The meeting was convened by videoconference at 9:03 a.m.
Hon. Billie Tsien, Chair
Hon. Hazel Ruth Edwards, Vice Chair
Hon. Peter Cook
Hon. Lisa Delplace
Hon. James McCrery
Hon. Justin Garrett Moore
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Secretary Luebke noted that several of the administrative items involve confirmation of actions from November 2022 when a quorum was not present, and from December 2022 when the Commission did not hold a meeting.
A. Approval of the minutes of the 20 October and 17 November 2022 meetings. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the October and November meetings were circulated to the Commission members in advance. He said the October minutes were not adopted at the November meeting because of the lack of a quorum, and the minutes from both of those meetings require approval. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Moore, the Commission approved the October and November minutes.
B. Dates of next meetings. Secretary Luebke presented the dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 16 February, 16 March, and 20 April 2023.
C. Introduction of a new staff member. Secretary Luebke introduced Carlton Hart, who joined the staff in December 2022 as a senior urban planner. He said Mr. Hart has more than 25 years of public-sector planning experience, including work for local-government agencies in Massachusetts and Virginia, as well as 16 years with the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC). He was NCPC’s designated member on the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment, where he served as the vice chair. He said Mr. Hart is a member of the American Planning Association and the American Institute of Architects, where he served on the board’s Committee on Climate Action and Design Excellence. He noted that Mr. Hart has a bachelor’s degree from Georgia Tech with a major in architecture, and a master’s degree in regional planning from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. The Commission members joined in welcoming Mr. Hart.
D. Confirmation of the appendices and recommendations from the November 2022 meeting due to a lack of quorum. Secretary Luebke asked the Commission to confirm the actions from the November meeting; he suggested separate votes for the appendices and the cases that were listed for presentation. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Dr. Edwards, the Commission confirmed its approval of the three appendices from November. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. Cook, the Commission confirmed its approval of the recommendations and comments for the eight projects listed on the November agenda.
E. Confirmation of the approval of the recommendations for the December 2022 Old Georgetown Act submissions. Secretary Luebke asked the Commission to take a formal vote to confirm its approval of the Old Georgetown Board recommendations that were circulated and endorsed in December, when no Commission meeting was held. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery, the Commission confirmed its approval.
II. Submissions and Reviews
Secretary Luebke introduced the two appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting. He noted that the Old Georgetown Board did not hold an early January meeting, and the customary appendix for Old Georgetown Act submissions is therefore not part of the Commission's agenda. (See agenda item I.E above for Old Georgetown Act submissions from December 2022.)
Appendix I – Government Submissions Consent Calendar: Mr. Fox reported that the consent calendar has five projects; the only change to the draft has been the clarification of the scope for the Metropolitan Police Department’s harbor patrol facility. Upon a motion by Mr. Cook with second by Dr. Edwards, 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 23-034). Other changes to the draft appendix are limited to minor wording changes and the notation of dates for the receipt of supplemental materials. The recommendations for nine 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 Ms. Delplace, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix. (See agenda item II.D for additional Shipstead-Luce Act submissions.)
At this point, the Commission departed from the order of the agenda to consider items II.B.2 and II.C. Secretary Luebke said that the Commission had identified these submissions as ones that could be approved without presentations.
B. D.C. Department of General Services
2. CFA 19/JAN/23-2, Spingarn High School, 2500 Benning Road, NE. Partial renovation of building and landscape for D.C. Infrastructure Academy. Concept. Secretary Luebke said the school has been unused in recent years, and the renovation will prepare it for occupancy. Chair Tsien said the consensus of the Commission members is that the design is moving in the right direction, and no presentation is needed. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Dr. Edwards, the Commission approved the proposed concept design.
C. Dupont Circle BID / Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets
CFA 19/JAN/23-3, Triangle park at Reservation 143A, intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and 18th and Q Streets, NW. Installation of new sculpture and landscape. Concept. Secretary Luebke summarized the proposal to install the sculpture Twilight by artist John Cavanaugh, who lived and worked in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in the mid- to late-20th century. The sculpture is hammered metal, which was Cavanaugh’s preferred medium, and it depicts an abstracted figure of a woman. Chair Tsien confirmed the Commission’s support for the installation, and she invited a more general comment from Mr. Moore.
While noting his support for the current proposal, Mr. Moore said the review of public art installations in the future would benefit from a better understanding of how government agencies and community groups coordinate and curate the installation of artworks in public space. He cited the description in the presentation materials that Cavanaugh had supported the emergence of a diverse artistic community in the neighborhood, but he observed that this installation is part of a program to install works by this one artist, whose work is displayed at multiple locations in the neighborhood. He suggested the need for a larger conversation about selecting public artworks for installation within a single context; this conversation could be initiated by a D.C. Government agency or the local Business Improvement District that is submitting this project.
Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the concept with the comment provided,
The Commission returned to the order of the agenda with item II.B.1.
B. D.C. Department of General Services
1. CFA 19/JAN/23-1, James A. Garfield Elementary School, 2435 Alabama Avenue, SE. Renovations and additions to building and landscape. Final. (Previous: CFA 16/JUN/22-4) Secretary Luebke summarized this project’s first review in June 2022, when the Commission approved the concept design but commented that the story of the historic school’s architect, William S. Pittman, should be emphasized as the school’s primary inspirational figure, and that the outdoor artwork honoring Pittman should be treated as one of the most important elements in the design. He said that in support of this guidance, the D.C. Department of General Services (DGS) will commission a public artwork through a separate request for proposals. This artwork will be reviewed by the Commission in a later submission; it is not part of today’s proposal. The current design revisions include minor architectural adjustments to the fenestration and the color palette, along with major changes to the landscape. The most significant landscape revisions include the consolidation of the service area with the parking lot for teachers and visitors at the site’s northeast corner, which allows for a larger garden and play area in the southeast corner, and the addition of an eight-foot-high perimeter fence, along with the other fence types and heights. A planting plan has been developed based on the concept design. Chair Tsien noted that the Commission has already supported the building design, and today’s meeting may lose a quorum at 11 a.m.; she asked the project team to focus on the three outstanding issues of whether a canopy should be provided over the new east entrance, whether a public artwork could be tied into the identification of the entrance, and whether so many different fence heights should be proposed.
Mr. Luebke introduced Burt Jackson, the project manager with DGS, to begin the presentation. Mr. Jackson expressed the project team’s appreciation for the continuing consultation with the Commission staff. He noted the presence of representatives from D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), Studios Architecture, MCN Development, and Bradley Site Design. He asked Hiroshi Jacobs of Studios Architecture to present the design.
Mr. Jacobs said the goal has been to adhere closely to the concept design while making minor adjustments based on the school building’s interior programming. Some fences have been added because representatives of the school have conveyed their desire to provide security for children as they walk to the building entrance and move around the campus during the day. Regarding the artwork, he said that at the previous Commission review, the project team had discussed the importance of the public artwork as a means of relaying the story of the original architect. He illustrated a possible location for the artwork, noting that its design will be developed through a separate process conducted by DGS, which handles commissioning public art in all school modernizations. He asked Mr. Jackson to describe this public art program.
Mr. Jackson said DGS will solicit proposals from professional artists that will be evaluated for their aesthetic and historic content. For example, for the new Banneker High School, the project team worked with local historians to develop a request for art that focused on the historic legacy of Benjamin Banneker. He said the goal for the Garfield Elementary School modernization is to install art that will highlight the historical importance of William S. Pittman, the Black architect who designed the original 1909 school building. Although the location has not yet been determined, the artwork will likely be an interior installation; the project team believes that displaying Pittman’s portrait with narrative text and illustrations would be the most appropriate way to convey his story. Mr. Jacobs said in conclusion that the city-wide school modernization program places importance on incorporating art and research to convey the significance of the architects responsible for the design of historic school buildings, and the project team is committed to working with the Commission on the content, design, and location of these artworks.
Mr. Jacobs then presented the refinements that have been made to the landscape design, particularly to the fences and to the entrance from the courtyard on the east. He said the revised rendering of the courtyard illustrates the entrance that will be used by students and others familiar with the school; it will be separate from the building’s public entrance on the north, facing Alabama Avenue. During the morning arrival time, teachers and staff will stand at the courtyard entrance to greet students as they arrive. He noted that the Commission had asked the project team to study adding a canopy at this entrance, proposed in the initial design to be a recessed entrance. The project team has developed two options, one with a canopy and one without. He said that while the project team supports either one, DGS prefers the option without the canopy because the project budget is limited and the canopy would be expensive; the project team therefore prefers the option without the canopy.
Mr. Jacobs introduced landscape architect Bel St. John Day of Bradley Site Design to present the changes to the landscape proposal. Ms. St. John Day said the revised landscape design remains close to the original concept. The main student entrance route from Jasper Street, on the east, has been simplified: the previous Y-shaped path configuration has been changed to a curving alignment that supports the idea of establishing a playful, engaging immersion into the landscape and play areas as soon as students enter the campus. She said the area south of the building has been developed through the addition of a series of outdoor environmental classrooms; hardscape has been reduced, and the design works with the site topography to create opportunities to gain environmental literacy. She noted that many of the students do not otherwise have access to open space in their daily lives.
Ms. St. John Day said the project team has been working closely with the school administration on the issue of fencing. Alabama Avenue, on the north side of the school property, is a major thoroughfare that also has a great deal of pedestrian activity; many people congregate on Alabama Avenue near a bus stop at the northeast corner of the site. In addition, there are many residences to the east along Jasper Street. Loitering near the school has been a problem, and she said that many of the loiterers try to engage in conversation with students on school property. She emphasized the importance of creating a clearly defined edge around the site and allowing students to be able to quickly enter a safe and defensible space that will have a clear buffer between outside and inside
Ms. St. John Day indicated the existing eight-foot-high chain-link fence that is located to the back of the sidewalk along Jasper Street and along Alabama Avenue. The proposal is to pull the fence line back from Alabama Avenue by approximately ten feet and establish a buffer of trees outside the fence, with a landscaped area on the campus inside the fence line. She said cars parked in the school lot are frequently broken into during the day; the proposal is to surround the new parking lot with a four-foot-high fence, clearly defining a defensible parking area and matching the height of other ornamental fences on the site. Access to the parking lot would be through a motorized gate reached via an inset paved area off Jasper Street.
Ms. St. John Day noted that the school system requires two- to five-year-old students to be in fenced areas when they play outside; the proposal is to provide smaller fenced play areas for these younger students. Landscape buffers would be planted to hide some of these internal fences, such as those between the basketball court and the parking lot, to help retain the appearance of an open, welcoming campus.
Chair Tsien invited questions and comments from the Commission members.
Ms. Delplace said she understands the programmatic needs for some of the fences; however, the sawtooth section of fence along Jasper Street would form a very brutal edge. She indicated a rendering depicting the new approach to the main entrance on the north, which she said shows the lights, the bike racks, and the mesh screen for the artwork in a soft gray color, but depicts the fencing as a very heavy black element, which she said would convey an unfortunate, unwelcoming message for an entrance to a school building. She said the plan view illustrates a strong outer perimeter, highlighted in red, but includes a series of overlaid fences that seem to work against the stated desire to create a sense of openness and instead fragment the entire space. Observing that the plan proposes the planting of landscape buffers outside of four- and eight-foot-high fences, she suggested developing a strategy that ties the fences and landscape buffers together in both color and form. She summarized that some of the renderings appear very harsh, particularly those showing massive black fences at the entrances to the school; although the presentation looks comprehensive, she said it does not illustrate any landscape gestures that would change this harsh appearance.
Mr. Jackson responded that the fence depicted in the rendering of the main entrance is there for the safety and security of the children. He agreed that the use of black fences would be stark, and he said the color could be softer, perhaps similar to the color of the building facade; Ms. Delplace said a softer color would help. She observed that the fence as rendered detracts from the architectural features of the new building, including the very light facade color, which would be dominated by the appearance of heavy black fences in the foreground. She reiterated that these fences fight against the desired appearance of a welcoming campus. She recommended that the project team think about how the fences could be tied together in a hierarchy, not only of height but of types, and she suggested studying them in relation to the composition of the architecture.
Mr. McCrery expressed strong support for Ms. Delplace’s comments about color. He questioned how the fence extending south from Alabama Avenue would meet the proposed building addition near the main school entrance, observing the apparent lack of any intentional relationship; he suggested that this fence could perhaps meet the building at a window mullion or at the edge of the school sign located on this facade. More broadly, he suggested careful consideration of the relationship between the landscape design and the architecture.
Ms. St. John Day agreed with this observation. She said that the previous design had a much more robust landscape layout inside the fence along Alabama Avenue, but this area now includes the required feature of a “traffic garden” for the students. She said the design of this area could be reconsidered, perhaps shifting the traffic garden so that the fence line can be moved east and allowing more planted landscape along this edge for a softer and more open appearance at this entrance. Ms. Delplace and Mr. McCrery expressed support for this idea.
Mr. McCrery asked if the boundary fence, indicated by a red line on the site plan, could continue straight along Jasper Street instead of the proposed sawtooth configuration that would extend into the school grounds to adjoin an eight-foot-high rolling motorized gate. He suggested that this vehicular gate could instead be located at the fence line or property line, allowing the boundary fence to continue as a straight line and avoiding a sawtooth intrusion into the site. He added that a realignment would allow for other interior fences to be replaced by hedges, creating a more open, friendly, and less fortified appearance.
Ms. St. John Day said this recessed area off Jasper Street is for service access, intended for deliveries, trash collection, and drop-off during school hours. The intent is to avoid having vehicles park on the street, and to provide a security measure that prevents people from entering the campus without permission. The proposed fence line therefore follows the boundary of this service area, which is set back from the road; vehicles would be buzzed in. She said that putting the eight-foot-high fence and the gate at the boundary would require the drivers of service and other vehicles to park in the street and walk to a point where they could be allowed onto school property. Mr. McCrery observed that the proposed sawtooth fence configuration results from trying to accommodate sporadic, if daily, use, and it would give the campus an irregular appearance; he described this design move as “letting the tail wag the dog.” Chair Tsien expressed support for Mr. McCrery’s observations.
Mr. Moore agreed with the comments of the other Commission members. He said that fence lines should be consolidated wherever possible. He supported the suggestion to use hedges where feasible; for example, instead of the proposed six-foot-high fence around the parking lot, a four-foot-high hedge would be sufficient to prevent anyone from jumping over it. At the main entrance from Alabama Avenue, shifting the fence line to the east would make a big difference for this public approach, increasing visibility and enhancing the importance of the future artwork at this entrance. While acknowledging the importance of creating a defensible space to protect children and school property, he emphasized the equal importance of creating the appearance of a welcoming and inclusive public space. He said the proposed changes are long-term investments in the school campus that need to be much better balanced than they are in this proposal. He also questioned the intent to select an interior location for the artwork honoring Pittman; he said that comments have supported placing the artwork outside, where it will be seen by the public.
Referring to the suggestion to reduce the sawtooth appearance of the fence along Jasper Street, Ms. Tsien asked if the project team has studied designing a fence with only a single opening for service activities. She expressed support for the suggestion to design a straight fence line along Jasper Street with a single service entrance where vehicles can be buzzed in. She said that a continuous eight-foot-high fence line around the campus would simplify the entire landscape, making it feel more like a whole rather than a site cut up into small pieces. She observed that an additional fence around the parking lot inside this boundary fence would appear quite redundant, and she agreed with Mr. McCrery that it could be replaced by a hedge.
Mr. Jackson said the project team will study these changes. He clarified that the fence encircling the parking lot is intended to keep the children safe, and the sawtooth configuration facing Jasper Street is intended to keep service uses from affecting school activities. Ms. Tsien said an eight-foot-high boundary fence along Jasper Street with only one opening would allow for separation of different functions, accomplishing more with a simpler design. She added that replacing the four-foot-high fence around the parking lot with a very thick hedge would prevent children from running in front of cars while creating the overall appearance of a continuous, unified green landscape, instead of another fenced area within a fenced area. Especially if some of the other proposed four-foot-high fences are replaced with hedges, she said the site will feel much more spacious. She reiterated that the crux of the problem along the Jasper Street edge is the creation of fenced enclosures within larger fenced enclosures. She asked the project team to reconsider the treatment of these fences, and she suggested delegating further review of this issue to the staff rather than bringing the project back to the Commission.
Chair Tsien asked for the Commission members’ comments about whether to include a canopy at the east entrance. Mr. McCrery observed that canopies are a useful way of marking an entrance and providing shelter; he emphasized the benefit of having a small covered area at an entrance, particularly an entrance where children will wait to be picked up. Regarding the cost of the canopy, he noted that the Commission’s suggestions regarding simplification and elimination of fences have saved a considerable amount of money for the project. He added that a weakness of the proposed design is that neither of the two entrances is strongly indicated by the architecture.
Chair Tsien suggested framing a motion for the project. Secretary Luebke said the Commission is being asked to approve a final design. Summarizing the discussion, he suggested that the Commission could approve the submission with several conditions: to add an entrance canopy on the east; to redesign the site fences in order to reduce the number of apparent enclosures on the site, with particular attention to avoiding the use of fenced areas within fenced areas, such as by consolidating or moving the control point on Jasper Street out to the curb; and to consider a slightly lighter color and more coordinated design for the various types of fences. He noted the suggestion that further review of these issues could be delegated to the staff, which will determine whether the project needs to return to the Commission. Chair Tsien agreed with this approach. Upon a motion by Mr. Moore with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the final design with the conditions described by Mr. Luebke, and with further review delegated to the staff.
2. CFA 19/JAN/23-2, Spingarn High School, 2500 Benning Road, NE. Partial renovation of building and landscape for D.C. Infrastructure Academy. Concept. The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
C. Dupont Circle BID / Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets
CFA 19/JAN/23-3, Triangle park at Reservation 143A, intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and 18th and Q Streets, NW. Installation of new sculpture and landscape. Concept. The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
D. D.C. Department of Buildings—Shipstead-Luce Act
1. SL 23-053, 1735 New York Avenue, NW. American Institute of Architects national headquarters. Renovations and alterations to building and landscape. Revised concept. (Previous: SL 23-004, 20 Oct 2022) Secretary Luebke introduced a revised concept submission for renovations and alterations to the building and landscape of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) national headquarters. He noted that the Commission approved the concept in June 2022 and most recently reviewed a revised concept in October 2022; the comments have focused primarily on the redesign of the garden between the 1970s headquarters office building and the historic Octagon House, dating from 1799. The Commission approved a revised concept in October 2022, and the design team has continued to develop the design in response to the Commission’s comments.
Mr. Luebke said the currently submitted revisions include relatively minor adjustments to the architectural proposal, related to finish selections and the details of the proposed solar screening across the headquarters facade. The landscape proposal has been simplified, such as by eliminating the red sandstone elements and refining the design of the handrails, fences, and gates; the result is greater visibility for the boardwalk and trellis as the primary features in experiencing the site. Thin, square metal bars are now proposed as the pickets for the fences and gates, emphasizing transparency and views into the site in order to be more welcoming while still providing the needed security. Revisions at the upper plaza include realignment of the trellis columns to improve pedestrian circulation, and the substitution of granite for salvaged brick for the paving. The retaining walls within the garden would be faced with stone instead of brick.
Mr. Luebke asked architect Christian Wopperer of EHDD and landscape architect Ann Salerno of Hood Design Studio to present the revised concept; he suggested that the presentation focus on the landscape revisions. Chair Tsien agreed, noting that the Commission members are already familiar with the project and do not need a detailed presentation of the architectural design development.
Ms. Salerno summarized the Commission’s guidance from October 2022 to simplify the materials palette and emphasize the main elements of the trellis and boardwalk, as well as to study the positioning of the trellis and the design details of the fence. She said the currently proposed exterior materials include concrete pavers, which would match the interior concrete finish; granite that would be reused from elsewhere on the site to provide site steps and paving at the elliptical plaza; salvaged red brick near the Octagon; and wood for the boardwalk and the slates of the trellis. The finishes for metal used across the project have also been coordinated.
Ms. Salerno said the circulation design has been improved throughout the site, as suggested in the Commission’s previous reviews. She indicated a new barrier-free access point to the Octagon’s rear plaza from the third landing of the boardwalk; the location has been changed from the previous design. She presented a series of perspective views of the entry sequence, comparing the current proposal to the previous design from October 2022. She emphasized that visual impediments have been removed, including a low sign wall; the signage has instead been placed on the wall near the building or on the granite cap above the existing brick wall. She said a kick rail of brushed stainless steel has been added at some locations along the zigzag boardwalk; the handrails would be the same material, as part of the simplification of the material palette, and the concrete for the site stairs would match the concrete paving of the plaza. She noted the elimination of the red sandstone elements to simplify the entry experience and allow the boardwalk to stand out. The sliding gate has been eliminated from the fence design; the proposal is instead for a pair of swinging gates. The fence would have metal pickets instead of wood slats; the thinner dimension and simpler finish would avoid impeding views toward the landscape plantings on both sides of the fence, the trellis at the upper plaza, and the building facade. She presented perspective views of the gate in the open and closed positions, emphasizing the visual openness of the currently proposed design.
Ms. Salerno presented revised views of the upper plaza. The fixed seating provided by red sandstone blocks has been eliminated to simplify the design; moveable furniture is now proposed. The design for granite paving has also been simplified, and it would more closely match the concrete pavers. The trellis material would be the same wood as used for the boardwalk, and the finish of the trellis posts would match the color of the steel on the building facade and the planter walls, with the intent of simplifying the range of colors within the site. She said the result would be a more subtle contrast of materials, with greater emphasis on the trellis as the major feature of this space, along with the boardwalk and the building facade. Secretary Luebke displayed the material samples that have been submitted; Ms. Salerno said the wood will weather to a slightly grayer color.
Ms. Salerno described the refinements to the planting palette. Two groves of trees have been introduced to highlight the two entrances to the site, from New York Avenue and from 18th Street; the intent is for both entrances to provide a similar experience, with views through the site and an intimate scale defined by shade. She concluded with several site elevation drawings, and she emphasized the simplification and more open experience in the currently proposed design.
Mr. Wopperer presented an overview of the architectural revisions. The proposed gray metal finish color for the window frames and other steel elements has been lightened, based on consideration of the entire palette at an on-site meeting; the lighter color would match the trellis and some elements of the planters. The frit pattern on the proposed glass panels has been revised to have slightly more play and movement within a subtle design. He noted that the design for visual screening at the roof has not changed. He added that material samples have been provided, and the quality of materials is consistent with the previous submission.
Chair Tsien invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Moore expressed support for the simplified and more open design for the landscape, especially at the perimeter. He said that the proposal responds to the Commission’s previous comments and provides a more accessible and equitable entry experience throughout the site. He said the project has improved, and the architecture and landscape are better coordinated in scale, material, and color; he commended the refinements to the design.
Ms. Delplace agreed, commenting that the simplification has resulted in a stronger site plan. She recalled the Commission’s prior advice given in an earlier review to treat the garden as a landscape intervention between two buildings, and she said the design is beginning to achieve this. She also expressed support for the added groves of trees, commenting that this additional layer will be very helpful within the urban context of New York Avenue. She said the general massing of the planting seems to be working well, although the specific plantings have not been presented.
Mr. Cook joined in supporting the simplification of the design. He recalled the difficulty in prior reviews of understanding how the many parts of this project would come together, and he said the design is now moving in a good direction. He expressed support for the lighter character of the new gate design, but he cautioned that its appearance could become heavier as the details are developed; for example, the addition of reinforcement at the top would change the presented appearance of the freestanding tops for the pickets. He also questioned the design of the low curbs, approximately four to six inches high, as a potential tripping hazard; he said these curbs should be detailed carefully.
Mr. McCrery expressed agreement with the supportive comments of the other Commission members, citing the more restrained palette and the improved access within the site. He observed that the site plan depicts light-colored stone bands extending perpendicular to the sidewalks along New York Avenue and 18th Street, apparently part of the landscaping within the street rights-of-way that are intended as extensions of site features within the garden. Noting that these bands were not discussed in the presentation, he asked for clarification of their design. He also asked about the large white rectangular area shown within the lawn southeast of the Octagon.
Mr. Wopperer responded that the white rectangle is the top of an in-ground vault housing the Octagon’s mechanical equipment; the design facilitates maintenance access for this equipment. Ms. Salerno confirmed that the lines reaching the sidewalks would be decorative paving strips that would provide passers-by with a suggestion of the garden design within the fence line; the strips are not intended as walking paths. However, she said the appropriateness of this feature is being reconsidered in response to comments from other agencies, including the D.C. Department of Transportation. Mr. McCrery said these bands appear to be successful within the garden, but they would not make sense outside the garden’s brick enclosure walls, which would interrupt the visual continuity of these lines in relating the garden design to the streetscape. Ms. Salerno said the strips within the streetscape will likely be eliminated entirely, or reduced in number with wider spacing, or redesigned to terminate their ends within the landscape to avoid the suggestion of a pedestrian path. She added that the southernmost strip along 18th Street would likely remain because it leads to a gate within the existing brick wall, while the removal of the two strips along the New York Avenue frontage would allow for more planting in this area. Mr. McCrery expressed support for these intended revisions, which Ms. Salerno confirmed are part of the current proposal.
Dr. Edwards agreed that the design has significantly improved; she said the revised color palette for the landscape works well with the proposed alterations to the building facade. She recalled her comment from an earlier review that the zigzag walk provides the opportunity to create special moments where people can stop during the long entry sequence through the site. She asked if consideration was given to benches for people to rest, such as at the paved area where a woman is depicted as kneeling to take a photograph. She added that benches along the walk would also deter people from stepping over the curbs or kick rail into the landscape, addressing the concern that these could be a tripping hazard. Ms. Salerno said that the design team has considered including benches as part of the zigzag walk, particularly at the landings; however, the walk’s configuration is tightly constrained by the goal of ascending the site’s slope with a grade that does not exceed five percent, and very little extra room is available. She said that a bench at the location indicated by Dr. Edwards would require a flatter grade for the walk in this area to meet accessibility standards, and this flatter grade would not be feasible within the overall geometry of the ascending walk. If the problem is addressed by making the walk steeper in other areas, the walk would have to meet the design requirements for a ramp, such as handrails and landings, but the goal for this project is to have a shallow grade that can be treated as a sloped walkway. She said the curb design will be studied further; one option would be to place a tubular kick rail along the walk, providing the opportunity to incorporate subtle site lighting that would define the edges of the boardwalk, increase visibility across the walkway, and provide consistent lighting along the entire length. The alternatives of a curb and a kick rail will both be evaluated for safety.
Mr. Cook asked for further information about the intended lighting, including for the entire site as well as on the walks. Ms. Salerno said the intent is to simplify the site lighting design and eliminate vertical lighting elements where possible. She said the integration of lighting into a kick rail would allow for eliminating most vertical lighting fixtures, particularly at the New York Avenue entrance to the site, where the low lighting would emphasize signage and the boardwalk. Uplighting would highlight special trees at each side of the boardwalk, and small lights within the plantings would provide additional highlights of the landscape around the site entrance. The heritage oak tree within the site would also be uplit. The trellis would have downlighting to illuminate the plaza beneath it, as well as uplighting to highlight the trellis features. Lighting bollards would illuminate the entrance to the site from 18th Street, and additional lighting within planters would illuminate the walkway paralleling 18th Street that leads to the Octagon’s rear plaza, along with uplighting to highlight the grove of trees. Mr. Wopperer added that two pole lights would give broad illumination for special events that are held on the Octagon’s rear plaza.
Chair Tsien summarized the apparent consensus to support the revised concept submission, observing that many of the Commission’s questions and concerns have been addressed. She suggested approval of the revised concept submission, subject to the comments provided. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Ms. Delplace, the Commission adopted this action, with the understanding that the proposal includes some modifications that were described during the discussion but not included on the presented drawings. Secretary Luebke said that a further concept-level submission may not be needed, and the next review could be at the permit phase after the relatively small concerns with the design have been resolved. He asked if the Commission would accept placing the permit submission on the Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix, if the staff determines that it is satisfactory; Chair Tsien agreed to this procedure, which would not involve delegation of approval authority to the staff.
2. SL 23-046, 5906 17th Street, NW. New single-family house and landscape. Concept. Secretary Luebke said the trapezoidal, undeveloped lot of about 9,000 square feet is located on the east side of Rock Creek Park, approximately one block south of Military Road, at the end of Manchester Lane where it intersects with a short segment of 17th Street. The site slopes downward to the west and is prominently visible from Joyce Road within the park. The architectural context of the adjacent blocks is modest one- and two-story single-family houses built throughout the 20th century, in styles ranging from Colonial Revival to split-level ranch and more contemporary expressions. He said this particular lot at 5906 17th Street has had several owners recently, with two different house designs submitted for the Commission’s review since 2019, neither of which was constructed. Since then, the site has been enlarged slightly, with the unimproved former extension of Manchester Lane’s right-of-way vacated and half of it assigned to this lot. An open-space easement remains within the width of that former right-of-way, as well as a 15-foot-wide utility easement; the result is no significant change to the allowable footprint for a new house.
Mr. Luebke said the new design for the house presents a pair of narrow, gabled, gray-brick volumes facing east onto 17th Street as part of a larger composition of brick masses and projecting bays that opens onto the park at the rear with stepping volumes. These elements would be clad in tones of gray brick and two colors of wood siding in what he described as a neutral, mid-tone palette. The site design includes a terrace on the southwest, a deck and a fenced yard facing the park on the west, a driveway on the north, an entry walk on the east, and a below-grade stormwater facility. He noted the significant trees adjacent to the site and within the federal parkland and adjoining public space; he indicated the large heritage tulip poplar on the south edge of the property whose critical root zone covers most of the site. He asked David Franco, principal and cofounder of Level 2 Development, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Franco said he is a native Washingtonian who greatly appreciates the natural beauty of Rock Creek Park and is looking forward to constructing this new house for his family. He said he has engaged neighbors on the design so that it will complement and respect the neighborhood and environment. He noted the three single-story houses with side garages to the north along this side of 17th Street, with no sidewalks. On the opposite side of 17th Street is a steep, multi-acre yard that is part of a larger property up the hill. He introduced architect Greg Sparhawk of GPS Designs to present the proposal.
Mr. Sparhawk indicated the original and revised lot lines. The proposed house would be sited toward the northeastern part of the allowable construction area; the primary reason is to avoid having the house’s garage face 17th Street and instead provide a pedestrian-focused approach and human-scale facade. The garage would be on the north side of the house toward the rear, similar to the other houses on the block. The west and southwest exposures of the house would be glazed to open up views to the park. He asked landscape architect Jeff Lee of Lee & Associates to present the site design.
Mr. Lee said the rectangular site slopes down from 17th Street toward the park. The north side of the site, where a driveway would slope down from the street to the rear garage, is clear of plantings. In contrast, the southern edge of the site is heavily wooded. He said the existing tulip poplar on the south is probably the largest specimen he has ever seen in the region; the house and landscape are therefore configured with consideration of this tree’s critical root zone. The proposed landscape amenities facing the park include a cantilevered deck, bluestone patio, infinity lap pool, and hot tub. An open lawn area at the west end of the site would be used for stormwater management and bioretention.
Mr. Sparhawk presented the proposed floor plans. The lower level would include a playroom and the garage, which would be accessed from the eleven-foot-wide driveway along the northern side yard. The main level would contain the primary living spaces, and the upper level would have four bedrooms. He then presented the proposed elevations, noting that the owner wants a design that features traditional forms with a contemporary character; he described the proposed architecture as transitional in style. The front facade on 17th Street would have symmetrical forms to create balance, with the juxtaposition of hierarchy within the forms. This facade’s window sizes would vary greatly, and a proposed central entrance canopy is intended to bring focus. The two gables would be brick, with the center hyphen clad in thermally treated wood; this material in a different color would be used on the other facades. On the north elevation, he indicated the sloping grade from 17th Street to the park. He also presented section drawings to illustrate the levels of the house in relation to the slope of the site and the landscape design.
Chair Tsien noted that the Commission’s purview relates to the proposal’s impact on the neighborhood and parkland, and she requested further focus on the exterior materials. Mr. Sparhawk presented exterior renderings of the proposed design to provide a better sense of the depth and overall massing of the house. He indicated the extensive glazing at the rear of the house facing the park, and he clarified that the muntins shown in the triangular living room windows should have been removed from the drawings. He described the material palette as neutral, with warm grays and other dark colors for the brick and the wood siding. Mr. Lee said two types of fencing would be used, including fencing to keep out deer and coyotes. The material palette for the outdoor amenities would include natural stone for the patio and wood for the deck.
Chair Tsien invited comments from the Commission members. Mr. McCrery asked if the entire site would be cleared, observing that there are currently several beautiful trees on the site. Mr. Lee said the site already has a clearing, and he confirmed that the work can proceed by-right. Mr. McCrery indicated the “magnificent” sycamore near the site’s southeast corner and asked if it would be retained; David Landsman, an engineer from CAS Engineering on the project team, confirmed that it will remain. Mr. McCrery asked if the house footprint would be within the likely forty percent maximum lot coverage allowed by D.C. regulations; Mr. Franco said the house would occupy 36% of the site, and he indicated the property lines on the site plan. Mr. McCrery asked for more information on the rectangle shown in the far northwestern corner of the site; Mr. Landsman said this is a placeholder for the below-grade stormwater management facility.
Ms. Delplace asked how far the proposed driveway would extend along the northern side of the property; Mr. Franco said the site plan does not document the latest proposed configuration of the driveway, which has been shortened at the west. Ms. Delplace asked if the driveway would require retaining walls; Mr. Lee said a short retaining wall would be located at the northern edge to meet the neighboring grade, but it would not be significant. Mr. Landsman added that the wall would not be more than two feet tall, and its purpose is to create a consistent, drivable slope; he also confirmed that the driveway is within the side-yard setback for the house.
Recalling that the Commission has reviewed designs for this site several times before, Chair Tsien said that the proposal is supportable for this unusual site. She commented that orienting the garage entrance toward the north side of the site is a thoughtful gesture; she suggested approving the concept design, noting that the project will return for further review. Upon a motion by Mr. Cook with second by Dr. Edwards, the Commission adopted this action. Secretary Luebke confirmed that the staff will continue to work with the project team as the design is developed for the permit-level review.
At this point, Mr. Moore departed for the remainder of the meeting. Secretary Luebke noted that a quorum of five Commission members remains for the next agenda item.
E. U.S. Mint
CFA 19/JAN/23-4, Congressional Gold Medal honoring the Harlem Hellfighters. Design for a gold medal. Final. Secretary Luebke introduced the design alternatives for a Congressional Gold Medal honoring the “Harlem Hellfighters,” the nickname for a U.S. Army regiment of Black soldiers that fought with French forces during World War I. Originally formed as part of the New York National Guard, the regiment was also known as “the Rattlers,” with the symbol of a rattlesnake. Fighting with the French in 1918, the Hellfighters were issued French equipment, including rifles and helmets, along with their American uniforms. The Hellfighters contributed to several important offenses and victories during the War, and they continued to serve afterward as part of the French army of occupation; the regiment and many of its members were awarded the Croix de Guerre medal by the French Government. Their contributions required overcoming racial discrimination before, during, and after the war. He said the Hellfighters were also well-known for their marching band, which helped to introduce jazz music to France. In recognition of this history, the Mint’s design alternatives include musical motifs, French helmets and rifles, the regiment’s insignia, the Croix de Guerre medal, and the names of battle sites. He noted that the gold medal will be presented to the Smithsonian Institution, which may lend it for display at other locations, and the Mint may also strike bronze duplicates for sale to the public.
Mr. Luebke asked April Stafford, chief of the Office of Design Management at the U.S. Mint, to present the alternatives. Ms. Stafford said the Mint has developed the designs in consultation with two historians who specialize in the history of the Harlem Hellfighters.
Ms. Stafford presented thirteen alternatives for the obverse design, noting that obverse #4 is the preference of the Mint’s liaisons; she said that the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee has not yet reviewed these designs. She said the liaisons cited #4 as the most dignified of the obverse alternatives, presenting a group of three uniformed infantrymen in a very dignified fashion, and with the several names that were used for the regiment.
Chair Tsien said that Mr. Moore provided comments before his departure, and his preference is for obverse #4, consistent with the preference of the liaisons. Mr. McCrery expressed agreement, describing obverse #4 as outstanding. Mr. Cook, Dr. Edwards, and Ms. Delplace said they also selected obverse #4 as the best design. Ms. Tsien agreed, expressing support for the composition of three soldiers and the handsome appearance of the design.
Ms. Stafford presented twelve alternatives for the reverse design, noting that the liaisons had expressed a preference for reverse #2. This design includes the crossed U.S. and French flags, crossed olive branches, the regiment’s coiled rattlesnake insignia, the Croix de Guerre medal, and the names of three battles in which the regiment fought. She said if this design moves forward, the positions of the two flags will be swapped to place the U.S. flag on the left to be consistent with rules for the display of the U.S. flag.
Chair Tsien reported Mr. Moore’s preference for reverse #3, which combines a rifle and a saxophone; Mr. Moore also wrote that if inclusion of the battle names is important, his preference would be reverse #8, featuring a rifle and a trombone. She summarized Mr. Moore’s support for including a reference to jazz, which would differentiate this medal from other medals related to military battles.
Mr. McCrery asked if the Mint’s liaisons have discussed whether a musical reference would be a desired feature for the medal. Ms. Stafford responded that the liaisons have supported the inclusion of a musical reference, as seen in some of the designs, as a way of representing the regiment’s legacy of bringing jazz to Europe. She said the liaisons prefer reverse #2 because it prominently features the Croix de Guerre, signifying the importance of this regiment’s contributions being recognized by another country; she noted that reverse #3 also includes the Croix de Guerre. She said the Mint will follow its customary practice of sharing the Commission’s comments with the liaisons, who may respond by adjusting their preferences. The Commission’s comments will also be conveyed for consideration at the upcoming meeting of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, and all of the responses will be conveyed to the Secretary of the Treasury for a final decision on the design.
Ms. Tsien expressed support for reverse #3, commenting that people will readily recognize the rifle and the saxophone, while many will not recognize the Croix de Guerre. She said that reverse #3, by combining these elements, relates simultaneously to the past, present, and future. Ms. Delplace said her initial preference was for reverse #8, but she agrees with Ms. Tsien’s comments in support of reverse #3. She observed that reverse #3 is difficult to understand because it has many messages; reverse #8 is a simpler design, although it does not include the Croix de Guerre.
Mr. Cook joined in supporting reverse #3. He criticized the depiction of the crossed flags in reverse #8 as very flat, while the treatment of the flags in reverse #3 is more dynamic. He agreed with Ms. Delplace that reverse #3 is a very busy design, and he suggested consideration of some editing. He observed that the rattlesnake insignia is at the center of reverse #3, and the phrase “Let’s Go Rattlers” extends below; he suggested that the text could be removed.
Dr. Edwards expressed agreement with the comments of the other Commission members. She said that reverses #3 and #8 are both strong contenders, while agreeing that the flags in #8 are very flat. She said the Croix de Guerre is an important component of many other reverse designs, and she suggested consideration of somehow inserting it within the composition of reverse #8 while not overly complicating the composition.
Mr. McCrery suggested a synthesis of reverse designs to address the comments that have been provided. He observed that reverse #8, despite the lifelessness of the composition, has the creative feature of crossing the rifle and the trombone. He described reverse #2 as very powerful, and he suggested replacing some feature with the rifle and trombone motifs. He also noted that the Croix de Guerre medal is an award that would customarily hang from a ribbon, as depicted in reverse #2 and several other alternatives; he suggested including the ribbon with the medal if reverse #3 is selected. He said the Rattlers would likely have been very proud to be recognized by a foreign government with the high honor of the Croix de Guerre, and its inclusion on this Congressional Gold Medal is important. He also agreed with Ms. Tsien’s recognition that the inclusion of a musical instrument conveys the impact of the Harlem Hellfighters on the future of European culture through the introduction of jazz. He added that the depiction of the U.S. flag in any of these alternatives should use the simple grid of stars on the 48-star flag that was used during World War I rather than the contemporary staggered grid seen in the submitted designs.
Chair Tsien asked whether a modified or combined design would be feasible to develop, or whether the Commission is limited to recommending one of the submitted alternatives. Secretary Luebke said that the Commission has sometimes requested development of a different design; he noted that the Commission’s role is advisory, and the Secretary of the Treasury will make the final decision. He said the Treasury’s decision-making process could benefit from being informed by the Commission’s comments about the relative merits of each design and the importance of different design features. He added that the Treasury will also consider the comments from other stakeholders, such as the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. He summarized that the Commission’s comments on the reverse alternatives are a reasonable response to the submission.
Chair Tsien suggested that the Commission frame its comments as support for reverse #3 with modifications, instead of proposing an entirely new design or the substitution of design elements. She supported the suggestion to modify the depiction of the Croix de Guerre by showing it suspended from a ribbon, which she said would make it clear that the Croix de Guerre could be awarded to and worn by an individual. She also supported consideration of deleting the text “Let’s Go Rattlers” but acknowledged that the Commission does not have enough information about the importance of including this phrase. She said that reverse #3 includes several features that the Commission has identified as important: a three-dimensional representation of the U.S. and French flags; a reference to the rattlesnake, seen in the regiment’s insignia; a musical instrument in combination with a rifle; and the Croix de Guerre.
Ms. Stafford confirmed that the Commission’s comments are helpful, and she said they are especially timely because the comments can be shared for consideration at the upcoming meeting of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee as well as by the liaisons. She expressed appreciation for the guidance to focus on reverse #3 while also exploring additional design paths.
Chair Tsien asked if a motion would be appropriate. Secretary Luebke said the staff could simply prepare a summary of the comments, or the Commission could take a formal action to recommend a specific alternative in conjunction with comments. Chair Tsien noted the Commission’s unanimous support for obverse #4, and the narrowed range of guidance for reverse #3 with modifications; she therefore suggested taking an action. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Cook, the Commission recommended obverse #4 and a revised version of reverse #3 that responds to the comments provided. Mr. Cook noted that this action includes the recommendation to use the 48-star flag for whichever reverse design is chosen.
Secretary Luebke noted the upcoming coordination with the Mint on the planned joint issue of a coin by the U.S. and British mints. He acknowledged the participation of several Commission members in the design process for this international project.
Chair Tsien said the thoughtful consideration of time has allowed for today’s important reviews to be conducted within a relatively short duration for the meeting. She expressed appreciation to the presenters and Commission members for their effort to be expeditious.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 11:23 a.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA