The meeting was convened by videoconference at 9:05 a.m.
Hon. Hazel Ruth Edwards, Vice Chair
Hon. Peter Cook
Hon. Lisa Delplace
Hon. James McCrery
Hon. Justin Garrett Moore
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
(Due to the absence of Chair Billie Tsien, Vice Chair Edwards presided at the meeting.)
A. Approval of the minutes of the 21 April meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the April meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. Cook, the Commission approved the minutes.
B. Dates of next meetings. Secretary Luebke presented the dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 16 June, 21 July, and 15 September 2022. He noted that no meeting is scheduled in August.
C. Anniversary of the establishment of the Commission of Fine Arts, 17 May 1910, and the Shipstead-Luce Act, 16 May 1930. Secretary Luebke acknowledged the Commission’s two anniversaries falling in May: the 112th anniversary of the Commission’s establishment, and the 92nd anniversary of the Shipstead-Luce Act. He noted that the Commission’s other legislation for a core area of jurisdiction, the Old Georgetown Act, dates from the fall of 1950, nearly 72 years ago.
D. Report on the approval of objects proposed for acquisition by the Freer Gallery of Art. Secretary Luebke reported Chair Tsien’s approval of the Smithsonian Institution’s proposed acceptance of 26 Chinese textiles donated to the permanent collection of the Freer Gallery of Art. The textiles, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries, include rank badges, cushions, and robes; most are silk, with embroidered motifs including cranes, tigers, and dragons. He noted that the approval of the Commission’s chair is needed in accordance with a codicil to the will of Charles Freer, dating from the early 20th century.
Mr. Luebke said that acceptance of this donation involves an exception to the Smithsonian’s guideline for acquisitions, which may be of concern to the Commission members. The chain of provenance for these textiles cannot be fully documented; however, they appear to be uncontroversial as items of domestic heirloom art that are not associated with any request for restitution of objects having special significance. Mr. Moore expressed appreciation for the Smithsonian’s leadership on questions of acquisition and provenance for its collections. He supported the effort to set policies that go beyond minimum legal requirements, striving for ethical standards and today’s best practices in the Smithsonian's stewardship and collection of important objects that reflect this nation’s cultural heritage, while also considering its responsibility toward a global understanding of cultural heritage and access to important components of our shared legacies. He agreed that the Chinese textiles described in today’s report appear to be uncontroversial, and their acceptance by the Smithsonian seems reasonable. However, he said the Smithsonian’s justification for making an exception to the acquisition policy is unclear, which is especially a concern for a matter of ethics. He said the Smithsonian has the responsibility to provide more information on this issue to the Commission, which has a role in determining what artworks become part of a national collection. He suggested that the Smithsonian describe the criteria for making exceptions or provide case studies of acquisitions that would be allowed or prohibited by the current guideline; the response could include the standard for deciding what types of acquisitions would be given greater scrutiny. He said that this additional information could be helpful for the Commission, which is not in a position to evaluate the cultural significance of these textiles for someone in China. He suggested that the Commission staff consider the appropriate format for a response by the Smithsonian.
Mr. McCrery associated himself with Mr. Moore’s comments, emphasizing that the interest in this topic extends beyond a single Commission member; he joined in requesting more information for the Commission. The other Commission members also expressed agreement with these comments.
Secretary Luebke noted that no vote is needed on the Freer’s currently proposed acquisition, which has already been approved by Chair Tsien. He said that in response to the comments of the Commission members, the staff will follow up with a letter to the Smithsonian requesting further information. He noted that proposed acquisitions by the Freer tend to be submitted two or three times per year, so the Commission will have occasion to consider this issue again in the near future.
E. Commission of Fine Arts participation in U.S. Mint–British Royal Mint collaboration. Secretary Luebke reported that the U.S. Mint is undertaking a joint design effort with the British Royal Mint for development of a coin or medal, with a shared design on one side and each country’s separate design on the other side. He described this collaborative effort as unprecedented, and he said that the U.S. Mint has requested the participation of up to three Commission members in the joint review of the initial designs; representatives of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee of the U.S. Mint would also participate. In the coming weeks, these U.S. officials would select several preferred alternatives from an initial pool of nine designs; the selected alternatives would then be referred to the British Mint for further review. The final design choices would be presented toward the end of the year, involving a joint session of the representatives from the two nations. The design selection would then be submitted to the full Commission for approval.
Mr. Luebke noted the interest of the Commission members in serving on the review panel; he listed them in order of their expression of interest, with the primary representatives being Mr. Moore, Mr. McCrery, and Ms. Delplace, with Mr. Cook to be available as an alternate. Vice Chair Edwards expressed appreciation to these Commission members for volunteering to serve on the review panel, describing it as a fantastic opportunity.
F. Report on the 2022 National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs grant program. Secretary Luebke reported that the applications have been processed and approved for local organizations participating in this year’s program, which provides federal grants to support cultural institutions in Washington. He noted the numerous eligibility requirements that have required verification, such as a minimum operating budget that is calculated with federal funding excluded. The 24 participating institutions were all grant recipients in past years. The Commission has administered the program since the 1980s; funding varies in accordance with each year’s federal appropriations, with $5 million allocated annually in recent years. The amount of each grant varies with the size of the recipient organization; the median grant this year is approximately $187,000, representing approximately 4.5 percent of each organization’s operating income. He added that the transfer of funds will occur soon.
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 the only change to the draft consent calendar is to note the receipt of supplemental materials for one submission; the appendix includes a total of eight projects. Upon a motion by Mr. Cook with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the revised 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 based on further consultation with the applicant (case number SL 22-087). The listing for one case has been changed from a permit review to a concept review, in accordance with the applicant’s intent (SL 22-096). 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. Amos reported that no changes have been made to the draft appendix, which has 23 projects. Upon a motion by Ms. Delplace with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the Old Georgetown Act Appendix. (See agenda items II.D.1 and II.D.2 for additional Old Georgetown Act submissions.)
B. U.S. Department of the Army / Arlington National Cemetery
CFA 19/MAY/22-1, Arlington National Cemetery, President John F. Kennedy Gravesite, Section 45, Intersection of Sheridan and Weeks Drives, Arlington, Virginia. Accessibility improvements to existing memorial. Concept. (Previous: CFA 15/APR/21-a) Secretary Luebke introduced the concept design for accessibility improvements to the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy, which occupies a prominent location in Arlington National Cemetery on the slope just below the historic Arlington House, aligned on an axis with Memorial Avenue and Arlington Memorial Bridge leading to the Lincoln Memorial. Dedicated in 1967, the gravesite was designed by architect John Carl Warnecke with landscape design contributions by Hideo Sasaki, Lawrence Halprin, and Rachel Lambert Mellon. He described the layout of the gravesite: pedestrians enter from Sheridan Drive and ascend curving stone approach walks on either side of a large, sloping circular lawn; the upper ends of these walks open onto a granite-paved overlook terrace. A stairway of eleven low steps leads up from the overlook terrace to the upper gravesite terrace, in the middle of which is a rectangular field of rough stones containing Kennedy’s grave, with the eternal flame behind it. Several decades ago, a ramped flagstone walk was laid to connect the north side of the sloping walk to the grave terrace, bypassing the overlook terrace and the stairways; however, this L-shaped walk, 3.5 feet wide and 135 feet long, never met contemporary accessibility standards. In April 2021, the Commission approved a project to create an accessible route that would replace the flagstone walk; but after closer examination of the site topography, cemetery officials have determined that the intended project would not meet accessibility standards and therefore requires further modifications.
Mr. Luebke said this new submission modifies the 2021 project by proposing a much wider replacement walk with a reduced slope that would meet current accessibility standards. The alignment would be shifted slightly north, and one tree would be relocated to meet the goal of retaining the cemetery’s existing trees. For the paving, the design specifies the same Deer Isle granite used at the existing gravesite; the design also uses the existing material palette including solid granite curbs and bronze handrails. Additional small interventions would address accessibility, including modifications to a ramp, the addition of a ramp landing, and a longer handrail. He noted that modifying the walk to create a larger landing will require the addition of more steps to the curving walk. He introduced two cemetery officials to present the design: Chief Warrant Officer Enrique Rios and Conservator Caitlin Smith, who serves as the cemetery’s cultural resource program manager.
Ms. Smith provided a brief history of the gravesite. She said that the day after President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, a small wooden stake was placed at the cemetery to mark the site for his grave on the eastern slope below Arlington House. President Kennedy was buried at this spot two days later, at which time his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, lit the eternal flame. Soon afterward, Mrs. Kennedy selected architect and family friend John Carl Warnecke [CFA member, 1963–1967] as the designer for the permanent memorial landscape setting for the grave, and Warnecke’s design was publicly unveiled in November 1964. The eternal flame was a prominent feature of the design, and Warnecke said that “this particular hillside, this flame, this man, and this point in history, must be synthesized in one statement that has [a] distinctive character of its own. We must avoid adding elements that, in later decades, might become superficial and detract from the deeds of the man.”
Ms. Smith described the materials for the gravesite construction, which began in July 1965. The white marble for the grave terrace and steps is from Vermont; the granite for the approach walks is from Deer Isle, Maine; the large circular piece of fieldstone that holds the flame is from Cape Cod; and the fieldstone of the rectangular area surrounding the graves had been quarried over 150 years earlier on Cape Cod. The bodies of the president and his two deceased children were reinterred in permanent graves in March 1967, and the memorial was completed in July 1967. When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died in 1994, she was buried beside her first husband.
Ms. Smith described the design of the Kennedy gravesite in more detail. From the intersection of Sheridan and Weeks Drives, a granite ramp and stair lead to the 210-foot-diameter lower lawn encircled by a sloping walk. She noted that the historic Arlington Oak was a prominent feature of this lawn until it was uprooted by a hurricane in 2011; it has been replaced by a tree grown from an acorn of the original tree. The circular walk leads to the oval granite overlook terrace, which provides a broad panoramic view of the National Mall; a low granite wall, inscribed with quotations from President Kennedy’s inaugural address, separates this terrace from the lawn below. From the overlook terrace a flight of marble stairs leads up to the marble grave terrace in front of the Kennedy graves, which are marked by rectangular slabs of slate raised slightly above the rectangular field of rough fieldstone; grass and flowers grow in the joints between the stones, and in the center behind the graves is the eternal flame. A landscape design was provided by Rachel Lambert Mellon, who had worked on other landscape designs for the Kennedys, notably the White House Rose Garden. Flowering trees, including magnolia, cherry, and hawthorn, were planted along the approach walks, and other native tree species were planted around the gravesite. In the 1990s, a flagstone walk was added at the northwest to ascend the slope, connecting the circular walk near the overlook terrace with the grave terrace, allowing visitors to bypass the stairs.
Mr. Rios said that the previous version of the project, approved in April 2021, intended to remove the 3.5-foot-wide walk and replace it with a 6.5-foot-wide stone walk set flush with the ground. However, after the existing walk was recently demolished, the proposed design was found to be noncompliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act; compliant grading would require additional curbs and handrails and a four-foot shift in the new walk’s point of intersection with the circular walk, along with reconfiguration of this area of the circular walk and the adjacent steps to provide a landing that would improve the transition for the sharp turn to the new walk. Some pieces of stone and a portion of an adjoining hedge would also be removed; the stone being removed would be put in storage to be available if the site is ever restored to its original condition. He indicated the proximity of the proposed walk to an adjacent field of the cemetery’s headstones, approximately twenty or thirty feet to the north; he also pointed out the location of a tree in the construction zone that is proposed to be either relocated or replaced, and of another tree that will probably not have to be moved.
Mr. Rios concluded by describing the Kennedy gravesite in relation to other nearby historically significant features, including Arlington House, the Custis Walk, the grave of Mary Randolph, the many historic headstones, and significant views, including those to Memorial Avenue and the National Mall. He said that the existing trees, when they are in leaf, would block the view of the new walk from Arlington House.
Vice Chair Edwards invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. McCrery asked for clarification of the grading changes related to creating a landing and additional steps at the upper end of the circular walk’s northern segment; Mr. Rios responded that some regrading of the circular walk would be necessary, extending approximately eight to ten feet down the slope. Mr. McCrery asked about the steepness of the new walk; Mr. Rios responded that it would be treated as a ramp with a maximum slope of 1:12, and it would be in compliance with design standards for ramps. He added that the ramp would be slightly below the adjacent grade, and therefore curbs would be required.
Mr. McCrery asked if there had been any consideration of providing this compliant access by connecting President Kennedy’s grave terrace with a sloped path leading to the Robert F. Kennedy gravesite to the south. Mr. Rios said this is a possible route, and it will likely be considered in the future; Mr. McCrery said it might allow for a better solution than the proposed design. Noting the photographs of existing conditions, he observed that a trash can is located at the top of the stairs; he advised that trash receptacles should never be located within the memorial spaces of the Kennedy gravesite, and he requested that this trash can be removed.
Citing the expense of the proposed new walk, Ms. Delplace asked if any solutions were explored other than replacement of the previous flagstone walk. Mr. Rios said other solutions were considered, but because of the slope they would not be compliant with accessibility standards. Another option considered was not to build a new walk at all but simply to restore the site with sod; however, it was decided that the proposed new walk would be a better solution to help visitors to reach the grave terrace.
Ms. Delplace observed that a person in a wheelchair, arriving at Sheridan Drive, would have to take the longer route of the curving approach walk on the north side in order to reach the new walk. She acknowledged that an accessible route up the slope may be impossible from any other direction; however, she observed that the presentation included a grading plan for only the small area where the ramp would connect with the main approach walk, not for the entire gravesite area, and she said the Commission members therefore cannot easily evaluate whether other routes might be more feasible. Mr. Rios said the same issues would arise with any other possible location for the accessible walk; since this route already existed, the decision was to use this location again.
Ms. Smith said that the slope is very steep on either side of the circular walk, and it is steepest on the walk to the south that leads to the Robert F. Kennedy Gravesite. Visitors are now directed to take the longer route around the northern side of the circle; although this slope is not compliant for barrier-free access, it is closer to compliance and therefore an easier route to reach the proposed walk that would continue up to the grave terrace. She acknowledged that a fully compliant route would require a more drastic solution, entailing extensive regrading and also changes to the gravesite, and it would need long-term planning and funding. She said that a route from the Robert F. Kennedy gravesite might be possible but needs further study; existing studies suggest that it could not provide direct access to the grave terrace. She offered to find out why other options are not being considered, and she noted that this design is still in the early concept stage. She added that an additional goal is to replace the existing non-compliant metal ramp leading to the overlook terrace; this ramp has not been well maintained, but it is heavily used and will remain until a long-term solution is developed.
Mr. McCrery observed that if the intent is simply to install a temporary walk to replace the previous access walk, then an engineering firm would be the appropriate choice to design it. He described the proposed replacement walk as pragmatic but generic, and its construction would be a crude intrusion, especially at the transition point where the new walk would make a sharp turn. He said there are probably better solutions than this, and the project team should look at the larger picture instead of building a temporary walk and delaying the search for a permanent design. He emphasized that the problem needs a more sophisticated long-term design solution, with an architect or landscape architect serving as the lead designer. He concluded that a new walk is clearly needed but it should be the responsibility of a creative, visionary design professional.
Ms. Delplace commented on the beautiful quality of Arlington National Cemetery’s historic landscape, comprising a series of curves and lovely gestures that contrast with the solemn rectilinear arrays of thousands of headstones; she noted that it is part of the long and remarkable history of cemetery design. She said the intervention of this very angular ramp would make the new walk look like a subordinate and unwelcoming route for visitors to this hallowed space: the special quality of visiting Arlington National Cemetery should not end at this ramp. She encouraged the project team to explore how to get the necessary length for the walk’s ascent without disturbing the greater space. She stressed this project’s importance, observing that solutions regarded as temporary often remain for decades. She said it appears that the proposed materials are appropriate for the memorial’s character, but the design itself is not; although the project team is making the effort to use expensive materials, with bronze handrails and granite curbs, the design itself does not express that this would be a primary approach route for visitors. She emphasized that accessible routes need to provide entrances of equal dignity for everyone.
Mr. Cook agreed with Ms. Delplace’s comments. He observed that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get the access right, and it has to uphold a certain dignity, allowing people with mobility issues to enter the space in a similar fashion to those without such challenges. He observed that a temporary replacement walk would bring people to the rear of the grave terrace; a much better solution would be to find a way to bring all visitors to the front, to experience the gravesite and the eternal flame in the same way. He said more poetry should be brought to the solution, which now seems purely functional and utilitarian, concluding that the gravesite of President Kennedy deserves better than this.
Secretary Luebke observed that none of the Commission members appears to support the concept design as proposed, and therefore no action is necessary; the Commission can instead request more study. Vice Chair Edwards agreed, and Mr. McCrery suggested recommended that a landscape design firm be added to the project team.
Mr. Rios thanked the Commission members for their insightful comments. He said he understands the advice to be that the slope should be restored to its original condition. Vice Chair Edwards said this is not what the Commission members are saying. Mr. McCrery said that by removing the previous walk, the Cemetery has created an emergency; the Commission members are suggesting that arrangements need to be made for a temporary, on-grade, accessible route to the gravesite terrace, with the clear understanding that it is truly temporary, and this would provide a stopgap measure while the Cemetery project team undertakes a thorough study of appropriate accessible approaches, with a design or designs prepared by an architect or landscape architect. He encouraged the cemetery officials to follow the model of Jacqueline Kennedy, who hired a talented architect and a landscape designer to create the memorial gravesite.
Mr. Luebke said the staff will summarize and transmit these comments and will continue consultation with the project team to find a solution. He said the staff understands the Commission’s desire to promote full access to the Kennedy gravesite and to make the experience as elevated as possible. Vice Chair Edwards agreed, and on behalf of the Commission she thanked the project team.
C. National Park Service / District Department of Transportation / Virginia Passenger Rail Authority
CFA 19/MAY/22-2, Long Bridge Project, new railroad and pedestrian bridges between Virginia and the District of Columbia. Information presentation. Secretary Luebke introduced the information presentation on the planned capacity expansion for Long Bridge, submitted by the National Park Service on behalf of multiple public agencies. He said the project involves a large scope of infrastructure improvements, intended to increase the capacity of this Potomac River rail crossing from two tracks to four. The project area encompasses a 1.8-mile-long corridor of bridges, embankments, and related infrastructure in both Virginia and the District of Columbia; from southwest to northeast, the corridor crosses the George Washington Memorial Parkway, the Potomac River, East Potomac Park, the Washington Channel, Maine Avenue, and the private-sector Portals complex. The existing bridge was completed in 1904, and it is owned by a subsidiary of the CSX Corporation; earlier river crossings at this location date back to the early 19th century. The bridge corridor carries freight rail traffic, local commuter trains (Virginia Rail Express), and long-distance intercity passenger trains (Amtrak).
Mr. Luebke said that planning for the capacity expansion began in 2015, leading to multiple rounds of scoping, environmental review, and public outreach. The resulting proposal, still being developed, is to retain the existing two-track bridge and build a new two-track bridge parallel to it; a separate pedestrian bridge would also be built alongside the rail bridges. He said that the design process is especially complex due to the varied context of land uses and waterways; the range of transportation impacts including rail, car, watercraft, bicycle, and pedestrian circulation; and the sensitive historic and cultural resources in the vicinity.
Mr. Luebke said that today’s presentation is part of the solicitation of public and agency comments during the Section 106 historic preservation review process. No approval action is requested at this stage; when the design is further developed, the project will be submitted for formal review by the Commission. He asked Peter May of the National Park Service to begin the presentation.
Mr. May acknowledged that the project is very complicated, and its large scope can be exhausting to consider. He said that the lengthy planning process has included compliance with federal regulations, and the project has now progressed to consideration of impacts on federal parkland, especially the George Washington Memorial Parkway and East Potomac Park. He said that some impacts are negative, including the consumption of open space, but the pedestrian bridge across the Potomac River would also provide a substantial benefit that is welcomed by the potential users. He noted that the southwest end of this crossing in Virginia would connect to Long Bridge Park, an Arlington County park, as well as the National Park Service’s Mount Vernon Trail along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. He introduced Katherine Youngbluth, director of planning for the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA), to continue the presentation.
Ms. Youngbluth said that the VPRA was created by Virginia’s General Assembly in 2020 in conjunction with the state’s purchase of rail corridors from CSX and Norfolk Southern. She presented a state-wide map of the planned passenger rail system, including track rights and owned corridors. She said that passenger trains often use tracks owned by private freight companies, resulting in limitations on the capacity for passenger service; Virginia is addressing these bottlenecks by purchasing right-of-way corridors. She indicated the corridor purchased from CSX, paralleling Interstate 95, which extends from the North Carolina border on the south to the District of Columbia on the north. She noted that multiple routes in Virginia converge at the Long Bridge to cross into the District of Columbia and connect to the Northeast Corridor rail service.
Ms. Youngbluth described the immediate context of the Long Bridge corridor, on the south side of Washington’s monumental core and within the grouping of bridges known as the 14th Street complex. Immediately downstream from this project is the existing rail bridge from 1904, which will continue to be owned and maintained by CSX; immediately upstream to the northwest is the Metrorail bridge carrying Yellow Line trains.
Ms. Youngbluth then presented the general design intent for each of the four major areas that would be affected. She noted that many design ideas were adopted or rejected early in the planning process and environmental review consultations, when the project was being led by the D.C. Department of Transportation before VPRA’s creation and involvement.
Ms. Youngbluth described the planned infrastructure across the George Washington Memorial Parkway. She indicated the aquatic center within Long Bridge Park and the adjacent pedestrian/bicycle esplanade, which would be connected to the new pedestrian bridge across the Potomac River. The crossing would also connect to the Mount Vernon Trail, which is already heavily used as a recreation and commuting route for pedestrians and bicyclists. She noted that the planned Amazon office development and additional residential density in nearby Crystal City, along with the new pedestrian/bicycle bridge, will likely result in increasing numbers of people using the trail system in this area. She also indicated the proposed new rail alignment at the George Washington Memorial Parkway, beginning on the southwest with an interlock connection allowing trains to move between the four tracks of the river crossing.
Ms. Youngbluth said the consensus of design guidance from this area’s stakeholders is that the interventions at the parkway should be designed to be consistent with the parkway’s existing bridges and landscape, including the bridge abutments with stone facing. The rail bridge across the parkway would be a steel through-plate girder structure with stone-faced abutments, and the pedestrian bridge would be a prefabricated truss. She said that the guidance from stakeholders is that the new rail bridge should be designed to resemble the nearby highway bridges across the parkway, more than the heavier character of the existing rail bridge; the steel span would have a shallow arch at the bottom, consistent with the existing bridges.
Ms. Youngbluth said the crossing of the Potomac River was studied carefully during the early stages of planning. Consideration was given to various forms, including the tall arches seen on the recently completed replacement of the Frederick Douglass Bridge carrying South Capitol Street across the Anacostia River. The conclusion was that the new rail bridge should be consistent with the design of the neighboring bridges in the 14th Street complex, and the bridge is being designed as a steel through-plate girder structure. The supporting piers would be aligned with the existing piers of the neighboring bridges in order to avoid any new obstruction to navigation. At the request of the U.S. Coast Guard, the clearance height of the new bridge above the river would be higher than the existing rail bridge. She noted that the track height for the river crossing is constrained by the need for a relatively low height at the eastern end of the corridor, where the tracks pass underneath the Portals development and then onward to the L’Enfant Plaza area. The pedestrian span across the river would be a truss structure, and interpretive signage would be built along the corridor as part of the historic preservation mitigation. She presented images of the existing rail bridge across the river. It was originally built as a sequence of trusses spanning between piers, but most of these were replaced with through-plate girders; the remaining truss is at the swing span, which has not been opened since the 1960s. She said that the granite for the piers is the same material used in the abutments on land, but the piers have a more reddish tone due to the effects of water on the granite’s appearance.
Ms. Youngbluth presented the design intent at East and West Potomac Parks, a complicated island area that includes the landings for all of the bridges in the 14th Street complex. The new pedestrian bridge would terminate in this area, connecting to the pedestrian circulation along Ohio Drive; she said that the National Park Service is planning for additional park improvements in conjunction with this project. The new railroad bridge would continue halfway across the island, at which point the two new tracks would merge into the existing rail embankment to continue eastward; she said that the project includes widening the two- and three-track rail corridor to the east to accommodate the new four-track capacity, including several bridge replacements. Due to the very limited amount of space available in this area, the new rail tracks would be located on an embankment with granite-clad retaining walls, minimizing the footprint of the intervention. The retaining walls would continue along the widened existing embankment, bringing the tracks to a deck structure across Ohio Drive and the Washington Channel; historic retaining walls would remain where feasible. She said the retaining walls within the park would be screened with plantings to be consistent with the historic landscape treatment of the rail infrastructure.
Ms. Youngbluth described the intended configuration of the rail infrastructure passing over Maine Avenue and under the Portals development. She noted that this area is immediately northwest of The Wharf, a recent waterfront development along the Washington Channel. She also indicated a small bridge across Maine Avenue, formerly carrying a rail spur; it is now a pedestrian bridge that is privately owned as part of the Portals. She emphasized the complexity of the project in this area due to the many constraints, particularly for clearance heights and the curved alignment of the tracks as they shift to the diagonal alignment of Maryland Avenue. In order to accommodate the four-track width while maintaining an existing connection between 14th Street and Maine Avenue, the existing pedestrian bridge across Maine Avenue would have to be demolished or relocated; this issue is being discussed with the owner of the Portals, including consideration of the bridge’s technical constraints and environmental concerns. At the east end of the project area, the wider grouping of four tracks would pass through the Portals and beneath the elevated termination circle of Maryland Avenue. She indicated a service drive for some of the Portals buildings on the northwest side of the tracks; this service drive would remain, but the parallel retaining wall for the railroad embankment would be relocated closer to the service drive in order to accommodate the increased number of tracks.
Ms. Youngbluth introduced civil engineer Mark Colgan of VHB to provide additional information on the design that is being developed; she noted that Mr. Colgan has been assisting with the environmental review process and is now working on the current phase of preliminary engineering design.
Mr. Colgan presented the project materials, saying that the project’s abutments, piers, and extensive retaining walls would be faced with stone. At the George Washington Memorial Parkway, the stone would be consistent with other parkway infrastructure; for the remainder of the project corridor, the stone would be similar to the stone used for the historic rail infrastructure. The intent for the landscape design is to restore historic landscapes and provide screening for the bridges and walls throughout the corridor. The bridge spans would use girders of weathering steel, designed as through-girders above the parkway, the river, the Metrorail line, and Interstate 395; steel deck girders would be used for the eastern bridges spanning Ohio Drive, the Washington Channel, and Maine Avenue, to facilitate phased construction. The girders above the parkway would have an arched profile, similar to the parkway’s existing rail and road bridges.
Mr. Colgan said that the new pedestrian bridge to be built over Maine Avenue would replace the existing historic bridge that would be displaced by the widened railroad span. The replacement bridge, like the existing pedestrian bridge, would connect to an existing walkway around the exterior of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which is part of the Portals. The replacement bridge would follow a new alignment to connect with the Washington Marina on the southwestern side of Maine Avenue; the bridge would be 10 feet wide and 160 feet long, leading to a switchback system of pedestrian ramps descending to grade at the marina alongside a railroad retaining wall, providing a barrier-free route. He said that the appearance of this bridge is still being coordinated with the property owners.
Mr. Colgan presented a diagram of the bicycle and pedestrian network, including existing and proposed routes and bicycle-friendly roads. On the Arlington side of the river, he indicated the pedestrian bridge’s connections to the aquatic center and, along the riverfront, the ramp and stair system descending to the Mount Vernon Trail. On the Washington side of the river, a ramp connection would be provided to Ohio Drive and East and West Potomac Parks. The pedestrian bridge across the river would be a prefabricated truss system with a 14-foot clear width between the handrails; the upper structure would be at a minimum height of 5.5 feet, above the average eye level.
Mr. Colgan presented three color options for the pedestrian bridge; noting that it will likely be owned eventually by the D.C. Government, he said that the options include standard colors used by the D.C. Department of Transportation. The three colors are light gray, red, and brown; Ms. Youngbluth added that red was the original color of the Long Bridge from its construction in 1904 as a truss span. She said that the color options were chosen in response to feedback from participants in the regulatory review process, and she welcomed the Commission’s advice.
Ms. Youngbluth summarized that the project is currently in a period of soliciting outside comments, and she anticipated submitting it to the Commission for concept approval in the coming months; the project will also be reviewed soon by the National Capital Planning Commission. She acknowledged that many details remain to be resolved, and she said that private-sector coordination is continuing for proposals related to the Portals. She added that the project delivery may be through a design-build contract, which will be determined in the fall of 2022.
Secretary Luebke said that the Commission has received a letter earlier today from Republic Properties, owner of the Portals, raising several concerns. The letter acknowledges the ongoing discussions regarding the project, particularly the replacement of the existing pedestrian bridge across Maine Avenue. Republic Properties describes the current bridge’s width as sufficient for comfortable use by pedestrians, although the existing landing point on the southwest side of Maine Avenue is too constrained for a ramp connecting to grade. The letter suggests that the ramp connection at the southwest end of the replacement bridge should be clear of the highway infrastructure, integrated into the landscaping, and well maintained. For the reconfiguration of the tracks passing alongside and beneath the Portals, Republic Properties expresses concern about walls rising above the track beds, observing that these would block views while not solving the acoustical problems, which will be exacerbated by the widening of the track area and the increased number of trains. Republic Properties also requests the inclusion of landscaping, with additional comments beyond the Commission’s scope, such as construction phasing.
Vice Chair Edwards invited questions and comments from the Commission members, noting that no vote will be needed for this information presentation.
Mr. McCrery said that the landscape design appears handsome, but he observed that no architect is involved in shaping the appearance of the bridges and their supporting infrastructure; he described the omission of an architect from the project team as a great oversight, particularly for a project in the historic, scenic setting of the Potomac River central Washington. He said that any effort to beautify the design would be welcome and should be considered an obligation of the project team. He also observed that CSX clearly does not understand its obligation to maintain the existing rail bridges in a beautiful way, including the several bridges within this corridor and extending to the CSX bridge across the Anacostia River. He noted the comment in the presentation that CSX would retain ownership and purported maintenance responsibility for these existing bridges, and he expressed regret that the appearance of these bridges has not been maintained consistently over time; this concern became apparent during the presentation with the surprising information that the Long Bridge had historically been painted. He said that the reddish tone of the granite on the Long Bridge support piers, suggesting sandstone or some other red stone, is apparently due to rust coming from the steel bridge above. He said that the inadequate maintenance is an ongoing aesthetic issue and will eventually affect the bridge’s engineering and structural adequacy. While acknowledging that the existing, privately owned infrastructure is not directly part of the current proposal, he said that the project should include mandatory maintenance agreements addressing appearance, beyond engineering and structural concerns, that would be part of any agreements among D.C. and Virginia agencies and any private-sector entity that is involved in the infrastructure.
Mr. McCrery observed that the existing swing span on the Long Bridge is unlikely to ever become operable again, effectively making it a fixed bridge at a low height, and he asked why the new bridge would need a higher vertical clearance above the river. Mr. Colgan responded that the increased height is being recommended by the Coast Guard; the typical practice is for a new bridge to meet modern standards, with the expectation that the older Long Bridge may eventually be replaced by a new bridge that would similarly have a higher clearance. He clarified that the Long Bridge has the lowest clearance of any of the bridges in the 14th Street complex. Mr. McCrery asked if the Coast Guard’s standard is a general dimension used nationwide or is particular to this location; Mr. Colgan said that the recommended height is based on this specific site and close coordination with the Coast Guard. Mr. McCrery noted that the height difference would be two feet, raising the clearance from eighteen to twenty feet.
Mr. McCrery asked how this corridor’s expanded capacity of four tracks would relate to the two-track capacity further to the east, possibly creating a bottleneck at the Portals that would result in a string of waiting trains on the Potomac River span. Ms. Youngbluth acknowledged that the rail tunnel beneath the Portals currently has only two tracks, but she said that the tunnel structure has the capacity for four tracks, and the full capacity will be restored in conjunction with this project; a separate project to the east at L’Enfant Plaza will also provide for four tracks, resulting in a consistent capacity through the wider area. Mr. McCrery asked if the expanded capacity is certain or speculative, perhaps contingent on adding capacity across the Potomac River. Ms. Youngbluth said that Virginia’s program of rail capacity expansion is already funded, and the Long Bridge configuration is a bottleneck that will require $2.1 billion to solve; other bottlenecks are at L’Enfant Plaza to the east, and to the south in Alexandria and southern Arlington, which will also be expanded to a four-track capacity. Mr. McCrery expressed support for this consistent capacity, while reiterating his concern that the related projects may be uncertain or insufficient to avoid bottlenecks at other locations. Ms. Youngbluth clarified that the Virginia Railway Express commuter train organization is leading the project to expand track capacity in the L’Enfant Plaza area, extending eastward to the split between tracks going north to Union Station for passenger service or southeast to the Virginia Avenue tunnel for freight service.
Mr. McCrery expressed concern about the aesthetics of the planned new infrastructure, describing it as “more of the same, except not as nice.” For example, at the George Washington Memorial Parkway, he observed that the abutments supporting the new rail crossing appear to be stone-clad concrete that would rise to the bottom of the steel span; in contrast, the piers of the parkway’s historic rail bridge continue upward on each side of the bridge to reach the top of the steel, which he described as a much more handsome design. He also observed that the stone on the historic abutments is broader, while the smaller-scale stone pattern that is illustrated for the new span’s abutments results in the appearance of a mere veneer. He said the new supports do not convey the appearance of being able to carry the massive weight above to the earth below—a problem of architectural design, regardless of the adequacy of the engineering. He emphasized the importance of architecture in the design of bridges, particularly in urban settings and in this important setting of the nation’s capital. He said the infrastructure should be considered as buildings that need to meet a standard for works of architecture, in addition to meeting the engineering standards; a purely engineering solution is insufficient for such massive bridges in the setting of Washington. He described the proposal as “civic structures in a civic city,” which need to be understood and treated as works of civic art.
Mr. McCrery recalled that a former director of the D.C. Department of Transportation had insisted that all bridges be designed with some artistic component; one of the resulting projects is a New York Avenue bridge with four piers containing sculptures, rising above the span. He recommended a comparable focus on artistic components for this project, perhaps with the piers including some sort of allegorical imagery of rail transportation. He described the goal of an engineering aesthetic decor for the steel spans; the presented images instead show routine structures of webbed steel with rib stiffeners every six feet, satisfying structural requirements without any recognition of the need for artistry and beauty for this civic infrastructure. He cited the perspective view of the new rail bridge spanning Interstate 395, where the design intent appears to be merely unrelenting lengths of steel. He observed that the span crosses above a small hill toward the right end of the view, which could provide an opportunity to interrupt the steel and provide a grounded foundation, instead of the unrelenting and undecorated design that is illustrated. He also observed that the support piers for this span within parkland are shown as unadorned concrete that could be any highway in the U.S.; he compared this treatment to the illustrated abutments at the George Washington Memorial Parkway, where stone veneer shows an effort—albeit unsatisfactory—to consider the aesthetics. He summarized that Washington deserves better design and maintenance for its infrastructure, and he reiterated that the project team should include an architectural designer in addition to the engineer.
Ms. Delplace emphasized her love of bridges, particularly those of the 19th century, as a beautiful expression of transporting people and goods. She said that the creation of new bridges is vitally important for addressing the transportation needs of Washington. However, she questioned the quality of authenticity in the presented design. Indicating the photograph of the existing Long Bridge, she said that its battered and rusticated piers have beauty and elegance, giving a sense of massiveness that can support the weight above. However, as noted by Mr. McCrery, the piers supporting the new rail bridge appear to have merely a stone veneer without a sense of aesthetic quality. She observed that the piers have been given less attention than the steel spans, with care taken to choose a weathering steel that would be in dialogue with the steel spans of the existing bridges. She said that Washington is fortunate to have its rivers, and she noted that people sometimes have the wonderful experience of seeing the river bridges from below when using boats on the river’s surface; she therefore emphasized the importance of designing the piers with a strong aesthetic character, having the quality of authenticity rather than veneer.
Ms. Delplace observed that the beauty of Washington and of the parkway are important qualities, but the presented drawings do not address the views outward from the new bridges, instead focusing on the appearance of the bridges themselves; she recommended additional drawings to depict the experience of being on the bridges. She also questioned the design approach of screening the entirety of the retaining walls with plantings, creating a veneer of landscape in front of the stone veneer of the wall. She suggested intermittent screening, with parts of the retaining walls remaining visible; she observed that this aesthetic is already seen along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, where the plantings are grouped as drifts that allow for orchestration of views toward the city. She observed that Washington has many examples of beautiful, rusticated stone-faced walls that meets the ground with a sense of strength. Noting that this project would go to the expense of covering the walls with stone, she recommended that these walls be carefully designed and largely visible, perhaps embellished by the intermittent placement of tall oak trees instead of being hidden by continuous screening.
Mr. Moore expressed support for the comments of the other Commission members. He noted the presented options for the color of the structure for the pedestrian bridge, but he observed that little information was presented about the experience of using this bridge, which he considers to be a more important issue. He said that the nighttime experience is a concern, and the lighting design for the bridge should be illustrated as part of the walking or bicycling experience; the presentation does not convey whether the lighting would be integrated into the bridge structure or provided from lightpoles. Ms. Youngbluth responded that lighting would be provided for the walkway, and the design approach is still being coordinated with the National Park Service. She emphasized the goal of designing for safety on the bridge. Mr. Moore said that a minimum level of safety is of course necessary, but the lighting design should strive for a higher standard of pedestrian experience, particularly for such a lengthy bridge. He suggested that the study should include consideration of the height of light sources relative to people’s eye level, and he recommended undertaking the extensive work to develop a lighting design before returning to the question of the appropriate color for the structure, which should be selected to complement the lighting.
Mr. Cook agreed with the earlier comments. He observed that the pedestrian bridge would be a truss structure with many openings, and he asked about safety barriers along the sides to protect against people falling. Mr. Colgan responded that the design includes safety screening to reduce the side openings to an allowable size; he said that the screening is included in the presented drawings but may be difficult to discern.
Dr. Edwards expressed support for the comments provided. She said that the pedestrian bridge may be used by many commuters who may be travelling during dark hours of the morning or evening; she therefore emphasized the importance of the lighting design for this bridge, and she requested its submission for the Commission’s review. Ms. Youngbluth agreed, noting that this bridge would become the primary commuting connection between the Mount Vernon Trail and downtown Washington; other Potomac River bridges provide additional options for pedestrians and bicyclists, including Memorial Bridge and one of the highway bridges in the 14th Street complex, although these options may feel relatively constrained compared to the new crossing.
Secretary Luebke said that the staff will prepare a letter summarizing the Commission’s comments, which will be part of the wider consultation and design development process involving many stakeholders. He said that the project will return to the Commission for review of a more developed proposal. Mr. McCrery welcomed a further submission and requested that the drawings be more legible, and he observed that the intended schedule for submitting in June seems unlikely. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
D. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Old Georgetown Act
1. OG 22-148, 3300 Whitehaven Street, NW. New six-story mixed-use building. Revised concept. (Previous: OG 21-281, March 2022) Secretary Luebke introduced the revised concept proposal for a new residential building near the northern gateway of the Old Georgetown historic district. He noted that the Commission had approved the concept and adopted the report of the Old Georgetown Board (OGB) in March 2022. At that time, the Commission had also provided additional comments for the development of the design: to consider additional planted screening of the large site walls along the site’s eastern boundary, in order to mitigate the impact of the development on Dumbarton Oaks Park; and to revise the facade design of Massing C, at the southern end of the park frontage, to be more in keeping with the spirit of the more successful facade design for Massing A along Whitehaven Street. He said the design team has responded by developing several facade options for Massing C, which were reviewed by the OGB earlier this month. The landscape screening of the project’s site walls would be achieved through plantings in the park, in collaboration with the Friends of Dumbarton Oaks Park, an advocacy organization; correspondence describing this collaboration has been distributed to the Commission members. He said that the scope of the presentation would be limited to responding to these outstanding issues from the previous review. He asked Jonathan Mellon, an architectural historian with the law firm Goulston & Storrs, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Mellon expressed appreciation to the staff for its assistance in developing responses to the comments from the Commission and the OGB throughout the lengthy review process for this project; he said that the design has greatly improved. He introduced architect Gui Almeida of Hickok Cole and landscape architect Trini Rodriguez of ParkerRodriguez to present the design revisions.
Mr. Almeida said that the site plan is essentially unchanged from the previous presentation. He indicated the location of Massing A, which the Commission had complimented for its articulation and character. The design for Massing C has now been developed with inspiration from Massing A, particularly in the selection of materials. He presented the material palettes that have been developed for the different building masses: the reddish tones for Massing A were selected to relate to the residential character of earlier historic Georgetown; the cream and buff tones for Massing B would relate to the streamlined aesthetic of Georgetown’s more recent history; Massing C was designed with earthier tones to relate to the adjacent park; and Massing D, whose ground floor would be used by the adjacent school, would have a monochromatic palette inspired by a collegiate aesthetic.
Mr. Almeida presented the proposed facade revisions for Massing C, as seen from Dumbarton Oaks Park; he noted that the park’s heavy vegetation has been simplified in the perspective views for clarity. As suggested by the Commission, the new alternatives have been developed through a close study of the composition for Massing A: the ashlar stone foundation would be topped by a cast stone band, providing a transition to the brick above; soldier courses and precast sills would frame the windows, which would be divided into six lights to achieve a vertical proportion that relates to the historic district’s residential areas. The lower floors of Massing A would have orthogonal corners, transitioning to radius corners above; the upper floors would have cast stone detailing to give a three-dimensional character. On the fifth floor, projecting corners at the east and west would frame a setback area within the facade, clad in cast stone with three-dimensional relief. These design features have been developed into two alternatives for Massing C. Option 1 would introduce precast sills and lintels throughout the facade and would further change the six-light windows to twelve-light windows; the center vertical mullions would be more pronounced, effectively splitting the window opening into two window units. Option 2, which is preferred, would maintain the previous design’s double-height reading of the brick openings, while cast-stone elements would be introduced at some of the window openings. The window proportions would be adjusted to a 12-light design as in Option 1, and the balconies would be articulated separately from the overall masonry volume by introducing thin metal panels at the slab edges instead of precast spandrels. An additional tier of balconies would help to break up the masonry volume and provide visual interest. The roofline would have more variety to provide additional visual relief and to break down the scale.
Mr. Almeida presented additional perspective views to illustrate how the north facade of Massing C would relate to Massing B as seen from the east end of Whitehaven Street at the entrance to the park. Based on consultation with the staff, Options 2A and 2B have been developed for this facade: Option 2A would have a more symmetrical composition, while Option 2B would introduce a tier of balconies to better relate Massings B and C with a visual continuity of the glass and metal elements.
Mr. Almeida presented alternatives for the materials palette for Massing C, as previously requested by the Commission. He said that the design team continues to recommend the previously presented palette, now labeled “Preferred Palette.” He said that this contrasting beige brick color for Massing C would reduce the visual bulk of the building and would relate Massing C to the color tone of the park. The “Alternate Palette” uses a dark red brick, relating to the material for Massing A; however, the effect would be a contrast to the park and the perception of the entirety of the building’s large mass with a continuous facade color as seen from the park, exacerbated by this color’s similarity to the facade of the neighboring structure to the south, a parking garage for a grocery store.
Mr. Almeida concluded with a series of perspective views illustrating the design options in relation to the entirety of the building and the wider context. He emphasized the greater use of elements from Massing A in the new options for Massing C, as the Commission had requested.
Vice Chair Edwards invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Secretary Luebke noted that the OGB report has been distributed to the Commission members.
Mr. McCrery expressed appreciation for the presentation and its brevity, as well as the reconsideration of the design details, which he said has led to some improvements. He expressed support for the Alternate Palette as a more successful treatment of the building’s massing and a stronger composition as seen from the park. He asked for clarification of Options 2A and 2B; Mr. Almeida indicated the symmetrical composition of Option 2A, compared to the asymmetry of Option 2B as well as the additional balconies that would serve as a connection between Massings B and C. Mr. McCrery asked the design team’s preference between these two options. Mr. Almeida responded that both options seem to be successful, and the preference he gave at the OGB’s recent meeting was for Option 2B due to the continuity provided by the balconies; he said that the OGB members had varying opinions. Mr. McCrery said that he supports the architect’s preference for Option 2B; Mr. Moore agreed. Secretary Luebke noted that the OGB discussed these options and ended up supporting Option 2A; the Commission could instead decide to support Option 2B, and he added that the staff also prefers Option 2B. Similarly, the OGB supported the Preferred Palette, while the Commission may instead decide to support the Alternate Palette. Vice Chair Edwards asked if these choices should be considered as separate motions; Mr. Luebke said that a single action would be sufficient.
Mr. Cook asked if the reddish brick color in the Alternate Palette for Massing C would match the color of the adjacent parts of the building, or whether a slight variation in color would be used. Mr. Almeida said that the presented study uses a matching color for the Alternate Palette, but a slight variation in color could be specified to provide a distinction between separate parts of the building, which he said would be desirable. Mr. Cook agreed that some variation would be helpful, commenting that a color match would never be perfect and would make the building appear more like a large wall. He said that he could support the Alternate Palette with this understanding; Mr. Moore agreed.
Mr. McCrery offered a motion to approve the revised concept, with a preference for Option 2 for the overall appearance of Massing C, Option 2B for the north side of Massing C, and the Alternate Palette for the Massing C facade materials, subject to some distinguishing variation in color or texture as recommended by Mr. Cook. Upon a second by Mr. Moore, the Commission adopted this action.
Secretary Luebke asked if the Commission wants to see a presentation of this project at the final design stage or would prefer to delegate further review to the OGB. Mr. McCrery suggested that the Commission be available for further review if requested by the OGB, but otherwise a favorable review by the OGB for the final design could be placed on the Old Georgetown Act Appendix. Mr. Luebke noted that for any delegated review authority, the staff may choose to place a project on the Commission’s agenda for a presentation if issues arise; he observed that this project does not appear to have any fundamental issues that are unresolved. Vice Chair Edwards supported the delegation of review authority for the final design.
2. OG 22-154, 1051–1055 29th Street, NW. Construct seven-story plus penthouse building, site work. Final. (Previous: OG 17-317, May 2017) Secretary Luebke introduced the final design for redevelopment of the West Heating Plant, which he noted is a complicated project that has been underway for roughly ten years. He said that the project’s scope is to construct a 265,000-square-foot building of ten stories plus a penthouse, accommodating approximately seventy luxury condominiums, and to create an elevated park above a two-level parking garage. The West Heating Plant is a former industrial facility of the federal government, located in the Old Georgetown historic district adjacent to the mouth of the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal where it joins Rock Creek. The existing building was designed in the early 1940s by two prominent federal architects, William Dewey Foster working under the leadership of Gilbert Stanley Underwood; it was a project of the Public Works Administration, the precursor to the General Services Administration. He said the Art Moderne-style building, completed in 1948, is considered exemplary of the aspirational public infrastructure of the late New Deal period, with heroic massing and abstract detailing.
Mr. Luebke said the proposal calls for demolition of most of the existing brick structure above grade, except for the retention of most of the west facade, which included the main entrance, and portions of the site’s perimeter walls. The construction constitutes what will in essence be a new building plus alterations to the site, along with a new park to the south and a pedestrian walk along Rock Creek leading to a new footbridge; this bridge will provide a connection to the north side of the canal and will help create a continuity of movement through parkland. Noting that the Commission members had received copies of the building’s history in their meeting materials, he summarized the project’s recent history. Over the last decade, the proposal has been presented several times to the Old Georgetown Board and the Commission; the current proposal was last presented to both groups in 2017 at the concept stage. In May 2017, the OBG recommended not to approve the project, requesting that it be reconceived as a rehabilitation rather than a demolition; however, in its review later that month, the Commission approved it, citing its superior design and fresh approach as a reinterpretation of the historic building. The Commission reviewed the proposal again in September 2017, providing additional guidance on design development. Some of that discussion involved encouraging the display within the park of industrial artifacts salvaged from the facility, and refining the design of the massive steel beam that would carry the remaining west elevation and help define the park on the 29th Street side. He said that since then, the project has been subject to a lengthy adjudication process through the D.C. government to determine whether certain requirements of the associated historic preservation covenant could be waived; the waiver allowing demolition was supported by the Mayor’s Agent, and the project team has continued to develop the design, which is now before the Commission for its final, or permit, approval. He noted that the project was on the agenda for the OGB meeting earlier this month, but the OGB chose not to review the case and instead forwarded it to the Commission for review without any other action or comment. He introduced Richard Levy, founder and CEO of the Levy Group, who has been leading the project.
Mr. Levy said the Levy Group is a real estate investment and management firm based in Georgetown, and along with the New York-based Georgetown Company, is the developer leading the transformation of the West Heating Plant into a residential condominium. He noted that the project is returning almost five years after receiving the Commission’s unanimous approval; the project already received the strong support of the Georgetown community, as reflected in the actions of the Georgetown Citizens Association and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission. He said the delay has been partly attributable to the pandemic, but it is primarily due to the arduous appeal process through the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board and the Mayor’s Agent. The D.C. Preservation League appealed the demolition to the D.C. Court of Appeals, and in August 2020 the court unanimously affirmed the findings of the order of the Mayor’s Agent, allowing the project to move forward. Mr. Levy asked landscape architect Laurie Olin of OLIN and architect David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates to present the relatively minor changes that have been made to the design since 2017.
Mr. Olin described the existing site and its context, indicating the locations of the surrounding flood wall, the former coal yard and its recently removed oil tanks, the Whitehurst Freeway, the trail along Rock Creek, and the canal lock. He said that in its 2017 review of the proposal the Commission had made several recommendations, asking for further consideration of using industrial relics from the heating plant; studying bench materials and layouts; and ensuring the park design is permeable and welcoming, despite being raised above the street on the roof of the parking garage. He said that the current design addresses all of these recommendations.
Mr. Olin said that in its overall composition, the present site design does not differ much from the earlier version, but there has been considerable development of the details. He said he has designed the park on the southern part of the site to be a garden that is as open, safe, and accessible as possible, and the circulation is planned so that people will not walk through areas where others are sitting. Although its three gated entrances would be closed at night, the park would remain open to the public throughout the day. He indicated the three stairways that would lead into the park—to the northwest along 29th Street; leading down to the parkland along Rock Creek on the east; and to the south near the intersection of 29th and K Streets. He said that these entrances have been refined to be quite open and provide good views. Some proposed trees have been relocated in the park to accommodate construction of the garage beneath, and the design now includes a considerable number of industrial relics. Adjustments have been made to the design of the pergola, in response to comments and to structural issues involving coordination with utilities, and there have been a few refinements to the design of the water feature. On the north side of the site, private courtyards have been added, requiring some excavation and redesign behind the flood wall along the canal. He added that, in response to a request by the Commission and to engineering issues regarding fill, the fairly steep trail leading down to the creek and canal will be refined and will have a barrier-free design. He added that landscape designs have been prepared for the new courtyards and for the trail along the creek.
Mr. Olin described the revised pavement designs, which now propose materials that refer to the historic concrete and iron of the heating plant. The project team gave consideration to whether the material palette of the pavement should be warm in order to harmonize with the palette of the building, or cool to contrast with it; the team decided that contrast is preferable, so the pavers would provide cool colors against the warmer tones of the architecture’s weathered steel. He said that the park would have a large amount of paving because it will be heavily used and because of its location on top of the garage; the ground-floor apartment courtyards would also be paved. The paving stones would be a high-density precast concrete with a surface texture. Large pavers would be used, with proportions close to the golden section proportion rather than a double square, and they would be laid in a running bond pattern with alternating joints. Two colors of pavers would be used, a lighter and a darker gray; the lighter would be used for most of the terrace field adjacent to the pergola and the basins and on the southern stairway, while the park’s northern areas adjacent to the building would be composed of alternating light and dark pavers. He said that masonry has also been selected for the water feature, which would be a series of interconnected basins using two natural black granites that differ slightly in color and texture; both types of granite would have either a rough split-face finish or a honed finish. He said the appearance of these stones has been studied in damp and submerged conditions.
Mr. Olin described the changes to the bench designs. The material has been changed to wood because of concerns that the previously proposed masonry benches would be too hot or cold for comfort, and there will be fewer benches than previously proposed. These include a variety of designs: benches with backs would be set into the alcoves at the north end of the terrace, facing the basins; benches without backs would be used on the terrace; a bench seat would be attached to one of the basins; and beneath the pergola would be a bench of wood and metal with a back, designed with repeated curves to allow for either sitting alone or in social groups. He added that the proposed high-quality site furniture includes tables and chairs on the terrace, and lightweight tables and chairs in a green-gray color on the lawn.
Mr. Olin said that the industrial relics to be displayed in the landscape include a dragline bucket used for moving coal in the coal yard; this will be placed at the bottom of the stairs near K Street, at the park’s south end, set within a field of rough black granite pavers intended to recall coal. Moveable pulleys would be hung on the pergola columns, while fixed pulleys would be placed on the wall in the courtyard on the east side of the new building, and a wall-mounted bell cover would be hung on the stairway leading up from 29th Street. He illustrated some recently discovered granite slabs, possibly old capstones from the historic flood wall; it is proposed to stack these slabs to create sturdy, indestructible seats in the public area along Rock Creek. He added that several locations have been identified for the potential future installation of interpretive signage providing information on the site’s history.
Mr. Olin described the refinements made to the design of the public trail along Rock Creek. The trail has been extended to 29th and K Streets to provide an easier access route that requires less fill than the previous proposal. A person at this corner can enter the southern end of the elevated park by ascending a stairway, or descend the ramp to the trail along the creek. He said both routes have been designed to provide good visibility for safety, as requested by the Commission; another safety feature is a reduction in the number of heavy plantings on the creek side of the trail. At the sharp bend where the ramp meets the trail, a safety rail with mesh would be installed to help prevent falls, especially for bicyclists.
Mr. Olin said the plant palette would include mostly native flowering plants that can thrive in heat; some variety will be included for contrast, especially in the groundcovers. Plantings in different colors would be used in certain areas, including along the eastern edge of the park and in planters on the north side of the terrace; these planters would include shrubs and small flowering trees to provide an attractive screen in front of the building and to enhance the view for residents. Lush plantings in a long planter behind the pergola would partially screen the park from the view of residents in apartment buildings across 29th Street. Shade-loving plants—such as Boston ivy and maple trees, which have strong autumn color—would be used in the shady courtyards adjoining the north side of the building, while robust floodplain and pollinator plants would be installed near the creek. A rich palette of perennials and grasses would be planted beneath trees and shrubs. Along 29th Street, four street trees to the south would be retained; to their north six new trees would be added, alternating between sweetgum and maple, species already used on the street.
Noting the controversy attending the early stages of the design, Mr. Adjaye said the style of the historic structure’s brick cladding provided inspiration for a new conceptual approach. He described the historic building as an excellent post-war engineering structure encased within a brick skin, with a series of braced trusses that create a massive frame—a warehouse of truss structures. This bracing structure does not allow for punching holes in the skin to admit more daylight, and so he decided to feature the new exterior framework as a representation of the historic building’s hidden structure, honoring that extraordinary period of engineering.
Mr. Adjaye said that because the tiles and bricks are laminated into the existing structure, it would not be possible to preserve this building and avoid water leakage and structural problems. However, because it was determined that most of the west facade could be preserved, the proposed design retains this facade with a new structure behind it. A new entrance on the west would lead into the ground floor. A massive beam at the base of the west facade would reveal views into the lobby of the new building; the beam would extend to the south along 29th Street, connecting the building with the flood wall, the park, and the landscape beyond. He said this erosion of the west facade would make the building appear permeable and transparent to views from 29th Street. He added that the ground floor was previously shown as glazed, but the building had to be set on a concrete base for structural reasons and because of possible flooding.
Mr. Adjaye described how the composition of the new facades is based on the historic building’s pattern of trusses between tall slot windows, and the orange rust color of the new materials is meant to recall weathered steel; these devices pay homage to the original building and its structural system. On the east side facing Rock Creek, a new glazed facade would suggest the idea of a monumental gateway looking out to the city. In general, the new exterior walls would be expressed as a sliding system of shutters that create window apertures on the main body of the building; the south and east facades would have balconies while the north facade would be a sheer vertical plane.
Mr. Adjaye presented two options for the composition of the penthouse—either with a fully horizontal expression or with a bay division created through the introduction of verticals that would correspond to the expression of the floors below. A glass balustrade would surround the top of the penthouse as a nearly invisible means of meeting the D.C. Government requirement for a safety rail.
Mr. Adjaye said the proportions of the proposed moveable exterior shutters are based on the window module in the base of the historic building. The historic south facade was composed to provide ventilation for the heating plant’s pumps; the proposal takes the idea of a facade with indentations to create highlights at the corners as a way to develop texture in the form. On the north facade, the windows would be wider, and the screens would serve to provide privacy; he indicated the large Four Seasons Hotel building across the canal to the north.
Mr. Adjaye presented views of the elaborate steel screen or framework with moveable shutters that will define the building’s appearance. When the shutters of the exterior frame are all fully open, the residents would have a wide panorama of the city; when the shutters are closed, the subtle texture of the screens would be visible. The steel framework system of apertures would give regularity to the facade, even though the appearance of the rooms behind cannot be controlled. Whether shutters are open or closed would vary depending on the choices of the residents, creating a dynamic and mechanical appearance—“a kind of kaleidoscope of operation”—that would express the image of the historic West Heating Plant as a machine that powered the neighborhood and the city.
Vice Chair Edwards thanked the project team for the presentation, noting that it provided a history of the project for the new members of the Commission. She opened the discussion to questions and comments.
Mr. McCrery said he is very pleased to have the opportunity to see this creative approach to a challenging project. He expressed support for the decision to use a machine aesthetic for the facades to express the mechanical operation of the historic building. He compared the facade screen system to the difference between the window treatment at two iconic New York City buildings, Lever House and the Seagram Building, which have different approaches to controlling the windows and the exterior appearance; he noted that the more tightly controlled Seagram Building performs better than the earlier Lever House. Mr. Adjaye responded that it would be desirable to have an aesthetic policy determining the appearance of the fenestration, especially facing the street, but this would have to be written into the condominium contract. Mr. McCrery agreed, and he congratulated the project team on developing a successful solution for a difficult site.
Referring to the issue of historic preservation, Mr. McCrery said he believes that something better can always be done with a good building. He asked for further discussion of the design for the east facade. Mr. Adjaye responded that because it faces the dramatic view of the convergence of Rock Creek with the canal, the east facade is the one place in the building where there is an opportunity to create a generous opening through which people would be able to see into the building and through which residents would enjoy a wonderful relationship to the city through expansive views outward. The openness of the east facade would also provide a contrast with the opaque, closed appearance of the west facade. He said that the flood wall is very high, and the building form is very monumental; the east facade would provide the one place of relief and would create a dynamic relationship between public and private.
Mr. Moore observed that the site, located at the convergence of Rock Creek and the canal, is clearly important and challenging. He expressed appreciation for the barrier-free access to the trail along Rock Creek that would be introduced at the southern end of the site; however, he observed that the area along the trail does not seem to include places for pausing or sitting within the landscape along the creek. He asked about the project goals for public space and the building’s orientation to the public realm.
Mr. Olin responded that at the southern entrance to the trail, it would be possible to see the new National Park Service pedestrian bridge over the canal as well as the new stairway giving access to the south end of the elevated park, allowing people for the first time to walk up to this former industrial site from Rock Creek. He observed that the existing public area along the creek and canal is not a safe or attractive space to sit because it is narrow and overgrown, with limited views, and the National Park Service discourages people from going there. New plantings and stacked granite seats should make this area more appealing to inhabit, although most visitors would probably prefer looking at it from the elevated outlook terrace that would extend from the south end of the park, at the top of the stairway.
Mr. Moore asked about elevator access to the elevated park. Mr. Olin indicated the proposed elevator adjacent to the northern access stairway along 29th Street, where the lower landing has been made as large as possible to enable people to see up the stairway to the terrace level of the park. Mr. Moore asked if the screen for the rooftop mechanical enclosure would be proportioned to relate to the rest of the facade; Mr. Adjaye responded that the penthouse would have the same treatment, with the same weathered steel construction, as the rest of the building; he added that the penthouse would probably be the most visible part of the building.
Ms. Delplace observed that in 2017 the Commission recommended a more responsive design approach to the site’s industrial heritage, and in particular advised incorporating some historic relics; she asked how this request was carried out. Mr. Olin said the project team had worked with the other stakeholders to keep these relics, and the design also uses tough materials to suggest the site’s industrial heritage. For example, instead of making a pretty, refined garden, the primary material would be concrete, which was the primary material of the heating plant and coal yard. The park design uses a tough, hard-edged geometry of squares and rectangles derived from the new building’s geometry; the forms would be crisp, not soft, and yet they would be comfortable enough to sit on. He summarized that the design has been simplified and made tougher in its formal expression, and it would incorporate many of the preserved industrial relics.
In comparing the revised design with the previous one, Ms. Delplace observed that the plant palette seems more suited to a garden than suggestive of an industrial landscape. Mr. Olin said that although the design might somewhat resemble a garden, it is nonetheless a public park, designed to appeal to a common yearning for color and texture. He said nearly all the proposed plants are native, while plants that thrive in industrial areas tend to be invasive and problematic, which raises the question of what plants are appropriate in an industrial park. He said one idea was to make it look monochromatic and harsh, but he instead decided to emphasize contrast and play off the softness of the plantings against the rough quality of the building, the stone walls, and the concrete pavement. He said the park is meant to be “a surprise and a treat.”
Mr. Cook congratulated the project team and said he is pleased to see the project moving forward. Noting the description of the sliding operable apertures for the new building’s facades, he observed that the presented drawings showed these as either all open or all closed; however, usually some will be open and some closed, and he said this will present a richer visual tapestry and impart a sense of individuality to the facade. He requested submission of a rendering to show this condition. He also requested a rendering of the park in the evening to help understand the lighting proposed for the terrace. Mr. Adjaye responded that renderings showing the screens in different positions have been made but were not included in this presentation. He said the preference is that when residents are not at home their screens should be closed, so that the mosaic created by the opening and closing of the screens will be truly dynamic, responding to the rhythm of residential life. He said a rendering of the building at night will also be submitted. Mr. Cook asked about the proposed lighting for the terrace; Mr. Adjaye said there is a comprehensive lighting strategy that will be provided to the Commission.
Ms. Edwards expressed her agreement with the other members, commenting that the building will be a welcome addition to the Georgetown neighborhood. She added that she looks forward to seeing it at its most dramatic, from the Whitehurst Freeway.
Secretary Luebke summarized that the West Heating Plant proposal is submitted for final approval, and the Commission has not identified any major issues. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Cook, the Commission approved the presented final design. Mr. Luebke said the staff will follow up in addressing further details that have been identified; any significant change to the design can be brought to the Commission He congratulated the project team on reaching the end of the review process. Mr. Adjaye and Mr. Olin thanked the Commission, and Mr. Levy emphasized the project team’s appreciation for the Commission’s direction and support.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 1:01 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA