made in completing other parts of the design, the project team believes it is necessary to remove this component, a change that has resulted in today’s additional review by the Commission. He asked landscape architect Lisa Delplace of Oehme, van Sweden to present this proposed change.
Ms. Delplace said her presentation focuses on the medallion and the surrounding garland. She illustrated a comparison of the design presented in May 2021, with the central victory medal surrounded by the garland of branches and stars, with today’s revised design omitting the medallion but retaining the garland; she noted that the garland would be nine feet in diameter. She said the Commission members had previously expressed concern about the iconography of the victory medal and whether the directional quality implicit in its standing allegorical figure would be problematic in the relatively small circular plaza, only 37 feet in diameter, which would be used for programs commemorating D-Day. The project team believes the revised design without the medallion is appropriate to the use of the space and will also allow the attention of visitors to be focused primarily on the prayer plaque.
Ms. Delplace said the design team has studied two motifs for the garland: five stars would represent the five Normandy beaches where Allied troops landed on D-Day, and olive branches would represent the fragility of peace. She said the olive branches would be rendered more naturalistically instead of using the stylization typical for architectural ornament; this naturalism is intended to symbolize how President Roosevelt reached out directly to the American people on D-Day, with the text of the prayer printed in newspapers as well as being broadcast on the radio. The garland would be composed of a repeated design of branches separated by the five individual, evenly spaced stars. She said that since the last presentation, the project team has been working closely with the foundry to ensure the delicate design of the olive branch can be successfully cast in bronze; she added that material samples of these casts will be provided to the staff.
Chair Tsien opened the discussion for questions and comments. Mr. McCrery asked how much money would be saved by omitting the medallion; Ms. Delplace responded that the budget issue involves the cumulative cost of every item in the project. Mr. McCrery said the medallion is one item within the larger budget; noting that costs could be reduced elsewhere in the project, he asked again how much money would be saved by this particular change. Ms. Delplace referred the question to Holly Rotondi, the executive director of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial. Ms. Rotondi said that the overall budget has exceeded the available funds of the Friends group, which is searching for ways to reduce costs throughout the project. She said that one cause of the cost problem is the disruption to supply chains; for example, in one year the cost of the granite has increased from $295,000 to more than $720,000. She said the cost of the bronze for the project has been calculated as a total amount, and she does not have the cost of the medallion as a single item; however, she emphasized that costs are still slightly over the amount available.
Mr. McCrery commented that because cost is being presented as the main reason for eliminating the medallion, it seems the project team would know this cost. Ms. Rotondi responded that she often visits the site, and she has never supported the addition of the medallion because the site is so small that the medallion would overwhelm the prayer plaque; however, she emphasized that cost is a major issue. She said that the Friends group is committed to the addition of the prayer plaque and has been willing to do whatever is needed to complete this project in a limited time, although it has already taken seven years; however, only a finite amount of money is available. Mr. McCrery reiterated that the purpose of this submission is to eliminate the medallion, and the explanation given is financial; this returns to the question of how much money would be saved, and the answer is that the project team does not know. He asked if this summary is a fair and accurate description of the presentation; Ms. Rotondi responded that that the project has gone over its $2 million budget, and with the proposed changes the budget can be reduced to about $1.75 million.
Ms. Tsien observed that the project team clearly does not have a precise number for the cost of the medallion, but she said it is also clear that the project team is trying to reduce the cost. She noted that all architects have experienced value engineering, and while the result is often a loss to the design, sometimes it is an improvement. She said she feels a sense of relief looking at the revised proposal, because she believes the previously proposed medallion would crowd the space and would also be aesthetically problematic; more importantly, it would interfere with the intended use of the space, making visitors circle around the center and thus weaken its role as a gathering place. She observed that the design of the garland surrounding an open center would embrace people, whereas the medallion would communicate that people should stand around the edge and avoid the center. She concluded that the revised design is an aesthetic direction that is closer to the idea of a space where people can gather.
Mr. Moore said he prefers the proposed revision to the final design for similar reasons, particularly for its ability to provide a comfortable gathering space. He commented that because the medallion would compete with the prayer plaque, the design is improved by eliminating the medallion.
Mr. Stroik acknowledged the comments of the other Commission members, but he emphasized the challenge of designing the Circle of Remembrance to be understood as actually being part of the World War II Memorial; similarly, the delivery of the D-Day prayer is part of the history of the war, which is why Congress authorized the addition of the plaque and why the Friends group agreed to raise money for its design and construction. He said the previous reviews have noted that not many architectural connections exist between this small commemorative space and the main part of the memorial; the victory medallion would provide this subtle yet strong design connection because its image already appears twice in the memorial. Ms. Delplace responded that the Circle of Remembrance had originally been designed as a contemplative space, deliberately separate from the main part of the memorial; in the proposed renovation of the circle to incorporate the prayer plaque, almost every part of the design—including its three varieties of granite and its subtle use of bronze—is intended to recall components of the main part of the memorial and create a visual dialogue between them.
Acknowledging the needs and pressures of value engineering, Mr. McCrery observed that it seems only marginal savings would be gained by removing the medallion, and yet its location is central to the project. He said the medallion would be a good addition to the Circle of Remembrance because total victory is exactly what President Roosevelt promised to the American people. He emphasized that because total victory was the result of the D-Day invasion, a victory medallion within the Circle of Remembrance is appropriate for commemorating the victory won by the World War II generation, and its removal from the design would be antithetical to the purpose of this space. He questioned the motivation behind the call for its removal and said he would vote against the proposal.
Noting that the case has not yet come to a vote, Chair Tsien encouraged the Commission members to speak freely, and she asked to hear from the other members.
Mr. P. Cook said he feels uncomfortable with the strong directionality in the paving design that includes the central medallion. Because of the intended orientation of the medallion, its image of a standing allegorical figure would have its feet toward the entrance; a person entering the circle would see the figure right-side-up, but someone sitting on a bench on the north side would see the figure upside-down, which he described as a very odd configuration. He said locating this medallion in the middle of the circular plaza seems strange, and aside from the question of cost, removing it would improve the design.
Mr. Stroik observed that this issue had been discussed at a previous meeting, when the designers may have illustrated several examples of the medallion layout. He emphasized that there are different ways to incorporate a human figure as the central design feature of circular spaces, which are often domed; the most common is a statue of a standing figure, such as the statue of Thomas Jefferson in the Jefferson Memorial. Because statues of people are figural and face in one direction, he said there is nothing unusual or uncomfortable in seeing such a statue from the front, back, or side—it is a normal condition for sculpture in architectural spaces. He noted that the two victory medallions used in the paving at the main part of the World War II Memorial have this same directionality, and the addition of a third medallion at the Circle of Remembrance would simply continue this condition.
Mr. R.M. Cook expressed concern that the Commission is being asked to address the medallion as a cost issue, even though it was approved as an issue of design. He added that as a builder, he is sensitive to issues of cost. He said his reaction to the medallion’s orientation had been similar to that of Mr. P. Cook, but he also believes the use of bronze would link the Circle of Remembrance to the somewhat distant central area of the memorial.
Secretary Luebke noted that while cost is a significant issue, the project team had not said it is the only issue. He said the Commission’s role is to decide whether this change would be better for the design and the long-term purpose of the Circle of Remembrance, which is part of the original memorial design from the late 1990s. He observed that the current project is actually a renovation of the circle, and the overlaying of the new purpose inherent in the prayer plaque will become the circle’s major focus; the charge for the Commission can therefore also be seen as determining whether bringing in yet another element will be good or bad for the space’s design and use.
Secretary Luebke suggested summarizing the letter sent to the Commission from Judy Scott Feldman on behalf of the National Mall Coalition (NMC); he noted that the full text has been circulated to the Commission members. He said that in her letter, Ms. Feldman notes that the NMC has not previously commented publicly about the proposed changes to the Circle of Remembrance, but the NMC now wants to raise concerns about the growing trend of adding new components to existing memorials, as represented by this project. The Circle of Remembrance has always been a disconnected element of the World War II Memorial, and the NMC believes the proposed changes will better connect this isolated feature both physically and thematically to the main plaza. At the same time, the NMC has concerns about the immediate and cumulative effects of changing or enhancing existing memorials, believing that no memorial can be expected to commemorate, to the satisfaction of all Americans, the meaning of the most important chapters in our history. She cites the addition of new components to original designs of memorials, such as flags and the Three Soldiers statue to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as well as the new additions of berms and walls to be inscribed with names of the deceased at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Observing that many of the Mall’s existing memorials commemorate war, she asks for consideration of the other important chapters of American history that visitors will never encounter on the Mall. She notes that Congress enacted legislation in 2003 declaring the Mall to be a “substantially completed work of civic art,” with the result that new memorial sponsors must look for locations off the Mall; however, the result has been to stymie any hope of improving and enhancing the American story told on the Mall. She urges the Commission of Fine Arts to use its mandate as advisor to Congress and the President to lead a conversation about the future of creating memorials on the Mall, and to consider the cumulative effect of current practices on the Mall’s public open space, and on the depth and breadth of American history if we continue to focus on revising and improving existing memorials instead of imagining how the history told on the Mall can and should evolve. The letter concludes by asserting that the Commission can do enormous service to the American people, and to the Mall we all cherish as a symbol and stage for our democracy, by taking a leading role in initiating a thoughtful discussion about the Mall’s future, something akin to the McMillan Commission authorized by Congress to consider a comprehensive plan for the Mall to define it and include new ideas for siting museums and monuments.
Mr. Moore said he agrees with the letter on several points. However, he said he does not think the issue lies within the realm of this particular project; he noted that the National Capital Planning Commission and other stakeholders are working to address the challenges of the Mall and the city’s commemorative landscape. There will be other outreach efforts about this topic in the future, so he thinks the questions raised in the letter can be appropriately channeled into these discussions. He emphasized that the letter does raise a long-term issue which needs to be addressed, and he expressed hope that the Commission and its staff will be engaged in that work.
Mr. R.M. Cook asked whether the project team would be compelled to abandon the prayer plaque project if the Commission does not approve the proposal to eliminate the medallion. Mr. May responded that this project has been funded by private donations, including one major donation along with the money contributed by the Friends group over the years. At this point, if funds fall significantly short and the Friends group cannot make up the difference, the current project would likely fail, and in that case perhaps the design could be revisited as a much more modest installation. He added that the National Park Service is still under the direction of Congress to add the plaque, although it is not permitted to spend any federal funds on the project.
Chair Tsien said her final comment is that when the National Park Service, the designer, and the memorial sponsor—the three major stakeholders in this project—say quite clearly that they do not want this feature included in the design, it seems very odd for the Commission to insist that it must be there. She said the Commission members need to consider the medallion’s aesthetic value to the Circle of Remembrance, apart from the issue of how much money would be saved by its removal. She asked for final comments before taking a vote.
Mr. Moore said he had one broad comment about aesthetics and the idea behind this space within the World War II Memorial. He said he believes that the prayer is a call for peace as well as for victory, and he argued that peace is the more dominant idea. He observed that the medallion’s central feature is an allegorical figure in a dominant pose—wearing a helmet and holding weapons—but he believes there is space in a war memorial for the representation of peace. He said the text of the prayer clearly communicates a wish for peace, which the medallion challenges. He described this comment as a conceptual overlay to the imagery and the aesthetics.
Mr. Stroik said that Chair Tsien has spoken eloquently as a professional architect. However, when a project team presents a design to the Commission, it is always presumed that the team includes the designers and client, and the Commission members are still supposed to give their recommendations on what is presented. He said he does not see how the Commission’s role would be altered if the members of the project team are united in wanting a particular outcome. Chair Tsien agreed that a presented proposal is always supported by the client, the designer, and the submitting agency, but in this case, there is a unanimous belief on the part of all three that they prefer the proposal as revised. She asked if any of the design team or Commission members had other specific comments; hearing none, she suggested bringing the proposal to a vote.
Mr. Moore offered a motion to approve the current proposal to have the paving include the design of the garland only, without the victory medallion. Upon a second by Mr. P. Cook, the Commission adopted this action; Mr. McCrery and Mr. Stroik voted against the motion.
Secretary Luebke noted that the adopted action constitutes a new final approval. He said the staff will continue to report to the Commission if there are any outstanding problems of design or documentation regarding issues such as grading, graphics, stone detailing, and anything that results from the decision to eliminate the medallion.
Mr. May thanked the Commission for the review. He acknowledged that the process has not been easy, but he believes the revised proposal is the better as well as the less expensive design, and he expressed appreciation the Commission’s thoughtful consideration and approval.
2. CFA 20/JAN/22-2, Edward J. Kelly Park (NPS Reservation 105 and 378), Virginia Avenue between C and 21st Streets, NW. Alterations to and repair of the below-grade garages, and replacement landscape. Final. (Previous: CFA 20/FEB/20-2) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
C. American Battle Monuments Commission
CFA 20/JAN/22-3, East Coast Memorial, Battery Park, State Street, and Battery Place, southern end of Manhattan Island, New York, NY. Flood prevention project—elevate waterfront promenade. Concept. The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
D. D.C. Public Library
CFA 20/JAN/22-4, Southeast Neighborhood Library, 403 7th Street, SE. Building renovation and additions. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the proposed alterations and additions to the Southeast Neighborhood Library, located in the Capitol Hill Historic District. The building is across 7th Street from the Eastern Market Metro Park, a project that was presented to the Commission several times in recent years. He said the existing library, designed by the noted library architect Edward L. Tilton in 1922, is a Classical Revival building on a high base, one of several libraries in Washington that were funded by Andrew Carnegie. The current project includes renovation of the interior and a new addition on the west side to accommodate a barrier-free entrance, improved vertical circulation, a delivery area, and other program needs. A new lower level would be constructed under the building, extending beneath the building yard in public space along South Carolina Avenue to the southeast. Cuts would be made into the existing terraced landscape to accommodate several new ground-level entrances as well as for skylights, helping to bring natural light to the lower level. He said the project has undergone extensive review by other agencies, and it has received conceptual approval from the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). He asked Jaspreet Pahwa, director of capital planning and construction for the D.C. Public Library (DCPL), to begin the presentation.
Ms. Pahwa said the key programmatic goals are expansion of the historic library and the addition of a universally accessible public entrance. She noted that the library is heavily used, but it is only half the size of the typical D.C. branch library; the proposal would expand it to a full-service branch, and the new lower level would accommodate the library’s youth services and the popular programs for young children. Another goal is preservation of the historic landmark Carnegie library and reintegration of the building with its historic site, such as through retaining the original public entrance while the library is modernized in accordance with D.C. planning for sustainable and resilient practices.
Ms. Pahwa said that in recognition of a library’s role as a community institution, DCPL aims to customize and continually improve the programs and services offered at each of its 25 branch libraries; to assist in this, DCPL solicits information about community needs and aspirations by conducting focus groups, distributing surveys, and holding numerous open community meetings, so a project team can synthesize the community’s needs into the design. She noted the approvals the project has already received from the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the HPRB, and the D.C. Public Space Committee, which approved the design with conditions. She introduced architect Charles Wray of Quinn Evans Architects to present the concept design.
Mr. Wray described the challenges of the truncated triangular site, located at the convergence of D Street and South Carolina Avenue with 7th Street, SE. He illustrated the existing conditions, noting how the original terraced landscape has changed over the years, particularly with the addition of new plantings in the 1960s. He said the current landscape no longer maintains the original design; many plants are overgrown, obscuring the front entrance on 7th Street and views of the building along South Carolina Avenue. He indicated a historic photograph that has helped guide the conceptualization of the new landscape design. He noted the addition in the 1980s of an entrance walk along D Street providing barrier-free access into the building through the public meeting room.
Mr. Wray described the historic building’s configuration and floor plans. The original library is primarily on two stories: a basement floor essentially at ground level, and a main level above; a small mezzanine and attic are located above the main level. The reading room and collection area are on the main level; the basement level houses a community meeting room and support spaces for staff, service needs, and shipping and receiving. He illustrated the main features of the existing interior, including a historic fireplace at the west end of the main reading room, as well as historic book stacks. He noted that most of the historic features would be restored to preserve the library’s original character. He indicated the configuration of four columns framing a vestibule on the main level, adjacent to the entrance stairs from 7th Street; the columns would be preserved, and the original laylight above the vestibule would be restored. An elevator in the northwest corner of the building, added in the 1980s, would be removed.
Mr. Wray said the exterior service court to the west, at the rear of the building, would be replaced by a three-story addition that would extend from South Carolina Avenue on the southeast to D Street on the north. He indicated the addition’s entrance facade on South Carolina Avenue and a grade-level service court located off D Street, which would contain the exterior components of the building’s mechanical system. The elevator and monumental stairway within the addition would connect the library’s three levels, which would be clearly organized with services for adults located above on the historic main level; community functions on the ground floor; and youth services on the new lower level. For the east side of the site, he said the proposed design acknowledges and enhances the connections created by the new Eastern Market Metro Park across 7th Street, particularly the design of the raised crosswalk connecting the park to the library’s historic main entrance, ensuring an easy pedestrian connection between the library and the Metro station.
Mr. Wray said the design attempts to introduce as much natural light as possible to the interior spaces. In addition to restoration of the historic laylight, a larger skylight would be constructed above the main level’s reading room, with a lightwell extending down through floor openings to bring light to the two levels below. To provide further natural light to the below-grade youth services level, a long, tapering skylight would be introduced into the landscape berm along the southeast edge of the building. A daylight analysis has been prepared and will continue to be developed during the design process.
Mr. Wray summarized the design features of the new interior spaces. The main level would mostly maintain its original form. Required staff spaces would be located in the northeast corner, enclosed with seamless glass walls for open views; a conference room would be installed in the southeast corner. The center of the main level would have a floor opening below the new skylight.
Mr. Wray said that conversations with staff from different government agencies had encouraged relating the new South Carolina Avenue entrance at the southwest with the historic 7th Street entrance at the east. The addition’s southern facade therefore takes cues from the historic two-story entrance portico, repeating those elements in a contemporary way. The new glazed facade would be screened with terracotta baguettes, intended to refer to the use of negative and positive space on the original main facade.
Chair Tsien invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Because of his current professional relationship with the D.C. Public Library, Mr. P. Cook recused himself from the discussion.
Mr. Stroik thanked the project team for the thorough presentation. He provided additional information on the architect, Edward L. Tilton, who had designed many libraries around the U.S. and, with his partner William A. Boring, had been responsible for the design of the main building at Ellis Island. Mr. Stroik asked if the library’s historic main entrance and grand stairway will remain in use or be closed; Mr. Wray said it will remain open. Mr. Stroik expressed support for this decision, noting that the Commission often sees historic buildings in Washington whose original entrances are closed when additions are constructed.
Mr. Stroik said that despite the diagrams relating the proposed entrance facade to the lines and proportions of the historic entrance portico, the actual relationship is difficult to discern. He asked for clarification of any other ways the addition is intended to relate to the existing building. Mr. Wray responded that the diagrammed features are the primary focus of the relationship; he said the consultation with the different review agencies led to the consensus that the addition should be a contemporary design based on the scale and proportions of the historic portico. He added that the baguettes on the addition’s glass facade will turn up and extend over the top of the addition to frame a skylight, without rising higher than the cornice line of the historic building, which is considered an important relationship in the composition. He said the HPRB had suggested studying a larger spacing between the roof form and the baguettes to make this condition more dramatic.
Mr. Stroik observed that the Commission often hears this kind of explanation from the clients and architects for building additions in Washington; he questioned whether an architect would be able to make a contemporary addition in brick to a historic brick building in the city. Mr. Wray responded that it is certainly possible, and he has himself designed additions in brick. He said he had first considered using brick for this project but found the resulting design was too similar, appearing to be an extension of the original building. In order to keep the new construction distinct from the old, he decided to use another material; however, the proposed exterior for the addition is intended to recall the color of the stonework on the historic library.
Mr. McCrery asked if the concept design had been formally presented to the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. Mr. Wray said this group strongly supports the design.
Referring to the perspective section, Mr. R.M. Cook asked whether the beams visible within the rendering of the skylight would be structural elements. Mr. Wray responded that alterations for the proposed new skylight would expose several of the heavy timber trusses and girders that support the roof of the existing building and help to frame the roof’s hips. The concept is to expose these structural elements in the skylight opening and use a series of baffles on top of the trusses to direct and diffuse the daylight; these baffles, shown in the perspective rendering as brown, would likely be made of a reflective material, and they will be studied in more detail.
Mr. McCrery said the library is a much-loved building, located in the Eastern Market corridor of Capitol Hill, east of the U.S. Capitol. He said the reading room is an important gathering space for the community. However, he said he does not see much respect for the neighborhood’s architectural heritage in this design, either for the historic library building itself or the extensive run of historic row houses immediately to its west. He said he sees no architectural cohesion in this design, only rupture. He suggested this lack of cohesion lies in a general misunderstanding of context in regard to historic neighborhoods as well as the insistence that there must be a very clear, radical difference between what is new in a building and what is existing, especially in historic neighborhoods; he said this attitude has apparently been adopted by both the DCPL and the architect, and it is the prevailing culture of design and decision-making. He noted that the entire Capitol Hill neighborhood is historic and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Mr. R.M. Cook suggested that the proposed treatment of the reading room should be more respectful of its historic design, and he agreed that the building is a jewel.
Ms. Tsien commented that the design team has done an excellent job of adding so many new program spaces in such a constrained area. While acknowledging the comments of other Commission members, she said the design team had made some very important and positive decisions. She commended the plan to restore the slate roof, which she noted is an expensive undertaking, and she expressed appreciation to DCPL for spending the necessary money. She said it is disturbing to see slate roofs replaced with asphalt shingles, and the choice of slate will be important for maintaining the building’s character. She commented on the difficulty of replacing the existing windows with thermally-broken windows that possess the same character. She endorsed the decision to restore the laylight to its former prominence within the design, observing that when library patrons walk through the front entrance into the space defined by the four columns, they will feel bathed in daylight. She observed that the plan to bring light into the center of the building, although perhaps less important for the upper floor, will be vital for the lower level and is another excellent choice.
Ms. Tsien questioned the position of the proposed at-grade skylight intended to bring additional natural light into the lower level, while acknowledging the possibility of boundary lines that may restrict its design. She suggested treating the skylight as a separate bar instead of as an appendage, in order to be more respectful of the building.
Ms. Tsien said she questions the decision to give a new structure a glass facade, which then requires the addition of shading devices; the effect is to do something and then immediately undo it. She suggested reconsidering the spacing of the baguettes or the choice of this material. She said she believes contemporary buildings can be successfully done in brick, noting that Mr. Wray has designed such buildings. She said she is not necessarily suggesting that the material be changed to brick, but she recommended that the addition could be given a solidity that is both contemporary and also related to a more traditional architecture.
Mr. Moore agreed that the site poses considerable constraints. He said the design team is doing a great job of improving this public library, making it more accessible, and adapting it to both current and future uses and the needs of its patrons. He raised several questions about the landscape design. He noted the difficulty and challenge of providing two primary entrances in a relatively small building, and he recommended that the landscape and open space design should contribute to addressing this challenge. Indicating the photo of the historic landscape, he said it appears to have been a modest composition of grass, low plantings, and hedges, while the more robust plantings were a later addition that have grown into confusion. He pointed out that in the historic view the building is very visible, with low plantings allowing for good sightlines; however, in the current proposal it appears that trees and other vertical plantings are proposed for the key corner locations. He asked if the existing trees are in good condition and will be maintained, and if there is any flexibility in the landscape design and its plantings. He also questioned the approach area for the new entrance, which would be flanked by large retaining walls; he observed that its character appears somewhat hostile, like a loading dock, in comparison to the wonderful historic entrance stairway. He asked if the landscape edge could be designed to improve this area’s appearance.
Mr. Wray responded that the design team has been working closely with D.C.’s Urban Forestry Division as part of the public space approval process, with the goal to meet the city’s tree canopy requirements. He said that the concept design for the landscape proposes planting small ornamental trees at the corners, with perhaps the addition of a large deciduous tree near the new entrance. The two large Southern magnolias that frame the front of the building would probably be removed because they are too large in relation to the building’s scale, and were perhaps a poor choice originally. He added that likely neither magnolia can be saved, although one benefit of retaining them would be to avoid the more than twenty feet of excavation that would be necessary to remove them. He added that the project team is trying to ascertain the health of a particular linden, a street tree which is also a heritage tree; if this tree’s critical root zone extends into the berm adjoining the building, mitigation will be considered for this condition. He noted that the plantings shown in the renderings have been reviewed by Urban Forestry, and further discussions will address alternative tree canopy selections to meet D.C. requirements.
Indicating the perspective rendering of the new entrance approach, Mr. Moore asked whether a tree to the right of the entrance is existing or proposed; Mr. Wray said that this is the proposed new deciduous tree to be located at the corner of the sidewalk and entrance walk. Mr. Moore observed that with the regrading, the landscape may present two relatively high, long, black retaining walls framing the entrance; he asked if the landscape could be graded with a lower wall and more plantings. He gave the example of the green landscaped plane at the entrance to the Seattle Central Library, which connects more gracefully with the building. He said that the pedestrian walk leading to the new entrance is not helped by the proposed landscape design, which could instead be used to mitigate some of this area’s problems; he advised further exploration of these issues. He added that care is also needed in the treatment of how the new addition and landscape will meet the neighboring rowhouse to the west. In conclusion, he said that, as a new primary entrance to the library, the ground-level design for this area needs considerably more work.
Mr. McCrery agreed with Mr. Moore’s observations. He said that, overall, the entrance sequence has an abrupt and forbidding character. He commented that the design of the retaining walls would benefit from a study of walls in the Capitol Hill Historic District, none of which resemble the proposed walls in color, form, or planarity. He indicated the ungraceful angling at the east side of the entrance approach, the direction from which most people will arrive; he recommended designing a more elegant treatment. He also recommended breaking up the large uninterrupted expanse of pavement in this area. He suggested adding a bench and perhaps plants to the entrance approach, beneath the canopy, to make the area more inviting; he noted that if permeable paving is used, a small tree could also be planted within the paved approach. For the western retaining wall adjacent to the neighboring row house, he accepted its location but recommended adding a relatively wide planted strip here, similar to that proposed along the library’s facade. Noting that Washington is committed to establishing a forty percent tree canopy cover, he said the only way to achieve this goal is to require every project proposal to have a site plan with a minimum canopy of forty percent.
Dr. Edwards agreed with Mr. McCrery that the design for the new entrance approach appears somewhat brutal. She suggested that it should be brighter and more welcoming, noting that this will be the primary entrance for youth services. Indicating the proposed vertical signage on the entrance facade, she asked if other designs have been explored; Mr. Wray responded that DCPL and other D.C. agencies have suggested such exploration, which will be done during design development.
Chair Tsien said that if there were no other questions or comments, she would ask for a motion to approve the concept design. Mr. Stroik said that approval might not be appropriate; he suggested that the Commission take no action, and instead provide the recommendations that have been discussed. He noted that the review has included some good comments and recommendations, mostly about the facades and landscape, along with some comments about the interior. He said that the comments have appropriately emphasized the new entrance, which will become the building’s focal point; several members have raised the question of materiality and solidity, and have also commented on the entrance sequence, including materials, plantings, and site furnishings. He added that he would like to see an option for the new addition’s facades to be brick; Mr. R.M. Cook said he would also like to see an option for the main reading room that shows more deference to the historic design.
Secretary Luebke observed that the Commission is clearly not offering a whole-hearted endorsement of the concept design, but the choice to approve the concept or take no action could go either way. He said that generally, concept approval should be an endorsement of the general massing, character, and scope of a design. He noted that the HPRB had approved the proposal but asked for substantial redesign of the new entrance area, particularly the retaining walls. If that is all the Commission members are asking, the Commission could approve the concept design with the requirement that this entrance sequence be reworked. However, the Commission has raised concerns about additional issues—such as studying a brick option for the addition’s exterior and a more restoration-oriented option for the reading room that would keep the interior space more intact. He noted that the Commission does not have jurisdiction over the interior, and withholding approval because of interior concerns would be a difficult position. However, the Commission might withhold approval if it is requesting a fundamental change in exterior character, such as rejecting a horizontal glass wall with a terracotta baguette system for the new entrance facade.
Chair Tsien observed that several Commission members have spoken about the new entrance area; she said the apparent consensus is to ask the design team to return with options for the entrance. Mr. Moore agreed; he supported not approving the current concept submission, and instead requiring further review at the concept level. He offered a summary of the Commission’s concerns and recommendations: exploring a few different options for the new entrance facade, and for how the architecture will meet the landscape at this entrance, such as adjustments in the grading; and further study of how the landscape design wraps the corners. He added that the Commission would also like to see more information about how the landscape treatment has changed over time. Mr. R.M. Cook acknowledged that the Commission does not have jurisdiction over interiors, but he noted the architect’s comment that the design of the main reading room is still being studied; he therefore suggested including a request to consider a treatment that is more sensitive to the historic room.
Noting the apparent consensus not to approve the concept, Mr. Luebke said that no action is required from the Commission; the staff will summarize the comments in a letter, generally saying the Commission supports the planning and scale but has some questions. He clarified the importance of the Commission members being very clear in what they are asking for with each of the areas of concern, such as whether they are agreed in requesting a study of a facade option in brick. Mr. Moore commented that a question was also raised about solidity versus transparency on the new elevations, and other questions about materiality, so the project team should present options for those two issues concerning the new entrance facade. Ms. Tsien observed that this comment has more to do with solidity than with prescribing a particular material; she reiterated her discomfort with the Commission saying a certain material must be used, instead of relying on the capability of the architect to think about what is solid and what is open.
Ms. Pahwa responded that the HPRB has approved the project, and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society has also expressed support. She said the DCPL is looking for a written document from the Commission that will provide clarity on the next steps that should be followed in the design development; she added that it would also be helpful if the Commission’s written response can identify any disagreements with the HRPB action. She emphasized the importance of the DCPL being able to understand how the Commission’s review may affect the design development and project timeline. Mr. McCrery commented that this is a sensible request; however, he expressed concern that the repeated emphasis on approvals by other entities may be intended to obligate the Commission into granting approval. He emphasized that the Commission is its own body with its own jurisdiction and responsibilities; it has done a good job in executing those responsibilities in its review of this submission today, and the staff spends a considerable amount of time translating the comments into a letter that becomes a useful tool for the project team in preparing a revised design.
Mr. McCrery reiterated his belief that it would be worthwhile to see an option in brick. Ms. Tsien emphasized the importance of describing the quality of what the Commission is looking for in a revised design, rather than to specify the materials with which that quality may be achieved. Mr. Stroik observed that the entire neighborhood is composed of brick construction, including the Eastern Market building itself. He said that the proposal is for a substantially large addition, and the request for a brick option seems logical. Ms. Tsien said the architect and project team have heard what the Commission members have suggested; she said the role of architects is to listen and then consider how to incorporate what they hear. She said the design team has heard some very convincing arguments, but she reiterated that it seems inappropriate for the Commission to say what material a building must be made of. Mr. Stroik clarified that the suggestion is not prescribing a particular material, just saying it would be valuable to see brick as an option.
Mr. Wray expressed appreciation for the Commission’s comments, which he described as very helpful. He noted that some of the concerns are similar to those received from other entities, and the project team benefits from seeing the emerging agreement of concerns among the review bodies—such as the request to refine the entrance area, particularly the retaining walls and facade materials. He said that the context for this entrance has been carefully studied, and the neighbors have clearly identified their strong concern about safety and security; the open expression of the approach area is intended to avoid creating a dangerously narrow slot of space where people could gather or hide when the library is closed. In responding to this community concern, the project team has worked closely with the Public Space Committee and neighbors in adjusting the width of openings in the site’s berm; he noted that the community’s preference would be to have the berm extend uninterrupted around the library site. He said the design team is trying to consider all of the comments provided, including those from the Commission, to develop a coherent design that is not simply an accumulation of unrelated responses. While the goal is the best possible solution, he acknowledged that some compromises may be necessary. He said the design team can study a brick option for the new entrance facade, but he noted that the neighborhood context is generally painted brick, in a wide range of colors; the existing library is the largest historic structure of unpainted brick in the immediate vicinity. He expressed appreciation for Ms. Tsien’s comments about an open versus a solid character, and he said the Commission’s comments are helpful for advancing the design to the next level. He added that the drawings may suggest a finished design, but the project is still at a conceptual level.
Chair Tsien suggested concluding the discussion; she asked if any official action is needed. Secretary Luebke said that no action is necessary, and the staff will describe the discussion in a letter; he provided a summary of the Commission’s key concerns. He noted that the project is subject to a broader regulatory environment, but the Commission’s comments seem consistent with those of the HPRB. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
E. D.C. Department of General Services
CFA 20/JAN/22-5, Anacostia Recreation Center at Ketcham Elementary School, 1929 15th Street, SE. New community recreation center building and activity fields. Final. (Previous: CFA 15/SEP/21-3) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
F. D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities
CFA 20/JAN/22-6, Triangle park bounded by 21st and D Streets, NE, and Oklahoma Avenue, NE. Installation of public artwork titled “Swept Yard.” Concept/Final. Secretary Luebke introduced a proposed public art installation within a small park reservation at the eastern edge of the Kingman Park neighborhood near RFK Stadium. A charter school is located to the west across 21st Street, and housing is to the north and northwest; the reservation is currently planted with grass and scattered trees. He said that the proposed installation, by artists Patrick McDonough and Curry Hackett, is intended as a sculptural activation of the park. It includes a meandering line of metal seating elements curving among the existing trees, providing different ways for people to occupy the space. He noted that the project is submitted for a combined concept and final approval. He asked Lauren Dugas Glover, manager of the Public Art Department at the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH), to begin the presentation.
Ms. Glover said that the proposed installation, titled Swept Yard, results from a DCCAH competitive grants program, called Public Art Building Communities; the grant for this project was awarded to the Friends of Kingman Park. She introduced Lisa White, a board member representing the Friends of Kingman Park, to continue the presentation.
Ms. White said that she has strong ties to the neighborhood, and she previously served two terms as president of the Friends of Kingman Park; she has also served two terms as an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member. She said that she initiated the renovation of this park reservation, resulting in the donation of benches, a sign, and a panda sculpture that is currently displayed in the park, part of a past citywide temporary sculpture program. She described the renovated park as a community gathering space, and the proposed artwork would be the next step in improving the park; the community engagement for the project included flyers, a petition, and community meetings. She said that the project goals are to bridge the gap between newer and long-time members of the community; to encourage residents’ continued use of this space on a regular basis; and to honor and preserve the history of the neighborhood, providing a showcase as well as a gathering place.
Ms. White said that the artists have done well in responding to the vision of a community coming together; the proposal reflects the neighborhood and also the city as a whole. She introduced artist Curry Hackett of Wayside Studio to present the proposal.
Mr. Hackett said that he and his collaborating partner for this project, Patrick McDonough, both work as artists and educators. He described his artworks as usually being public-oriented and having a narrative and commemorative nature; an example is the Howard Theatre Walk of Fame, which he designed in collaboration with former Commission chairman Harry Robinson.
Mr. Hackett said that he and Mr. McDonough began with a visioning process through conversations with Friends of Kingman Park members to understand how the park is used, currently and historically. The discussion included the need to provide seating for people to use during community gatherings, and especially to enable the elderly to use the park. This led the artists to consider how to provide a space for people to listen and gather in a leisurely way. The artists also considered the neighborhood’s history as a Black working-class community, and they looked at the African American cultural traditions of gathering spaces including the front porch, the hush harbor, and the swept yard, which is a longstanding ritual of sweeping away debris and plantings from the ground near the edges of a house to create a gathering space. The resulting proposal is intended to treat this park as a gateway to the neighborhood, with an artwork that is more functional rather than purely aesthetic; Swept Yard would enable gathering and play in the park, while optimizing open sightlines.
Mr. Hackett presented plan and perspective views of the proposal, which he described as a suite of objects with surfaces of varying heights and profiles; these would be extruded or swept around a roughly horseshoe-shaped path, whose alignment responds to pedestrian circulation paths, patterns of people’s gatherings, and the root zones of existing trees. The objects would be formed in three profiles, each based on a stair-like module that is six inches high and twelve inches deep. One profile is derived from the front porch; another resembles a seat or, in longer form, a bench; and the third is simply a platform rising six inches above the ground, which is envisioned as a stage for various modes of performance. Between the objects would be “community planks,” which would be thin ribbons or panels of stone or metal, installed flush to the ground; the planks would display recollections from new and long-time residents of the neighborhood, as well as tracings or rubbings of textures that are found in the neighborhood. The result could include montages of photographs and oral histories, creating a quilt-like collage. He said that the locations of the planks would create visual porosity to the inner space of the park, particularly from Oklahoma Avenue on the southeast. He described the result as providing a “narrative threshold” that is site- and community-specific in conveying a visual language for Kingman Park. He said that this project would act as a substrate for memory and storytelling, including historical contributions and anecdotal accounts of the neighborhood.
Mr. Hackett noted that the sculpture’s objects would rest on a bed of crushed stone. Several materials have been considered for the objects themselves; one fabricator recommends metal, which would likely be powder-coated steel wrapping a steel structural support system. Various color options are being considered, which will likely be determined through the ongoing collaboration with the community.
Mr. Hackett concluded by noting that the project has received overwhelming support from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission and the D.C. Public Space Committee; a letter of support was provided by the ward’s representative on the D.C. Council, and preliminary conditional approval was given by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board.
Chair Tsien invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Moore asked about the park’s existing maintenance and the intended long-term maintenance program for the project’s materials, including the crushed stone. He noted that the park’s existing benches appear to be in need of repair. Ms. Glover responded that DCCAH is usually responsible for the maintenance and conservation of permanent public art projects upon their installation. The general maintenance of the park would typically be the responsibility of other D.C. Government agencies. She noted that this general maintenance would include routine lawnmowing but not specialized landscape care; this is one reason for placing crushed stone beneath the sculpture elements, in order to avoid damage to the artwork from lawnmowing equipment. She said that when deciding whether to fund a project, DCCAH considers whether the long-term integrity of an artwork can be protected; DCCAH also requests modifications to proposals in order to improve ease of maintenance. She noted that the Friends of Kingman Park, like other neighborhood organizations in Washington, has a cleaning crew and has agreed to undertake routine removal of trash and debris around the artwork, supplementing the maintenance work of DCCAH. She noted that DCCAH has more than 3,000 artworks in its collection, including portable and installed works; maintenance and conservation are part of the ownership responsibility.
Mr. Moore observed that the parts of the sculpture designated as “stages” are not reached by any paved walk; they are placed directly into the crushed stone, and one of them is located only a couple of feet from the 21st Street curb and roadway, where no sidewalk is provided. He asked if safety features such as buffers and fall zones are required by D.C. regulations, acknowledging that this issue may be addressed as the design is developed further. Ms. Glover noted that this issue likely involves coordination with the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT), which is already underway through its Urban Forestry Division; she added that the project involves extensive ongoing coordination and issuance of local permits, which may result in new recommendations emerging later in the design process. Mr. Hackett said that no related concerns have emerged during the DDOT consultations, which have included review by the Public Space Committee; issues have included the potential need to work around an existing gas line, which has been resolved, and proximity of the sculpture to some existing trees, which continues to be coordinated with the Urban Forestry Division. He said that the result of the consultations may be some minor adjustments to the sculpture alignment that is currently shown, but the modular nature of the proposal should help in resolving any issues.
Mr. McCrery described the proposal as a strong idea that will create a compelling focus for the Kingman Park community on a beautiful site located at the neighborhood’s edge. He congratulated Ms. White on her community leadership in moving this project forward. He observed that the sculpture’s alignment appears to be intended to avoid some recently planted trees that are still small; while supporting protection of urban trees generally, he asked if this concern is unduly hindering the creative talent of the artists in placemaking on this site, which could be improved. He also suggested including photographs in the presentation to clarify the site conditions. Mr. Hackett confirmed that avoidance of tree root zones has been an important factor in shaping this project; he recalled learning the importance of this issue with the Howard Theatre Walk of Fame project, which was greatly altered at a late stage due to the concerns of arborists. He said that in the absence of such concerns, the sculpture’s alignment might have been more circular or elliptical. He indicated the site plan drawing that overlays the proposal with tree protection areas, highlighting the areas of potential conflict that have not yet been fully resolved; he noted that a recommended maximum of 25 percent encroachment on critical root zones is generally permissible, and proposed elements beyond this limit are currently being studied for potential realignment of the sculpture. He noted that the concerns are focused on the older trees; the D.C. Urban Forestry Division did not comment on impacts to younger trees. He said that Urban Forestry has indicated a tentative approval, and he expressed confidence that the remaining concerns would be resolved.
Mr. McCrery asked if the painted panda sculpture would remain within the park. Mr. Hackett said that it is an asset of DCCAH, and the project team is working with the Friends of Kingman Park to relocate this sculpture to a community garden several blocks away. Mr. McCrery asked about the various small plantings that are drawn on the plan. Mr. Hackett said that these are existing and would remain; he clarified that the sculpture project is not intended as a complete renovation or remediation of the park. He acknowledged the budget and time constraints that have resulted in limiting the scope to focus on the artwork, while also allowing for a broader effort at placemaking. Mr. McCrery agreed that he had been mistakenly considering the project as a larger overhaul of the park; he said the proposal was presented well, and the questions have been answered well.
Mr. Moore suggested further study of the rise and run of the seating elements as the design is developed; he suggested introducing a variety of dimensions to accommodate a wider range of user needs. Mr. Stroik said he shares this concern, recommending that the various seating elements be as comfortable as possible within the general design character of the sculpture. Mr. Hackett agreed to study this further, characterizing these elements as either stairs, benches, or bleachers. He noted that they are currently shown as having a one-foot dimension for both rise and run, but this could be modulated with six-inch increments; Mr. Stroik supported this approach to improving the comfort.
Mr. Stroik noted that the sculpture’s curved alignment is being shaped in part by the artists’ intent, and also by the need to work around the roots of existing trees. He suggested that ideally the shape would be a more recognizable form, such as a circle or ellipse, which would contribute to the sense of a communal space; he suggested further study of whether this could be achieved.
Mr. Stroik also suggested consideration of the site’s role at the city or neighborhood scale. He said that this park could serve as a gateway to the neighborhood; alternatively, the playing fields to the east across Oklahoma Avenue could serve that purpose, and this park could have another special role, such as an outdoor room. He asked if the artists have considered any good examples in Washington of parks that serve these or other roles; Mr. Hackett responded that such concerns have influenced the gesture of the sculpture embracing the neighborhood with a focus in that direction. The sculpture also has a sense of porosity when approached from the Oklahoma Avenue side, which he noted is also a result of the park’s only sidewalk being along the Oklahoma Avenue edge, even though most people will likely approach the park from the northwest despite the lack of sidewalks at this corner. He said that the broader intent is to think of the park as a gateway or threshold to the Kingman Park neighborhood, and he emphasized that all of these issues are being synthesized as the sculpture’s alignment is being shaped. Mr. Stroik asked how the artists would try to achieve a more gate-like character, if that were the desired goal. Mr. Hackett responded that this intent was stronger in the initial proposal, with a greater sense of verticality to suggest a gateway; however, the advice received early in the review process, perhaps from the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, was to focus on maintaining sightlines in deference to the modest scale of the residential neighborhood, which is primarily row houses. The vertical elements were therefore removed, and the result is a flatter sculpture that conveys more of a sense of threshold. Mr. Stroik commented that this initial proposal—not shown to the Commission—may have had merit as a compelling sculptural idea; he suggested trying to bring this quality back to the proposal, if possible.
Ms. Tsien said that she finds the proposed configuration of seating to be very lyrical, with some curves that are tight and others that are loose. She said that this would accommodate a range of social situations, including people talking with others or sitting alone; this variety would be encouraged by the asymmetry, allowing people to choose their experience. She also observed that the gaps between clusters of seating, intended to create porosity, would also allow wheelchair users to join the seating groups and participate in conversations. She emphasized the interplay of concave and convex gestures as part of the design’s beauty. She commented that the universal access could be further enhanced by providing a small access ramp onto the six-inch-high platforms, allowing wheelchair users to participate in the performance component of the project. She summarized her support for the project as a “very elegant dropped line” interspersed with useful spaces; she said that the design holds together as a form while being very accepting of people.
Mr. P. Cook joined in praising the lyricism of the proposal, commenting that the varying curves encourage communication across varying distances. He observed that a small proportion of the seating faces outward along the curves, while the large majority of the seating faces inward. While acknowledging that the presented proportion may be appropriate, he suggested consideration of turning more of the seating to face outward to allow more people to engage with the broader context.
Dr. Edwards supported the comments of the other Commission members, and she asked about the visitor capacity of the park. Mr. Hackett estimated that thirty to fifty people could be seated comfortably; the project includes approximately 100 linear feet of surfaces, but some of this is stage area instead of seating. Dr. Edwards asked if the surrounding streets would give the park the character of an island isolated by traffic, particularly toward the northwest corner as the expected direction of arrival for most visitors, and whether any traffic control solutions are being considered. Mr. Hackett responded that the traffic to the north and west is relatively slow-moving; traffic on Oklahoma Avenue is somewhat faster, which is why the sculpture’s meandering form has a sense of turning its back toward this direction while still offering a sense of porosity. He summarized that access to the park would be relatively safe because of the low traffic speeds and the prevailing sense of courtesy from drivers in allowing people to cross the streets.
Chair Tsien suggested determining an action on the combined concept and final submission. Secretary Luebke clarified that the Commission does not need to give a combined approval, but could instead ask for a more developed final submission. He added that the Commission could also provide relatively minor comments and delegate review of final documentation to the staff; Chair Tsien said that this option seems to best reflect the consensus of the Commission.
Mr. Moore offered a motion to approve the submission as a concept and final design, with further design development on the issues raised to be delegated to the staff. Secretary Luebke suggested splitting this motion into concept approval for the submission, along with delegation of the final design review to the staff; he said that this may give the staff more flexibility in responding to design issues that may be raised by other review agencies. Mr. Moore agreed to this procedure, and he enumerated the issues that have been raised: the proportion and configuration of the seating; long-term maintenance considerations; and support for relocation of the existing panda sculpture.
Mr. Moore offered a clarified motion to approve the submission as a concept design, with review of the final design delegated to the staff; upon a second by Mr. R.M. Cook, the Commission adopted this action.
Chair Tsien and other Commission members joined in congratulating Ms. White on her activism in bringing this project to fruition. Ms. Glover conveyed DCCAH’s appreciation for the continued support by the Commission of Fine Arts for Washington’s community-based public art projects, and for this project in particular; she thanked the Commission for its insights at today’s review.
G. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
SL 22-055, Portals IV, 1311 Maryland Avenue, SW. New 11-story residential building. Revised concept. (Previous: SL 21-068, 18 February 2021) Secretary Luebke introduced the second submission for the Portals IV residential building within the Portals development project, a mixed-use complex that has been built, beginning in the late 1980s, above a former railroad yard at the southwestern end of Maryland Avenue, SW. The context includes an office building abutting to the east, named Portals III, which was an early part of the Portals, and a recently constructed residential building to the southwest, named Portals V, separated from Portals IV by a linear park. He summarized the Commission’s previous review in February 2021, which resulted in approval of the concept with several comments. The Commission had commended the concept design for its sensitivity to the context of the other Portals buildings and requested: a more articulated option for the facade fronting the Maryland Avenue circle, with the building’s main entrance relocated to this facade, providing a transition between Portals III and Portals V; further study of the eighth-floor cornice detailing and of using rusticated masonry around the base of the building; ensuring an adequate barrier-free route along the linear park between Portals IV and V; and further information about the intended site design to the north along D Street, to be installed when the ancillary structures of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) along this frontage are removed upon the planned relocation of the BEP in approximately five to ten years.
Mr. Luebke said that today’s submission addresses these previous issues and also presents additional design revisions subsequent to the previous review. He said that notable changes to the facades include widening some windows, moving some windows closer to the building corners, removing or redesigning some of the balconies, and providing more glazing at the penthouse level. He said that these changes would affect the perceived character of the building, and he urged the Commission to give new consideration to the overall appearance of the project. He also noted that the amenities in the public landscape areas have been redesigned.
Mr. Luebke said that Republic Properties is the development company for the Portals and he asked Steven Grigg, its president, to begin the presentation. Mr. Grigg introduced George Dove of WDG Architecture to present the design.
Mr. Dove said that the presentation will focus on the issues raised at the previous review. Noting that many of the Commission members were not involved in the previous review, he began with a brief overview of the project. He indicated the site’s context, including D Street to the north and 14th Street to the west. The diagonal linear park to the southwest would provide a pedestrian connection between 14th Street and the elevated Maryland Avenue circle, involving a substantial grade change. He said that his firm worked with Robert A.M. Stern Architects in the development of the Portals V residential building on the southwest side of the linear park. He noted that the roof plan has been revised to include a swimming pool toward the east, and the project’s exterior components have been refined; he said that these changes would generally not affect the building’s appearance from the ground. He presented an updated comparison of height relationships among this project and other buildings at the Portals, noting that the changes are minor and primarily visible at the penthouse.
Mr. Dove presented the revised southeast elevation facing the Maryland Avenue circle; a significant revision is to place the main entrance on this facade, instead of its formerly proposed location around the corner along the linear park. He said that this suggestion from the Commission has improved the building’s internal configuration and allows for development of the facade design, which has been undertaken in consultation with the Commission’s staff. He said that the previously proposed location for the lobby was based on the original development plan for the Portals, created several decades ago. He indicated the revised design’s balconies and projecting frontispiece that would provide emphasis for the entrance, in comparison to the quieter treatment of the windows as the building turns the corner toward the linear park. He indicated the northeastern end of this facade, which provides a transition to the existing facade of the Portals III office building.
Mr. Dove presented a series of elevation drawings to illustrate the currently proposed revisions in comparison to the previously approved facade designs. He said that the base of the building is largely unchanged, and the massing and setbacks are also unchanged; the currently proposed facades include more glazing. For the narrow west elevation facing 14th Street, he indicated the revision for some corner windows to actually turn the corner, which is a detail that has already been constructed for the adjacent Portals V building. He noted the general intent to design Portals IV as a sister building to Portals V, with a similar architectural character. On the north elevation, facing the BEP Annex across D Street, the form is largely unchanged; he indicated the revised window sizes and locations as well as the revised balcony locations, which generally locates fewer balconies at the building’s lower floors and more balconies at the upper floors. He also indicated the BEP infrastructure at the street level, noting that a BEP truck loading area has already been relocated, which allows for additional landscaped area in the current project.
Mr. Dove presented perspective drawings to provide a more three-dimensional comparison of the previous and current proposals; he noted that the two sets of drawings were generated using different graphic tools as well as a more developed design for the current proposal, resulting in the appearance of a different design character for the older and newer drawings. He indicated the significant setbacks and articulation for both Portals IV and the existing Portals V, emphasizing that these are not flat buildings.
Mr. Dove concluded by illustrating the barrier-free route through the linear park, which rises in several levels from 14th Street to the Maryland Avenue circle. The park would have two flights of stairs connecting the levels; he indicated the proposed location for a public elevator that would allow people to bypass the stairs.
Mr. Dove introduced landscape architect Jeff Lee of Lee & Associates to present further details for the design of the linear park. Mr. Lee said that this 70-foot-wide space is based on the earlier master plan for developing the Portals. Beginning at the upper end to the southeast, he noted the generous sidewalk width along the Maryland Avenue circle, accommodating the main entrances for Portals IV and V. Adjacent to the circle would be a paved oval court between the two buildings, with an overlook and flight of stairs to the northwest; the top of the public elevator would be to the southwest, adjacent to Portals V. A 13.5-foot descent would lead to the park’s intermediate level, with another overlook and flight of steps descending an additional 13.5 feet to the lower level of the park which extends to 14th Street. Between the landscape zones on each side, the central pedestrian circulation zone would be ten to twenty feet wide, with benches alongside. On the north side of the park’s 14th Street terminus would be a bioretention planter and the residential amenity of a dog park. He indicated the Chinese elm trees in this area, which he said would provide a nice canopy and can be limbed high to allow for good visibility below. Flowering trees would be planted at the upper end of the park.
Mr. Lee concluded with a series of section and perspective drawings to illustrate the configuration and design character of the entire linear park. He noted that the edges of the park space would include private patio areas that would have access from individual units of the Portals IV and V buildings; landscaped areas would provide a buffer between these private areas and the public walkway at the center of the park. Mr. Dove added that the landscape buffers would provide a sense of privacy for the patios and would shape a clearly defined pubic area.
Chair Tsien invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Stroik observed that the completion of the Portals will result in the full architectural framing of a new circle, perhaps the first in Washington for many decades. Mr. Grigg responded that other circles have strong architectural frames, sometimes resulting from recent development; he cited the active character of Dupont Circle and the construction in recent decades by George Washington University, which has strengthened the framing of Washington Circle. He added that the Maryland Avenue circle is built on top of the main East Coast railroad line that carries freight and passenger rail service from Florida to Massachusetts; the circle was created as a bridge above the tracks. He noted that the L’Enfant Plan laid out Maryland Avenue as a complement to Pennsylvania Avenue, connecting the U.S. Capitol to the waterfront. The later presence of the railroad interfered with this role, but the Portals is intended to help recreate the vision of the L'Enfant Plan and its successors.
Mr. Stroik emphasized that the Portals has created a new circle, framed by buildings that have all been built within the last several decades; he described this as a rare occurrence in Washington. Mr. Grigg agreed, and Mr. Luebke said that a previous comparable example might be the hemicycle within Federal Triangle, largely built out in the 1930s. He observed that the Maryland Avenue circle is part of a larger single development project, allowing for a coordinated architectural frame, while other circles in Washington typically have a variety of surrounding buildings that can result in a less uniform street edge. Mr. Stroik said that the unique circumstances of the Maryland Avenue circle result in good urban design; he encouraged more of such coordinated development in Washington, while acknowledging that it requires bold thinking and a long period of time.
Mr. Stroik asked for clarification of the reasons for adjusting the balcony locations. Mr. Dove responded that successful marketing of the rental units in this residential building will require a certain proportion of units with balconies. Subsequent to the initial presentation to the Commission, the internal layouts of the units were developed further, resulting in new decisions about which units would work well with balconies and which units would be better without balconies. He noted that the views are better on the higher levels, resulting in the proposal to include more balconies for these units. He presented the previous and current versions of the north elevation, which is where most of the balcony revisions have occurred; he said that the changes result in a quieter character for the lower part of the building, with more emphasis toward the top. He described the revised proposal as still being a handsome facade along a side street, with a secondary lobby and a parking entrance and ground level, but with fewer balconies on the lower levels.
Mr. Stroik expressed support for the reasoning for the balcony adjustments. He asked for clarification of the building’s ground-floor uses, beyond the building’s general purpose as a rental apartment building. Mr. Dove responded that very little ground-floor space is available for other uses. Much of the frontage on the Maryland Avenue circle would be occupied by the double-height lobby, and much of the building’s other frontages would be apartments with patios. Additionally, the BEP structures along D Street would block some of the building from having street frontage.
Mr. R.M. Cook described the proposal as a comfortable design that feels appropriate for Washington; he said that it is reminiscent of the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue. He expressed support for the relocation of the main entrance to face the Maryland Avenue circle, describing this as a huge improvement that allows the building to command this important position and adding that the linear park is also well designed. He observed the gap in the spatial enclosure of the circle to the southwest, on the Maryland Avenue axis to the south of Portals V, and he asked if this opening would be filled in to provide a coherent completion.
Mr. Grigg responded that the planning for the Portals is constrained by past decisions from review agencies, including the Commission of Fine Arts. Among these is a requirement not to obstruct the sightline from the steps of the Jefferson Memorial to the U.S. Capitol, which has been carefully calculated in relation to the edge of the Maryland Avenue circle. An additional obstacle is the railroad traffic emerging from beneath the circle to cross the river; this precludes a good connection beyond the edge of the circle until the railroad alignment is moved elsewhere—an idea that has been discussed extensively but is not likely to occur soon. He said that the long-term opportunity could be a pedestrian connection, comparable to the linear park that is currently proposed with Portals IV; he noted that there already is a pedestrian connection across Maine Avenue that connects the Portals to the waterfront park system. He also noted that these connections were anticipated in the master planning for the Portals; for example, the view southeastward along the linear park will be aligned with a large arch in the Portals I building, which anticipated this alignment in its design, and the Portals I and III buildings have similar arches that frame the Maryland Avenue entrance into the Portals. He said that in the future, people will either realize that these relationships were carefully considered or will assume that they result from luck.
Mr. Grigg provided further comments on the revised design for the Portals IV frontage on the Maryland Avenue circle. He said that one reason for the revision was in response to a staff comment that Portals IV, in the previous design, looked more like an office building than a residential building. The goal of the revision along the circle has been to more closely relate Portals IV to the recent Portals V residential building in a very restrained manner. As a result, the base of the building at the circle is intended to be comparable to the base of residential buildings along New York’s Park Avenue or Central Park West, without any emphasis on retail space, while he agreed that the remainder of the building could be compared to the Mayflower Hotel.
Mr. P. Cook asked about the proposed materials, both at the base of the building and in other areas. Mr. Dove responded that the base would generally be precast concrete, articulated in a traditional manner. The walls above the base would be Norman brick, with a coloration similar to Portals V; the cornices and other details would be precast concrete, with some metal details such as the balcony railings and panels. He summarized that the overall appearance is intended to relate closely to Portals V.
Mr. P. Cook asked about the sustainability features of the design, for this building and for the Portals generally. Mr. Dove cited this building’s obvious contribution toward the completion of an urban village. The project will meet all D.C. requirements and will have a LEED environmental certification. Beyond meeting these standards, he said that the linear park would provide an important missing link in the area’s walkability and access to public transportation; this will have the effect of reducing emissions from vehicles, while the project’s added plantings will help to absorb emissions. He emphasized that the project is not seeking to avoid any regulatory standards.
Ms. Tsien said that she agrees with the other Commission members that the relocation of the entrance has resulted in a greatly improved facade along the Maryland Avenue circle. She commented that the balconies above provide articulation and depth that signals the location of the entrance, and these features pair well with the Portals V facade. More generally, she said that balconies provide a sense of articulation that relieves a flat facade, and she encouraged including them in the design to the extent possible.
Mr. P. Cook observed that the linear park appears to have abundant daylight in the presented drawings, but he asked if solar studies have been done to ensure adequate daylights for plants within this 70-foot-wide space between two relatively tall buildings. Mr. Dove responded that the plantings have been carefully selected to be successful with the daylight conditions of this space. He said that the daylight level would be high toward mid-day, but he acknowledged that the adjacent building heights of 130 feet or more would result in a lot of shade. Mr. Lee added that his firm routinely does extensive solar studies for all four seasons. He said that the under-story plantings would be shade-loving plants that should thrive in this location. Additionally, the trees between the two buildings would be deciduous, allowing for adequate daylight throughout the park during winter. He said that the 70-foot width is relatively generous, noting that this is the building-to-building width of some of Washington’s streets. Mr. Dove added that the site dimensions are in accordance with the approved master plan for the Portals.
Mr. Stroik commented that the linear park is nicely designed, with a garden character that seems related to many other gardens and parks on the Mall and elsewhere in Washington. He said that this landscape also contributes to the regulatory goal of increasing the city’s tree cover. He noted that the park is nonetheless unusual, perhaps unique in Washington, as a block-long pedestrian street between two very large, long buildings.
Mr. Stroik joined in supporting the revised design for the curved facade along the Maryland Avenue circle. He observed that the balconies above the building’s main entrance would be very prominent features, and he requested careful study of their design details; he recommended that these balconies be curved to be consistent with the facade alignment, helping to welcome people into the Portals complex and the Maryland Avenue circle.
Chair Tsien suggested a consensus to support the revised concept. Mr. Cook offered a motion for enthusiastic approval of the submitted design; upon a second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission adopted this action. Secretary Luebke said that the Commission’s comments would be included in the action, in order to assist the project team in developing a final design submission. He suggested that the final design, if it appears satisfactory, could be placed on the Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix for action by the Commission without an additional presentation.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 12:57 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA