Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
16 February 2006
The meeting was convened in the Commission of Fine Arts offices in the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, N.W, Washington, D.C. 20001, at 10:04 a.m.
National Capital Planning Commission staff present:
Approval of the minutes of the 19 January meeting. The January minutes had been circulated to the members in advance of the meeting. The Commission approved the minutes without objection upon a motion by Ms. Balmori and second by Ms. Zimmerman.
Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings: March 16, April 20, and May 18. There were no objections.
Resolution in memory of Charles H. Atherton, Secretary of the Commission, 1965 to 2004. Mr. Luebke read a proposed resolution in honor of Mr. Atherton, who died in December 2005. Mr. Luebke noted that Mr. Powell had conveyed a proxy vote in favor of the resolution. Upon a motion by Ms. Balmori with second by Ms. Zimmerman, the resolution was adopted. [To be attached as an Appendix.] Mr. Belle praised Mr. Atherton's long-standing guardianship of Washington's public realm and commented that his influence extended to the newer members of the Commission.
Submissions and Reviews
Consent Calendars. Mr. Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commissioners in advance of the meeting.
Appendix I — Direct Submission Consent Calendar: Ms. Penhoet noted one addition to the appendix: a project to relocate two utility vaults at the DC Superior Courthouse in Judiciary Square, which the staff supported. The Commission approved the revised appendix, upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski with second by Ms. Zimmerman.
Appendix II — Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Penhoet noted that the appendix included recommendations against approval of several projects a residential retaining wall, an awning at the National Press Building, and a nearby commercial sign. The Commission approved the appendix, upon a motion by Ms. Zimmerman with second by Ms. Balmori.
Appendix III — Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martinez noted that the appendix included three projects whose approval was contingent on supplemental drawings which had not yet been received. He suggested that the Commission authorize the staff to finalize these approvals upon receiving the supplemental drawings and verifying their consistency with the Old Georgetown Board's recommendations. The Commission approved the appendix with this understanding, upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski with second by Ms. Balmori.
CFA 16/FEB/06-1, National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. Asia Trail Phase II, including Elephant House and habitat renovation and additions to existing facilities. Concept. (Previous: CFA 21/OCT/04-1, New elephant house; CFA 15/Jan/04-7 & 8, Asia Trail Phases I & II.) Mr. Martinez introduced the project, explaining that part of the Asia Trail project's Phase I was currently under construction, in the vicinity of the Panda House. Phase II had involved a proposal to build a new Elephant House, but the Smithsonian had instead decided to renovate and expand the existing Elephant House, resulting in the new concept being submitted for approval. He then introduced John Berry, the director of the National Zoo as of October 2005.
Mr. Berry described his "Renew the Zoo" program, an overall vision for the National Zoo centered on the goal of becoming the world's best zoo within ten years. This goal would be achieved through excellence in four areas: animal care; science, emphasizing conservation in the wild; educational experiences; and sustainability. He said that the previous proposal for a new Elephant House did not promote sustainability, since it would demolish an existing facility and consume scarce open space. Instead, the new proposal would renovate the existing building from the 1930s, maintaining its original purpose while adapting it to modern standards of science and animal husbandry. The project would expand both indoor and outdoor space for the animals. He then introduced Gretchen Pfaehler from the firm of EwingCole, directing the historic preservation aspects of the project.
Ms. Pfaehler noted that her firm is working in partnership with CLR Design, a zoo consultant, represented by Greg Dykstra. CLR's work emphasized animal management and animal habitat design. She used aerial photographs to describe the extent of the project. The area proposed for the expanded outdoor elephant space included areas now used as habitats for giraffes, elephants, hippos, and tapirs.
Mr. Dykstra provided an historical overview of elephant exhibit methodology, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. The existing Elephant House reflected the early approach of a simple animal barn and adjacent yard, with some effort to combine related species in the same building. Beginning in the 1970s, zoos began clustering a variety of habitats around a complex of barns, although animals still tended to remain next to their own barn where feeding occurred. A more recent approach was to encourage the animals to engage in a wider range of activities using a variety of habitats that could be linked together in various combinations, perhaps including usage by multiple species. This concept could be applied to both indoor and outdoor habitat areas.
This modern concept was being applied to the National Zoo site, making use of the existing varied topography of ridges and valleys. In addition to considering the animal behavior, locations were also identified where visitors could enjoy special views. He presented a conceptual diagram to illustrate the proposed relationships of various animal, staff, and visitor activities. The resulting proposal involved seven or eight habitat areas that could be combined in various ways, each having its own characteristic feature such as areas for swimming, dust bathing, grazing, rubbing, or licking salt. The area closest to the Elephant House would be used for animal care. Zoo staff could manage the accessibility of the various habitat areas, including a configuration that would provide a trail for longer walks. He noted that the terrain's 30-foot grade change would provide good exercise for the elephants.
The Elephant House would be the focus of the visitor and animal experience. The building would be reconfigured so that visitors would occupy a narrow band of space along the front facade; animals would occupy the former visitor area at the center area of the building, which would become an "elephant activity center." Mr. Dykstra described how the interior visitor area would connect to an extensive exterior pathway loop, which would have a sequence of special views of the topography and habitat areas. The visitor path would make use of an existing bridge as well as a new one. He also noted how the Asia Trail's Phase I visitor path would tie into this new proposal and provide additional views into the elephant habitat areas.
In response to Mr. Belle, Mr. Dykstra and Ms. Pfaehler clarified that visitors would walk through the area which encompasses eight to ten acres. The elephants would move freely through the habitat areas but their access to each area could be controlled by Zoo staff. Mr. Dykstra and Ms. Pfaehler also showed plans and sections to clarify that the 30-foot grade change in the habitat area would be experienced gradually by visitors and animals, involving minimal alteration of the existing topography. Some existing pools and an existing restroom building would be removed, and the existing restroom building would be replaced by a new structure that would combine restrooms, mechanical equipment for the new pools, and an elevator and stairs to bring visitors to and from the new pedestrian bridge that would span the valley.
Ms. Pfaehler then described the modifications to the Elephant House in more detail. An addition accommodating various operational facilities would be placed on the west end of the building with minimal modification to the existing building envelope. The addition would be cast-in-place concrete with a small mezzanine level. The addition would provide a loading dock to replace the existing insufficient service access to allow for vehicles to deliver food, remove trash, and manage the habitat areas. Bamboo plantings and a new wall would partially screen the addition and loading area from the Zoo's main visitor path, Olmsted Walk. The stone rear wall of the existing building would be replaced with a glass wall to allow visitors within the building to view the outdoor habitat as a backdrop for the animals and to increase daylight within the building. The animal area would have a natural floor composed of sand over compressed fill in the existing crawl space, rather than a hard concrete floor.
Ms. Pfaehler and Mr. Dykstra then showed further details of the site concept, including site sections, elevations, and perspectives, to describe the visitor's experience moving through the outdoor areas. Animals would be separated from visitors in some areas by a mud bank and an arrangement of rocks, and by a cable barrier in other areas. The new pedestrian bridge would form a gateway for trails leading to other areas of the Zoo.
In response to Mr. Belle, Ms. Pfaehler clarified that the existing building's two arched portals would continue to be used for visitor entry and exit. Visitors would be able to enter the building at either end and circulate in either direction.
Mr. Belle asked if the new addition was intended to be of a different character of the existing building. Ms. Pfaehler said that it would not replicate the details of the existing building but would continue some of the existing design features, such as a strong cornice and a simple planar facade. The addition's main facade would align with the existing building, but they would be separated by a recessed area. Ms. Pfaehler clarified that the building's operational requirements made it necessary for the addition to wrap closely around the existing building. She also clarified that it was necessary for a portion of the addition to have double-height spaces to accommodate the large elephants; other areas of the addition would have a lower height. Mr. Belle questioned the emphasis on horizontal lines in the addition's facade, noting that this horizontality did not correspond to the character of the spaces within.
Mr. Rybczynski supported these comments by questioning the overall design intent of the addition. He said that the design appeared to be intended as both a new structure and an extension of the existing building, resulting in a lack of design clarity. Ms. Pfaehler responded that the addition responded to the existing building but was not intended to appear as an extension of it. She said that the architects did not want to change the existing building's simple symmetry and clarity, but several Commissioners commented that the addition would create a change. Ms. Pfaehler showed additional photos of the Elephant House, including historic and current views, but did not have a model available.
Mr. Rybczynski questioned the inconsistency between the drastic alteration of the building's rear facade, replacing a stone wall with glass, and the more restrained design intent for designing the addition adjacent to the front facade. He suggested a bolder treatment of the addition. Ms. Zimmerman suggested that the building could be re-designed to emphasize the use of current animal care methods, rather than emphasize the architectural preservation. Ms. Pfaehler noted that the building was a contributing structure in the Zoo's historic district the Zoo's only building constructed through the Works Progress Administration, and designed by a noted zoo architect. Mr. McKinnell nonetheless supported the comments of Mr. Rybczynski and Ms. Zimmerman, suggesting that the addition's design incorporated features that were not helpful such as continuing the existing building's facade planeˇwhile disrupting the symmetry that was the existing building's strongest feature. Mr. Belle summarized the Commission's suggestion that the designers be bolder in the design of the addition.
Mr. McKinnell also questioned the design approach of the new tower-like structure adjoining the pedestrian bridge. Mr. Dykstra said the design considerations included the context of Rock Creek Park and an aesthetic related to the exhibit's Asian theme and the elephants' origin in Southeast Asia. He acknowledged that the design emphasized primarily the aesthetic of Rock Creek Park with minimal influence of Asian design. Mr. Belle suggested that the structure should relate more to the exhibit's Asian theme and the intended educational programs related to conservation of the elephants' native habitat areas. Ms. Zimmerman suggested that the structure look forward to the 21st century, rather than backward to the architectural history of Rock Creek Park. Mr. Rybczynski said that a traditional style would not be a problem, but the proposed design combined different stylistic concepts and needed to be clarified further.
Ms. Balmori and Mr. McKinnell expressed concern that the presentation did not sufficiently describe the site proposals, including alterations to the existing vegetation and topography. Mr. McKinnell noted that such information would be particularly helpful for the current review of the concept stage. Ms. Zimmerman suggested arranging a site visit for the Commissioners, which would allow the applicant to more clearly describe the proposed changes. Mr. Belle and Ms. Balmori supported this suggestion.
Mr. Belle and Ms. Zimmerman suggested that the Commission could approve the concept while conveying the comments that had been made but Mr. Rybczynski objected that the concept was flawed and insufficiently developed. Ms. Balmori and Mr. McKinnell concurred that the fundamental conceptual approach to altering the existing Elephant Houseˇextending the building in its original style or creating a contrasting modern addition was still undetermined.
The Commission concluded by adopting a motion by Ms. Zimmerman, with second by Ms. Balmori, to recommend that the design team reconsider the proposed concept, giving consideration to animal care needs, and arrange a site visit for the Commission.
Department of the Treasury / U.S. Mint
CFA 16/FEB/06-2, 2007 Jamestown 400th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Program for 2007. Obverse and reverse designs for two issues. Ms. Kohler introduced Kaarina Budow from the Mint to show designs for the two coins to be issued for this program: a five-dollar gold coin and a one-dollar silver coin. Ms. Budow said the recipient organization for the proceeds from the sale of this coin had suggested three alternative themes for the gold obverse: a portrait of John Smith; a portrait of Powhatan, the leader of the American Indians of the area; or a depiction of the three ships that brought the colonists to Jamestown. For the reverse they also suggested three alternatives: the ruins of the old church tower, the only structure remaining from the original settlement; a depiction in some way of the importance of corn to the lives of the natives; or a scene showing natives navigating the waterways in search of food. She showed fifteen designs for the obverse and sixteen for the reverse. The designs had been prepared by the Mint's sculptor-engravers and by the Mint's Artistic Infusion program artists.
The Commission discussed the designs and decided to recommend for the obverse #GO-3, a head-and-shoulder, three-quarter view of John Smith; and for the reverse, #GR-16, a view of an Indian paddling a canoe and transporting a basket of corn. Ms. Zimmerman suggested that the text "$5" be written out as "Five Dollars" rather than expressed with a dollar sign and numeral; the Commission concurred with this recommendation.
Ms. Budow then presented the proposed designs for the silver coin. For the obverse, she said the thematic alternatives were: three faces showing the natives of three continents Europe, Africa, and North America who came together at Jamestown; a view of the Jamestown fort; and the landing at Jamestown, showing the first meeting between the Europeans and the American Indians. The Commissioners chose #SO-03, a triple portrait of an African woman, a European man, and an American Indian man, all shown in profile.
For the reverse Ms. Budow said the alternative themes included: African history in Virginia; a depiction of the longhouse, the typical dwelling of the Virginia natives; glassmaking, a skill which increased the colony's chances for success; and finally an image of the ships that brought the settlers to Jamestown. Ms. Budow noted that this last design was originally intended for the gold obverse, but the recipient organization asked that it be considered for the silver reverse. The Commission concluded that the depiction of the ships, #SR-10, was the most effective design, and asked that the Mint consider Ms. Balmori's recommendation that the rendition of the water be studied further to avoid the intensity of the rendering as shown.
CFA 16/FEB/06-3, 2007 Presidential One-Dollar Coin Program. Reverse design. (Previous: CFA 19/Jan/06-5, obverse design template.) Ms. Budow recalled that the Commission had reviewed the obverse designs for the first four coins in this series in January, and that she had mentioned that the reverse design was to be a likeness of the Statue of Liberty. The design intent was to give a dramatic representation of Liberty extending to the rim of the coin, large enough to be dramatic but not so large as to create the impression of a "two-headed" coin. She showed twenty-one design alternatives, involving various compositions, viewpoints, and the use of radiating lines. Mr. McKinnell commented that for him, a lower vantage point was preferable because Liberty had to be looking upward to appear dramatic. Ms. Balmori added that the rendition of the torch was also important. Ms. Zimmerman commented again that the very large "$1" text was not appropriate and that the denomination should be written out as "One Dollar." The Commissioners decided that #R-09 was the best design and endorsed Ms. Zimmerman's recommendation that the denomination should be written out.
General Services Administration
CFA 16/FEB/06-4, Frances C. Perkins Building, Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Perimeter security along Constitution Avenue frontage. Concept. Ms. Penhoet introduced the presentation, noting that only the building's Constitution Avenue frontage was currently being addressed. She said that staff was concerned that additional handrails might be needed, which could create a cluttered effect on the staircase; and that the various signs in the area needed further coordination. Mr. Luebke also mentioned that the design could be harmed by the addition of barriers to discourage skateboarding. Ms. Penhoet said that staff had urged the Department of Labor to address this issue operationally, rather than through the addition of physical barriers. Ms. Penhoet then introduced Mike McGill of GSA to begin the presentation.
Mr. McGill observed that the building's south side is substantially elevated above Constitution Avenue, and the design uses this elevation to create a plinth wall that would serve as a perimeter security barrier. He then introduced Donald Gangloff of the architecture firm Oudens + Knoop to present the project.
Mr. Gangloff showed the site context, and explained that most of the perimeter would be protected by raising the height of an existing granite curb. The remaining design challenge was at the wide existing staircase. The proposal was to introduce plinth blocks in the lower portion of the staircase to prevent vehicles from ascending the stairs. The blocks would be placed at two levels in a staggered arrangement to allow wide spacing between them, in an effort to maintain some of the staircase's existing open character. He noted the existing original plinth blocks near the top of the stairs, some supporting flagpoles and others apparently intended to discourage vehicles on the upper driveway from turning down onto the staircase; he said that these blocks did not provide sufficient modern-day security but they suggested the design vocabulary for the new blocks. Access to the driveway would be restricted by removable bollards encased in granite to match the existing plinth wall.
Mr. Gangloff explained that standard GSA signage would be used, with details still to be determined, in addition to the signage already located on the building facade. The new signs would be placed at each end of the site.
Mr. Gangloff also addressed the issue of handrails: on the lower part of the staircase, the existing side handrails would be sufficient for people moving along the sides of the staircase; a central handrail would be unnecessary since the proposed plinth blocks would create a set of staggered routes. The central handrail would remain in the upper area of the staircase, where a simple central route would still be feasible. In response to Mr. Belle, he explained that an alternative was considered to continue the central handrail into the lower staircase using a design that would provide perimeter security, but the result was aesthetically and functionally unsatisfactory. He clarified that the simple central handrail in the upper staircase did not provide any perimeter security. Mr. Luebke then explained that the staff's concern was that further study of building code requirements might cause the designers to include additional handrails which would alter the character of the proposal. Mr. Belle suggested that the upper staircase's simple design be continued to the lower staircase, but Mr. Gangloff explained that the resulting openings would be too wide to provide the needed security.
Mr. Belle observed that the building entrances were located on either side of the staircase centerline and he suggested turning the center of the staircase into a planted area, leaving narrower conventional staircases to either side that aligned more closely with the entrances. Mr. Gangloff agreed to consider this concept, although it differed from the intent of maintaining the wide character of the original staircase. Ms. Balmori commented that the sense of a spacious grand stairway would be harmed by the proposed plinth blocks anyway.
In response to Mr. Rybczynski and Ms. Balmori, Mr. Gangloff clarified that the distance between the plinth blocks and the sides of the staircase was approximately four to five feet, the largest dimension that could be achieved while providing protection from vehicles. Ms. Balmori commented that this appeared narrow for pedestrians, who would tend to use this pathway because of the presence of handrails. Mr. Belle said that the design problem couldn't be satisfactorily resolved through the addition of obstacles because it involved a fundamental change to the original design intent, which included a spacious staircase leading to the building's entrance. He therefore suggested a more complete redesign of the staircase, reflecting the new design intent for a narrower entry route. Mr. Gangloff deferred to Mr. McGill, who said that GSA and the Department of Labor were willing to study this issue further.
Ms. Balmori responded further to Mr. Belle's suggestion for splitting the staircase into two narrower segments, commenting that it could be confusing to offer visitors two entry routes with no indication of which one should be used. Ms. Zimmerman suggested narrowing the staircase to a single central alignment. Mr. Gangloff responded that the problem of narrow dimensions would remain. Mr. Belle reiterated that his suggestion for a split staircase was based on the split entrance locations of the existing building. Mr. McKinnell commented that even narrower staircases might be of sufficient width to require bollards, and a central landscaped panel would need to have a raised edge to provide perimeter security. Ms. Balmori suggested that the lower edge of the staircase be designed to include a horizontal wall that would provide perimeter security, continuing the concept of the raised curb to be used along the rest of the street frontage. Mr. Gangloff offered to study the possibility of some redesign within the sidewalk space at the foot of the stairs; he acknowledged that there was some flexibility in the exact position of the security line.
Mr. Belle summarized the Commission's advice that the architects consider an overall redesign of the staircase rather than simply inserting barriers within the existing design. Ms. Zimmerman suggested that the architects return with alternative designs, and Mr. Belle noted that the Commission had already suggested two alternative concepts. The presentation concluded without a formal motion.
CFA 16/FEB/06-5, Executive Office Remote Delivery Facility, Anacostia Naval Station. New building. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the project, which would be operated by the Secret Service to screen mail and deliveries for the Executive Office of the President. He introduced Lorie Lewis of the U.S. Secret Service to present the project. Ms. Lewis said that the sensitive nature of the project might preclude answering some questions in a public meeting; she offered to discuss the project further in an off-the-record session if necessary, but the need did not arise. Ms. Lewis introduced the project team, including Harry Debes of GSA and Jim Draheim and Kathryn Prigmore of the architecture firm HDR.
Ms. Prigmore explained that the new building would replace an existing temporary facility that was deteriorating. The new facility was scheduled to be operational by January 2008; this tight deadline would be achieved using a design/build contracting process which necessitated that design review guidance occur early in the process. The program encompassed 65,000 square feet, with a $43 million budget.
Ms. Prigmore presented the history of the site along the Potomac River at the southwest corner of the Anacostia Naval Station, adjacent to the boundary of Bolling Air Force Base. The site had historically been a marsh which was filled in by the 1920s to become a farm and then a military airfield; the area had been used for various military functions since that time. The site would be visible from Reagan National Airport, directly across the Potomac River, and from more distant riverfront viewpoints. The area would also be visible from the ridge to the east, including St. Elizabeths Hospital. The proposed building would be part of a compound including two other existing Secret Service buildings with related functions, an operational advantage that led to the selection of this site. There was already a mound of dirt on the site, created during excavation of the Metro system. The design intent was to reconfigure this fill to form a berm around the new building, achieving cost efficiencies while providing a desired physical protection for the facility.
Ms. Prigmore explained that the building's operational requirements suggested a long, thin building to accommodate a sequence of processes, but the site constraints suggested a square configuration. The program included separate loading docks for materials entering and exiting the facility, with the desire that these docks be as far away from each other as possible. The resulting design was an approximately square building with loading docks at the northwest and southeast corners. The berm would provide visual and physical protection to the entire facility as well as the adjacent facilities and would screen the northwest dock from the Potomac River.
The functions within the building would operate around the clock, requiring redundant systems so that maintenance could occur without interrupting the operations. The result was a three-level building: the primary operations would occur on the first level; the second level would be an interstitial space; and the third level would house mechanical systems. The design attempted to treat the upper levels as an integral part of the design, visible above the berm, with the goal of improving the overall appearance of the compound. Ms. Prigmore noted that the staff of the review agencies had suggested a green roof for the new building, but this would not be feasible due to security requirements. Instead, an energy-saving roofing system would be used. She described the building materials as precast concrete on the lower level, metal panels on the upper levels, and louvers for mechanical equipment near the top of the building. She noted that the adjacent buildings, from the early 1990s, had primarily precast concrete facades.
The existing parking for the compound would be expanded to provide 100 spaces for employees, and the appearance of the parking lot would be improved by the addition of landscaping. The site would be enclosed by a lighted barbed-wire fence.
Mr. McKinnell asked how close the public could get to the facility. Ms. Prigmore explained that the general public travels on Interstate 295 and South Capitol Street and would need special permission to enter either Bolling Air Force Base or Anacostia Naval Station to reach the immediate vicinity of the building. Anyone in a boat could approach the site from the Potomac River, but Ms. Lewis explained that the immediate shore area was very shallow and rocky, so boaters would not normally be immediately adjacent to the site; the perimeter fencing and guard booth would provide a further layer of security. She noted that there was a running/walking path in the immediate vicinity for use by those who were authorized to be on the military bases.
In response to Mr. Rybczynski, Ms. Prigmore clarified that the building would be nearly windowless, with a few windows on the east side at the entry and administration areas. Mr. Rybczynski asked if the employee work environment could somehow be improved, such as by providing courtyards. Ms. Lewis said that there would be lunchrooms and break rooms for employees, and they would be able to leave the building during lunch breaks to make use of amenities on either of the two military bases. She explained that the building's operational requirements included constraints on environmental conditions such as air flow, making it infeasible to have windows or courtyards.
Ms. Balmori questioned whether such a facility was appropriate for a potentially attractive riverfront site. The emphasis on truck and car access, and the lack of windows, seemed contrary to the long-term goal of regaining the city's water edges. Even if public enjoyment were precluded and the building needed to remain windowless, she suggested providing site amenities that would be more inviting for those who would work there. Ms. Lewis replied that the Navy had no particular plans for improving this area, as shown by their willingness to allow Metro construction fill to be piled there; and the adjacent Secret Service facilities constrained the potential for adding further site amenities. Mr. Lindstrom added that there were recreational amenities on the two military bases that were generally available to all who worked there, but the military discouraged recreational activity along the waterfront for security reasons. Mr. Rybczynski observed that Bolling Air Force Base included military housing near the water, which he and Ms. Balmori praised as an appropriate land use. Ms. Lewis clarified that the open area adjacent to the project site actually contained facilities related to national security, so that housing would not be a feasible land use in this immediate vicinity. The Commissioners acknowledged that they would need to accept some of the project's constraints without a full explanation of the underlying reasons; but Mr. Belle continued to urge that some site amenities be provided. Ms. Balmori insisted that the constraints should not be an excuse for avoiding good design. Ms. Zimmerman observed that this was a nationwide problem, with little opportunity for improvement through the design review process.
Mr. McKinnell concurred with Ms. Balmori and noted that the site would at least be visible to airplane passengers, making it important to give further consideration to a green roof. Ms. Prigmore explained that the sensitive operations in the building made it desirable to minimize the number of maintenance people on the site, resulting in the decision not to include extensive landscaping and to use long-lasting low-maintenance materials. Ms. Lewis added that there were line-of-sight concerns as well as blast concerns that made a landscaped roof infeasible. Mr. McKinnell questioned this conclusion but Mr. Belle and Ms. Zimmerman acknowledged that there might be technical requirements that could not be fully explained to the Commission.
Mr. Luebke emphasized that the facility would have very limited visibility, and he encouraged the Commission to focus on the few vantage points that would be significant to the public. He noted that it was a low-scale building in an area with a low-scale industrial character. Ms. Balmori nonetheless questioned the design decisions and emphasized that a green roof could be expected to have twice the lifespan of a conventional roofing system.
Ms. Zimmerman questioned whether the Commission could have any significant influence on a project that had such extensive security requirements and suggested that the Commission focus on other projects. Mr. McKinnell disagreed, noting his experience with federal courthouses and embassies, where high-quality design could be achieved despite extensive security requirements. He emphasized the growing importance of trying to improve the quality of projects that are designed within such constraints. But he commented that the design of this project was relatively thoughtful and sensitive considering the technical constraints. He praised the use of the existing fill and the care given to shaping the land. Ms. Zimmerman concurred with this view. Upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski, with second by Mr. McKinnell, the Commission approved the concept. At Mr. Belle's suggestion, the Commission also voted to delegate the final review to staff, with Ms. Balmori abstaining.
District of Columbia Department of Transportation
CFA 16/FEB/06-6, Starburst Intersection at H and 15th Streets, Maryland and Florida Avenues, and Bladensburg and Benning Roads, N.E. Reconfiguration of traffic lanes and new pedestrian plaza. Final. (Previous: CFA 20/OCT/05-7.) Ms. Penhoet introduced the project, noting that in October 2005 the Commission had approved the concept submission by the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) for the site work, including the location for a proposed mural. Subsequently, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities had submitted the concept for the mural design at the January 2006 meeting, resulting in the Commission of Fine Arts' request for a combined review of the final design of both projects. Although the current submission was only from DDOT, both agencies were in attendance. She then introduced Rachel Dickerson from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and John Deatrick and Karina Ricks from DDOT, along with their landscape architect, Oliver Boehm from Michael Baker Corporation.
Ms. Ricks summarized the project background, explaining that it was part of the Mayor's Great Streets Program which focuses on improving aesthetics, safety, and economic vitality along six major street corridors, including H Street, N.E. Mr. Deatrick then summarized the proposed roadway configuration, commenting that the traffic engineering needs were consistent with neighborhood improvement goals. A realignment of Maryland Avenue would help to clarify and simplify the intersection design, improving traffic flow and pedestrian movements. He described the introduction of trees to improve the aesthetics of the intersection and the special design of the tree wells as part of the stormwater management system. Improved light fixtures would be installed, and a new paving system would accommodate the intended future introduction of streetcars. A new plaza area would be created, with decorative paving and fountains as well as the proposed mural; steps at the back edge of the plaza would lead up to an adjacent shopping center.
In response to previous Commission comments on the concept design, Ms. Ricks explained the revised design for the handrails at the plaza steps. The handrails had been simplified to become a subtle backdrop for the mural, while still meeting routine safety requirements. Similarly, the pavement design was made more subtle in order to avoid competing with the mural and landscaping. The design team clarified that the plaza area would be approximately half an acre, with a width of approximately 150 feet. One tree was existing; the remainder would be newly planted.
Ms. Balmori asked how the curved paving pattern was determined. Ms. Ricks explained that the design related to the fountain areas on either side of the mural. She said that the tree placement was intended to relate to the street pattern, including a continuation of the alignment of Maryland Avenue to emphasize the avenue's vista. The paving pattern was intended to provide a softer pattern to contrast with the tree alignments.
In response to Mr. Rybczynski, Mr. Boehm described the plaza material as concrete unit pavers, in red and gray colors of varying sizes. In response to Ms. Zimmerman, Mr. Boehm clarified that boulders were now proposed along the edge of the plaza to serve as vehicle barriers, instead of using typical bollards or planters that were not wanted by the community. Ms. Ricks explained that the complicated traffic patterns created some risk of a vehicular crash that could affect the plaza, so vehicle barriers were necessary to make the plaza a safe place for pedestrians. She noted that the proposed trees were spaced too far apart to serve as effective vehicle barriers.
Ms. Balmori asked about maintenance of the fountains. Mr. Deatrick explained that DDOT would handle basic maintenance of the plaza; the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities would oversee maintenance of the mural; and the fountain would not become operational until an entity was identified that would handle its maintenance. Ms. Balmori noted the common problem of public plaza fountains being non-operational, and asked about the area's appearance if the fountains are not in use. Ms. Ricks explained that the maintenance entity would probably be a Business Improvement District (BID) organization, which was currently in the process of being formed. Since it might be three to four years until the BID was established, the fountain actually a water wall was designed to have a suitable appearance even without the water. Mr. Boehm clarified that the material of the walls would be granite with an architectural finish, which would be routinely exposed during winters as well as during the years before the fountain is activated.
In response to Mr. McKinnell, Mr. Boehm explained that the materials in the vicinity of the water walls would be precast concrete, the same material and color as the unit pavers on the plaza. The adjacent railings would be galvanized painted steel. LED lighting would be incorporated to provide artistic illumination of the plaza. The plantings would include a mix of flowering and shade trees, probably including crape myrtles, honey locusts, maples, and oaks. He noted that the existing trees along Maryland Avenue were oaks.
Ms. Balmori asked why the starburst paving pattern had been eliminated. Mr. Boehm said the name "Starburst Plaza" would remain, but the paving pattern was changed to be more organic and less rigid, in response to previous review comments. Mr. Rybczynski commented that the mural would be a powerful element on the plaza, and the water would enhance it, but he was disappointed that the landscaping didn't reinforce it.
In response to Ms. Zimmerman, Ms. Dickerson explained that the mural would be made of terrazzo. Ms. Zimmerman expressed regret that material samples were not available, forcing the Commission to rely on renderings to understand how the materials would look and feel. She also expressed concern that the mural might be obscured by trees from some viewing angles, even though the renderings were drawn from angles that emphasized its visibility.
Mr. Rybczynski questioned whether the proposed LED lighting would be excessive and undermine the prominence of the mural; Ms. Balmori concurred with this concern. Mr. Rybczynski expressed further concern that the about the introduction of unrelated geometries that would distract from the mural; Mr. McKinnell commented that the water walls flanking the mural would tend to distract viewers.
Mr. McKinnell asked for further information on the project's context and on the project's relation to any general planning for improving streets and intersections in the city. He suggested that an overall strategy should be formulated, involving either consistent or varied design and materials depending on the desired image of the city. He noted that it was increasingly common for such design and planning proposals to be developed through the projects of transportation agencies. Mr. Deatrick responded that DDOT had developed an urban design mock-up for the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative (AWI) area a year earlier, and that project set the standard for the materials and detailing of DDOT's Great Streets Program projects. Ms. Ricks explained that the H Street N.E. project was the first to emerge from the Great Streets Program, and she confirmed that the Great Streets Program would address the overall design standards and identity for public places in the city, while also responding to the context of each site. Mr. McKinnell asked if a vision document had been prepared, but Ms. Ricks said that this was still evolving. She also noted that DDOT is coordinating with the DC Office of Planning (DC-OP) which is currently preparing an updated Comprehensive Plan that would provide urban design guidance for DDOT and other city agencies. She explained that DDOT would look to DC-OP for this broad guidance while DDOT would have primary responsibility for the physical realization of projects. Mr. McKinnell reiterated that the individual projects should be presented in the context of how they support an overall city-wide planning strategy. Ms. Ricks agreed and suggested that more contextual information had been provided during the concept review in October. Ms. Balmori expanded on the concern, asking whether elements such as benches and lighting fixtures were also being used elsewhere in the vicinity; Ms. Ricks said that they were.
Mr. Belle said that he had visited the AWI mock-up a year earlier and praised those proposed street furnishings as impressive, high-quality, and carefully thought out. He regretted that the current presentation did not reflect the good work that had gone before. He suggested that DDOT prepare a materials sample board for further coordination with the staff. Ms. Ricks explained that DC has a palette of standard streetscape materials, which DDOT occasionally expanded when necessary. She agreed to coordinate further with the staff concerning the materials for this project and for the city-wide palette.
Ms. Zimmerman returned to the topic of the LED lighting, concurring that they were not a desirable feature and suggesting that they would be difficult to maintain. She asked for further information on the intended night lighting. Mr. Boehm explained that the plaza and fountains would be lit from below by flush ground-level lights. Ms. Zimmerman and Ms. Balmori expressed regret that samples or details of the fixtures were not available, making it difficult for the Commission to comment on such issues as the choice of materials. They urged further review by the Commission or staff.
Mr. Rybczynski noted that the Commission had previously urged a simplification of the design, but the design had gotten more complicated. He concurred that the project needed further design refinement and an additional review. Mr. Belle summarized the Commission's views, praising the importance of the project and the overall Great Streets Program, and requesting that DDOT resubmit with a simplified design and a more thorough presentation. The Commissioners asked DDOT to coordinate with the staff on which material samples should be provided to the Commission. Mr. Deatrick agreed to make an additional submission for the plaza design, and he noted that meanwhile some initial construction work would begin involving drainage and relocation of curbs related to the street work.
District of Columbia Office on Aging
CFA 16/FEB/06-7, Ward One Senior Wellness Center, corner of Georgia Avenue and Newton Street, N.W. New three-story building. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 19/MAY/05-11.) Ms. Penhoet introduced the project, noting that the previously approved submission had involved renovating and expanding historic buildings that have subsequently been demolished. The new concept for an entirely new building was therefore being submitted for review. She introduced architect Louis Fry from Lance Bailey Associates.
Mr. Fry described the site context, along Georgia Avenue several blocks north of Howard University and south of the major New Hampshire Avenue intersection. The program had expanded since the previous submission. The proposed structure would be three stories plus a basement and a roof garden. The corner would be emphasized with a tower-like design; the Office on Aging had requested a corner lobby with a strong visual presence which was now possible due to the demolition of the previous structures on the site. The Office on Aging had also wanted to maximize visibility so that pedestrians could see the activities within the building, resulting in a design with extensive windows. Exterior materials would be brick and precast concrete panels that would simulate limestone. The building would meet LEED standards, including the requirement for fifty percent of the roof area to be a garden; the roof garden would provide an exercise area for walking. He also explained that several parking spaces at the rear of the building, with the grade level adjusted to eliminate the need for ramps or steps to the rear building entrance.
In response to Ms. Zimmerman, Mr. Fry clarified that the building would not have residents but would serve as a day-time community center for senior citizens. In response to Ms. Balmori, Mr. Fry described the program contained within the corner tower area on each floor: a double-height lobby on the first two floors and a conference room on the third floor.
Ms. Zimmerman and Ms. Balmori asked for further information on the context, but no photographs were available. Mr. Luebke described the Georgia Avenue corridor as a principal retail and residential artery with a mix of building types, ages, sizes, and setback conditions, and with single-family houses on the side streets. In response to Ms. Zimmerman, Mr. Fry confirmed that there were other brick and limestone buildings in the vicinity and that the context included other three-story buildings but they were generally not as tall as this one. He confirmed Mr. Belle's observation that the height of the larger neighboring buildings approximately matched the height of the brick portion of the proposed facade.
In response to Mr. Belle, Mr. Fry explained that some perspective sketches did not show the current design, since the building height had been increased. He noted that some rooftop mechanical equipment would be screened from the roof garden by a five-foot wall. Ms. Zimmerman requested further information on the screen wall since the roof garden was intended for public use. Ms. Penhoet pointed out that only stair access to the roof was shown; Mr. Fry explained that an extension of the elevator was being developed to provide elevator access to the roof. Mr. Fry also clarified that the parapet would include areas of railings alternating with solid panels.
Mr. McKinnell commented that the project's scale and design character were quite monumental, which was difficult to evaluate without additional context information. He recalled that much of the context consisted of single-story buildings, which wouldn't necessarily preclude the creation of a new larger building but might be relevant to consider. Mr. Fry explained that there was a mix of one- and three-story buildings in the vicinity.
Ms. Balmori agreed that the project was designed to emphasize a monumental character. She praised this design approach in contrast to the overly modest character that was often used for this building type. She supported the use of generous windows but suggested simplifying the parapet configuration that inappropriately suggested the appearance of a castle; Mr. McKinnell concurred with this suggestion. Mr. McKinnell also supported the selection of clear glass for the windows. Ms. Zimmerman questioned the scale of the band around the top of the building; she suggested that it might be more appropriate in real limestone and on a college campus building, but that it was too heavy for this design.
Mr. Fry responded that the monumentality was intentionally emphasized to provide the character desired by the Office on Aging, but he agreed to soften some details and work further with staff. Mr. McKinnell suggested that the building's monumentality might end up creating an unwelcoming character, undermining the openness that was achieved by the large windows. Mr. Fry responded that the Office on Aging would be willing to consider any revisions needed to keep the project moving forward. Mr. Belle commented that the suggested modifications — simplifying the parapet and corner tower — would also likely reduce the cost.
Mr. Fry reiterated his offer to work further with staff on refining the design. Mr. Belle concurred and emphasized the need to provide material samples. Upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski with second by Mr. McKinnell, the Commission approved the revised concept. At Ms. Zimmerman's suggestion, the Commission also voted to delegate the final review to staff.
Arlington National Cemetery
CFA 16/FEB/06-8, Memorial to the World War II Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, Intersection of Porter, Lawton, and McPherson Drives, in Section 21 of Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 19/Jan/06-10.) Mr. Lindstrom introduced the project, which had been reviewed the previous month and had subsequently been redesigned in consultation with staff. He introduced the cemetery superintendent, John Metzler, to provide an overview of the revised design.
Mr. Metzler emphasized that the presentation would include material samples and alternative designs, in keeping with the Commission's advice on other projects earlier on the agenda. He said the design had been reduced in size, the detailing was more classical, and the colored logo of the veterans group would instead be delineated by stone carving. He then introduced Jeff Martell, president of Granite Industries of Vermont, to explain the proposed finishes of the granite. Mr. Belle, on behalf of the Commission, commended the applicant team for their quick and thorough response to the Commission's January comments. Mr. Metzler responded that the goal was to dedicate the memorial in May 2006, so the team was working quickly to move the project forward.
Mr. Martell showed samples of three finishes for the proposed granite. First was a "steel finish," achieved by grinding the stone face with steel pellets to achieve a very light color; this finish was used for most memorial stones at Arlington National Cemetery. Highlights would be achieved through a "blued finish," which would produce a bluish-gray tint through a natural abrasive process. Additional areas would be highlighted with a "polished finish," achieved through successive stages of grinding. Mr. Metzler also showed a sample of lettering carved into granite. In response to Mr. Rybczynski, Mr. Martell clarified that the lettering sample was at actual size, while the logo carving would be somewhat larger than the sample shown. He also clarified that the columns would be in the Doric style with a steel finish and fluting. The base of the monument would also have a natural "rock-honed" finish.
Mr. Metzler showed three alternative configurations of the memorial's central tablet. The Commissioners favored the version labeled as alternative #2 with a hipped top on the tablet. Mr. Belle suggested a steeper angle for the canopy roof, but Ms. Balmori and Ms. Zimmerman supported the profile as proposed. Mr. Belle also suggested increasing the depth of the canopy; Mr. Rybczynski and Mr. McKinnell supported this suggestion. Mr. McKinnell praised the overall improvement in the design and the adherence to classical form. Upon a motion by Mr. McKinnell, with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the revised concept with the hipped tablet, shown in alternative #2.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:46 p.m., followed by a visit by the Commissioners to the Freer Gallery of Art to inspect objects proposed for acquisition.
Thomas E. Luebke
Last Modified: March 21, 2006