Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
16 March 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 10:10 a.m.
National Capital Planning Commission staff present:
Approval of the minutes of the 16 February meeting. The February minutes had been circulated to the members in advance of the meeting. The Commission approved the minutes without objection upon a motion by Ms. Nelson and second by Mr. Powell.
Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings: April 20, May 18, and June 15. There were no objections.
Status report on the 2006 National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs Program. Mr. Lindstrom reported that 21 arts organizations had applied for grants from this year's fund of approximately $7.1 million. He had prepared preliminary calculations of each applicant's eligibility under the distribution formula and it appeared that the grants would be spread more equally this year, with only one organization eligible for the maximum grant of $500,000. This resulted from a narrower range in the size of applicant organizations due to increases in the operating funds of several of the organizations.
Report on the inspection of objects proposed for acquisition by the Freer. Ms. Zimmerman reported that she and Mr. Belle visited the Freer Gallery of Art to inspect two Japanese scrolls at the conclusion of the previous Commission meeting on February 16. Without objection, the Commission ratified Mr. Belle's approval of the acquisitions.
Mr. Luebke also noted the Commission's site visit to the National Zoo's Asia Trail earlier in the day. Mr. Powell recommended that a report on the site visit be deferred until the Commission's review of the Asia Trail later on the agenda.
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 reported that there were no changes to the draft appendix listing three projects: an antenna at the Government Accountability Office; a smoking shelter at Intelsat building; and an access ramp at the Pentagon. The Commission adopted the appendix without objection.
Appendix II – Shipstead–Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Penhoet reported that there were several changes to the draft appendix, which had contained several negative recommendations. Subsequently some projects were withdrawn and the other outstanding issues were resolved. The Commission adopted the appendix without objection upon a motion by Mr. Belle.
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martínez reported that there were several changes to the draft appendix. Several outstanding issues with negative recommendations were resolved and these had been revised to be favorable. A minor new project was also added involving in–kind replacement. He noted that the staff was awaiting supplemental information on several projects, so he suggested that the Commission delegate final approvals to staff upon receiving the supplemental drawings and verifying their consistency with the Old Georgetown Board's recommendations.Mr. Martínez also reported that one applicant was requesting to be heard by the Commission concerning alterations to the Bowie–Sevier House at 3124 Q Street, N.W. The Old Georgetown Board had disapproved a fence that had been installed without prior review; the Board had also commented on the recent installation of a fence and lattice that had been disapproved in 2004. The applicant, Herb Miller, was not present so the Commission deferred consideration of this item until later in the meeting (after item II.C.1.). The Commission approved the remainder of the appendix without objection.
National Park Service
CFA 16/MAR/06–1, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. Independence Avenue at the Tidal Basin. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 20/OCT/05–1.) Mr. Luebke introduced the project, submitted by the National Park Service on behalf of the sponsoring foundation. He reminded the Commission of their site visit in November, following the previous review in October. He reported that the design had been simplified in response to the Commission's advice, including removal of the upper bridge and walkway, the commemorative niches, and the waterfall; and the height of the wall had been reduced by several feet. He commented that there were still some technical issues concerning the fabrication and assembly of the stone, and some design and programming issues regarding the support building proposed for the southern corner of the site. He then introduced Glenn DeMarr of the National Park Service.
Mr. DeMarr reported that John Parsons could not attend to present the project on behalf of the National Park Service, but Mr. DeMarr conveyed the Park Service's support for the revised concept. He then introduced the sponsor's executive architect, Dr. Ed Jackson, who said that the design would be presented by architect Boris Dramov.
Mr. Dramov presented boards and models showing the initial and revised concepts. He confirmed the changes reported by Mr. Luebke. He noted that the wall's highest point would now be 7.5 feet above the Independence Avenue sidewalk, or 12 feet above the memorial plaza and would taper to approximately one foot above the sidewalk at the ends of the wall. This would maintain more of the existing views from Independence Avenue toward the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial. Concerning the technical issues of constructing the large stone structures, he said that this would be studied in detail during design development; he was confident that it would be solved, but did not want to report on it at the concept stage.
Mr. Powell and Ms. Nelson praised the revised concept and the responsiveness to the Commission's previous concerns. Ms. Nelson commented that the simplified design was stronger and more cohesive. She asked whether the redesigned stone wall was now too easy for people to climb on. Mr. Dramov clarified that there was no longer a design intent to have people walk on the top of the wall. Design details such as low walls and landscaping would discourage this, but this would be refined further during design development. He noted that the same concern had been successfully addressed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.
Mr. Rybczynski asked about the dimension of the gap in the "Mountain of Despair" wall in relation to the width of the "Stone of Hope" set in the plaza. Mr. Dramov confirmed that the gap had been widened from 12 feet to 15 feet to allow easier passage by visitors. Mr. Rybczynski commented that this weakened the memorial's concept of the Stone of Hope having been pulled forward from the Mountain of Despair, and he suggested that the width of the Stone of Hope match the width of the gap. Mr. Dramov concurred that this relationship was important and offered to study it further. In response to Mr. Belle, Mr. Dramov explained that the paving and stone structures would be granite.
Mr. Powell questioned the location and purpose of the ancillary building. Vikki Keyes, the National Park Service's superintendent of the Mall, responded that the structure would provide a location for the Park Service's interpretation and management of the memorial—ranging from educational conversations between visitors and park rangers, to urgent medical attention, to rangers discouraging visitors from climbing on the rock walls. She emphasized the importance of locating the building as close to the memorial as possible, preferably not across the street on the west side of West Basin Drive. She noted that five million visitors per year were anticipated at the memorial, many arriving by tour buses along West Basin Drive, so it would not be desirable to require visitors to cross this street to reach the memorial's support building. She said that further support facilities, such as restrooms or general–use facilities unrelated to the memorial, could be located on the west side of the street. She suggested that the building at the memorial could be relatively small, such as a kiosk. Mr. Rybczynski nonetheless questioned the placement of the building so close to the Tidal Basin, giving it undue visual prominence and impeding the pedestrian route around the basin. He observed that the Jefferson Memorial was the only building along the Tidal Basin, and it was not appropriate to give this structure a comparable setting. Ms. Keyes agreed to look further at the siting, perhaps placing the structure closer to Independence Avenue. Mr. Belle suggested that the site contouring be used to conceal some of the structure's bulk.
Mr. Powell moved to approve the revised concept, with the request that the location of the auxiliary building be studied further. At Mr. Rybczynski's request, Mr. Powell included the suggestion that the structure's size be the minimum needed to accommodate its functions. Mr. Belle suggested including a comment about specific materials, but Mr. Powell said that this information would ordinarily be in the subsequent submittal. The motion was seconded by Mr. Rybczynski and adopted.
CFA 16/MAR/06–2, National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum (old Patent Office Building), 7th, 8th, F, and G Streets N.W. Courtyard and exterior landscape and reconstruction of south stairs. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 15/SEP/05–2.) Ms. Nelson chaired the meeting during this agenda item as Mr. Powell recused himself due to his position on the National Portrait Gallery's board of directors. Mr. Luebke introduced the project, explaining that the Commission reviewed the project components in September 2005 and approved the courtyard roof enclosure but asked for a revised concept for the courtyard landscaping, south stairs, and exterior landscaping. He noted the Commission's recommendation to remove the balcony proposed for the north side of the courtyard and to eliminate proposed plantings along the courtyard walls. Concerning the south stair, he noted the outstanding issues related to stair dimensions, headroom, barrier–free access, and the spacing of the entry portals. The Commission had also requested that the exterior landscaping concept be coordinated with any proposed perimeter security elements. Mr. Luebke then asked Harry Rombach of the Smithsonian Institution to introduce the project team.
Mr. Rombach noted that the Smithsonian had completed a cultural landscape report that had influenced the landscape concept. He then introduced Dan Sibert of Foster and Partners to begin the design team's presentation.
Mr. Sibert said that the concept had changed greatly since the previous Commission review, but it continued to express similar design principles. He showed the study models and a board of material samples, then asked the landscape architect, Kathryn Gustafson, to present the courtyard proposal.
Ms. Gustafson summarized the design guidance from the Commission's previous review as well as from the National Capital Planning Commission. She identified the elements that had been removed from the previous proposal: the second–floor balcony and related window alteration; the translucent panels on the courtyard facades; and the vine plantings on the south facade. She also identified the features and concepts that remained: a contemporary design providing a public amenity; circulation for museum visitors; a setting for visitor enjoyment and special events; continued usage of the courtyard's historical materials of water, trees, and plants, with emphasis on a water feature to animate the space; and a cafe. The design now avoided placing features directly adjacent to the historic facades; this separation of building from courtyard was in keeping with the character of the historical design which included an areaway ringing the courtyard.
Ms. Gustafson observed that the courtyard facades had been exterior walls and had a cold visual character which would remain despite the addition of a roof. Her design was therefore intended to add a sense of warmth to the courtyard. She also observed the various symmetries and asymmetries in the facades surrounding the courtyard and explained that the design was intended to complement these architectural characteristics. She described the long narrow configuration of the courtyard, which could encourage people to congregate in the center area. To draw people into the entire space, her design emphasized the long east–west axis to encourage visitors to use the east and west ends.
Ms. Gustafson discussed the courtyard's two historic fountains which she had been asked to consider for inclusion in the new design. Although she preferred not to incorporate them into the contemporary courtyard, she proposed a possible location for one fountain. She deferred to the Cultural Landscape Report on the history and condition of the fountains; the report's findings indicated that the fountains were in such poor condition as to be unusable.
Ms. Gustafson then described the new elements in the courtyard. She commented that the deference to the existing architecture—involving separation from the walls and keeping new elements low—resulted in very few features, each very important: the courtyard floor surface, the planters, and the plants.
The planters would be the main organizing elements of the space, clad in white marble to complement the heavy stone walls of the building. The edges of the planters would cant outward to suggest that they float above the ground. The low height of the planters would provide seating edges, with the width of the edge varying in different parts of the courtyard. The low height also resulted in limited soil depth, so the planters would be very wide to provide sufficient soil for plant roots.
An extensive water scrim would extend across the middle of the courtyard, shallow enough for people to walk across, with only a very slight slope. It would be configured in four sections that could be turned off independently when desired. She observed that the water would reflect the building facades, and it was positioned to give special emphasis to reflecting the south facade.
In the northeast area of the courtyard would be a large stone bench—called "the Rock"—that would serve as a meeting point for visitors. The Rock was intended to suggest the American relationship to nature and open space and serve as a symbol of community and democracy; she envisioned that a class of children could gather on the Rock.
The paving of the courtyard would be large areas of dark gray stone set within lighter gray stone borders. The dark stone under the water scrim would emphasize the water's reflectivity. The combination of gray paving and white marble planters would provide a neutral setting for the plant colors.
There would be two trees on the south side of the courtyard, framing the central bay. The planters would have low shrubbery and two sets of canopy trees that would define a middle and upper height. The various heights would create varying levels of intimacy within the space. The shrubbery would be low enough that views across the courtyard would generally be open, and a variety of hedges would provide different characters to different spaces in the courtyard. She noted that light would enter the courtyard only from above, which constrained the types of plants that would survive there; evergreens would be the most suitable plantings for this environment, and would also provide year–round enjoyment with minimal maintenance requirements.
Mr. Sibert then presented additional features related to the operational requirements of the courtyard. Structural columns would rise through the courtyard to support the new roof. In addition, sixteen–foot–high towers would provide ventilation, lighting, and sound speakers, as well as signage and fire alarm signals. The lighting levels and air circulation were designed to support the plantings as well as provide for human comfort. The speakers would be used during special events to overcome the courtyard's difficult acoustics. The color of these towers had not yet been decided. Two catering benches would be included in the courtyard for use during special events; they would have folding tops that would provide a simple countertop at other times, resulting in long low elements that would complement the other design features of the courtyard.
Mr. Rybczynski asked if there were more catering benches than in the previous proposal. Mr. Sibert said that the configuration had changed to include several smaller benches rather than one larger bench. He clarified that the earlier design had wings that folded out, which had been eliminated, so the design now had more extensive objects to provide the same amount of catering space. The location of these benches had been changed to make them less obtrusive. Ms. Gustafson emphasized that the ordinary configuration of these benches would provide a countertop or "leaning post" that would be useful for visitors. Mr. Sibert said that the catering benches would be about two feet from the planters; Mr. Rybczynski said this dimension seemed small and visitors would not be certain whether it was appropriate to walk in this area. Mr. Sibert responded that the spacing was intentionally minimized so that the catering benches would be perceived as being related to the planters rather than as completely separate elements within the courtyard. Ms. Gustafson clarified that the two–foot clearance would allow people to walk, lean on the catering bench, or maintain the plants; the planter edge would be very narrow in these areas, so the rendering was inaccurate in showing that people would sit along this edge. She said that a wider clearance would reduce the size of other circulation areas or constrict the width of the planters which would be a problem for the plant growth. Mr. Rybczynski commented that the catering benches were a significant intrusion in the courtyard, due to their size and stainless steel finish, and their placement seemed "crowded." Mr. Belle agreed and questioned why so many objects were being placed within the courtyard, greatly limiting the area available for people's use.
Mr. McKinnell asked the design team to characterize the courtyard's intended usage. Ms. Gustafson responded that the courtyard had previously been a garden for informal outdoor activity, but the proposed roof would transform it into a general activity space for the museums. Nonetheless, she had been asked to design the space in keeping with its historic garden character. The design was therefore a balance between landscape elements and support for special events. She reminded the Commission that some elements had been removed—notably the balcony—since the previous submission. The Commissioners questioned whether there was sufficient open space to accommodate large groups for special events. Mr. Sibert explained that some or all of the four water scrims could be turned off, making those areas available for tables or chairs. With all of the water off, the courtyard could accommodate the maximum capacity of 1,200 people that was permitted by the fire code.
Ms. Zimmerman questioned the need for placing catering equipment within the courtyard and suggested that catering operations occur within the building, possibly using the cafeteria kitchen supplemented by temporary facilities. Ms. Gustafson said that museum visitors would need to be accommodated until 5:00 daily, leaving too little time to set up temporary equipment for evening events. Mr. Belle perceived a conflict between the catering program and the landscape design, and he suggested that the Commission express its objection to the catering equipment. Mr. Sibert responded that caterers would need to have equipment, and the catering benches would be more practical and attractive than temporary facilities set up for each event. Mr. Belle commented that caterers were very skillful at making necessary arrangements, and their occasional temporary needs shouldn't be a major design component in the space. He perceived the courtyard as a relatively small space that was becoming crowded with design elements, and the catering benches would be excessive. Mr. McKinnell later concurred with this perception. Ms. Gustafson emphasized that temporary facilities would look worse and would typically be set up in the courtyard during the museums' public hours.
Ms. Zimmerman reiterated her suggestion that the catering operations occur within the building. The Smithsonian's design manager, Linda Humphrey Becker, replied that the space was very large—nearly the size of a football field—compared to the relatively small size of the catering benches. One bench would have sufficient facilities to serve dinner for up to 800 people; the other could be used for serving drinks. Mr. Rybczynski commented that the benches did look relatively large in the renderings. Ms. Becker offered to reconsider the size; the warming ovens and exhaust fans were necessary, but some storage space in the benches could be removed. Ms. Zimmerman suggested that the catering operations would be too smelly and noisy to occur in the courtyard during special events, with the likely result that screens and baffles would soon be created to hide the catering benches.
Mr. McKinnell suggested that the courtyard design emphasize its intended primary character as a day–to–day public space rather than emphasize its occasional usage as a banquet hall, regardless of how well the catering benches were designed. He also observed from his own past projects that caterers often don't end up using facilities that are designed for them. Ms. Gustafson offered to design continuous granite paving so that the catering stations could be removed from the courtyard if they became unwanted. The Commissioners were interested in this solution but questioned whether this would be feasible due to the necessary utilities such as water supply and air exhaust.
Returning to the overall design of the courtyard, Ms. Zimmerman praised the concept and particularly the dark color of the ground plane. Mr. McKinnell questioned the linear configuration of the water scrim, which he thought tended to dominate and divide the courtyard; Mr. Rybczynski later agreed with this concern. Ms. Gustafson emphasized that the water could easily be turned off, exposing the ordinary stone paving surface, when events were held in the courtyard. Mr. McKinnell emphasized the routine perceptual effect of the full water scrim rather than its adaptation for special events. Ms. Gustafson emphasized the importance of water in animating space and gave the example of the two fountains that had previously been in the courtyard. Mr. Sibert commented that unlike a traditional fountain, the water scrim would be an occupiable area, making this water feature less divisive. Ms. Zimmerman requested additional photos or videotapes of the water scrims that Ms. Gustafson had created in New York and Seattle. Ms. Nelson questioned whether the water would be impractical above occupied space or storage areas, but Ms. Gustafson said that the previous installations had successfully solved such problems. Mr. Rybczynski expressed his preference for the courtyard's historic design with the fountains serving as focal points. Ms. Gustafson responded that the new design was a modern composition emphasizing movement rather than static objects. She likened the water scrim to a rug or tapestry rather than a traditional fountain. Mr. Belle suggested that the Commission's concern was due to the water scrim and the planters being too similar in shape. Ms. Gustafson suggested that this perception might result from the viewpoints of the renderings—elevated and from the far ends of the courtyard—and offered to provide further renderings from eye level at more typical viewing locations at the center of the courtyard.
The Commission then considered the exterior of the building, beginning with the proposed south stairs. Mary Kay Lanzillotta and Warren Cox of Hartman Cox Architects presented the design, including a model and slide presentation. Ms. Lanzillotta explained the historic context of the site, centered on 8th Street and projecting into the alignments of F and G Streets, giving great prominence to the stairs. She reviewed the history of the stairs, which were redesigned several times in the 19th and 20th centuries as the street was regraded and realigned. Eventually the entrance was shifted one level lower, near street level, and the National Portrait Gallery would continue to bring visitors in at this lower level. Therefore, the proposed staircase would not ordinarily be used for museum visitors. The staircase design would be similar to the late–19th–century design with additional features such as reproduction light fixtures based on historical photos from this period. Some design features would respond to modern needs: doorways would lead to the modern street–level entry vestibule; glass block paving in the stair landing would bring daylight to this vestibule; and the balustrade height and stair dimensions would be slightly modified to meet modern building codes. Mr. Cox reiterated the historical accuracy of the stairs, within the constraints of modern requirements. He said that the Smithsonian was considering special events on the upper portico, so the staircase would sometimes be used. He described a tentative proposal for sliding gates to prevent people from ascending the staircase at other times; he noted the presence of similar gates on the east and west stairs that were no longer in use. He also emphasized the view northward along 8th Street toward the center of the building and the importance of the stairs in anchoring the building to the ground from this viewpoint.
Ms. Nelson then recognized Tersh Boasberg, chairman of the District of Columbia Historic Preservation Review Board. Mr. Boasberg emphasized the importance of F Street in front of the building as an important gathering place and festival site for the city, separate from the federal gathering places nearby. He welcomed the proposed stairs as part of this street context, and he summarized the historic and new buildings in the vicinity that contributed to the quality of the setting. Ms. Nelson commented that the interesting context suggested the desirability of being able to walk or sit on the staircase and the design team confirmed that the proposed gates would be removable. In subsequent discussion, Mr. Rybczynski questioned the need to close off the staircase; the Commissioners acknowledged the potential problems of leaving it open to the public, but Mr. Rybczynski suggested that it could be closed off only at night. Mr. McKinnell suggested that it was preferable to have a gate designed by the architects of the stair restoration rather than have a gate added later by the Smithsonian; Mr. Rybczynski concurred.
Ms. Gustafson presented the exterior landscaping. She showed how the site context had developed inconsistently and asymmetrically, with a subway entrance at the northwest, loading dock ramps along the north, a mixture of granite and brick paving, and various unrelated plantings. The new design would be based on restoring the historic landscape design, similar to the design approach for the proposed south stairs. The system of sloped and flat lawns would be recreated, consistent hedges and fences would be added, and inappropriate trees would be removed. Eventually the site would be ringed with elm trees, but some other large existing trees would remain for the near future. She proposed paving that would be darker than the standard D.C. pavers, to emphasize the special location of this site. Regarding perimeter security, she said that the risk evaluation had not yet been completed, but barriers could be introduced within the new hedges if necessary. Depending on the determination of the needed standoff distance, barriers on the sidewalk might be unnecessary except possibly at the stairs. Ms. Nelson and Mr. Belle praised the intention to place barriers within the hedges but questioned whether the barriers could still be intrusive; they suggested careful study of this proposal.
Ms. Nelson then asked for motions concerning the courtyard and exterior proposals. Upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the revised concept for the exterior landscape and staircase. The motion incorporated Ms. Zimmerman's request for further study of the security barrier within the hedges and the gates on the staircase, as well as Mr. Belle's summary of the Commission's desire that the stair be accessible to the public to the greatest extent feasible.
Regarding the courtyard design, Ms. Zimmerman expressed support for the modern design aesthetic but requested the removal of the catering stations. Mr. McKinnell said his concern was not with modern versus traditional design, but that the design was too "self–referential" rather than supporting the intended uses for the space. Mr. Rybczynski concurred with Mr. McKinnell and commented that the proposed roof, while very modern, seemed sympathetic to the historic building while the landscape design seemed to be "imposed." He suggested that the inappropriate emphasis on the long axis was the fundamental problem. Mr. Belle concurred and suggested that the problem was too many design elements in the space, leaving too little room for human activity. Ms. Nelson supported the courtyard design as "an urban garden ... that reflects our times" and praised the choice of materials and colors. She suggested further study of the spacing between elements and of the need for the catering benches. She summarized the Commission's overall desire for much further study and a resubmission of a revised concept; the Commission endorsed this consensus without a formal motion.
The Commission recessed for lunch, at which point Mr. Powell departed the session; Ms. Nelson continued to chair the remainder of the meeting.
Consent Calendars (continued)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions (continued). Following the lunch break, the Commission heard the request from Herb Miller to change the negative recommendation of the Old Georgetown Board concerning site improvements at his home at 3124 Q Street N.W. Mr. Martínez reviewed the issues that he had presented earlier in the meeting and showed photos of the existing conditions showing the improper construction that had occurred. Mr. Miller explained that some of the fencing in question was installed quickly to provide security for a side entrance to his rear yard after the entrance was used in a burglary of his guest cottage. Its design matched other fencing along his property and it faced a driveway that was part of his property, not a public alley. The other area in question was a lattice fence and plantings along his swimming pool to provide privacy from adjacent neighbors. Mr. Miller said that this area would no longer be visible from the public street once an adjacent house and its landscaping were constructed; Mr. Martínez questioned this assertion.
Ms. Nelson pointed out the Old Georgetown Board's concern that these features were installed without permits and without review, or despite a negative recommendation. Ms. Zimmerman suggested that security from burglary could be provided by lights or other measures rather than by additional fencing or lattices. Mr. Miller said that the lattice was intended only for privacy and offered to reduce its height. Mr. Luebke asked the Commission to consider whether the lattice should be removed entirely since no permit had been issued. Ms. Nelson urged Mr. Miller to comply with the Board's recommendation; Mr. Miller asked if that meant he had to remove the security fence and expose his back yard to intruders. Mr. Martínez clarified that the Board had suggested a different alignment for the staircase along this opening, and Ms. Nelson suggested that the staircase could be secured to eliminate the need for a security fence. Mr. Miller offered to realign the staircase but explained that the adjacent property was a private parking area rather than a public alley, making this solution difficult to achieve. Mr. Miller and Mr. Martínez explained that there had been numerous submissions for this project and some components had previously been reviewed and approved by the Board, while other proposals had been disapproved. Ms. Zimmerman and Ms. Nelson urged Mr. Miller to work with the Board and the staff to determine an acceptable solution through the normal review process.
Smithsonian Institution (continued)
CFA 16/MAR/06–3, National Zoological Park. Asia Trail–Phase II, including Elephant House and habitat renovation and additions to existing facilities. Concept. (Previous: CFA 16/FEB/06–1.) Mr. Martínez introduced the project, which the Commission had reviewed the previous month with a request that the Smithsonian resubmit the concept with further information on the site grade, landscaping, and design intention for the building addition. The Commission had also requested a site visit which had occurred that morning.
The design was presented by architect Walter Crimm from the firm of EwingCole. He reminded the Commission of the Zoo's priorities: animal care, sustainability, visitor education, and scientific research. He described the Zoo's context and topography and showed the 30–foot grade change within the project area, encompassing a valley behind the Elephant House. He pointed out a change in the project scope to include a realignment of Olmsted Walk in the vicinity of the Elephant House in order to meet modern accessibility standards; as a result, the walk would be located further away from the building resulting in a larger forecourt and expanded service area. He described the original design intent of the Elephant House, with a symmetrical plan and a central space for visitors, with animal areas around the periphery connected to exterior yards. The result was that animals were always seen against wall surfaces. The reconfiguration of the building and site would result in larger animal habitat areas and views that included landscape backdrops. The visitor path would include a loop incorporating bridges, while the animals would occupy most of the dramatic landscape.
Mr. Crimm showed a plan of trees to retained or removed. Some of the tree removal was necessitated by the realignment of Olmsted Walk, and a new landscape buffer would be created to provide screening from the adjacent parking area. Some trees that were accessible to the elephants were damaged through natural interaction and would be removed. Significant trees in the valley would be retained.
Mr. Crimm showed a preliminary cut–and–fill analysis. Some changes would be made for visitor paths, bridges and underpasses for visitors and animals, the realignment of Olmsted Walk, the creation of animal watering holes, and improved grades for animal areas. Grade alterations toward the bottom of the valley would protect trees from damage by the elephants.
Within the building, visitors would circulate along the north edge, leaving a large group area for the elephants with free access to exterior space. An addition to the building would provide support space for animal care. Outside the building, canopies would provide summer shade and heaters would provide winter warmth, encouraging year–round outdoor activity for the animals. The canopies would have unevenly spaced cutouts to provide a variety of light and dark areas for the animals while also shading the new glass wall along the south face of the existing building. The building addition would be concrete with a stone texture that would be enlarged from the existing building's pattern. The existing building's attic wall, used to control the lighting of a skylight, would be repeated in the addition. Additional skylights in the main hall would maintain the historic design concept of seeing the animals in natural light.
In the valley area, pedestrian bridges would be configured to encourage a variety of viewing angles. A series of small buildings would be eliminated and their functions would be combined into a new structure providing water pumps, bathrooms, and an elevator to the visitor bridge. Mr. Crimm showed site sections and elevations to illustrate the project components.
Mr. Belle commented that the site visit had shown how tight some of the dimensions were, and the close proximity of features such as the Elephant House's service yard and main visitor entrance. He emphasized the importance of design details and handling the potential operational conflict of service vehicles crossing Olmsted Walk. He also questioned the design intention for the addition to the Elephant House, wavering between historic compatibility and a distinctly different character. Mr. Rybczynski concurred with Mr. Belle's comments and praised the character of the existing building, suggesting that the designers take better advantage of it.
Ms. Nelson objected to the proposed animal sculptures in the forecourt area. She questioned whether the abstracted animal sculptures would detract from the lessons about real animals and their natural habitats.
Ms. Zimmerman asked about the budgeting and timetable for the project. Mr. Crimm responded that the funds had been appropriated and a contract needed to be in place in September. Mr. Rombach said that the project would be constructed through a design–build contract which would hopefully be awarded in June, based on the design documents being prepared by EwingCole. He noted that any design changes arising under the design–build contract would be submitted for the Commission's review.
Ms. Zimmerman praised the overall concepts for the site, but she questioned whether the concepts related to the building had reached a sufficient level of refinement—particularly the new glass wall, shading canopy, and the surfaces and height of the building addition. Mr. Luebke suggested that the Commission could approve the concept and provide further guidance to the staff and designers on the desired direction for unresolved issues. Mr. Crimm responded to several issues such as the building height—determined by the natural reach of an elephant—and the surface concrete texture, which had been illustrated with computer images but not with mockups. Mr. McKinnell expressed concern that the Commission was being asked to respond to descriptions and intentions rather than fully illustrated design proposals. He noted the absence of an elevation drawing for the prominent west wall and regretted the absence of a model to illustrate the complex topography.
At Ms. Nelson's suggestion, the Commission expressed its support for the concept and requested more detailed design drawings for the next submission, along with further consultation with the staff.
General Services Administration
The three GSA submissions were reviewed in the reverse of the agenda sequence.
CFA 16/MAR/06–6, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Headquarters. New York and Florida Avenues, N.E. Public art installation. Concept. (Previous: CFA 21/NOV/02–3, final building plans.) Ms. Penhoet said this submission concerned only one of the public art installations proposed for this building. She said the major concern of the staff was that it would be placed in what amounted to a private courtyard, noting that openings that had been planned for public use would no longer be so because of security considerations. She then introduced the artist, Ned Kahn, to make the presentation.
Mr. Kahn said he did a lot of work with natural phenomena, particularly with wind and water, and was brought into the project to work with the architect, Moshe Safdie, to create an artwork for the courtyard. He recalled Mr. Safdie's reflecting pool in the courtyard and said he had collaborated with him to come up with a sculpture that would sit in the pool, be activated by the wind, reflect the water, and be visible from the building. It could also be seen from the open structure which Mr. Safdie called the aqueduct—a porous, open structure that framed the building and provided views from the street and from public spaces into the courtyard.
Ms. Zimmerman asked Mr. Kahn if he had done other similar pieces using the moving discs shown in this piece. He said he had done many variations on the theme, one of them in Rosslyn, in Arlington County. He showed a study model, saying that the whole installation would be 100 feet long and about 12 feet high in the center. Basically it was a stainless steel structure with large perforations in the steel, supporting very thin metal discs that would move in the wind, catch light, and reflect the water. Ms. Nelson asked if it would be lit at night; Mr. Kahn said it was actually very hard to light and looked better if the environment around it was lit.
There was more discussion with Mr. Kahn concerning details of the installation and operation, with the unanimous opinion that it would be a fine addition to Mr. Safdie's building. Upon a motion by Ms. Zimmerman, with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the concept.
CFA 16/MAR/06–5, Main Treasury Building, 15th Street, N.W., between Hamilton Place and Pennsylvania Avenue. Perimeter security bollards. Final. Mr. Lindstrom presented the project due to the illness of the Treasury's project manager. The project would complete the security perimeter around the White House complex extending to 17th Street, and the design would largely mirror the 17th Street security perimeter along the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB). The proposal would primarily consist of a line of bollards along the 15th Street face of the Treasury building. There would be special treatment at the northeast corner of the building where a fenced yard faced 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue; protection would be required for a small portion of the fence on the north, adjacent to the line of bollards crossing Pennsylvania Avenue. Unlike the similar condition at EEOB, where the heavy historic fence was reinforced to provide security, the lighter historic fence components at the Treasury could not feasibly be reinforced. Rather than construct two isolated bollards to protect this short segment of fence, the proposal was to install a granite bench in the sidewalk matching other benches along Pennsylvania Avenue. Mr. Lindstrom said that this proposal was supported by the Secret Service, GSA, and the National Capital Planning Commission. At Ms. Nelson's suggestion, the Commission voted to approve the proposal.
CFA 16/MAR/06–4, Herbert C. Hoover Building, Department of Commerce, 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Building modernization and alterations, Phase I. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced Louis Goetz from the architectural collaboration of GGA.EEK to present the project. Mr. Goetz said the building modernization would occur in four phases over a period of twelve years. This initial presentation would include the overall concept and four specific areas: alterations to the nothernmost courtyard; a new location and entrance for the National Aquarium; the replacement of cooling towers; and site changes including perimeter security and access ramps.
Mr. Goetz described the history and context of the building, which was completed in 1932 and forms the western side of the Federal Triangle. The building's east facade was designed to face a plaza planned for the east side of 14th Street; that site was eventually used for the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center which incorporated a small plaza and continued the central axis of the Commerce facade. The building's long west facade was designed to frame the Ellipse. Two of the building's six courtyards were used for parking and service, with driveways dividing the first and second floors into three separate building areas. An historic room at the north end of the building has become the White House Visitor Center, and the National Aquarium has occupied a basement area below the 14th Street main entrance for many decades; the remainder of the building is occupied by the Commerce Department. While many employees now reach the building from the Federal Triangle Metrorail station through a tunnel extending between the basement and the Reagan Building, the basement arrival area is constrained by the presence of the aquarium which has become a closed–off facility with an admission fee. The modernization would include improvements to the basement circulation routes to improve access to the Metro, office elevator banks, training rooms, the fitness center, and the cafeteria, and to provide a visual connection to the courtyards. The aquarium would be moved to the south end of the basement with a new entrance from Constitution Avenue, improving the relationship of this visitor attraction to the Washington Monument and the nearby Mall museums—including the future National Museum of African–American History and Culture, which is planned for a site immediately to the south. The aquarium's existing area would be restored as a lower–level lobby connecting the Metro access tunnel and the landscaped courtyards. On the first floor, the security screening area would be relocated from the main 14th Street lobby and placed in adjacent service spaces.
Mr. Goetz provided further information on the proposed aquarium entrance. Visitors would descend a ramp or stairs to a sunken courtyard, then enter a pavilion that would include security screening before proceeding to the area within the historic building shell, passing through doorways created from window openings along an existing light well. Skylights between the entry pavilion and the existing building would provide dramatic views of the historic south facade as visitors proceed into the aquarium. Street–level signage would identify the aquarium entrance while respecting the historic architecture; details had not yet been determined. On the roof of the entrance pavilion would be a reflecting pool raised 42 inches above the sidewalk, creating perimeter security for the new courtyard and ample headroom for the space below while still providing street–level pedestrians with reflected views of the historic south facade.
Mr. Goetz explained that the aquarium would be relatively small, encompassing 20,000 square feet, and would include a series of small tanks. Mr. Goetz referred the Commission's further questions on the aquarium relocation to Dean Smith from GSA. Mr. Smith said that the proposal had been well received by the National Aquarium's board, which is affiliated with the National Aquarium in Baltimore. They were enthusiastic about the prominence of the new location, providing better visibility to visitors on the Mall. He said the schedule was ambitious, with the aquarium relocation planned for implementation in 2009.
Mr. Goetz described the proposal for the north courtyard, where a four–level stack area for the former Patent Office Library would be renovated for office and storage space, working within the limitations of the low ceiling heights. An existing areaway around the stack structure would be covered with skylights. Ms. Nelson said that this construction was essentially an interior project and did not require the Commission's review. Staff later clarified that Commission action was necessary since this area would be visible from some elevated exterior viewpoints.
Mr. Goetz then described the proposed perimeter security which could set a standard for the entire Federal Triangle. He explained the client's desire for a fifty–foot standoff distance and the difficulty of reconciling this with NCPC's security master plan which proposed alternatives to extensive lines of bollards. The security line would be pushed as close to the curb as feasible, but he acknowledged that the main building entrances, as well as the White House Visitor Center and future aquarium entrance, should have a more open character and should provide sufficient room at the street edge for passenger drop–off. He said that a range of perimeter security elements was being considered, including fixed and retractable bollards, trees, walls, flagpoles, benches, streetlights, trash cans, planters, benches, and bus shelters. He characterized the existing landscaping around the building as minimal and said that most of it would have to be removed during the modernization of site utilities. This created the opportunity for a completely new design that would incorporate landscaping and perimeter security.
The 14th Street entry plaza would be framed by planters and include shallow ramps to the entrance doors. Four flagpoles, shown in the original building design but never built, would be installed along with bollards, benches, and low granite walls. New trees would be positioned to provide shade for some of the benches. The security line would be set back nine feet from the curb. Along other parts of the building, small paving blocks and street furniture would create areas of varying character and intimacy. Due to the high traffic volume on 14th Street, the streetscape would be designed would draw pedestrians away from the street edge and toward the building, a reversal of the existing design. Short access ramps would be included at several building entrances, including the entrance to the child–care center and the Secretary's entrance.
Mr. Belle questioned the materials for the proposed and existing low walls. While the new walls would be faced in granite, the proposed modifications would give more prominence to unattractive existing concrete walls along the areaways. Mr. Goetz said that landscaping or new facing might help to improve this, and a solution could be developed during a later design phase.
Ms. Nelson acknowledged that this project would set a precedent for Federal Triangle perimeter security, and she recognized Jonathan McIntyre from NCPC to address this topic. Mr. McIntrye said that NCPC was currently reviewing this project and planned to defer action on the perimeter security component until a GSA master plan was completed for Federal Triangle perimeter security. He did not object to the specific proposals for the Commerce Department but said that NCPC wanted a coordinated vision for the entire complex of buildings. He said NCPC also intended to defer action on other site proposals such as the access ramps, since their design might relate to the perimeter security solutions. Mr. Goetz commented that the project's long timetable meant that perimeter security requirements might change by the time that the later phases are being designed and built.
Mr. Belle expressed support for the general approach of using a variety of perimeter security elements, particularly considering this building's enormous scale. He suggested that new low walls, including those built for access ramps, should relate to the historic stonework along the base of the existing building. He urged the staffs of the various agencies to incorporate such principles into the Federal Triangle planning study.
Mr. Goetz then described the extensive grouping of cooling towers, located on the roof of a building wing between two interior courtyards. They would be relocated from the edge of the roof to the center and screened with aluminum louvers and new roofing that would match the existing red tile. The color of the other elements would be studied further, possibly to contrast with the red roof since their contrasting forms would not be expected to blend in with the roof. Some existing chimneys would be removed at the new location for the chillers.
Ms. Nelson praised the project, including the changes to the aquarium and the cooling towers. She suggested that the Commission defer action on the perimeter security until a coordinated plan for Federal Triangle became available, and she urged Mr. Goetz to contribute the ideas from the Commerce Department design to the Federal Triangle planning team. Upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski, with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the concept for the aquarium, cooling towers, and the northern courtyard.
Department of State
CFA 16/MAR/06–7, Department of State. Harry S Truman Building, 2201 C Street, N.W. Temporary security screening facilities. Final. Mr. Lindstrom reported that the Department of State representative was unable to attend and this item would be postponed until next month.
Department of the Treasury / U.S. Mint
CFA 16/MAR/06–8, 2007 Presidential One–Dollar Coin Program. New obverse designs for the first four coins: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. (Previous: CFA 16/FEB/06–3, Reverse design.) Ms. Kohler summarized the previous submission for these coins, when a template design was approved for the reverse of all the coins. The portraits on the obverse were to be based on the presidential medal issued during the tenure of each president. She introduced Kaarina Budow from the U.S. Mint who said that that since the last submission, the Mint has decided to get new portraits from its sculptor–engravers and the artists from its Artistic Infusion Program. Ms. Kohler then asked Ms. Budow to make the presentation, noting that the members had received the designs in their pre–meeting packages.
Ms. Budow said that in addition to the portraits the obverse would show the numerical order in which each president served and the dates of his term of office. The legislation also authorized a repositioning of many of the traditional obverse inscriptions, including the year of minting and the phrases "E Pluribus Unum" and "In God We Trust" so that more space could be provided for the portrait. She asked that the members give both a first and second choice for the obverse of each coin.
Ms. Budow then showed the twelve proposed designs for the George Washington coin. The members reviewed them, and Ms. Nelson commented that it was important to show Washington's strength, with Ms. Zimmerman adding that this should be done without making him look grim. The majority of the members thought that Design #12 best met these requirements, and that #10 was also a possibility. However, no one liked the arrangement of the type on #12, and they agreed that the arrangement on #3 was much better, particularly since "First President" was spelled out rather than resorting to the use of "1st" and the absence of the word "President" as seen on #12. The commission asked that the inscription arrangement on #3 be used on all four coins; the decision was made to recommend only one portrait of Washington, that of Design #12.
The eight proposed designs for the President John Adams coin were reviewed next. The Commission preferred Designs #6 and #7. Design #6 was seen as working better with the type arrangement approved for the Washington coin and was the only recommendation for President Adams.
For Thomas Jefferson, ten proposed designs were shown. The Commission recommended Design #6 as the first choice, with #10 as the second.
Of the eleven proposed designs for James Madison, the first choice was #9, with the second being #8.
Ms. Budow then turned to the edge lettering to be used on these coins. Three inscriptions had to be incused around the edge: "E Pluribus Unum", "In God We Trust", and the year the coin was minted. Each inscription was to be separated by a marking and Ms. Budow gave the members the choice of a dot, a star, or a tilde. The Commission's unanimous recommendation was the dot. Ms. Budow said the exact font and style of the incused text would be selected for clarity and legibility on the basis of the Mint's manufacturing tests.
Department of the Army
CFA 16/MAR/06–9, Fort McNair, National Defense University. New physical Fitness Facility. New concept. (Previous: CFA 15/SEP/05–12.) Ms. Penhoet introduced the project, which was being resubmitted as a one–story building after the previously approved two–story building became too costly to construct. She introduced architect Suman Sorg from Sorg and Associates to present the project.
Ms. Sorg said that the program for the building was mostly unchanged, but the change to a single–story design reduced the total area and cost by eliminating stair, elevator, and circulation space. The floor area had been reduced from 43,000 square feet to 33,000 square feet. Further savings were being sought in the design of the foundation, which was originally sized for a two–story structure. Additionally, an adjacent parking area and related utility work were dropped from the project and would be incorporated in a future proposal. She described the overall context for the building, include several current and planned construction projects at Ft. McNair. The plan of the physical fitness facility included a stepped profile to follow the alignment of the adjacent street. In elevation, the taller parts of the building were positioned furthest away from the adjacent smaller houses. The walls would be brick with decorative patterning, somewhat simplified from the previous design, and punched window openings with precast details. Special reinforcing would be provided for the building walls that fell within the 148–foot blast zone from Ft. McNair's perimeter. The roofs would be flat, instead of the more expensive curved roofs from the previous proposal. The parking area would be aligned with an adjacent street. An outdoor swimming pool could be added to the site in the future.
In response to Mr. Rybczynski, Ms. Sorg explained that some parts of the building wall would rise to form a screen for the rooftop mechanical equipment. Mr. Rybczynski commented that the design included many complicated brick details and changes in profile, surprising in a design that had been revised to drastically reduce costs. Ms. Sorg responded that the brick would be constructed with a panelized system that would reduce the cost of decorative details. Mr. Belle praised the design, particularly the variation in the massing, and expressed his hope that the project could now be constructed with the available budget. Mr. Rybczynski questioned the design of the gratings on the back elevation, suggesting that the rhythm of vertical pilasters could be continued. Ms. Sorg explained that the facade openings had a varied emphasis on vertical or horizontal orientation depending on the structural system in each portion of the building.
Upon a motion by Mr. Belle, with second by Ms. Zimmerman, the Commission approved the revised concept.
Department of the Air Force
CFA 16/MAR/06–10, Bolling Air Force Base. New U.S. Coast Guard Station. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 19/May/05–5.) Mr. Lindstrom introduced the project, which had previously been submitted as a one–story design concept that the Commission approved in May. The project was being resubmitted as a two–story design. He introduced David Sumner and Michael Schmitt from the Coast Guard. Mr. Schmitt explained that the project had been budgeted for $5 million but the bids were exceeding that cap. As a result, the building area was trimmed from 6,100 square feet to 4,100 square feet, although he said the planned activities would best be accommodated in a 10,000–square–foot building. The Coast Guard decided to consolidate the program into a smaller two–story structure that would be treated as an initial phase; another two–story structure could be built at a later date, likely in fiscal year 2008, to bring the total facility to more than 8,000 square feet.
Mr. Schmitt described the site adjacent to Bolling's marina, where the Coast Guard boats would be docked. The site was currently mostly used as a parking lot, some of which would be maintained for the new building; the Coast Guard operations were currently housed in a small building nearby. Due to the ground conditions, the building would be constructed on piles, resulting in cost savings from the smaller footprint of a two–story building. The building's materials would be similar to those approved in the initial concept submission, and the design would be reminiscent of the architectural tradition of Coast Guard facilities. A boat maintenance garage, originally included in the project, would be deferred until the future second phase, which would be similar in design character to the proposed first phase. The first phase would contain offices, a training room, and a meeting room; the second phase would include sleeping quarters for the Coast Guard crew, along with an exercise room and a boat maintenance office. Security requirements included a stand–off distance between the building and the parking. Mr. Schmitt described the proposed materials: red brick to match other Bolling buildings; a shingle roof; vinyl siding; and vinyl–clad double–hung windows, designed for hurricane resistance as well as withstanding bomb blasts.
Ms. Nelson praised the gracefulness of the design and commented that it was an improvement over the previous submission. At her suggestion, the Commission approved the revised concept and delegated further review to the staff.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
CFA 16/MAR/06–11, Dupont Circle Metro Station, north entrance. Art installation of poetry inscriptions. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom said this submission was part of WMATA's Art in Transit Program and introduced Michael McBride, manager of the Public Art Program for WMATA.
Mr. McBride said the community had asked that there be something at the Dupont Circle station to honor those who had cared for people with HIV/AIDS; this was later broadened to honor those who had succumbed to these diseases, and then to include all those who care for anyone having a devastating illness. It was decided to make it a literary tribute and a competition was held, resulting in the selection of the poem We Embrace by local poet Ethelbert Miller. The Art in Transit board also wanted to include a poem by Walt Whitman, The Wound–Dresser.
Mr. McBride then discussed his solution to incorporating both poems. Mr. Miller's poem would be inscribed around the edge of a circle of grey granite set into the sidewalk pavement along Connecticut Avenue near Q Street, adjacent to the northern Metro station entrance. A circular bench would be placed in the center of the granite circle; the letters would be cut into the stone and then filled with a hard dark substance to provide a flat walking surface.
Turning to the placing of the Walt Whitman poem, Mr. McBride said the proposal was to place the inscription on the outside of the parapet wall that surrounds the escalators. However, the problem was the myriad number of objects now up against this wall—newspaper vending boxes, bike racks, bikes, and mailboxes. He said he would like to get rid of these, but the feeling among the members was that he would never be able to do so. Ms. Zimmerman suggested putting the inscription on top of the wall, but that, too, would be hard to approach in many places. Mr. Belle thought the inside of the wall should be considered, where the entire poem could be seen by people going down the escalators. Mr. McKinnell agreed, observing that in this way they would have a captive audience, whereas in the other proposed locations the poem would hardly be noticed. Mr. Belle commented on the custom, in a domed church, to put the religious message around the inside of the dome.
There was unanimous agreement that this was the best solution. Upon a motion by Mr. Belle, with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the concept for both parts of the installation was approved, subject to the recommended relocation of the Whitman inscription. The Commission also agreed also that Mr. McBride could bring the project to the staff for further development and final review.
District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
Old Georgetown Act
O.G. 06–089, 3700 O Street, N.W. Georgetown University. New building for the McDonough School of Business. Final. (Previous: O.G. 005– 070, seen 16 June 2005.) Mr. Martínez introduced the project, located in the center of Georgetown's campus. The U–shaped building would partially enclose an atrium. The current submission did not include a landscape proposal; the previous landscape design for a nearby area was superseded by a new building proposal; the landscaping immediately around the proposed McDonough School was still being evaluated for security concerns. The Old Georgetown Board had reviewed the project and forwarded a favorable recommendation; in accordance with normal procedure for final approval of a new building, the project was being presented as a separate agenda item for the Commission. Mr. Martínez then introduced the Georgetown University architect, Alan Brangman; the design architect from the firm of Goody Clancy was unable to attend.
Mr. Brangman explained that the building would allow the consolidation of the undergraduate, graduate, and executive business programs. It would also form the edge of a new quadrangle being created on the campus and would help link existing buildings that were separated due to significant grade changes. Like several historic buildings on the campus, the new business school would have a gray slate roof and a formal front faced in stone, with the other sides in brick. The U–shaped building would frame an atrium that would have a glass wall and aluminum mullions.
Mr. Belle questioned the differing character of the building's facades. Mr. Brangman explained that the unusual combination of materials was chosen in deference to the historic buildings on campus that use stone for their main public faces. Mr. McKinnell pointed out that the proposed building would be some distance from the historic ones and would be internal to the campus with less of a distinct public side, so the logic of applying this design concept was questionable. Mr. Brangman acknowledged that this question had been considered at length; he said that when donors became involved in the project, there was an increased emphasis on defining a strong public facade. Mr. Brangman defended the stone facade as appropriate in the context of the adjacent campus buildings. Mr. McKinnell agreed that each of the facades was well designed but questioned the way they were combined into a single building where they would be seen simultaneously. Mr. Brangman commented that the university's historic buildings with varied facades provided similar opportunities for viewing differing materials simultaneously.
Ms. Nelson reminded the Commissioners that the Old Georgetown Board had made a favorable recommendation. Upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the final design.
S.L. 06–056, 801 17th Street, N.W. Lafayette Tower. New office building. Concept. Ms. Penhoet introduced the project, a new eleven–story commercial office building at the northeast corner of 17th and H Streets. The site, northwest of the White House and a half–block from Lafayette and Farragut Squares, is currently occupied by an office building of comparable size. She said that staff had expressed concern about the building's massing and its relation to pedestrians and the urban context. She said that the applicant had provided several supplemental alternative design concepts but the staff concerns were not addressed. She introduced architect Kevin Roche from Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates; Mr. Roche had been a member of the Commission from 1969 to 1980.
Mr. Roche described the site and context. From the White House area, the building would come into view as one approached the north side of Lafayette Square, forming part of the general grouping of office buildings along this section of 17th Street. An existing alley on the east side of the site providing access to the loading dock would be retained and improved. The design was developed through consideration of the urban context and of the likely tenants—probably professional firms that would desire a large number of corner offices. The sculpting of the building's facades responded to the base and cornice lines of the adjacent buildings as well as the desired internal layout for the tenants. The height would be 130 feet, the maximum permitted, with a roof terrace alongside the mechanical penthouse. The ground floor would contain a mix of retail and office space, possibly including a coffee shop and a street–front reception area for a major tenant. The building entrance along 17th Street would be marked by an entrance canopy leading to the two–story lobby. Below grade, there would be one level of office space and three levels of parking.
Mr. Roche then showed several alternatives to the all–glass facades of the initial scheme. Scheme B used granite cladding for the exterior columns on the first two floors; he did not recommend this option but offered it as an exploration of an alternative design approach. Scheme C recessed the ground floor by three feet along the street edges, emphasizing the columns. He said that he was deliberately avoiding a design that would incorporate the neoclassical detailing of nearby buildings, and instead preferred a stronger modern sculptural design.
Mr. Belle commented that in the early design studies that were briefly shown, many alternatives used stone facades; he asked why this option was not pursued. Mr. Roche explained that the developer, his client, preferred not to have a stone facade; Mr. Roche had concurred, preferring the lightness and simplicity of an all–glass facade. Mr. Roche clarified that he preferred the original scheme presented, rather than Scheme B or C.
Mr. McKinnell suggested that the sculpted recesses could continue to the top of the building, which would avoid the technical and aesthetic problems of designing a soffit above them. The extra exposure to the sky might also be a dramatic contribution to the street–level pedestrian experience. Mr. McKinnell also urged that the glass facades continue to the ground level, rather than introduce stone at the base.
Ms. Penhoet clarified that staff had not requested stone specifically, but had generally suggested improved detailing and massing of the building. Mr. Luebke emphasized that staff supported a modern design approach but was concerned that the sculpted form introduced large–scale stepping shapes that did not seem appropriate to the urban context but were perhaps more appropriate in a suburban setting. Mr. Roche disagreed; Ms. Nelson commented that it was appropriate at the concept review stage to generate such discussions and suggestions.
Mr. Rybczynski commented that the design made a strong formal statement that seemed somewhat odd when seen on the elevations, though the sculpted form worked well in the oblique views of the urban context. Mr. Roche said he had carefully developed the design to ensure its success in the urban context, and the resulting form was more complex than might seem apparent. Mr. Rybczynski was concerned that a viewer might still see the result as an overly simplistic form, but Mr. Roche said that this impression, formed from the model and drawings, would not be the perception of a person on the street.
Ms. Zimmerman questioned the nearly continuous glass facades at the ground level, apparently interrupted only by the garage and lobby entrances. Mr. Roche explained that there would be shops or other uses involving additional doors; these had not yet been determined. Ms. Zimmerman explained that the building appeared "expensive" and uncomfortable. Mr. Roche emphasized the transparency provided by the glass, but Ms. Zimmerman said the transparency of the architectural model would typically be lost when the building was occupied by real–world tenants. Mr. Roche agreed that such a transformation was inevitable. Ms. Zimmerman summarized her concern that the design was too much of a simple box to support a lively street edge. Mr. Roche objected that it would be difficult to illustrate a particular ground–floor frontage without knowing how the space would be occupied. Mr. Belle suggested that the building skin should not continue all the way to the ground; Mr. McKinnell offered a contrasting view, referring to Boston's Hancock Building which might be characterized as contributing little to the street life, but nonetheless created excitement from the drama of its glass wall continuing directly into the ground. Ms. Zimmerman pointed out that the Hancock Building was much taller and had a unique profile. Mr. McKinnell also acknowledged that the single occupant of the Hancock Building might contribute to the purity of its exterior appearance. But he emphasized the "visceral experience" of passing by such a wall. He pointed out that the city was formed by groups of buildings, not just individual buildings. The adjacent limestone buildings might provide a good context for an all–glass building at this location; the variation of overall architectural texture might be more important than the variety created by individual storefronts. Mr. Roche asked if the Commission was recommending a simple rectangular glass box, without indentations. He thought such a solution would be too minimalist and preferred the complexity of the design he presented, providing a variety of light, shade, and reflections.
In response to Mr. McKinnell, Mr. Roche said that some of the oblique views shown in the renderings could not be experienced due to intervening buildings, but there would be comparable views available in the actual context. Mr. McKinnell concurred with Mr. Rybczynski in praising the sculpted form of the proposed building but was concerned that people would rarely have a viewing angle that would allow them to appreciate it.
Ms. Nelson suggested that the Commission's consensus was to request further study and development of the design before approving a concept. Mr. McKinnell suggested that the Commission approve the concept while requesting further investigation of the details of the form. Mr. Luebke said that the Commission's apparent concerns about the sculptural form and the ground level were significant enough as they affect the building's massing that a concept approval would not normally be appropriate. He suggested that the Commission's concerns should lead to further study before granting concept approval.
Mr. Belle commented that a wide range of alternatives had apparently been studied but little information about them was presented to the Commission. He suggested that a more thorough explanation of the design process might help the Commission to support the proposed design. Mr. McKinnell said that a request for further alternatives should include some guidance on what sort of alternatives the Commission wanted the architect to explore: variations on the sculpting of a taut–skinned glass building, which Mr. McKinnell supported; or completely different approaches to the building's material and shape, such as a limestone building with punched window openings. Mr. Roche said he had provided the staff with booklets illustrating the various design studies; Ms. Penhoet said these were received too late to include in the Commissioners' information mailings.
At this point a representative of the developer, Bob Braunohler of the Louis Dreyfus Property Group, asked to speak. He said that they had been working with Mr. Roche since the previous fall and several dozen design schemes had been generated. He praised the high quality of Mr. Roche's other Washington buildings, with great satisfaction from the community and the tenants. He questioned the need to generate a series of additional design alternatives and noted that prospective tenants were already interested in occupying this future building.
Ms. Nelson responded that the Commission was trying to foster a responsible design and there apparently was not yet a consensus that this design was satisfactory. She suggested a vote to clarify the members' positions. Mr. Rybczynski supported Mr. McKinnell's view that the Commission should accept the general concept of a taut–skinned glass box with forms carved out of it, even if it not entirely to his liking; although the Commission could request different shapes for the carved form, he did not think that this would make much difference. Ms. Zimmerman suggested that the Commission should not specify a solution, but could say that it is not satisfied with the submitted design. This was particularly appropriate when the design firm had extensive talent to thoroughly explore a range of design alternatives. Mr. Belle suggested that the concept was at a very early stage, and many of the Commission's concerns would be addressed by a more detailed presentation of drawings, materials, colors, and the curtain wall details. Such information should be available to obtain final approval, even if not provided for the concept submission. Ms. Nelson said that under the Shipstead–Luce review process, a concept approval would result in extensive design work on the project before the Commission's next opportunity for input. Mr. Luebke confirmed that the next required submission would be at the permit stage, so any broad questions about the design and massing should be addressed before approval of the concept. Mr. Belle and Ms. Zimmerman concurred that conceptual approval needed to include facade details, materials, and color.
Mr. McKinnell commented that the quality of the curtain wall would be critical to the success of this project, so it was reasonable to request that details of the wall be included as part of the concept. Mr. Braunohler agreed with this guidance and assured the Commission that the quality of the curtain wall would match that of Mr. Roche's Station Place project near Union Station. He also said that due to the expense of the design process, it was in the developer's best interest to return to the Commission periodically for further guidance rather than risk a delay during the permit application review. He therefore offered to return to the Commission with further information and refinement regardless of the concept vote. Ms. Zimmerman and Ms. Nelson emphasized that such an ongoing consultation process would allow the Commission to see the concept developed without unduly slowing the project's progression, and without necessitating a vote on the current concept proposal.
Ms. Penhoet suggested that the applicant could defer the application in order to avoid the need for some sort of Commission response to the D.C. government on the Shipstead–Luce referral. Mr. Braunohler agreed to defer the application.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 5:33 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke
Last Modified: April 24, 2006