Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
21 September 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 10:18 a.m.
National Capital Planning Commission staff present:
A. Approval of the minutes of the 27 July meeting. Mr. Luebke reported that the minutes of the July meeting were circulated to the members in advance of the meeting. The Commission approved the minutes without objection, upon a motion by Ms. Nelson with second by Ms. Balmori.
B. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings: October 19, November 16, and January 18, with no meeting scheduled for December. There were no objections.
C. Report on the action taken by the National Capital Planning Commission on the design guidelines for the proposed Vietnam Veterans Memorial Visitor Center. Mr. Luebke noted that the Commission of Fine Arts had approved design guidelines for the visitor center at the July meeting. He reported that the National Capital Planning Commission had subsequently approved the same guidelines without modification. The next submission would be for the design concept.
D. Report on the July 2006 inspection of objects proposed for acquisition by the Freer Gallery of Art. Mr. Luebke asked Mr. Powell to report on the inspection, which occurred on 3 August due to scheduling limitations on the July meeting date. Mr. Powell said that he had approved, on behalf of the Commission, the Freer's acquisition of a pair of large 17th-Century Japanese painted screens. He noted that there would be an additional inspection of objects at the Freer at the conclusion of today's meeting.
Mr. Luebke announced that the 2007 Vincent Scully Prize, administered by the National Building Museum, would be awarded to Mr. Rybczynski. The Commission members offered their congratulations and applause.
II. Submissions and Reviews
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: Mr. Luebke and Ms. Penhoet introduced the appendix. Ms. Balmori asked for the opportunity to see the Smithsonian's submission for perimeter security at the National Air and Space Museum. Mr. Luebke noted that the final approval of this project had been delegated to the staff, and Ms. Balmori offered to review the materials outside of the meeting. Upon a motion by Mr. Belle, with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission adopted the appendix.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Penhoet reported the changes to the draft appendix: several negative recommendations were removed due to postponement of the projects at the request of the applicants. Upon a motion by Ms. Balmori, with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission adopted the revised Shipstead-Luce appendix.
Two additional submissions under the Shipstead-Luce Act were considered later on the agenda (items II.F.1 and 2).
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martínez reported the changes to the draft appendix. Several minor projects were added and several recommendations were updated based on supplemental drawings. He said that additional supplemental drawings were still pending for two projects and asked that the staff be authorized to finalize the recommendations once these drawings were received. Upon a motion by Mr. Belle, with second by Ms. Balmori, the Commission approved the revised appendix subject to confirmation by staff of the recommendations for the two projects requiring supplemental drawings.
B. National Park Service
CFA 21/SEP/06-1, Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial. Site selection. Proposed location at the intersection of Maryland and Independence Avenues, between 4th and 6th Streets, S.W. Final. Mr. Luebke described the proposed site: a four-acre rectangular parcel that would be formed by combining a segment of the Maryland Avenue right-of-way, a triangular park, and a triangular plaza on the north side of the Department of Education building. Management of the site is currently split among three federal and D.C. agencies; the proposed consolidated site would be managed entirely by the National Park Service. He explained that the Park Service's submission included a set of design guidelines that had already been approved by the National Capital Planning Commission after revision resulting from its staff's historic preservation review process, which included public meetings. The revised guidelines were now stated as broad design principles for the site, addressing such topics as preserving vistas to and from the Capitol and creating a unified public space that respects the context. He then introduced Sally Blumenthal of the National Park Service.
Ms. Blumenthal explained that this memorial, like other recent presidential memorials, was sponsored by a federally authorized commission rather than a private organization. The review process would be in accordance with the Commemorative Works Act. She said that the Park Service supports the site and noted that the site was listed in the Memorials and Museums Master Plan adopted in 2001. She related the site to the L'Enfant Plan pattern of creating civic spaces that interrupt streets at major intersections. She then introduced Carl Reddel, executive director of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.
Mr. Reddel explained the background and membership of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which was authorized in 1999. He said that the Commission had considered 26 sites in Washington and concluded that the proposed site provides the best relationship to Eisenhower's legacy. The adjacent Department of Education headquarters related to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare that Eisenhower established. The Federal Aviation Administration, with an office building immediately west of the site, was also created by Eisenhower. The nation's space exploration began during his administration, relating to the adjacent National Air and Space Museum. The site would also be adjacent to the U.S. Information Agency, which Eisenhower established, and the Voice of America, which he moved from New York to Washington. Eisenhower's special relationship to Congress would be expressed through the site's visual connection to the Capitol along Maryland Avenue. Mr. Reddel then introduced Dan Feil, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission's executive architect.
Mr. Feil described the site selection process and showed the other sites that were considered. Many sites were rejected due to poor access; others were eliminated after enactment of revisions to the Commemorative Works Act that established the Reserve. Three sites that received close study were the Auditors Building, the Institute of Peace, and Freedom Plaza. The Auditors Building, part of the Department of Agriculture headquarters complex at 14th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W., would be adjacent to the Mall and close to the World War II Memorial, but the building is already dedicated to Sidney Yates. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission had extensive discussions with the Institute of Peace about a proposal to co-locate the memorial at the Institute's planned building at 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W., but the Institute was no longer interested in the proposal. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission had also considered Freedom Plaza as a site, but NCPC and the D.C. government recommended the Maryland Avenue site as more suitable for commemorating Eisenhower.
Mr. Feil then discussed the Maryland Avenue site. He explained that the site was easily accessible to pedestrians: a large number of people already visit the adjacent Air and Space Museum, and there are nearby Metro stations and bus routes. He showed the Commemorative Works Act's boundary for Area I, which follows Maryland Avenue and bisects the site; the memorial had already received legislative authorization to locate in Area I. The four-acre site would be about the size of Freedom Plaza and twice the size of Farragut Square. Approximately three acres would be available after allowing for setback lines to correspond to the alignments of adjacent buildings. Mr. Feil noted that the World War II and Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials each had overall sites of seven acres, of which approximately four acres were developed for each of the memorials. He also noted the very urban character of the proposed site, unlike the pastoral setting of many other memorials. He characterized the surrounding buildings as generally of little architectural interest except for the Cohen Building to the east and views northeast toward the National Museum of the American Indian and the Capitol. He showed an alternative road configuration suggested by a local architect but said that it would make the memorial site infeasible; he said that the memorial plaza configuration would provide a suitable focal area along Maryland Avenue and would be consistent with potential re-establishment of the avenue to the west.
Mr. Feil provided further details on the existing conditions of the preferred site. He noted the extensive roadway with parking, a group of garden plots, and a small exercise area that the Park Service would try to relocate to East Potomac Park. The 55 curbside parking spaces on the site would be removed, while 14 would be added; a payment to the D.C. government was being negotiated to compensate for the net loss of revenue. Most traffic movements and intersections would improve as a result of the Maryland Avenue closure, and the D.C. Department of Transportation is supporting the proposed site and the associated street closure. An electrical vault would remain on the site and would require permanent access, which was not expected to be a problem; other utilities appear to be easy to relocate but further study is underway.
Mr. Feil explained that a portion of the site is currently the plaza of the Department of Education, including a fenced 16-foot-deep sunken garden that brings daylight to the department's basement library but is in poor condition. The red schoolhouses at the Department of Education entrances would be removed in conjunction with planned repairs to the building. Mr. Feil said that the Department of Education supports the proposed memorial site and would coordinate with the design team on issues of design and landscaping of the plaza and alterations to the sunken garden.
Several Commission members asked for further consideration of how the existing sunken garden would be treated, and Ms. Balmori suggested that it could become a worthwhile landscape feature. Mr. Belle commented that the site seemed quite large. Mr. Feil emphasized the setbacks that would reduce the usable area of the site, and he clarified that the Maryland Avenue vista would be maintained even though the roadway would be removed. He explained that the appropriate treatment of the avenue's full right-of-way of 160 feet would be considered, with special emphasis on maintaining a clear sightline within a central 60-foot zone that would correspond to the typical street cartway. As an example, he suggested that the design could include rows of trees that would be planted alongside this 60-foot zone, corresponding to the typical placement of street trees within an overall street right-of-way. A similar placement of street trees might be proposed for the edges of the site, corresponding to the orthogonal street grid.
Mr. Feil presented the seven design principles that are proposed as guidelines for the project. The first concerns the protection of views to and from the Capitol along the Maryland Avenue alignment. The second addresses the site as a special public space along Maryland Avenue. The third calls for combining the various components of the site into a single integrated design that unifies the surrounding precinct. The fourth calls for the plaza to be designed as a separate public space that is distinct from the Department of Education to the south, which would be the only edge of the site that is not defined by a public street. The sixth calls for respecting the building lines of adjacent streets and the tree alignment along Maryland Avenue. The seventh calls for significant planting in the memorial design to replace the current hardscape character of the site.
Mr. Feil said that memorial plazas can be inhospitable in rain or heat, so the design might include a canopy structure to provide shelter. He also pointed out the National Park Service's request for a 2,500-square-foot structure to include support space for a Park Service ranger, public restrooms, and possibly a small gift shop. He said that these structures would be located where they would not intrude on the Maryland Avenue vista. He clarified that a design team had not yet been selected for the project. A more detailed program for the memorial would be developed after the site selection; the concept might emphasize Eisenhower's roles as president, general, and public citizen, or might emphasize his transition from small-town childhood to West Point student and national leader. Mr. Feil also noted the potential for collaborative programming with the Department of Education using the facilities in their adjacent headquarters building.
Ms. Balmori and Mr. Belle asked if the memorial would include a building or substantial visitor center. Mr. Feil said that the intended design character was primarily a plaza; some vertical elements might be included as focal points, but there would not be a building or visitor center. Ms. Blumenthal clarified that the Park Service would provide staff at this location, as at other presidential memorials, and a small building would be needed for staff, interpretation, and potentially a bookstore and restrooms. She said the building would be comparable to the facility at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, which she said is not considered to be a visitor center. She noted that the memorial would be open to visitors during times when the nearby Smithsonian museums are closed, so public restrooms would be a desirable feature. Ms. Nelson asked if the canopy structure would also resemble a building; Mr. Feil responded that it would not be enclosed but would simply provide overhead shelter. Ms. Blumenthal said that the Park Service envisions the canopy as potentially more of a sculptural rather than architectural element.
In response to Mr. Belle, Ms. Blumenthal clarified the area of the site in relation to the setback lines suggested by nearby buildings. She explained that the entire four-acre site would be designed as part of the memorial, but the memorial elements would primarily be located within a more limited three-acre area.
Mr. Powell asked how the designer would be chosen. Mr. Feil said that the contracting would likely be done through the General Services Administration, possibly using a competition under GSA's Design Excellence Program. He said that the design team would likely include an architect, landscape architect, lighting designer, and exhibit designer—although the memorial would not have conventional interior exhibit areas.
Mr. Belle expressed concern that the potential for creating an open space character could be lost due to other programmatic needs. He commented that "less really should be more" and urged that a programmatic emphasis on open space be established before bringing in a design team.
Ms. Balmori said that the design process should allow flexibility for the designer to develop an artistic solution; she expressed concern that too many design guidelines were being proposed. Mr. McKinnell suggested that the guidelines be less prescriptive, stating general functional requirements rather than specific solutions such as a canopy.
Mr. Rybczynski expressed appreciation for the explanation of the site selection and agreed that the preferred site was a good choice; Mr. Powell concurred. Mr. Rybczynski further commented that designing for the site will be difficult, particularly since modern memorials do not necessarily conform to familiar design forms such as an obelisk or statue. He said that the design guidelines would impede rather than help the process of developing a suitable design for the site. Mr. Feil responded that the guidelines were simply intended to alert the designers to issues that would be carefully scrutinized. He agreed with Mr. Rybczynski's characterization of the site's difficulty and emphasized the need to select a talented design team. Mr. Rybczynski commented that the design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial included three simple guidelines that were appropriately broad, unlike the design guidelines currently proposed. He reiterated his concern that the design guidelines were unnecessary and the designers should have the flexibility to develop a creative proposal for the site.
Ms. Blumenthal provided further background on the evolution of design guidelines, explaining that they allowed review agencies to identify potential problems and avoid unpleasant surprises. She offered the example of the World War II Memorial design competition that called for a large underground space even though this was precluded by the design guidelines. She noted that the National Capital Planning Commission had formally adopted these guidelines but it would be sufficient and useful if the Commission of Fine Arts chooses to express its thoughts more informally. Mr. Powell suggested that the Commission could approve the site and convey its design views in the action letter; Ms. Blumenthal said this would be a helpful response. Mr. Powell and Mr. Belle concurred that a new design for this location would be a welcome improvement.
Mr. Lindstrom said that he had received testimony from the National Coalition to Save Our Mall; the group's representative, Judy Scott Feldman, had to leave the meeting and had asked that the Coalition's testimony be read to the Commission. Mr. Lindstrom read the Coalition's statement about preservation, public process, and mitigation regarding the proposed memorial. The testimony urged that Maryland Avenue be restored, similar to the federally sponsored revival of Pennsylvania Avenue in recent decades, and stated concerns about the public process and inadequate environmental assessment including historic, cultural, and human impacts and cumulative effects. The testimony emphasized the Commission's historic role in promoting the L'Enfant and McMillan plans and the grandeur of the capital city and the ability of the Commission to stop bad projects. The testimony quoted a colleague of Eisenhower who discouraged the need for a memorial and emphasized his overall legacy and the interstate highway system as appropriate tributes to him. The testimony concluded by calling for a new broader planning study that would evaluate memorial sites.
Mr. Powell offered Ms. Blumenthal the opportunity to respond. Ms. Blumenthal said that the site selection process had included numerous public meetings; although some people disagreed with the outcome, the process had been open to public involvement.
The Commission then heard testimony from Nelson Rimensnyder, representing the D.C. Republican Committee. Mr. Rimensyder distributed a letter from the Committee praising Eisenhower's legacy, particularly with respect to D.C. voting rights, and supporting the approval of the site. He urged that the design reflect in some manner Eisenhower's advocacy of D.C. voting rights and his efforts to end racial discrimination in Washington's public places.
Mr. Powell suggested that the Commission consider the site approval separately from the proposed design guidelines. He summarized the apparent consensus that the Commission's design guidance be expressed through the action letter rather than through formal adoption of guidelines. Upon a motion by Mr. Belle, with seconds by Mr. Rybczynski and Ms. Balmori, the Commission approved the proposed site. There was no formal action on the proposed design guidelines; the Commission will follow up with a letter stating that it sees design guidelines in the case of this difficult site as hindering rather than helping a creative response.
C. Department of the Treasury / U.S. Mint
1. CFA 21/SEP/06-2, Congressional Gold Medal to the Tuskegee Airmen. Design for a gold medal and bronze duplicates. Final. Mr. Lindstrom explained that one gold medal would be produced and given to the Smithsonian Institution which would arrange for its display at appropriate locations. Bronze duplicates of the medal would be produced for sale to the public. He introduced Kaarina Budow of the U.S. Mint to present the design, noting that she had also brought several past coins and medals to show the Commission their completed appearance.
Ms. Budow explained the legislation authorizing the Tuskegee Airmen medal and the three-inch-diameter bronze duplicates. The medal would honor the black military pilots who were trained during World War II in Tuskegee, Alabama, providing inspiration for the integration of the military. She said that the proposed design reflects the preference of the Tuskegee Airmen consulted by the Mint. The proposed obverse would show the profiles of three Tuskegee Airmen; their headgear would identify them as an officer, a mechanic, and a pilot. An eagle would symbolize flight, mobility, and the highest ideals of the nation. The dates 1941 and 1949 would frame the figures of the airmen. The reverse would show three planes of the types flown by the airmen, set against a cloud; additional text would be included.
Ms. Nelson commented that the cloud looked awkward and asked if there was a historic basis for including it. Ms. Budow said the design is based on the Tuskegee Airmen's official logo which includes a cloud. Ms. Balmori said the cloud design detracted from the elegance of the planes and suggested that the coin's other border elements would provide sufficient framing. Mr. Belle concurred. Mr. Powell said the shading of the cloud was awkward on the drawing but might be better when cast into metal. Ms. Nelson asked if the portraits on the obverse depict specific people; Ms. Budow said they do not. Upon a motion by Ms. Nelson, with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the proposed design with the request that the cloud design be studied further, for either revision or removal.
2.CFA 21/SEP/06-3, Medal for Secretary of the Treasury John W. Snow. Design for a bronze medal and duplicates. Final. Ms. Budow explained that the Treasury Department traditionally issues a bronze medal to honor each Secretary of the Treasury. Bronze duplicates would be available for sale to the public. The proposed design reflects Secretary Snow's preferences. The obverse would include his portrait, name, and additional text. The reverse would include an eagle, a departmental shield, and text.
Ms. Nelson asked if the medal would include his dates of service; Ms. Budow said it would not, and past medals did not incorporate the dates. Ms. Nelson and Ms. Balmori suggested that the dates would be useful to include.
Ms. Nelson questioned the size and style of the artist's initials that were shown on each side of the proposed medal. Ms. Budow confirmed that these markings would appear on the finished medal, although often they were not included in design drawings. Ms. Balmori concurred that the style of the lettering seemed inappropriate. Ms. Nelson concluded that the letters would be very small on the actual medal. Upon a motion by Mr. Belle, with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the proposed design.
Ms. Budow then presented several recent coins and medals for the Commission members' inspection, including coins honoring Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and Benjamin Franklin. She confirmed that the medals approved today would be significantly larger than these coins. She explained that the coins are produced in limited quantities in accordance with the authorizing legislation and often sell out. The Mint sells them at its headquarters, at a sales kiosk in Union Station, and through an on-line catalog.
D. Department of Homeland Security
CFA 21/SEP/06-4, National Capital Region Rail Pilot Project. Rail security along 8.1-mile rail corridor in the Capital Region. Virtual fence and gates. Final. Mr. Lindstrom introduced David DeAngelis of the Department of Homeland Security and environmental engineer Lynette Stehr of Technology & Management Services, Inc. Mr. DeAngelis explained that the project included both freight and passenger rail lines to protect against the types of attacks seen recently in Madrid and London. He said the project would provide security for all trains along their existing routes; other studies addressed the possibility of alternative routings and restrictions on hazardous materials. The proposal had been revised in response to consultation with review agencies: infrared lights would be used instead of visible night lighting, and cables would be buried in park areas where there were no existing overhead cables. Mr. DeAngelis said the system components would blend into the existing conditions and would be difficult to see.
Dr. Stehr explained that the project responds to specific threats and vulnerabilities that have been identified for this rail corridor. The proposed security system would provide continuous monitoring of the corridor, improve emergency response, and give early detection of toxic freight chemicals, chemical warfare agents, or radioactive materials. The project area would extend from the Virginia bank of the 14th Street rail bridge to Anacostia Park and the area north of Union Station. Due to aesthetic and budget concerns, the project no longer included the area along the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia between the 14th Street Bridge and Crystal City. A "virtual fence" and "virtual gate" system would monitor trains entering and traveling through this area through electronic, video, and infrared technology. A series of rotating cameras would provide overlapping fields of view throughout the corridor. Software would analyze the data to detect perimeter breaches and objects that are moving, removed, or left in the area. Geospatial visualization would assist in identifying the location of potential threats. Authorized personnel would have badges containing an electronic identification that would be recognized by the sensors. The surveillance data would be transmitted to control centers at the Department of Homeland Security, Amtrak, CSX, the Secret Service, and local law-enforcement agencies.
Ms. Stehr described the project's visual impacts. Surveillance equipment would be mounted on poles placed at 150-foot intervals connected by pairs of aerial cables paralleling the rail tracks; additional cables with a two-inch diameter would cross the tracks at 1,500-foot intervals. In response to Ms. Balmori, Ms. Stehr clarified that existing poles would be used whenever feasible, and the cables and equipment would share the same poles. New poles in some areas would be steel in keeping with the existing poles used for the overhead power wire system; poles in other areas would be wood, similar to typical utility poles and corresponding to the forested context along the eastern section of the corridor. The poles would be 25 feet high in most areas and 34 feet high where cables are crossing the tracks in order to provide sufficient clearance for trains. She said that new poles would not be installed on bridges and overpasses; cables in these areas would be placed within the bridge structures. In highly visible areas, most of the equipment would be painted black. Transformers would be painted gray in order to reduce the heat gain; certain sensor discs cannot be painted, but they would be only minimally visible. In less visible areas, the various equipment components would have standard manufacturer finishes, including white, black, gray, and brushed stainless steel.
Ms. Stehr confirmed that visible lighting had been eliminated from most of the project area except the portion between Union Station and New York Avenue, where infrared technology would be infeasible due to higher ambient lighting levels. Lights in this area would be 250 watts mounted at a height of 16 feet, compared to the 400-watt fixtures and 25-foot height that were shown to the staffs of review agencies in an initial mock-up. Mr. DeAngelis concluded by noting that the monitoring of the proposed system would involve automated alarms in existing control centers, reducing the number of law-enforcement personnel that need to be stationed near the rail line.
Mr. Belle commented that the lack of visual images in the presentation made it difficult for the Commission to provide a response concerning the project's visual impact. Ms. Stehr referred to some images in the submitted materials and pointed out the existing unappealing visual character of the railroad system, which would be only slightly altered by the proposal. In response to Ms. Balmori, Ms. Stehr and Mr. DeAngelis confirmed that the project would also include a small prefabricated building that would not be easily visible. Ms. Nelson observed that many incidents involve unexpected vulnerabilities; she asked if the proposed security system could be harmed such as by cutting the cables. Dr. Stehr and Mr. DeAngelis said that the surveillance system would detect anyone approaching the cables, triggering an alarm. Mr. DeAngelis clarified that threats could come from passengers within trains, as well as from people approaching trains from the outside. He also noted that people on the Union Station passenger platforms could walk into the tunnel leading southward toward the Capitol, so new surveillance and alarm systems would be added in this area.
Mr. Belle asked for clarification of the spacing and materials of the new and existing poles. He observed that only a tiny fraction of the budget would be used for the new poles, and he suggested that a slight additional expense be made to improve or replace the existing poles and coordinate the color and design of all the poles. Mr. DeAngelis said that it was important to minimize the amount of digging and soil disturbance due to potential soil contamination. He also explained that the review agencies had requested the black color. Mr. McKinnell concurred with Mr. Belle's concern and suggested painting the poles gray to match the transformers. Mr. Rybczynski questioned the intention of painting the new poles to match the unappealing black color of the existing infrastructure. Mr. DeAngelis explained that the existing poles were owned by the railroad companies, making it difficult for the project team to strip and repaint them. Ms. Balmori suggested leaving the metal unpainted.
Mr. Powell suggested that the Commission approve the project, with the members' concerns to be included in the action letter. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell, with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the proposal.
E. District of Columbia Public Schools
CFA 21/SEP/06-5, School Without Walls (formerly the Grant School), 2130 G Street, N.W. Renovation and additions. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 20/APR/06-11.) Ms. Penhoet introduced the project and explained that the revised concept included significant changes to the proposed elevation. She introduced Sean O'Donnell from Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects for the presentation.
Mr. O'Donnell explained that the client is the D.C. Public Schools while the project is a joint development of the Public Schools and the George Washington University; the current submission includes the Public Schools portion, and a different design team is working on the university's portion. He explained that the School Without Walls is a unique high school program that uses the city as the learning environment, and there are programmatic relationships between the school and the George Washington University. He noted that the building dates from 1882 and was recently designated a landmark; the revised concept results from recent meetings with the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) and the community.
Mr. O'Donnell showed the context along G Street, including low-scale buildings with distinctive rooflines and a variety of historic and modern buildings. The existing school building is free-standing unlike most buildings on the block. He said the proposed massing is the same as previously presented: a new four-story building between the existing building and the university's School of Education. The design of the G Street facade is intended to maintain a sense of the historic building as free-standing. Since the historic building's entrance includes a staircase, a new entry plaza and barrier-free main entrance would be created at the new building; the historic entrance would remain for ceremonial uses. Signage would identify the new entrance for the School Without Walls; the Grant School inscription would remain on the historic building.
Mr. O'Donnell said that previous concerns raised by the Commission and the HPRB included the proposed roofline, the curtainwall materials, and the window openings. HPRB suggested that the new building be less deferential to the historic school and more clearly differentiated. The revised concept therefore included a greater variation of alignments, proportions, and roofline in relation to the historic school and the adjacent School of Education. The G Street facade would give the sense of a bay window emerging from the upper part of the building. The fourth floor would rise slightly higher than the historic school to accommodate a media center.
Mr. O'Donnell showed the Commission the revised palette of proposed materials. The amount of brick on the new facade was reduced, with more emphasis on limestone and bluestone accents as seen in the historic school and other nearby historic buildings. The curtainwall system would use bronze-colored aluminum mullions, opaque spandrel glass, translucent glass for the lower part of each floor level, and transparent glass above. The lot-line wall facing the School of Education would not be readily visible to the public and would be constructed of unit masonry.
Mr. Belle asked for further clarification of the intersection between the curtainwall system and the masonry lot-line wall, and he questioned the choice of a light color for the unit masonry. Mr. O'Donnell agreed that this choice could change. Mr. McKinnell requested further explanation of the depth of the curtainwall system, its colors, the relation of the glass and mullions, and the appearance of the corners. Mr. O'Donnell explained that the renderings and sample boards showed the current color selections as accurately as technologically possible. Mr. McKinnell suggested that the corner could provide an opportunity to show the window assembly system; he observed that the proposed curtainwall system is more appropriate to a large-scale building and is awkwardly proportioned for the limited scale of this project. He emphasized that the building's character would largely be defined by the detailing of the glass bay and acknowledged that a narrower mullion profile might be more expensive but would be worthwhile. Mr. Belle suggested that, if the awkward scale of the mullions could not be fully resolved due to budget constraints, the problem could also be addressed by reducing the color contrast between the mullions and the glass. Mr. McKinnell emphasized the importance of devoting the necessary budget to obtaining a well-detailed curtainwall system. Mr. Rybczynski suggested that the tartan grid of the mullions exacerbated the problem by introducing more mullions than were needed; Mr. O'Donnell said the mullion pattern was designed to relate to the proportions and horizontal alignments of the historic building. He offered to restudy the mullion pattern and consider removing some mullions.
Ms. Balmori asked for further depictions of the proposed entry plaza. Mr. O'Donnell said the plaza would relate to the neighborhood's typical pattern of front yards within public space. The paving would be bluestone, extending to the sidewalk in front of the historic building which has a bluestone entrance staircase. Seating would be provided near the new building entrance, where a distinctive paving pattern was being considered. Existing mechanical vaults beneath the sidewalk would remain. Ms. Balmori suggested further study of the new entrance area, which would be an important feature of the project, as well as the landscape design of the entire street frontage that would unify the new and historic buildings. Mr. O'Donnell agreed to develop this design further in the next submission.
Ms. Nelson questioned the vertical positioning of the letters on the proposed entrance signage; she suggested that the lettering follow the horizontal pattern of the Grant School. She also asked if public art would be included in the project, and she suggested that all of these features should be considered as part of the final submission.
Several Commission members commented that the project had improved since the last review; they also emphasized the need to review the final submission to see that the remaining issues were addressed. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell, with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the revised concept.
F. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Shipstead-Luce Act
1. S.L. 06- 155, 400 7th Street, S.W. The Nassif Building (U.S. Department of Transportation Headquarters). Building renovation, perimeter security, and building lighting. Revised concept. (Previous: S.L. 05- 095, 15 September 2005.) Ms. Penhoet introduced the project to renovate the building long occupied by the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which will soon relocate. The concept had been presented to the Commission on several previous occasions; she introduced architect David Varner of SmithGroup to provide an update on the project. Mr. Varner outlined the four topics being presented for the Commission's response: further development of the facade designs; the initial proposal for the palette of materials; a newly developed proposal for exterior lighting; and details of the streetscape design concept.
Mr. Varner reviewed the proposal for the facades, with interlocking solid and glass planes above the ground level. The glass would wrap around the building corners to provide better office space and reduce the solidity of the building's appearance. Small portions of the existing cornice would be removed to allow the solid wall planes to extend above the roof. At the ground level, the main entrance along 7th Street would be marked by a stone wall placed three feet forward of the main facade. The Metro entrance, set within the building's D Street facade, would be similarly treated. A metal canopy would extend outward approximately ten feet at the main entrance, with pairs of flagpoles to each side.
Mr. Varner explained that the materials would include precast concrete, panels of metal and gold-colored stone, and a glass curtainwall system. The concrete would be a buff color with a slight golden hue; the composition of materials was still being studied to achieve the desired color. Most of the glass would be a blue-green color, with a gray-colored glass at the corners and the recessed upper floors; the glass would incorporate a fritted pattern on the lower two feet of each floor. Mullions would be light silver for most areas, with a darker silver at the top and base of the building. The same colors would be used for the metal panels enclosing the mechanical penthouse. All of the penthouse louvers and grills would face the courtyard, not the surrounding streets.
Mr. Varner introduced lighting consultant Steve Bernstein of Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design to describe the nighttime illumination. Mr. Bernstein said the lighting would generally be moderate and would highlight the entrance area and canopy, the cornice, and the small park areas at each corner of the site. The proposed entrance canopy would include a skylight along its entire length; the night lighting would create a soft glow within the cavity of the skylight. The glass facade above the canopy would also be lit to emphasize the canopy's form, and down-lights would illuminate the sidewalk of the entrance area. The flags flanking the entrance would also be lit. A linear fluorescent light would be inserted into the concrete cornice on all four sides of the building; this lighting would have a dimmer to allow future adjustments to the lighting intensity. Mr. Bernstein concluded by describing the lighting of the corner parks, including up-lighting of tree bosques and lighting along the edge of the planters.
Mr. McKinnell commented that the extensive glass areas of the facade would reveal random light patterns from within the building, lessening the intended effect of the exterior lighting design. He suggested that the developer should control the tenants' interior lighting fixtures along the perimeter of the building to reduce the potential for a chaotic exterior lighting pattern. Mr. Varner said the interior lighting would be on automated control systems, and the expected mix of tenants would be present primarily during ordinary business hours, so the interior would generally be dark during late hours. He acknowledged that lights would be turned on after-hours for cleaning staff. Mr. McKinnell emphasized the importance of this concern while acknowledging the sensitivity and delicacy of the proposed exterior lighting design. Mr. Varner expressed reluctance to address this problem by intensifying the exterior lighting, so he suggested that the solution would involve a combination of lighting and building management methods; he noted the dimming system for the cornice lighting as an example of future flexibility.
Mr. Varner then introduced landscape architect Don Hoover of Oculus to present the landscape along the perimeter of the site; Mr. Powell urged him to focus on the proposed bollards. Mr. Hoover explained the design conditions including the monumental scale of the building, the larger-scale context and intense activity along D and 7th Streets, and the quieter and lower-scale character along E and 6th Streets. He noted that D Street pedestrian activity would intensify because the closure of the building's courtyard would require all users of the Metro entrance to walk along D Street rather than being able to cross the courtyard toward other sides of the site. The building's underground garage extends beneath the corner park areas, limiting the planting depth and causing some of the corner parks to be slightly elevated above the sidewalk due to the varying perimeter grades.
Mr. Hoover said that the spacing and species of street trees would follow the standard D.C. master plan. Trees along D and 7th Streets would be set within sidewalk grates. Along E and 6th Streets, trees would be placed within large planting beds to create a more garden-like character and reduce the visibility of bollards along these edges; the planting beds would also include a groundcover planting and inkberry holly which would grow to a height of approximately three feet. The corner areas would become gardens with tree bosques set in raised planters. The height of the planters would vary from two to five feet, depending on the sidewalk grade and the underground constraints; the outer corners would taper down slightly to allow for pedestrian visibility. Additional ground-level plantings would be kept simple in keeping with the character of the building. Small benches would be created using stacks of dark granite slabs that will be salvaged during the renovation of the existing building. A standard D.C. gray paver would be used in most areas; a special stone would be selected for the building entrance area.
Mr. Hoover then described the proposed bollards. He noted the recent trend to use benches, planters, and lightpoles as part of the perimeter security but concluded that this tends to create a cluttered appearance. The proposal therefore relies exclusively on bollards, with the only exception being at the base of the flagpoles. Stainless steel cables would provide a thin fencing between bollards along the planting areas on 6th Street to give some visual relief. Mr. Hoover said the required bollard diameter would be 15 inches which he acknowledged is relatively large. Three different bollard profiles were under consideration.
Mr. Varner explained that the large bollards were necessary to achieve the State Department's "K-12" rating which requires a ten-inch diameter structural pipe with a three-foot height; the cladding material would increase these dimensions. He said that this high level of security was appropriate due to the presence of wide streets and multiple approach routes around the site. He said that testing data for bollards was scarce so the best option was to use the State Department's standard. The bollards would be spaced at approximately five-foot intervals.
Ms. Balmori asked if the proposed steel cables would serve any security-related purpose. Mr. Hoover said they were purely for visual effect; Ms. Balmori suggested omitting them. Mr. McKinnell commented that the cables could be a tripping hazard since they would only extend to a height of 18 inches.
In response to Mr. Powell, Mr. Varner clarified that no tenant has yet been identified; the security requirements are based on State Department standards but are not imposed or required by the State Department. Mr. McKinnell questioned why a high security standard was being used when the future tenant needs are not yet known. Mr. Varner said the intention was to attract a federal tenant such as an agency headquarters that would require this level of security. Mr. Powell urged that the security measures be avoided if possible; Mr. Varner agreed that this would be aesthetically preferable but that it would probably not be realistic to reduce the security needs for this project.
Mr. Belle urged that the design team reconsider the decision to rely exclusively on bollards; despite the simplicity of this solution, the relentless lines of bollards around the large site would create a barrier between the building and the public realm. He urged further design study of incorporating other security perimeter elements while agreeing with the need to avoid a heavy or fussy design. Mr. McKinnell observed that the bollard line does have some variety around the planting areas and he suggested that a different type of bollard be used in these areas to provide some relief; Mr. Belle concurred.
Ms. Balmori and Mr. Rybczynski raised a concern about the design of the corners of the site which are interrupted by bollards. Mr. Powell suggested that the Commission approve the revised concept with the recommendation to restudy all of the streetscape treatment, including the perimeter security and the corner parks. Upon a motion by Mr. Belle, with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the concept with this recommendation.
2. S.L. 06-151, Lafayette Tower, 801 17th Street, N.W. New eleven-story office building. Revised concept. (Previous: S.L. 06- 056, 20 April 2006.) Ms. Penhoet introduced architect Kevin Roche of Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates to describe the revisions since the project was last seen. Mr. Roche explained that proposed alterations to the roof terrace and trellis would increase the amount of green roof; the penthouse enclosure would be aluminum with horizontal ribbing rather than precast concrete and would not be visible from ground level. Due to further design of the fire suppression system, the height of the windows along the narrow alley could be increased and the spandrels would be changed from precast concrete to glass, similar to the street facades. In order to improve office layouts and address security concerns related to views of the White House, the proposed corner notches would be repositioned from the 10th to the 4th floor; a third notch would also be added at the northwest corner. Refinements in the structural design would allow for a thinner floor slab at the exterior walls and the facades would now have continuous windows rather than alternating bands of spandrel glass. He showed renderings of the proposed design which he said would now relate better to the neighboring buildings. He characterized the resulting design as simple, elegant, and straightforward.
Mr. Belle asked about the security concern related to the 10th-floor notch. Mr. Roche explained that the terrace at the notch would be an uncontrolled open area; the roof would also be an accessible open area but it would be a more controlled space. Several Commission members expressed support for the revisions; Mr. McKinnell noted the great improvement made by the elimination of spandrel panels along the glass street facades. Upon a motion by Mr. Belle, with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the revised concept.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:20 p.m., followed by a visit by the Commission members to the Freer Gallery of Art to inspect objects proposed for acquisition.
Thomas E. Luebke, AIA
Last Modified: November 24, 2006