The meeting was convened by videoconference at 9:03 a.m.
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
Mary Catherine Bogard
(Due to the absence of Chair Billie Tsien, Vice Chair Edwards presided at the meeting.)
A. Approval of the minutes of the 17 February meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the February meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance; the most recent version includes a minor revision concerning the Smithsonian Castle’s elevator overrun. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Moore, the Commission approved the revised minutes.
B. Dates of next meetings. Secretary Luebke presented the dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 21 April, 19 May, and 16 June 2022.
C. Report on the 2022 National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs grant program. Secretary Luebke reported that applications have been received from local organizations wanting to participate in this year’s program, which provides federal grants to support cultural institutions in Washington. One of the applicants was not funded in last year’s program, requiring the convening of a panel to determine its eligibility; the panel includes the chair of the Commission. He noted that the newly enacted appropriation for the federal government includes $5 million in funding for this program, to be distributed among the eligible institutions in accordance with an established formula.
Secretary Luebke offered congratulations to Mr. P. Cook on his recent elevation to fellowship by the American Institute of Architects.
II. Submissions and Reviews
Secretary Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting.
Appendix I – Government Submissions Consent Calendar: Mr. Fox reported that no changes have been made to the draft consent calendar, which has three projects as well as the reporting of the staff’s approval action on a previously delegated review. Upon a motion by Mr. R.M. Cook with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the Government Submissions Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler said that one case listed on the draft appendix has been removed and is being held open for consideration in a future month (case number SL 22-064). The recommendation for one project has been changed to be favorable with conditions (SL 22-071). Other revisions are minor wording changes and the notation of dates for the receipt of supplemental materials. She said the recommendations for five 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.
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Ms. Bogard reported that the appendix has 16 projects; the only change to the draft appendix is to note the recent receipt of supplemental drawings for one project (case number OG 22-100). Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. Stroik, the Commission approved the revised Old Georgetown Act Appendix.
B. Smithsonian Institution
1. CFA 17/MAR/22-1, National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women's History Museum. Site evaluation for two new museums. Information Presentation. Secretary Luebke introduced the information presentation on the Smithsonian Institution’s site evaluation process for two new museums, the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum, whose recent authorizing legislation requires consultation with the Commission. The expectation is that each museum will have its own building, and the Smithsonian is conducting an extensive site evaluation study to find appropriate locations, including a substantial program of outreach, consultation, and research. The study considers 26 sites, including locations under government or private ownership, and with or without existing buildings; some sites are directly on the Mall and others are in less central areas. He reminded the Commission members that last month they had reviewed a rehabilitation proposal for one of these sites, the historic Arts and Industries Building (AIB), which ranks high in the Smithsonian’s feasibility study. He explained that since this is an information presentation, the Commission is not being asked to approve any specific site but rather to provide comments on the process or on individual sites as guidance for the Smithsonian. He asked Kevin Gover, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Museums and Culture, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Gover said that the creation of these two new museums will be a priority undertaking for the Smithsonian over the next decade. He explained that the information presentation is intended to introduce the Commission members to the process, which begins with site selection; the Smithsonian will return in July with a more developed analysis of the most promising sites, and the goal is to conclude the site selection process this fall. He noted that the project team is working with Smithsonian leadership, including Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III, to help steer both museums, which will transform the Smithsonian’s architectural legacy and provide new and inclusive ways for the Smithsonian to achieve its mission of increasing and diffusing knowledge. He introduced Ronald Cortez, Under Secretary for Administration at the Smithsonian, who oversees facilities operations, maintenance, and capital programs; he noted that Mr. Cortez previously served as chief financial officer and vice chancellor at the University of California, Irvine.
Mr. Cortez said the process is about halfway through evaluating 26 potential new museum sites. In the first phase, the project team held nine focus sessions that brought together stakeholders involved with the creation of both museums, gaining insight into their priorities for locations and programs. As a result of these meetings the sites were grouped into two tiers: the Tier 1 sites are considered more promising, and the Tier 2 sites are considered less likely to be viable, for such reasons as they are in private ownership or are undergoing development and are no longer available. The evaluation criteria were then refined to develop a draft weighting. He added that during this evaluation work, the Smithsonian also advanced a feasibility study of locating a museum in the AIB. In the second phase of site evaluation, the project team will consult with the appropriate federal agencies on the potential for acquiring sites under their control; these findings will help in ranking the sites and identifying a smaller group to analyze in greater depth. Stakeholder outreach will also continue, which will include conducting national surveys and developing studies to further refine the site evaluation. He introduced architects Luanne Greene and Doug Satteson of Ayers Saint Gross to present the evaluation study in more detail.
Ms. Greene said that in the fall of 2021 the project team worked closely with key Smithsonian staff, including the interim directors of the two new museums, to develop a series of virtual stakeholder engagement sessions; the findings from these sessions have been informing the site selection process. Nine sessions were held late last year, with 140 people participating nationwide. The project team discussed a range of issues with the participants and used an interactive poll to gather data. For the National Museum of the American Latino, the results indicated the importance of the actual visitor experience at museums, particularly experiences occurring in the indoor and outdoor gathering spaces. The conversations also reinforced the importance of locating the museum on the National Mall, particularly toward the Mall’s western end. The stakeholders were open to reusing an existing building if this would allow for a superior location, and they favored an experience-based approach for the museum’s collections and programming. For the American Women’s History Museum, the engagement sessions indicated a desire for good visibility, both looking toward the museum and outward from the site. The responses reinforced the importance of a location on the Mall for this museum; clear views of the U.S. Capitol Building were highly rated, suggesting a preference for the Mall’s eastern end. New construction was preferred, but if an existing building is to be reused, it is important to consider the building’s history. She said the next step in the process is a national survey.
Ms. Greene said that the 26 sites under consideration have been evaluated under six high-level criteria, each of which has additional sub-criteria that are weighted to reflect critical, important, or desirable characteristics. She asked Doug Satteson to present the criteria and evaluation.
Mr. Satteson said the first criterion is location, with sub-criteria including proximity to the Mall; other sub-criteria include the prominence and visibility of the site, and whether the site has significance for the museum’s constituent group, including the differing preferences for the western or eastern end of the Mall. He said that other criteria relate to a site’s potential for visitation, its proximity to other Smithsonian museums, and the preservation of key views and sightlines. The criteria also consider factors contributing to cost, such as site preparation, demolition, and the complexity of construction; the anticipated length of time required for construction on particular sites; existing site conditions, including the total available acreage and how well a site can accommodate the building program, and whether a site presents the opportunity for outdoor programming. Other criteria deal with security and risk assessment, including whether a site has any conditions that would require a museum to increase its level of security; and the opportunity a site presents for architectural expression of the museum’s identity or mission. Another architectural criterion addresses whether the interior of a building on this site would have the potential to support the programming within the buildable area, and whether a site provides the opportunity for a program of sustainable design and climate resiliency that is compatible with the plans of the D.C. government, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the National Park Service.
Mr. Satteson described the criteria for transportation, which he said is a key issue for the stakeholders and visitors. Considerations include service access and loading; the proximity of a site to transit and public parking; walkability; and access for a range of vehicles, including tour bus drop-off and accommodation of transportation for large groups. Other criteria address environmental issues such as subsurface conditions, vulnerability to flooding, air quality, and noise levels. The final criterion is a site’s acquisition potential, which will be evaluated further through discussions between Smithsonian leadership and relevant external agencies.
Ms. Greene described how these criteria were applied to the sites. The analysis generally confirmed that the Tier 2 sites cannot meet the criteria established in the legislation for the museums, often because these sites cannot accommodate the museum programs; the recommendation is therefore to drop the Tier 2 sites from consideration. She noted that the ownership of some sites has changed since they were first identified, or the relevant agencies have developed plans to use the sites. One of the sites that had been included in Tier 2—the annex building for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing—is now expected to become available for a new use, and this site has consequently been moved up to Tier 1.
Ms. Greene said the project team has identified a generic benchmark program for the new museums, which has also helped in evaluating the sites. She listed the sites considered most likely to meet the criteria, and she described the analysis for the Arts and Industries Building (AIB) in greater detail. She noted that the AIB is a building of great historical importance that occupies a key location on the Mall and is already owned by the Smithsonian. She said the challenge for the AIB is finding a use that will work within the size and spatial constraints of its interior space. Although its location is exceptional, the site is not as large as that identified by the benchmark program. In order to appropriately house some of the public collection spaces, it would be necessary to create areas within the AIB that would allow precise control of humidity and temperature.
Ms. Greene said three options for the AIB have been explored to address these issues. The first and simplest approach would be to accept the existing building and to design innovative ways to accommodate programs within it, resulting in a facility that is somewhat smaller than recommended by the benchmark but is a distinctive building on an excellent site. The second option would expand the AIB by adding an additional basement level within the limits of the AIB’s existing footprint. This option would increase the available public collection space, but the excavation would extend the building into the water table, which has associated costs and risk. The third option considers an expansion to the south, using the existing main floor of the AIB for non-collection programs, expanding the museum via a tunnel beneath Independence Avenue, and locating additional program space in a new building constructed on the existing site of the Forrestal Building, the headquarters of the Department of Energy. This option would require acquisition of the Forrestal Building, adding cost and time to the project.
Ms. Greene said a summary of the types of test sites, planning, and scenarios will be incorporated into the evaluation study. Work is continuing on the analysis of the Tier 1 sites, which present a wide range of sizes, conditions, and capacities. Most are located south of the Mall, with the exception of the FBI building and sites at the edge of the U.S. Capitol Grounds, which are north of Pennsylvania Avenue. A few of the fourteen sites are vacant; some sites are occupied by historic buildings that would remain, and other sites could be cleared by demolition of existing structures. For the historic buildings, it would be necessary to evaluate the amount of modification necessary to house a museum program; as with the AIB, some historic structures could benefit from being combined with other sites. She presented the summary of site evaluations for five of the six high-level criteria; the sixth, potential for acquisition, will be evaluated more fully beginning this month through discussions with the relevant jurisdictional agencies. Currently, only the AIB has a score for this criterion because it is already a Smithsonian site.
Ms. Greene summarized the next steps for completing the site evaluation study. The second phase will incorporate feedback from Smithsonian leadership on acquisition potential and strategy, as well as feedback from external stakeholders; the number of sites will be reduced to focus on the best options, and this phase will further develop architectural programming and site evaluation, in part through continued constituent engagement and tours of the sites.
Vice Chair Edwards thanked the presenters and invited discussion by the Commission. Mr. Stroik observed that the Smithsonian Institution is of national importance, and these two new museums are for a national audience. He asked about the intended size of each museum, noting that the AIB site was described as smaller than the benchmark goal; Mr. Gover said the benchmark size is 350,000 square feet, as established by legislation. Mr. Cortez added that because the project team is considering innovative ways of using the interior space of the AIB, meeting the benchmark goal may not be difficult.
Mr. Stroik said he is impressed by the evaluation criteria. Although the number of sites considered seems large, he noted that the Smithsonian is also thinking about future locations for other new museums. He expressed strong support for the idea of locating both museums on the Mall; however, recognizing the limited space on the Mall, he endorsed the consideration of off-the-Mall sites. He suggested consideration of what long-term strategies might be successful for locating museums in other areas of the city. Such strategies might include locations either close to the Mall, or along a major avenue, or near federal sites such as the White House or U.S. Capitol; grouping new museums together away from the Mall; or locating them next to places that attract visitors, such as restaurants. Mr. Gover agreed that the likelihood of more museums being authorized is among the reasons for gathering so much information about so many sites. Another reason is learning more about locations off the Mall, with one prominent example being the Banneker Overlook, which was considered as the site for the National Museum of African American History and Culture and is being examined once again for the new museums.
Referring to the proposal to add another basement level beneath the AIB, Mr. R.M. Cook asked how far it would go below the water table. Mr. Satteson indicated the water table depth on the section diagram; Secretary Luebke added that the AIB basement would be on the same level as the adjacent underground complex for the Smithsonian Quadrangle museums. Mr. Cook asked about the purpose of this new basement level; Mr. Satteson responded that it would contain air-handling equipment. Mr. Cook expressed concern about the relationship of the new basement level to the water table and asked how it could be kept dry. Ann Trowbridge, assistant director for planning at the Smithsonian, responded that the AIB is not located within the floodplain, and the existing underground quadrangle structure adjacent to the AIB does not experience flooding during heavy rainfall; she said the only current water issue with the AIB is leaks in the roof, which would be replaced.
Mr. R.M. Cook asked whether the presence of the historic Tiber Creek, now underground, would affect below-grade construction at the AIB site. Mr. McCrery clarified that Tiber Creek lies beneath Constitution Avenue, on the north side of the Mall, and would not affect the AIB, which is located on higher ground on the Mall’s south side. Mr. R.M. Cook recalled that Tiber Creek had crossed the Mall; Mr. McCrery said this was at a point farther east than the AIB site, and Mr. Luebke clarified that this was the historic canal that had existed along the foot of Capitol Hill and extended south to the Anacostia River. Mr. Cortez added that the AIB is a very promising site, but he emphasized that this project is still in the early stages of site evaluation.
For the option of extending the AIB to the south, Mr. McCrery asked for further information about the proposed tunnel beneath Independence Avenue, and why the footprint of the building on the block to the south is depicted as a rhombus instead of as a rectilinear block. Ms. Greene responded that the proposed options are now only diagrammatic ideas; she added that the drawings reflect other existing plans, including the Southwest Ecodistrict Plan. Mr. Luebke noted that a great deal of planning work has focused on this area, notably the Monumental Core Framework Plan of 2009, which sought to restore this area’s historic alignment of Virginia Avenue from the L’Enfant Plan; he said this could be possible if the Department of Energy complex is redeveloped. Mr. McCrery said that restoring this right-of-way and historic block pattern would be an excellent change, opening many site opportunities for the Smithsonian and other institutions in the area south of Independence Avenue. He also commented that visitors to a museum located in the AIB would identify the institution by the historic, above-ground building; he therefore suggested consolidating the public uses within the AIB footprint, and locating most of the service areas in the tunnel beneath Independence Avenue or the south building instead of the currently diagrammed location in the AIB basement level.
Mr. McCrery encouraged strong consideration of using the historic Whitten Building, the headquarters building of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), located on the south side of the Mall between 12th and 14th Streets. He said that its current occupancy by USDA offices is not the highest and best public use for a site on the Mall, and the building presents a magnificent opportunity for adaptive reuse as a museum, which would bring the site to its best public use. Mr. Cortez confirmed that this site will be evaluated further in the next phase.
Mr. P. Cook asked if the feasibility of constrained sites could be improved by accommodating some of the new museums’ programmatic needs in other Smithsonian facilities off-site, perhaps reducing the space needed for the new museums and allowing some Tier 2 sites to be moved to Tier 1. Mr. Cortez emphasized that the site selection is an ongoing, fluid process; he agreed that sites can be adjusted, as evidenced by the decision to move the Bureau of Engraving and Printing annex from Tier 2 to Tier 1.
Noting the 140-person total size of the survey groups, Mr. P. Cook observed that the Smithsonian seems to be basing major decisions on the opinions of a small number of people. He asked how new findings from the planned additional national outreach might affect the issues under discussion. Mr. Cortez responded that a national survey has just been distributed; its responses will address the importance of each of the six criteria and how they are weighted for each site. He stressed that the project team carefully considers all comments in categorizing and evaluating the sites. Mr. Cook said he knows from experience that working with a group of this size from locations across the country will result in conflicting opinions on which criteria are important and which are not. He said he wants assurance that new and more detailed responses compiled from a larger group will affect the consideration and ranking of potential museum sites; Mr. Cortez confirmed this intent.
Mr. Moore agreed with the concern about the limited size of the initial survey groups, but he finds the results to be of interest. He observed the support among those surveyed for providing outdoor gathering gardens and the opportunity for events in public spaces. He asked whether there has been any discussion about creating a benchmark for the outdoor and landscape spaces, and whether any further criteria addressing outdoor and landscape spaces are being developed for the next phase of this process. He also recommended considering this issue in relation to potentially accommodating some of a museum’s interior space below the site’s outdoor space, which could result in limitations on how the outdoor space is used. Mr. Cortez said that the project team is compiling all the public comments to determine the next steps, adding that comments about outdoor space will be considered a very important part of the feedback.
Mr. Moore noted that there have been many recent conversations in Washington about temporary commemorative programming and the role of connections for such programming to museums and other cultural institutions. As part of the site selection process, he encouraged the project team to think about museums as participants in public space, and about the potential use of museum spaces and sites for temporary events as part of the public commemorative landscape. Mr. Cortez agreed that this is an important consideration that will be incorporated into the study.
Ms. Edwards asked if the national survey includes any strategies to gather the opinions of young people. She said these new museums will be inspiring places for young people to visit, and the national survey and other engagement endeavors should include questions that will gather their opinions and reactions. Mr. Cortez responded that the project team worked with a consultant to develop a sophisticated survey that is designed to capture the input of a range of different stakeholders, including people of different ages from across the entire country; committees representing both of the new museums also provided guidance. He said he believes this included representation of young people but would check further on this question.
On behalf of the Commission, Vice Chair Edwards expressed appreciation for the information presentation on the site selection process for these two new national museums. She said the Commission members look forward to hearing again from the Smithsonian project team as the process moves forward. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
2. CFA 17/ MAR/22-2, Bezos Learning Center at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 655 Jefferson Drive, SW. Demolition and replacement of existing restaurant pavilion. Information presentation. Secretary Luebke introduced the information presentation on early planning for replacement of the restaurant pavilion at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) on the National Mall. The addition is being planned to include a learning center, a restaurant with associated loading dock, and an event space at the top. As part of the sitework, an existing adjacent telescope would be rehoused in a permanent structure.
Mr. Luebke noted that the main museum building, opened in 1976, was designed by Gyo Obata of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum; the museum and its terraced landscape are currently undergoing a phased revitalization that includes reconstruction of the building envelope, scheduled for completion in 2025. The restaurant pavilion, also designed by Obata, was added in the late 1980s; it has a complex stepped-pyramid form with dark glazing over a spaceframe structure, intended as a greenhouse-like pavilion within a garden. While arguably exemplary of its period, the pavilion has been problematic to operate and maintain, resulting in closure of the restaurant. He asked Ann Trowbridge, the Smithsonian’s associate director for planning, to begin the presentation.
Ms. Trowbridge said that today’s presentation is an update for the eastern end of the NASM site, which is not currently part of the ongoing revitalization project for the museum; however, replacement of the restaurant pavilion was anticipated in the long-range planning for the NASM that was previously presented to the Commission. She noted that the NASM’s original opening to the public in 1976 was part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration, and the new pavilion is expected to open in time for the nation’s 250th anniversary. She said that the NASM is considered a significant historic building for several reasons: for its architecture; for the artifacts housed within that document the history of flight and space travel; and for its role in introducing visitors to the science and engineering behind these achievements. The NASM is considered eligible for individual listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is a contributing element to the National Mall Historic District. The main NASM building originally included a public dining facility on the third floor; the restaurant pavilion was then added in 1988. After careful review, the restaurant pavilion has been determined to be non-contributing to the NASM’s historic significance.
Ms. Trowbridge noted that the NASM revitalization project was approved by the Commission in 2018, and construction is underway on the west part of the building, which will reopen to the public later this year; the next phase will address the museum’s east end, scheduled to begin later this year. The project includes replacement of the exterior stone and glass; interior renovation, including replacement of building systems; redesign of the museum’s exhibitions; and construction of a security-screening vestibule on the north side of the museum. The revitalization project’s scope includes improvements to the east end of the site, with new pavers and recladding of the planter walls; recladding of the vestibule to the restaurant pavilion is also included, but not the pavilion itself.
Ms. Trowbridge introduced Rick Flansburg, NASM’s associate director for collections, archives, and logistics, to provide an overview of the planned new pavilion, and historic preservation specialist Carly Bond to provide additional information on the historic preservation review process for demolition of the existing pavilion.
Mr. Flansburg said that the planned pavilion would include the Bezos Learning Center, conceived as a place for creativity, problem solving, and innovation that would link learners and educators. The intent is for the design to support the educational programming by inspiring a sense of wonder, curiosity, discovery, and energy. An education center was part of the NASM’s 2013 master plan, and a recent philanthropic gift has made the project possible, along with a new restaurant, improvements to the lower-level loading dock, and a permanent observatory facility for the museum’s popular telescope. The tentative planning is for a two-story education center that would be entered from the museum’s second floor; the education center would include a terrace. The improvements for the outdoor telescope would include creation of an astronomy park. The Smithsonian will soon begin more detailed programming for the project, and the selection process for an architectural design team is already underway. A restaurant vendor will also be selected soon, allowing the vendor to participate in the design process; the contractor for the project is also expected to assist in finalizing the design.
Mr. Flansburg summarized that the education center will be a resource for the entire Smithsonian Institution, while being overseen by the NASM staff. A primary focus of its programs will be to reach traditionally underserved communities, both locally and nationally, through on-site and virtual programs.
Ms. Bond described the consultation process being conducted in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The historic significance of the original NASM building and later changes, including the addition of the restaurant pavilion, have been evaluated, along with consideration of how the NASM contributes to the National Mall Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The result is a programmatic agreement addressing the planned demolition and new construction.
Ms. Bond said the consultation process began in May 2020, with the intended scope of demolishing the restaurant pavilion and replacing it with a new restaurant. The process was suspended in early 2021, before concept designs were developed; the subsequent philanthropic gift has expanded the scope of the new construction to include an education center.
Ms. Bond said the process has included a determination of eligibility for listing the NASM in the National Register. The conclusion is that the NASM is eligible, with its original completion year of 1976 being its period of significance; later changes to the site and building, included the addition of the restaurant pavilion, are considered compatible but not contributing.
The reasons for the NASM’s eligibility include being part of the Smithsonian’s evolution in the second half of the 20th century; the significance of the museum’s collection; and being an outstanding example of the architectural work of Gyo Obata, a recognized master in his field. She noted that the NASM achieved significance despite being less than fifty years old, the usual threshold for historic evaluation. However, the determination of eligibility concluded that the 1988 restaurant addition has not yet attained the level of significance needed to justify waiving the typical fifty-year minimum; unlike the unique design attributes of the NASM, the pavilion was considered similar to other work by Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum in the 1980s.
Ms. Bond said the consultation process included consideration of retaining the restaurant pavilion and correcting its deficiencies. These include the need to meet present-day structural codes and blast protection criteria; inadequate mechanical systems; and excessive solar heat gain on the interior. The pavilion is also not large enough to accommodate the new program requirements for the education center, necessitating major modifications if the pavilion were retained.
Ms. Bond described the consideration of the project’s relationship to the National Mall Historic District, which has a period of significance from 1791 to the present. Smithsonian buildings, including the NASM, form much of the boundaries and backdrops for the primary gathering space at the center of the Mall. Demolition of the existing pavilion would therefore have an adverse effect on historic resources, and the planned new pavilion would have to be designed as a contributing element to the National Mall Historic District. She indicated several view corridors associated with the Mall that relate to the NASM site, including the views along the Mall’s centerline, along 4th Street, and on the 6th Street axis between the NASM and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.
Ms. Bond said the programmatic agreement describes the project’s potential adverse effects as currently unknown, and it provides stipulations that the Smithsonian will carry out to resolve any adverse effects. The stipulations include ongoing consultation and general parameters for the new construction, including a footprint that is comparable to the existing pavilion. The program for the two-story education center would total 50,000 square feet, to be located above a ground-floor restaurant; both of these functions would be accessed from within the museum building. An event space at the roof level would accommodate 150 people for educational programming and events. Through the consultation process, a location for the observatory will be selected within the southeast area of the site; the outdoor astronomy park would be on the east terrace, including interactive exhibits. The entire project of indoor and outdoor features would be designed as a cohesive system, with consideration of site features and the larger revitalization project’s comprehensive landscape design. The programmatic agreement further stipulates that the new design must respect the formal setting of the National Mall and neighboring museums; respond to the architecture and massing of the NASM; meet the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for the treatment and rehabilitation of historic properties; carefully consider the choice of materials; and consider the contributing vistas of the National Mall Historic District. She noted that the Smithsonian will be required to continue to provide opportunities for public participation, and to consider adverse effects when selecting among design alternatives. The programmatic agreement also addresses the project schedule: demolition of the existing pavilion would begin this spring; consultation on schematic design alternatives would begin in early 2023; and construction is anticipated to start in 2024, with completion in 2026.
Vice Chair Edwards expressed appreciation for the informative presentation, and she invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Moore commented that the presentation has shown the careful study that is necessary for this important site. He observed that the closing image, a perspective view of the NASM’s expanded north entrance facing the Mall, features a broad flight of steps as the primary approach to the building; he described this as a “monument to ableism” and contrasted it to Mr. Flansburg’s comment that the planned education center would be as inclusive and accessible as possible. He asked how the landscape and grading associated with the new pavilion could be designed to convey a more welcoming and accessible character. He also observed that the perspective view of the north entrance does not show perimeter security; noting the extensive street frontages around the east end of the site, where the planned pavilion and associated site features would be located, he suggested finding an innovative solution for perimeter security in conjunction with the new project. He highlighted these two issues for consideration in the forthcoming design process, as components of the project’s public realm. The Smithsonian officials responded that the presented perspective drawing does not convey the improved accessibility in the NASM revitalization project, which includes better access to the main entrances on the north and south, while increasing the site’s barrier-free access points from two to six; barrier-free access to the site would continue to be an important consideration for the new design work associated with the pavilion, while respecting the site improvements that are already including in the broader revitalization project that is under construction. Perimeter security at the east end of the site would likely remain within the boundaries of the east terrace. Mr. Moore emphasized that the planned project is significant, providing an opportunity to improve the design of the site’s accessibility and perimeter security.
Mr. McCrery encouraged the Smithsonian to avoid a “corporatist” type of architectural solution, which has become commonplace in Washington in recent decades; he said that the existing pavilion could be described as an example of this unwelcome trend. He suggested two possible design approaches for the new pavilion: extending the fabric of the museum building, comparable to the extension of Eero Saarinen’s main terminal at Dulles International Airport; or creating a highly figural, contrasting design, comparable to the East Building of the National Gallery of Art or the Rose Planetarium in New York City. He emphasized that a visionary architectural solution would be appropriate for the NASM and for the philanthropic gift supporting the new pavilion, while a timid solution should be avoided.
Vice Chair Edwards reiterated the Commission’s appreciation for the information presentation, and she said that the Commission looks forward to reviewing the project’s next phase. Ms. Trowbridge said that design consultation with the Commission and staff would begin in approximately one year. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
At this point, the Commission departed from the order of the agenda to consider item II.D. Secretary Luebke said that the Commission may wish to act on this submission without a presentation.
D. D.C. Department of General Services
CFA 17/ MAR/22-4, Raymond Elementary School, 915 Spring Road, NW. Building modernization and additions. Final. (Previous: CFA 18/NOV/21-6) Secretary Luebke said that the submission responds to the Commission’s comments from the previous reviews in October and November 2021. He noted the Commission’s remaining concern that the color of the metal window frames should match the gray-green color of the metal at the school’s new main entrance, providing greater consistency in the materials palette. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. R.M. Cook, the Commission approved the final design subject to this guidance on coordinating the metal colors.
The Commission returned to the order of the agenda with item II.C.
C. National Capital Planning Commission
CFA 17/MAR/22-3, Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative, Pennsylvania Avenue from 3rd to 15th Streets, NW. Presentation of vision and concepts. Information presentation. (Previous: CFA 17/MAY/18-1) Secretary Luebke introduced the information presentation on a study for near- and long-term improvements to the segment of Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House, along with adjoining blocks to the north and south. He described this area as the city’s most iconic ceremonial boulevard; its current appearance dates primarily from the later 20th century, when redevelopment efforts resulted in the broad avenue lined by triple rows of willow oaks, framed by monumental buildings with generally consistent massings. He noted the project’s initial presentation in May 2018, when the Commission discussed the inherent tension between this dense urban area’s everyday use and the avenue’s special national role; the Commission had emphasized the need for innovating programming and use of this public realm to encompass everyday activities, civic events, protests, and celebrations.
Mr. Luebke said that the current study by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) is being overseen by an executive committee with representatives of the Commission of Fine Arts, the General Services Administration, the National Park Service, and the D.C. government. The project has included workshops, expert panels, and focus groups, resulting in development of a common vision and several goals. Today’s presentation focuses on exploration of three conceptual approaches for the character of Pennsylvania Avenue; each of these approaches has been developed to include alternative treatments for the avenue’s configuration and public spaces that would contribute to achieving the project goals. He noted that the concepts being presented today have recently been released for public comment, which NCPC will use in further development of the project. He asked Elizabeth Miller, director of NCPC’s physical planning division, to begin the presentation.
Ms. Miller acknowledged Mr. Luebke’s involvement and leadership for the Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative, part of the extensive collaboration among the government agencies that have a role as stewards of the avenue. She said that NCPC has initiated a four-month public comment period, continuing to mid-July, for the work being presented today; she welcomed the Commission’s response to the vision and concepts, along with the Commission’s continued involvement as the project progresses. She described the format for today’s presentation: a description of background information and the project vision; an overview of the conceptual approaches for achieving the vision, presented by project manager Karin Schierhold of NCPC; and a summary of the next steps. She noted that consultant Otto Condon, principal urban designer for ZGF Architects, is in attendance to respond to any questions.
Ms. Miller presented the history of this portion of Pennsylvania Avenue, originally laid out in the L’Enfant Plan to serve as a promenade for the public; she noted that President Washington had described the avenue as one of the capital city’s most important features. She said that the avenue became the city’s principal artery and a center of civic activity; over time, it has become a symbol of our nation’s democracy. Over more than two centuries, the avenue has cycled through decline and renewal, reinventing itself to meet the needs of each era, and it is again at a transition point. As illustrated by historic images, the avenue was envisioned as a promenade in the 1850s, and it was the city’s primary commercial corridor from the later 19th century into the 1900s. Transit along the avenue was provided by horse carts and then electric trolleys; later in the 20th century, cars dominated the urban landscape. Over the past decade, even before the current pandemic, the office market in this area has been struggling with competition from emerging neighborhoods, and much less vehicular traffic is carried on the avenue.
Ms. Miller described the work of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC), established by federal law in 1972; its mission was to plan and oversee redevelopment of the avenue, and to operate, maintain, and program the street. PADC’s redevelopment plan from 1974 remains in effect, and it is nearly half a century old. Upon the dissolution of PADC in the 1990s, its authorities were distributed to several local and federal agencies that share responsibility for development, operations, and maintenance of the area; the result is a very complex regulatory and jurisdictional structure. While each agency is trying to fulfill its assigned role, no single entity has been advocating broadly for the avenue in recent decades; she said that NCPC is attempting to fill this need with the current initiative, in cooperation with the executive committee of related agencies.
Ms. Miller presented an overlay of the PADC boundaries and the slightly different boundaries of the current initiative, which extends 1.2 miles and includes twelve city blocks and approximately forty acres of public space. The varied development pattern and land use mix is generally divided by the avenue: federal and cultural uses are to the south, and private-sector uses are to the north.
Ms. Miller described the avenue’s infrastructure as physically declining after years of deferred maintenance. She said that traffic levels have declined due to the security-related closure of the through streets north and south of the White House in the mid-1990s, which severed the avenue’s connections for crosstown movement; the said that NCPC doesn’t expect these streets to reopen in the foreseeable future. The avenue nonetheless continues to have eight vehicular travel lanes that carry few cars, and she described the street-level activity as minimal, even before the reduction in downtown workers and tourists due to the current pandemic. Based on several assessment studies of the avenue’s condition, NCPC concluded that the space should be reallocated with fewer travel lanes, and it should be designed to better support retail uses and the economic revival of the downtown area. She noted a study from 2020 in cooperation with the Urban Land Institute that considered how the city could recover from the impacts of the pandemic; the report focused on the importance of using public space to revitalize downtown, with an emphasis on public space, placemaking, design, and civic infrastructure, all of which align well with the goals of the Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative.
Ms. Miller said that NCPC sought further input from six experts in land development and economics, who urged NCPC to consider what the avenue is and is not. They described it as more than a beautiful street, suggesting that its attributes should be embraced rather than attempting to completely reinvent it. They recommended treating it as a “curated corridor,” designed with a priority on people, and symbolically elevated to serve as a national stage. The more detailed recommendations included:
- Enhance programming and add flexible infrastructure to support nationally significant events.
- Emphasize the avenue’s best attributes, such as the vista to the U.S. Capitol, in order to enhance the public realm.
- Strengthen the open space network by improving connectivity among the public spaces and relating them to the adjoining buildings.
She summarized the advice of the experts as celebrating the avenue’s civic role, creating an inspiring public realm, and modernizing the infrastructure in order to make this a great street and an iconic destination.
Ms. Miller said that NCPC’s resulting approach is to re-envision the street as both “a venue” and “an avenue.” Pennsylvania Avenue would become a special venue for spectacular events, and a place where all are welcome, uplifted, and inspired. The programming would be improved to showcase the best of American art, culture, and entertainment, bringing more people together to celebrate our past, aspire to our future, and expand our imagination. The avenue could become the location for some events that have previously taken place on the National Mall, such as special commemorative concerts, helping to relieve the pressure for overusing the Mall. The avenue could also offer comfortable open spaces for everyday enjoyment, throughout the day and evening, attracting people to return to the downtown area; she said that this has become increasingly important as people transition to working from home and need a reason to get out and engage with people.
Ms. Miller said that the emphasis on people would include reallocation of space within the avenue’s right-of-way, with less space devoted to cars and more space for pedestrians, bicycles, and transit. The intention is to continue the avenue’s long tradition of hosting special occasions of social, cultural, and political importance, including protests and mourning as well as celebration; she observed that the avenue’s special characteristics make it ideal for these purposes, unlike any other location in the city or nation. She described the avenue’s character and urban form as unsurpassed, with an iconic vista, monumental scale, generous paved areas, and a sequence of public spaces that provide varied settings for activities at a wide range of scales. The avenue is inherently a symbolic place, with a unique location near both downtown and the Mall, and it has excellent transit access as well as a low volume of traffic. Due to the predominance of office uses, the area tends to be least populated during the times when special events would typically be scheduled; local businesses and cultural venues would therefore benefit greatly from the visitors to these events. Prior to the pandemic, the avenue has typically hosted approximately 150 events per year; she said this could be increased substantially with additional programming that attracts audiences from the local area and beyond. The result would be increased tourism, economic activity, and visibility at the national and international level. She said expanded programming could extend to eighteen hours daily throughout the year, providing more opportunities for people to make use of the avenue, including local events and everyday use.
Ms. Miller said the current pandemic has demonstrated the importance of providing high-quality outdoor public space as part of our civic infrastructure, and the vision for the avenue is directly aligned with the D.C. Government’s effort to attract people back to the downtown area. The agencies involved in the initiative are viewing redevelopment strategies for the avenue as civic investments that can drive economic revitalization, comparable to investing in waterfront development or a new convention center. As the future workplace is being reconsidered, the avenue could be the setting for conversions of office buildings to residential use, potentially affecting how the avenue is used and how public space can support economic recovery.
Ms. Miller said that three concepts have been prepared to explore different ways to realign circulation, reconfigure public space, and balance event programming with the street’s daily use. These concepts are intended to inspire consideration of new possibilities for the avenue, and the components within each concept could potentially be combined with the components of other concepts. She introduced Ms. Schierhold to present the concepts.
Ms. Schierhold said that each of the three concepts includes ideas for enhancing the physical space, engaging visitors, supporting events, achieving sustainability goals, and prioritizing pedestrians; each concept would support the broader vision of providing both an avenue and a venue. The first concept, “Urban Capital,” emphasizes a “complete street” with amenities and services to support the everyday users and tourists. The second concept is “Linear Green,” which prioritizes transit, bicycle use, and pedestrians, with linked green spaces providing a unique destination for outdoor gatherings and a connection to nature. The third concept is “Civic Stage,” which centers pedestrians within a large promenade and provides iconic venues for a range of national and international events within flexible public spaces.
Ms. Schierhold said the concepts make use of an earlier finding that approximately twenty feet of the existing roadway width—equivalent to two travel lanes—could be reallocated to non-car uses without affecting the level of service for traffic circulation. She presented street sections illustrating how each of the concepts would reallocate this excess width, in comparison to the existing condition. The Urban Capital concept would widen the sidewalk on each side, while providing designated lanes for transit and bicyclists near the curbs. The Linear Green concept would eliminate car traffic, providing transit and bicycle lanes in the center within a curbless pedestrian park that encompasses the sidewalk areas. The Civic Stage concept would create a pedestrian promenade at the center of the avenue, flanked by lanes for bicyclists, general traffic, and transit.
Ms. Schierhold presented ground-level and aerial perspectives to illustrate the features and character of each concept. The expanded sidewalks of the Urban Capital concept would provide room for unique and varied pedestrian areas, accommodating activities and mobile commerce. The Linear Green concept would provide pedestrian paths weaving through the linear park landscape, creating informal areas for seating and recreation. The Civic Stage concept would emphasize the dramatic view of the U.S. Capitol from the central promenade extending along the length of the avenue. She noted that each concept would provide sufficient clear space at the center of the avenue to accommodate the inaugural parade, which is one of the avenue’s premier events.
Ms. Schierhold indicated three major areas of plazas and parks along the avenue, framed by the surrounding buildings, that could serve as spaces or stages for civic activity; the cohesive streetscape of the avenue would serve to link this sequence of urban rooms. She described the unique character of each area, along with its treatment with each of the concepts. The first area, the western end, includes Freedom Plaza and adjacent areas. For all three concepts, Freedom Plaza would be rebuilt as a curbless street-level area to allow for a large, continuous event space extending to the face of the surrounding buildings, such as the National Theater on the north and the D.C. Government’s Wilson Building on the south; larger events could also extend into other adjacent areas, with temporary rerouting of traffic if needed. The Urban Capital concept would recreate the avenue’s diagonal alignment through this space, resulting in triangular plaza areas to the north and south. The Linear Green concept would locate transit and bike lanes along the south edge, resulting in a large park on the north extending to the National Theater, initiating a landscape sequence that would extend to the U.S. Capitol. The Civic Stage concept would place the transportation lanes on the north, providing a gracious plaza on the south abutting the Wilson Building; this concept also includes a more prominent entrance space in front of the White House visitor’s center to the southwest.
The second major space along the avenue is Market Square, located in the center of the neighborhood; this space is centered on the 8th Street axis, extending to the Smithsonian’s Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum on the north and to the National Archives on the south. The avenue and nearby streets could be temporarily closed to traffic as needed to create a larger event space, and Indiana Avenue could also be used as a unique setting for passive recreation. Ms. Schierhold presented renderings of how this space could be used for a multi-day food festival or community celebration, with views to key buildings in multiple directions; it could also be used at night for film showings or other activities. She illustrated the features of each concept in the context of everyday use. The Urban Capital concept would provide a mid-block pedestrian crossing on the 8th Street axis, improving the pedestrian experience. The Linear Green concept would reroute traffic to provide a permanent urban park space for this block. The Civic Stage concept would combine an expanded pedestrian crossing with the central promenade to create a new central square.
Ms. Schierhold presented the third major space, the eastern end at the convergence of Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues and Fourth Street, which includes several small parks as well as John Marshall Park to the north. She indicated the rendering of this area accommodating the downtown holiday market, enlarged to become a winter festival that includes winter sports. The street configuration could be revised to permanently close 4th Street, straightening the alignment of Constitution Avenue or tunneling it beneath Pennsylvania Avenue for improved traffic flow. These configurations could provide major focal spaces for programming; larger events could extend westward along Pennsylvania Avenue and possibly also along Constitution Avenue. She said that the illustrations convey how this area could work for special events as well as everyday life. The Urban Capital concept would retain the existing intersection alignment but would reallocate space to provide a more generous pedestrian crossing at 4th Street, improving the area’s walkability and the connection between the Mall and downtown. The Linear Green concept would straighten the alignment of Constitution Avenue to improve pedestrian connections, and 4th Street would be closed to create a more cohesive and active park space between the two buildings of the National Gallery of Art. The Civic Stage concept includes the bold move of tunneling Constitution Avenue below Pennsylvania Avenue while also closing 4th Street, resulting in a cohesive pedestrian space.
Ms. Schierhold presented renderings of potential treatments for the avenue east of 3rd Street; she noted that this area is part of the U.S. Capitol Grounds, and therefore not within this study’s boundaries, but the avenue’s transition to the Capitol is an important consideration. Each of the concepts envisions a new arrival experience and a reduction in the amount of parking in this area, which is currently configured as angled parking in the center of the avenue. The Urban Capital concept would convert the center to a landscaped median, while some parking would remain along the curbs. The Linear Green concept, which emphasizes a car-free vision, would eliminate all parking from the avenue, transforming it into a garden gateway with a high-performance landscape. The Civic Stage option would extend the avenue’s central promenade to the Peace Monument at First Street, creating a more ceremonial entrance to the U.S. Capitol Grounds; some parking would remain along the curbs.
Ms. Schierhold presented a summary diagram of the entire study area, illustrating how the “urban rooms” along its length could accommodate a range of small to large events. The spaces could potentially be combined using the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor to create a mile-long event venue, which may be suitable for a large event of longer duration such as the Folklife Festival or a seasonal market. She said that the illustrated perspective view shows how the central promenade in the Civic Stage concept could accommodate festival structures, with the flanking travel lanes either remaining open or providing space for additional programming. She emphasized that locating such large-scale events along Pennsylvania Avenue could relieve some of the pressure for holding events on the Mall.
Ms. Schierhold summarized that the three concepts contain many ideas, ranging from modest to ambitious, that would help achieve the vision for the avenue. She said that the concepts are intended to provide inspiration, and specific ideas could be combined from any of the concepts.
Ms. Miller presented an overview of the next steps for the project. The consensus of the participating government agencies is that the 1974 plan from PADC should be updated to provide guidance for the next fifty years. The updated plan would contribute to the avenue’s revitalization, addressing infrastructure and public space improvements. The update would also consider establishing a new governance structure and simplifying the complex regulatory framework. An implementation plan would be developed, with proposals for phasing and funding; she emphasized that a project of this scope can take time, money, and political will.
Ms. Miller said that discussions are already underway on how agencies can begin to undertake near- and mid-term improvements that can show quick results for a modest investment; upcoming milestones include the next inaugural parade in 2025 and the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026, providing an incentive to begin planning immediately. Near-term pilot projects could test some of the ideas from today’s presentation, helping to determine what is workable and worth a long-term investment. Mid-term projects could include providing event-related infrastructure improvements, such as hookups for power, water, and telecommunications; security improvements could also be considered in the blocks to the north and south to better support future events. She noted the ongoing effort of EventsDC to bring large events to Washington, which would be helped by such infrastructure improvements; government-related protests and other gatherings would also benefit from this infrastructure.
Ms. Miller said that the public input during the next four months will help in refining the concepts into a long-term plan, in conjunction with continuing guidance from the project’s executive committee. She observed that the linear configuration of the corridor lends itself to phasing opportunities, allowing for any of the public spaces or avenue segments to be revitalized or reconfigured in response to emerging priorities and needs. She said that an ongoing concern will be finding the right balance between special events and daily use, while maintaining the avenue’s historic character.
Vice Chair Edwards invited questions and comments from the Commission members, noting that no action will be needed for this information presentation. Mr. Stroik expressed appreciation for the fascinating presentation, commenting that the grouping of the ideas into three concepts is an interesting and informative technique; he said that each option appears to have positive attributes. Noting the special focus of the Commission of Fine Arts on considering Washington as the national capital, he observed that the Mall is the great public space for the city and the nation, and the Mall is generally understood as the venue for the various events discussed in the presentation. From his own childhood in the Washington area, he recalled that events would typically be held on the Mall, and attendees would be aware of the nearby presence of Pennsylvania Avenue. He questioned whether the NCPC study is attempting to turn the avenue into another Mall, attracting too many events that might better be sited within the Mall’s existing spectacular public space. He expressed concern that the project would involve extensive change and great expense to achieve the unnecessary relocation of these events. He said the presented ideas for the avenue would be a great contribution if the city didn’t have the Mall nearby, and he described the issue as a tension between Pennsylvania Avenue and the Mall. He summarized that Pennsylvania Avenue seems appropriate for the inaugural parade and protests, while the Mall seems to be already functioning well as the site for most other events.
Ms. Miller acknowledged the importance of this issue, and she said this project envisions the Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue as being complementary. Over time, the pressure for holding events on the Mall has been detrimental to its quality; she noted the large federal investment in recent years to refurbish the Mall, including its lawn panels. She said that the National Park Service is seeking off-the-Mall locations for many events, particularly those of long duration and large footprint that significantly limit how the Mall can be used. Updated regulations for the refurbished lawn panels are limiting events to a maximum of three days for occupying a single location; she said that this limitation is workable for many events, but other events need lengthy periods for setup and dismantling, such as the annual Folklife Festival that occupies the Mall for several weeks.
Ms. Miller said that Pennsylvania Avenue would serve as a “hardscape version” of the Mall, helping to protect the Mall by accommodating the more intensive activities. She said that the avenue is large enough to accommodate nationally significant events while continuing to accommodate local and regional events of varying size, which have typically totaled 150 per year prior to the pandemic; the avenue could even accommodate occasional events that are extremely large, perhaps attracting hundreds of thousands of people, which would generate additional tourism revenue for the local economy.
Ms. Miller said that in November 2021, EventsDC arranged an Asian “Night Market” on the avenue, serving as a test case for a regionally scaled event as the pandemic restrictions were easing. The event was very successful—attended by more than 50,000 people, which was more than double the expected number—and this success revealed some major challenges, such as the difficulty of accommodating this type of event within the existing configuration of the avenue’s eastern end. She summarized the continuing effort to learn how special events could best be sited on the Mall or along Pennsylvania Avenue, allowing these locations to support and complement each other.
Mr. R.M. Cook observed that the presented renderings depict some sort of grandstand seating in front of the National Archives building’s north facade; he expressed concern about the potential permanence of a reviewing stand in front of the National Archives building. He said that the reviewing stand from President Carter’s inauguration was relocated to Atlanta’s Piedmont Park to serve as a bandstand; the installation was supposed to be temporary, but it remained for years. He asked about the expected duration of a structure placed in front of the National Archives facade; Ms. Miller said it would likely be present for a weekend only. Ms. Schierhold added that the duration could be longer for major events such as the inaugural parade, when viewing areas are typically erected a month in advance of the event.
Ms. Schierhold said that the renderings are intended to convey an ephemeral quality, providing inspiration for what the space could be; later phases would address such decisions as which features are permanent or temporary. The drawings are intended to depict imaginative, inspirational ideas; the depiction of this area recognizes that event spaces may benefit from temporary viewing areas, providing different ways to experience the avenue. She said that the avenue does not provide many opportunities for the public to experience different vantage points, and the rooftops generally do not have public access. She said that the depiction is not intended to convey a specific proposal, but it suggests the idea of an engaging element that could enhance people’s experience during a special event. She added that an important feature of the avenue is the beautifully framed views, including those to the U.S. Capitol and along the 8th Street axis; the depicted special feature would encourage people to appreciate the view along 8th Street.
Mr. R.M. Cook asked if the ideas for the western end of the avenue would involve changes to Pershing Park and the recently completed World War I Memorial within it. Ms. Schierhold responded that modifications to the park are not intended; the presented concepts provide options for accommodating traffic around the park, possibly rerouting the predominant flow to the north side. Mr. Cook commented that Freedom Plaza has never been fully successful, and he observed that the presented concepts would add extensive plantings. Noting his past work with Sen. Patrick Moynihan, who had been involved in the planning for redevelopment of the avenue, he recalled that the senator wanted this area to become one of the great city squares of the world. He cautioned against relying on extensive plantings for establishing the character of the avenue, particularly in relation to the landscape character of the Mall as already discussed.
Mr. R.M. Cook commented that the idea for a central promenade seems very unusual, perhaps with some precedent in Havana; he asked what NCPC has learned from studying other great avenues of the world. Ms. Schierhold responded that Berlin’s Unter den Linden has some similarities, including a generous promenade, although the surrounding context is different; Mr. Cook agreed that this is a successful example. He asked for clarification of a feature illustrated on the Ellipse, south of the White House. Ms. Miller and Ms. Schierhold responded that the Ellipse is not within the study area, and no changes are intended; she said that this could be an existing sidewalk remnant that was incorporated into the base drawing by the computer graphics software.
Mr. R.M. Cook summarized his strong support for the idea of focusing on three areas of outdoor plazas or rooms along the avenue, provided that they are treated in a more urban manner rather than having a garden character. He suggested emulating the avenues of other major capital cities, which emphasize keeping vistas as open as possible. He noted that the view from the avenue to the White House was blocked by the siting of the Treasury Department building during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, and he cautioned against creating new interruptions to the avenue’s important views. Ms. Miller reiterated that the project’s intent is to emphasize the avenue’s central vista as a primary feature, and any interruptions depicted in the renderings would be temporary, such as shade structures for a weekend event. She acknowledged the need to communicate this intent clearly and to execute the future proposals carefully.
Mr. McCrery commented that the study appears to offer three distinct options for the design approach, and one of them needs to emerge as the recommended solution. He agreed that the 1990s closure of Pennsylvania Avenue north of the White House, as well as E Street south of the White House, had a profound impact on the city’s traffic patterns, providing an important lesson about urbanism and urban design. The result, as noted in the presentation, was a significant reduction in the traffic volume along Pennsylvania Avenue; he observed that pedestrian traffic is also low, resulting in the character of a “ghost street.” He questioned the intent in the presented concepts to dedicate perhaps half of the avenue’s travel lanes to public transit; while emphasizing his support for transit, he commented that Metrorail is the most notable part of Washington’s transit system, and the volume of bus transit on the avenue is not large. He described the presented vision for dedicated transit lanes as unreasonable, and he suggested making more of the roadway available for the general public.
Ms. Miller responded that this area’s bus lines are among the most used in the city, providing connections to many neighborhoods; she described this as a surprising finding of the project’s research. While acknowledging that downtown transit ridership may change as our office culture shifts to telework, she said that the Linear Green concept is intended to illustrate an extreme approach to acknowledging the importance of this area’s bus transit by removing all other traffic from the avenue. She said that this topic will need closer to study to find the right balance of transportation modes for the future. Mr. McCrery agreed that bus transit is important in this area, but he continued to question whether dedicated transit lanes are necessary to accommodate the volume of bus traffic.
Mr. McCrery observed that the concepts for the eastern end of Pennsylvania Avenue include closing either Pennsylvania Avenue or Constitution Avenue to surface traffic. He noted that one effect of the street closures near the White House has been to shift more crosstown traffic to Constitution Avenue, including traffic from Capitol Hill and even the Maryland suburbs to the east; this may be the reason why Constitution Avenue would be tunneled for the concept showing its at-grade closure. He said that the length of the tunnel’s interruption within the urban fabric, including the approaches at each end, would be significant and problematic, as seen with the tunneling of Connecticut Avenue below Dupont Circle. He urged careful study of the impacts of this proposal, characterizing the effect of a Constitution Avenue tunnel as catastrophic; he cited the impacts on the National Gallery of Art, the Department of Labor, and further east toward Capitol Hill, where the slope of the tunnel’s ramp would exacerbate the existing steep slope of the hill. Ms. Miller acknowledged the complexity of designing a tunnel in this area, noting the presence of the below-grade interstate highway immediately to the east.
Mr. McCrery commented that streets are useful for many purposes beyond automobile traffic, and streets obviously predate automobiles; he noted that separation of street uses appeared in ancient Rome, with cart paths that are distinct from pedestrian zones. He recalled that American cities experimented with closing major streets to traffic in the 1970s and into the 1980s; the correct conclusion was that these closures generally were not successful. He discouraged attempting to reinvent the idea of the street, based on the ample evidence of failed experiments; he advised against permanently closing the avenue or restricting it to transit use. However, he said he supports the idea of temporary closures, observing that they have been used successfully for the avenue; the details, such as the duration of temporary closures, would need to be addressed.
Mr. McCrery expressed support for the intent to reduce overprogramming of the Mall by shifting events to Pennsylvania Avenue. He urged greater awareness by the public and within the planning and design professions that the Mall should be understood as a hallowed place, not simply a casual backyard for the nation’s barbecues and softball games. He said that moving the Folklife Festival from the Mall to Pennsylvania Avenue would result in a much richer experience. However, he observed that the avenue is also hallowed, serving as the great connector that demonstrates the interrelatedness and separation of the branches of American government; the avenue should therefore be treated with a degree of soberness and seriousness, while also being a public park. He encouraged stronger programming to better use the three major open areas discussed in the presentation, commenting that a commemorative space such as the Navy Memorial plaza is not an appropriate place for skateboarding, nor for the casual uses that are apparently depicted in the renderings, such as hot dog stands. He also agreed with Mr. R.M. Cook in expressing concern about treating the plaza on the north side of the National Archives as a playground; instead of the pervasive activation of open space conveyed in the presentation, he suggested that this project’s renderings depict a wider range of programming that conveys the idea of the avenue having some serious, contemplative areas as well as areas that could be activated with a more playful character.
Mr. McCrery concluded by emphasizing his appreciation for the energetic study with many good ideas. He said that the presentation approach of developing several options, which he does for his own clients, typically leads to a new solution that is not among any of the options presented; he characterized his comments as helping to advance this project in a similar manner.
Mr. Moore expressed appreciation for the presentation, acknowledging that the work is challenging; he said that New York City has been working for many years on planning for the series of special places along Broadway. He suggested further consideration of the changing use of buildings in the study area, a topic that was briefly mentioned in the presentation. He said that changing uses can present new challenges, particularly with the increased presence of residential or mixed-use buildings. Potential issues could include the need for delivery trucks to reach these buildings, which may constrain the establishment of a security perimeter for special events. He suggested that these infrastructure-related issues be considered at an early stage of the planning process; for example, instead of spending money on tunneling Constitution Avenue to create a surface plaza, the funds may better be invested in developing an area-wide security treatment that is as humane and open as possible in order to enhance people’s experience along the entire corridor. He noted that this has been an important consideration in New York’s planning work. Another topic to consider is deliveries and staging for vendors; he said this project provides an opportunity to resolve such issues for the entire study area.
Mr. Moore asked about the intended governance for the corridor, including management of the programming as well as general maintenance and operations; he said that one entity could control all of these factors, or different jurisdictions could address different issues. Ms. Miller said that a single governing entity is envisioned, serving as a steward for the avenue; the composition of this entity is still being explored. She said that the intent is to simplify the existing complex system, while acknowledging the importance of the avenue at both the local and national level. She noted that PADC’s governance had emphasized local agencies, with some federal and private-sector representation. She also emphasized the importance of the funding source in determining the governance structure. Mr. Moore said that a related issue is allocating responsibility for long-term maintenance of the area; the ongoing quality of the space, including the plantings, would be an important concern.
Mr. Moore asked if implementation of the planning is envisioned as a public-sector capital project or if components would be developed by private entities, pursuant to guidelines or regulations. Ms. Miller said that the answer is not definitive, but the likely mechanism would be some type of public investment. She observed that most of the land in the study area is under public ownership, at either the federal or local level. She recalled that PADC was able to fund improvements in a phased manner with revenue from selling or leasing development parcels, but the underlying source of funds was public money.
Mr. Moore commented that the public spaces envisioned for the avenue may attract pressure for the siting of commemorative works in this area between the U.S. Capitol and the White House. A clear approach, developed at an early stage, would be needed for decisions about potential commemorative sites as the open spaces are redesigned, perhaps involving the area’s governing entity; he cautioned against the outcome of allowing a memorial to be placed in every new open space along the avenue. Similarly, a process will be needed to determine which temporary commemoration sites or events would be authorized, with the goal of equitably distributing and managing these activities. He added that the area’s capacity for different types of events would be constrained by the configuration and potential combination of the different spaces, and the design of the area should allow for simultaneous activities to occur. He said that some of these considerations involve the management and timing of events rather than the area’s physical form. Ms. Miller agreed that the vision involves many layers that will need careful thought by many people.
Mr. P. Cook said the presentation has established a good groundwork for the project, which will continue to evolve, and the comments provided have been very helpful. He suggested more careful consideration of how to balance the avenue’s daily use and the special event programming, an issue that was identified in the presentation. He recalled the observation that the avenue has been struggling, even with a recent history of 150 events annually, and he questioned whether holding more festivals is the right solution, notwithstanding the compelling images that were presented. He suggested that future presentations convey a better sense of the avenue’s character during daily use, when festivals are not occurring.
Ms. Miller responded that ongoing studies are addressing this issue; for example, the Downtown Business Improvement District is preparing a public space master plan that will consider day-to-day use of open space. The outcome may be pilot projects for programming on Freedom Plaza that could test the opportunities for daily activities. She said the challenge for this area is that it has primarily an office population during the weekdays, and it can also be a tourist destination for a special event; however, the area lacks the density and intensity to support an active character on its own, and curation is needed for the day-to-day character as well as for special events. She acknowledged that the project may need to address potential conflicts in designing spaces that can accommodate the larger events and also function on a daily basis. She said the solution may require being very strategic in determining which areas are best used for events and which areas should be designed with an emphasis on daily use. Mr. P. Cook agreed, while observing that the presented images appear to disproportionately depict the avenue being used for special events, while the majority of days will not have festivals on the avenue. He reiterated his support for the presentation as a great start, and he encouraged further work on the initiative.
Dr. Edwards said that she was recently driving through the study area and was amazed at how harsh the avenue’s streetscape has become; having spent much of her life in Washington, she recalled that this area had been a much more active corridor. She said that the presented ideas will help to bring back this past level of activity after the current pandemic ends and tourists return. She expressed support for the intent to reactivate the corridor and bring people back to this very important part of the city, and she agreed on the importance of drawing some activity off of the Mall.
Dr. Edwards asked if the study has included exploration of how existing buildings, particularly their street-level spaces, could become part of the streetscape activation. She suggested the potential relationship to street-level restaurants and the opportunity for viewing areas on upper floors. Ms. Miller responded that these topics were analyzed early in the process and will be considered further as the project moves forward, including engagement with the private property owners. She said that PADC had envisioned street-level retail space and many cafes, but the result over time has been an emphasis on large, elegant lobby spaces. One opportunity under discussion is working with the building owners to activate these lobbies, perhaps using the spaces for lectures or art exhibits; she said that this could be promoted in the future by the governing entity or steward for the corridor.
Ms. Miller added that the south side of the avenue is more challenging, with beautiful federal buildings that tend to have long, repetitive facades. The solution at these buildings may be to introduce activities using temporary, mobile facilities or kiosks, which would need to have a design elegance commensurate with the character of the avenue. Aside from any physical constraints, she said part of the challenge is the land uses, which are largely well established, other than some potential conversions of office buildings or changes in the density of occupancy. She said that discussions with the local government could address land-use issues, although any significant change would be questionable. She noted that one opportunity for a change in use has recently been revived, with an announcement of the federal administration’s request for renewed consideration of relocating the FBI headquarters; redevelopment of its site could be a major factor in activating the central part of the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor. Mr. McCrery observed that the relocation would likely result in demolition of the existing FBI headquarters. He recommended that NCPC anticipate this change and develop programming ideas for the lowest floors of the new development on this site, with a goal of avoiding the creation of a large, empty lobby. He noted that Mies van der Rohe created such a lobby on New York’s Park Avenue with great beauty, but the many imitations by others have not been successful. He noted that the best of Washington’s earlier commercial buildings had small lobbies, such as the Evening Star Building at Pennsylvania Avenue and 11th Street. Similarly for the FBI site, he said that the goal should be a small lobby that brings people to the elevators, while the rest of the ground floor would be used for retail space or whatever other programming is imagined by NCPC. He suggested that NCPC should find a way to impose such requirements on the redevelopment; Ms. Miller said that this might be achieved in partnership with the local government.
Mr. Stroik observed that the facades of the two Market Square buildings do not parallel Pennsylvania Avenue; he asked if consideration was ever given to developing these sites with buildings that would come closer to the avenue. Secretary Luebke recalled that the footprints of the existing Market Square buildings were established in the PADC planning process; the intention was to create a symmetrical frame for the National Archives and to accommodate the alignment of Indiana Avenue to the east. The buildings create a figural space within the city, augmenting the historical planning for the area. Ms. Miller indicated an illustration from PADC’s 1974 plan; Mr. Luebke said this was an early concept by architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, within the context of area-wide planning by SOM, and some of these principles were incorporated into the eventual development of Market Square.
Mr. Stroik said he agrees with the comments and cautions raised by the other Commission members. He recalled that Chicago’s traditional shopping street, State Street, was closed to general traffic in 1979, with only buses allowed. The result was unfortunate, and people felt uncomfortable within the large space of the street; Chicago ended up spending additional money in 1993 to reconstruct and reopen the street. He therefore discouraged the Linear Green concept of limiting Pennsylvania Avenue’s traffic to only buses. He suggested studying the Chicago example and not repeating the problem in Washington.
Mr. Stroik also expressed concern about excluding parking along Pennsylvania Avenue. While acknowledging that much of the avenue does not currently have curb parking, he suggested that adding this parking might be helpful. He said that urban design studies by himself and others have shown the potential benefits of parking, such as helping to make walking safer, providing a buffer to the travel lanes, and creating convenient access for people visiting the area. He said that parallel parking along the avenue would therefore be worthwhile to consider.
Mr. Stroik suggested further discussion of the potential for creating a plaza on the north side of the National Gallery of Art’s West Building. He said this location is an interesting space that is not currently well defined; it includes a triangular park with the Mellon Fountain. He compared the potential for this area with Dupont Circle, which he described as Washington’s best urban space aside from the Mall. He observed that the pedestrian-friendly character of Dupont Circle was achieved by tunneling Connecticut Avenue, which he described as a compromise for accommodating traffic flow while allowing for a desirable surface condition. He said that this favorable view is shared by others, and he asked if Mr. McCrery is opposed to such tunneling.
Mr. McCrery agreed that Dupont Circle is one of the nation’s great urban spaces, but its greatness comes at the expense of a larger scar in the blocks to the north and south, and he observed that the descending and ascending trenches of Connecticut Avenue prevent people from crossing the avenue in some blocks. He said that even if this result is acceptable at Dupont Circle, it would be problematic at the National Gallery of Art; for example, a ramped ditch would extend along the north facade of the museum’s West Building; Mr. Stroik agreed. Mr. McCrery added that the uphill exit from the tunnel at the east end would be combined with the ascent of Capitol Hill, and the treatment of ramping in this area may generally be problematic for the Architect of the Capitol. He emphasized that streets work well with vehicles and parking, and he urged that the streets be left open.
Mr. McCrery observed that the existing roadway configuration at Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues includes odd curves that give primacy to Pennsylvania Avenue, combining the traffic of the two avenues for a short distance while introducing a contorted sequence of stoplights and left turns. He said that the resulting delays at stoplights seem unnecessary with the low traffic volume in this area. He recommended a more comprehensive examination of the traffic engineering and roadway alignments at this location, suggesting a more straightforward configuration with straightened roads. Secretary Luebke said the unusual configuration of the convergence of these avenues seems counterintuitive as more traffic has shifted to Constitution Avenue, which provides a direct connection between the Potomac River bridges and Virginia on the west, to Capitol Hill and beyond on the east; this traffic flow has become more important than the traffic movement along Pennsylvania Avenue. He said the original planning intent for the roadway configuration several decades ago was to maintain the primacy of the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor because of its symbolic importance. The current planning needs to address similar issues concerning the balance between traffic flow, views, and establishing the importance of each avenue; the answer may be different now than in past planning, but the issues need to be discussed. He also noted that Constitution Avenue was discontinuous well into the 20th century, being interrupted between First and Fourth Streets, NW.
Vice Chair Edwards expressed her appreciation for the information presentation and the comments of the Commission members. Secretary Luebke said that the comments would be summarized in a response letter to NCPC, with no Commission action needed today. Ms. Miller thanked the Commission for the opportunity to discuss the issues raised by this initiative. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
D. D.C. Department of General Services
CFA 17/ MAR/22-4, Raymond Elementary School, 915 Spring Road, NW. Building modernization and additions. Final. (Previous: CFA 18/NOV/21-6) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.B.2.
E. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Old Georgetown Act
OG 21-281, 3300 Whitehaven Street, NW. New seven-story residential building. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the concept proposal for a new residential building that would replace an existing five-story commercial office building, designed in 1968 by local architect Wendell B. Hallet in an austere Colonial Revival style. To the west of the project site, across an outdoor court that is built on top of a parking garage, is a four-story commercial building at 2001 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, designed in a similar style; this building has the same owner as today’s project and is occupied by the British International School of Washington. He described these two existing buildings as low, quiet anchors of this area at the far north end of the Old Georgetown historic district. The Whitehaven Street building is less visible from Wisconsin Avenue and is adjacent to Dumbarton Oaks Park, a federal park administered by the National Park Service (NPS) as part of Rock Creek Park.
Mr. Luebke said the proposed design for a 300,000-square-foot building breaks down the large volume by creating differentiated treatments with distinct facades, articulation, and character expressed through a range of masonry cladding types. He noted that one of the biggest impacts of the building will be on the federal parkland, which is in generally poor condition. The project has been reviewed four times by the Commission’s Old Georgetown Board (OGB), which recommended approval of this concept design at its meeting earlier in March 2022; the OGB’s report to the Commission includes a recommendation to restudy the base of the building against the park boundary, with questions about the articulation of the penthouse, particularly its northern portion. He noted that the Commission is being asked to either adopt the report of the OGB, or add to or change the OGB’s recommendations. He asked Jonathan Mellon, an architectural historian with the law firm Goulston & Storrs, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Mellon said the redevelopment proposal is presented on behalf of his firm’s client, Grosvenor Americas. He thanked the Commission and the OGB for their close collaboration with the project team, and he noted that the existing building at 3300 Whitehaven Street is a non-contributing building in the Georgetown historic district. He introduced architect Gui Almeida of Hickok Cole and landscape architect Trini Rodriguez of ParkerRodriguez to present the design.
Mr. Almeida illustrated the location of the existing office building at 3300 Whitehaven Street at the northern edge of the Old Georgetown historic district and immediately west of Dumbarton Oaks Park; he indicated the street’s terminus at the western edge of the park. He emphasized the site’s limited visibility from Wisconsin Avenue and said that the spaces surrounding the existing building are uninviting and seldom used. The project site is directly north of the Safeway supermarket on Wisconsin Avenue, abutting the side of the supermarket building and its two-story parking garage that adjoins Dumbarton Oaks Park; the blank wall of the supermarket forms a backdrop at the rear of the existing plaza between the project site and the British International School. He said the project team has engaged with stakeholders, including the NPS, the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy, and the British International School, and has presented the proposal to the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission as well as to the OGB.
Mr. Almeida compared the designs of the existing and proposed buildings for the site. The new residential building would maintain the same height as the site’s existing structure, but the footprint and massing would be reconfigured to accommodate the shallower building depth required for residential use. To the west of the new building, he indicated the proposed reconfiguration of the entrance plaza that serves the British International School, with the existing circular driveway being relocated to the south, farther from the street; this change would increase the visibility and accessibility of the proposed landscaped plaza at the entrance to the residential building. The large building mass would be stepped down toward Whitehaven Street to the north and toward the park to the east, reducing the building’s visual impact. The massing would extend east and south around an area now occupied by a service driveway adjacent to the supermarket’s property line.
Mr. Almeida said that in response to the initial feedback from the OGB and its staff, the project team carefully analyzed how the site fits within the context of the historic district, studying its development over time. They compared the footprint, massing, and scale of the proposed building to other large buildings in the historic district, assessing how it would fit into the existing fabric, and they determined that the depth and shape of the new footprint is similar to other structures in the Old Georgetown historic district.
Mr. Almeida presented diagrammatic massing studies, indicating how the existing office building’s deep floor plate would be carved away, with this area redistributed across the site to provide a shallower depth for the floor plate of the new residential building. The result is a complex new massing, particularly on the east, where the new building would step down four times along the park edge to meet the lower height of the adjacent supermarket parking garage. At the northern end of the park frontage would be a five-story building block, perceived as six stories from the park because the sloping grade would reveal the basement level; this height would be comparable to the Glover House apartment building located to the north across Whitehaven Street. A series of stone-clad walls would be built along the boundary with the park as a base for the new building, intended to reduce the perceived overall height of the building as it faces the park. In addition, the rough masonry detailing on the side facing the park serves to blur the demarcation between park and building, one of several design gestures to merge the park landscape with the building site.
Mr. Almeida described more broadly the articulation of the new building as a composition of four connected building masses—designated as Massings A, B, C, and D—intended to break down the building’s size and improve its compatibility with the scale of the historic district. He said Massing A would be the most visible block, fronting Whitehaven Street; Massing B would be the highest, reaching the height of the existing office building and occupying a position in the middle of the site, between park and plaza; Massing C, facing the park, would step down the hillside to meet the supermarket parking garage; and Massing D to the southwest, which he characterized as a “pavilion,” would wrap the blank side wall of the supermarket to provide a new background and more welcoming appearance for the entrance plaza between the residential building and the British International School. He noted that Massings A and B would define the east side of the entrance plaza; additionally, Massings B, C, and D would define a new playground area along the southern edge of the site, for use by the British International School, occupying a deck above the supermarket loading dock driveway.
Mr. Almeida said that a major challenge of this project has been creating a unique identity for each of the four building masses while also making them form a cohesive and complementary whole, united by a common architectural language. This challenge has driven the development of the design as the project has gone through the OGB review process. He said the project team believes this goal has been achieved through the use of common proportions, materials, and details, specifically the selection of an elongated brick and the use of an ashlar stone base, which would be most visible along the park; the use of different brick colors and of unique designs for the cast-stone and brick detailing would help create distinct identities for the four massings.
Mr. Almeida described the articulation of the four massings in more detail. Massing A would use an aesthetic found in the red brick houses of the historic district, reinterpreting the details of various architectural styles to relate to the scale and proportions of Georgetown’s residential fabric. On the east, the stone base of Massing C would be gradually revealed by the sloping hillside along the park. The rough ashlar walls are intended to recall the retaining and foundation walls dating from Georgetown’s early years; the finer grain of the masonry detailing visually bridges the stylistic gap between the more ornate architecture built north of M Street and the utilitarian structures found throughout the historic district. Illustrating a detailed view of Massing C, he indicated the disengagement of the base from the building above, and the regular projection and recession of bays that create interstitial spaces where the park landscape would extend to the building’s base. A steel trellis will also be used to soften the transition between the park landscape, and cast-stone detailing would establish a continuity of articulation with Massings A and B. A composition of recessed and engaged balconies, along with a subtle layering of geometric relief detailing in the metal panels and cast stone in the parapet of Massing A and the spandrel panels of Massing B, would also help relieve the visual impact of the massings along the park edge and tie together the building’s different parts. The design of Massing B’s east facade emphasizes vertical proportions to balance the strong horizontal elements; its balconies project only slightly to minimize their presence on the facade composition while still allowing views of the park. For the west side of Massing B, facing the entrance plaza, the more streamlined articulation suggests some of the larger structures in the historic district. The lighter color palette also suggests late-Modern buildings from the later part of the historic district’s period of significance, which extends to 1950.
Mr. Almeida said that Massing D, the pavilion-like building fronted by a lawn at the rear of the entrance plaza, was inspired by the buildings and open spaces on the campus of Georgetown University; because the British International School may lease space in this building, a collegiate architectural language was deemed appropriate. He noted that Massing D would be set deep within the site and would not be visible from anywhere in the historic district, a situation that allows the freedom to treat it as atypical in its detailing, proportions, scale, and materials; he contrasted its design with the adjacent bays of Massing B. He indicated the concave treatment of the intermediate piers and the plaza facade, intended to enhance the ground-level connection between the entrance plaza to the north and the playground to the east. Wood-tone trellises at ground level would engage the landscape plantings.
Mr. Almeida summarized that either two or three building masses would be visible to people visiting the site, depending on the angle of their approach. He asked Ms. Rodriguez to discuss the landscape design and the project team’s engagement with the NPS and the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy.
Ms. Rodriguez said the landscape design focuses on several areas: the streetscape along Whitehaven Street; the entrance plaza; the new playground space at the site’s south edge; and the boundary with Dumbarton Oaks Park. She said the area along Whitehaven Street is now a random collection of green spaces, which would be enhanced. The entrance plaza, located above an existing parking garage, is being entirely redesigned. Along the plaza’s north side, toward Whitehaven Street, would be a lawn area with a low, mounded topography and places to sit; beyond this would be an arrival court leading to the entrance to the new residential building, creating a more welcoming experience with generous plantings and numerous seating areas for community use when the British School is closed. In front of the Massing D pavilion would be a lawn or play area of artificial turf. The entrance to the new playground would be at the southeast corner of the plaza, to the east of Massing D; a fence in this area, which is not yet designed, would be treated as a soft, porous barrier that would allow an easy flow into the new green space of the playground.
Ms. Rodriguez cited the continuing close collaboration of the project team with the NPS and the friends group associated with the park, the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy, which is closely involved in restoration work in the park. Many of these restoration efforts have focused on this area at the park’s western boundary, which has long had problems with invasive vegetation. She said that the project proposes the creation of universal access between the park and Whitehaven Street via a series of ramps and steps; other joint projects would include stormwater management, removing invasive vegetation, and the possible replanting of trees to restore the successional woodland that formerly grew in this area.
Vice Chair Edwards then opened the discussion for comments by the Commission members. Mr. Moore thanked the project team for the presentation, commenting on the numerous challenges posed by the site. He said that he generally agrees with the recommendations of the OGB, but he asked for clarity on the proposed landscape work along the boundary with the park. While acknowledging the ongoing discussions between the project team, the NPS, and the Conservancy, he suggested consideration of additional plantings within the park to supplement the screen plantings at the base of the proposed building, in order to better mitigate the appearance of the large blank retaining walls facing the park. He emphasized that ongoing maintenance will be of equal importance to the design in ensuring that the edge of the park works in concert with the building, and to make the imposition of this building on the park landscape successful in the long term; he expressed hope that the building owner would help to fund this work. Ms. Rodriquez responded that such solutions are the purpose of the project team’s engagement with the NPS and the conservancy; the primary goals are removing invasive vines from the trees and replanting trees along the edge, which would help soften this boundary between the two properties.
Mr. R.M. Cook said he agrees with Mr. Moore’s concern, commenting that the stone walls at the base of Massing C would be attractive with additional plantings. He described the building design as sensitive and clever, particularly in the way different patterns of brick are used to break up the overall mass, and in how Massing C is stepped down along the park. Noting the generally rectilinear configuration of the design, he observed that some lines are angled on the roof plan of Massing B and at the sides of the entrance plaza’s drop-off area; he asked if these angles are in response to any significant views, such as toward the Washington Monument. Mr. Almeida responded that the higher floors of the new building would provide some views toward the city’s Monumental Core, but the design is not inflected toward any specific alignment or view.
Mr. P. Cook said the design is very skillfully handled, and the new landscape could provide a dramatic entrance to the plaza. He asked about the proposal to use artificial turf for the large play area in front of the pavilion, Massing D, observing that this material would make it an “anticlimactic” experience; he asked for further information about the nearby playground area and fence. Ms. Rodriguez responded that the British International School has a need for more recreational spaces that are contiguous to each other; the school currently uses a few scattered leftover areas around the site as well as a more active playground space at the rear, which would be relocated to the area east of the pavilion building. She said the proposed artificial turf would prevent the play area in front of the pavilion from becoming muddy; she added that the material would not be readily recognizable as artificial turf, and this area would have an edge of natural plantings to soften its geometry. She said the fence will be designed to be visually porous, and it would be interspersed with plantings.
Mr. P. Cook asked for more details about the appearance of the entrance plaza, and whether it is intended for passive or active recreation, potentially with playground equipment in front of the building. Ms. Rodriquez said the goal is to create areas for active play; this is still under discussion with the British International School, which wants a more open play area near the front and an area with playground equipment at the rear. She said the existing play areas are discontinuous and located at different levels; the new design will result in a contiguous, more useable play area, which will also serve as an interactive space for people of all ages.
Mr. Stroik observed that the new building would be quite large; Mr. Almeida said it would have between 275 and 290 residential units. Mr. Stroik commented that this will be a large footprint for the Georgetown historic district, and it is clear why the project team has studied the design so carefully. Acknowledging the difficulty of finding a design solution to break down such a large mass, he observed that the proposal uses a serpentine configuration to organize the mass in smaller blocks, creating a series of volumes that are then further broken up, in part by the use of multiple materials. He said the result is comprehensible as a single building with a variety of treatments in both plan and function, rather than as multiple buildings. He commented that the red-brick volume along Whitehaven Street, Massing A, is the most successful and attractive part of the design, while the rest resembles standard commercial apartment buildings, which he called a less desirable appearance for the Georgetown historic district. He said his greatest concern is the building’s adjacency to Dumbarton Oaks Park, commenting that the view of this massive building from the park would not be an improvement from the viewpoint of the park’s visitors, while acknowledging that the new building’s residents would have a good view of the park. He said too much variety of form and detail is used to break down the massing; although some renowned buildings break down a large program by using a great deal of variety, in this case the approach looks too complicated and somewhat meaningless. He said he would prefer a simplified treatment overall.
Mr. McCrery agreed with Mr. Stroik’s comments. He described the facade design of Massing A along Whitehaven Street as very handsome, and he acknowledged the need to break up the building’s large scale. He said the architecture of the lighter-gray masonry portion of Massing B and the dark gray of the Massing D pavilion is adequate; he added that the pavilion probably shows what the architect would have preferred to design here if not for the requirements imposed by working within the Georgetown historic district. He observed that along the park, the commitment to breaking up the scale is achieved only in the massing, not in the more detailed aesthetics of the design. He described the park frontage as being handsome on the north at Massing A, in red brick; acceptable in the middle for Massing B, serving as a lighter-colored masonry hyphen; but having a nondescript commercial character for the extensive frontage of Massing C. He recommended revising Massing C, especially its series of facades along the park, to have the dignity and quality of design used for the block fronting on Whitehaven Street.
Secretary Luebke noted that the report of the OGB has been distributed to the Commission members. The report recommends a finding of no objection to the demolition of the existing building nor to the concept design for the new building, whose scope, scale, massing, and character are all established; the OBG’s only comments are to recommend further study of the base and the penthouse. He said the Commission could vote to adopt the OGB report or change it, such as by asking for a revision to the character or material of Massing C. After additional review by the OGB, including consideration of any new guidance from the Commission, the project would return to the Commission for further action.
Mr. McCrery commented that the overall massing, arrangement, and siting of the courtyard, building, and park are fine, but Massing C needs a better design. He offered a motion to amend the OGB report to request a revised concept design that modifies the east facade of Massing C based on the design of Massing A. Upon a second by Mr. R.M. Cook, the Commission adopted this amendment to the OGB report. Mr. McCrery then offered a motion to approve the amended report; upon a second by Mr. R.M. Cook, the Commission adopted this action. Secretary Luebke said the staff will transmit this guidance in a letter to the applicants and will work with the project team on development of the design.
Vice Chair Edwards thanked the Commission members for their valuable comments on the projects presented. There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 1:21 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA