Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
21 February 2008
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:
A. Approval of the minutes of the 17 January meeting. Mr. Luebke reported that the minutes of the January meeting were circulated to the members in advance. The Commission approved the minutes without objection, upon a motion by Ms. Nelson with second by Ms. Balmori. Mr. Luebke noted that the minutes will be posted to the Commission's website.
B. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings: 20 March, 17 April, and 15 May.
C. Announcement of the 2008 Charles Atherton Memorial Lecture on 13 May 2008. Mr. Luebke announced that Commission member Witold Rybczynski will deliver the second annual Charles Atherton Memorial Lecture on May 13 at the National Building Museum; his topic will be the historical context of height limits across the country and the future of Washington's skyline. He explained that the lecture series was established in memory of Mr. Atherton, the long-serving Secretary to the Commission, after his death in 2005, with a fund that is administered by the National Building Museum. He noted that the date of the lecture will be the Tuesday before the Commission's May meeting.
D. Report on position announcements for hiring new staff. Mr. Luebke said that two staff vacancies are currently being advertised—for a Shipstead-Luce architect and a historian. He anticipated that both positions would be filled in the coming months.
Mr. Luebke said that a report on the Commission's site inspection of the lighting mockup at Judiciary Square would be provided as part of the agenda item for review of the project.
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. Powell recused himself from consideration of the first item on this appendix, a submission from the National Gallery of Art which he directs; Ms. Nelson chaired the Commission for this agenda item. Mr. Lindstrom said that only minor editing revisions have been made to the draft appendix that was circulated. He noted that the Commission received a letter from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission expressing unanimous support for the proposed improvements to the Northeast Neighborhood Public Library, which is included on the appendix with a favorable recommendation. Ms. Nelson commented that the proposal from the National Gallery of Art is a "handsome solution" to providing security at its driveway. The Commission approved the revised appendix upon a motion by Mr. McKinnell with second by Ms. Balmori, with Mr. Powell not voting.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Mr. Lindstrom reported a minor revision to the draft appendix to remove a local historic preservation reference from the listing for the Italian Embassy, which is not located in a historic district. Upon a motion by Ms. Balmori with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the revised appendix.
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martinez reported two minor revisions to the draft appendix: one listing was revised in response to supplemental drawings, and the recommendation for case number O.G. 08-030 was clarified to be more specific. Upon a motion by Ms. Balmori with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the revised appendix.
B. District of Columbia Courts
CFA 21/FEB/08-1, Judiciary Square Historic District. Bounded by 4th, G, and 5th streets and Indiana Avenue, N.W. Master plan, Phase I, Revised lighting design and signs. Final. (Previous: CFA 27/JUL/06-6.) Mr. Lindstrom explained that the submission involves remaining items for the Judiciary Square master plan: a revised lighting proposal for the D.C. Courts buildings and a revised signage program. He explained that the Commission members visited the site the previous evening to see the lighting mockup, which responds to the Commission's comments from the previous review in November.
Mr. Luebke provided a summary of the discussion by the Commission members at the mockup. He said that they expressed support for the revised color of the lights and for the reduced lighting levels, which they suggested could be reduced further. For the specific lighting components, he said that the Commission members commented favorably on the wall-washing lights. Among the options for lighting the recessed window arches, they supported the dimmable compact fluorescent fixtures with the warmer color located at the lower corners. They also commented favorably on the treatment of the Fifth Street entrance, including indirect lighting and the relamping of the standing lights. For the recesses in the pavilions facing the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, the Commission members suggested dimmable lamps for the ceiling fixtures that are original to the building as well as for the proposed up-lights, with the final lighting level of these lights to be determined after installation. Mr. Powell agreed with Mr. Luebke's summary of the discussion.
Mr. Lindstrom introduced architect Michael Kazan from Gruzen Samton to present the signage proposal. Mr. Kazan explained that the signage was previously included in the Commission's July 2006 review of overall site-related work at Judiciary Square, with four proposed sign types: a monumental entrance sign for each building, wayfinding signs for Judiciary Square, neighborhood directional signs, and historical information signs. The latter two sign types, both pole-mounted, would match the design of city-wide signage systems. He indicated the proposed locations for the signs on the previously approved site plan, explaining that few signs would be added and that some of the signage would be implemented through alteration of existing signs.
Mr. Kazan then explained the proposed revisions to the signage program. The previous intention was to provide only one monumental entrance sign for each building. However, the larger buildings have multiple entrances with people approaching from varying directions, resulting in visitors becoming confused about which entrances are open to the public. Additional confusion results from the different locations for the barrier-free entrances. As a result, the revised proposal includes additional directional signage on the secondary entrances to direct visitors to the public entrance, as well as additional directional signage at the sidewalks; he explained the need for both types of sign because of the significant distance between the sidewalks and the building entrances. The additional signage would also indicate the barrier-free entrance routes. He described the unsightly accumulation of existing signs that have become necessary to provide this information to visitors; the revised signage program would organize this information into a simpler system. He showed the design of the proposed signs, explaining that they would appear relatively small in comparison to the large buildings.
Mr. Kazan explained an additional proposal for several small signs with the text "no trespassing after dark." These would be provided so that law enforcement officers could enforce this rule in response to a current problem of people congregating in the area at night.
Ms. Nelson asked about lighting for the signs; Mr. Kazan responded that the signs will not include lighting and will rely on ambient light. Ms. Nelson asked about the treatment of existing signs. Mr. Kazan said that all of the existing signs would be removed from the buildings as part of the upcoming exterior improvements; he added that security cameras and lights will also be removed from the buildings.
Ms. Balmori asked for clarification of the number of proposed signs in comparison to the previously approved proposal. Mr. Kazan showed the proposed revision with additional signs, labeled as types C, F, and G, to supplement the previous proposal with sign types A, B, D, and E; the proposed revision would add approximately seven signs to each of the two large court buildings in the northern portion of Judiciary Square. Ms. Balmori asked for further information about the signs that would be attached to the building at the entrances; Mr. Kazan explained that these signs would contain varying information but their size would be identical. Ms. Balmori expressed concern that sign types D and E, which are vertical slabs that would be as tall as a person, would block views and create an uncomfortable streetscape; she contrasted these with the pole-mounted signs and the signs attached to buildings, neither of which would cause this problem. Mr. Kazan clarified that sign types D and E were included in the previous submission; he showed the proposed location for the type E signs which identify each building. Ms. Balmori acknowledged that the location of these signs would be set back from the sidewalks, which would mitigate the problem, but she reiterated that the lower portions of these signs would not be providing any information; she suggested changing these to pole-mounted signs so that they become more transparent in the streetscape. Mr. Belle agreed with this suggestion, commenting that some of the proposed sign types resemble a tombstone. Mr. Kazan agreed to consider this suggestion and return to the Commission with a further revision. Mr. Powell suggested that review of additional revisions could be delegated to the staff.
Mr. Belle commented that the top line of text on many of the signs, reading "District of Columbia Courts," is essential information for visitors but is difficult to read because of the small lettering size; he suggested that the lettering be enlarged. Mr. Kazan agreed to respond to this in a further submission.
Upon a motion by Mr. Belle with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the revised lighting subject to the Commission's comments and requested further revisions to the signage program, delegating the final review to the staff.
C. Department of the Treasury / U.S. Mint
Mr. Simon introduced Kaarina Budow of the U.S. Mint to present the next two proposals.
1. CFA 21/FEB/08-2, 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial-Braille Literacy Commemorative One-Dollar Silver Coin. Designs for obverse and reverse. Final. Ms. Budow explained the legislation authorizing one-dollar coins to honor Louis Braille, inventor of the Braille method of reading and writing for the blind. She summarized his biography and his achievements in creating code systems for text, music, and mathematics. She explained that the proceeds from sales of the commemorative coin would go to the National Federation for the Blind (NFB).
Ms. Budow showed thirteen alternative designs for the obverse, all showing a portrait of Louis Braille. The text would include the date 1809—the year of Braille's birth—and the minting year of 2009, along with his name and other standard coin text. Ms. Nelson commented that the combined dates of 1809 and 2009 could be confused with the common arrangement of birth and death years; Mr. Powell and Ms. Balmori agreed. Mr. Luebke asked for clarification of the legislative requirements; Ms. Budow explained that the 2009 date is required by the legislation, while the 1809 date is not required but was requested by the NFB. Mr. Luebke said that wording such as "bicentennial" could be used instead of the date 1809. Mr. Powell and Ms. Balmori agreed with this suggestion; Ms. Nelson commented that this text could be placed on the reverse. Ms. Budow said that the Mint would consider this recommendation and added that the change would still be consistent with the educational purpose of relating the coin to the bicentennial celebration of Mr. Braille's birth.
Ms. Budow said that the NFB prefers Design #BC-O-03, with BC-O-04 as a second choice. Ms. Nelson expressed a preference for profile portraits and suggested that the coin be produced in a high relief so that the blind could more easily feel the profile and lettering on the coin. Ms. Budow said that the Mint could use relief to the extent possible, subject to technical limitations of the metal. Ms. Balmori agreed with Ms. Nelson's comments and expressed support for the profile portrait in Design #BC-O-10, explaining that it would be strong as a relief and as a visual design. Ms. Nelson and Mr. McKinnell agreed to support Design #BC-O-10.
Mr. Belle commented that Design #BC-O-03, while not a profile, is nonetheless a striking design; Mr. Powell agreed that this portrait conveys an active and energetic character. Ms. Nelson agreed that #BC-O-03 is strong but maintained a preference for #BC-O-10. Of the two designs favored by the NFB, Ms. Nelson expressed a preference for #BC-O-03 rather than #BC-O-04; Mr. Powell and Mr. Belle agreed. Mr. Luebke summarized the Commission's recommendation of #BC-O-10, in keeping with the Commission's encouragement of profile portraits for coins, and its further recommendation of #BC-O-03 as the strongest of the designs containing a more frontal portrait; the Commission adopted this action upon a motion by Ms. Nelson.
Ms. Budow presented nine alternative designs for the reverse, each including the word Braille represented by the Braille code for the letters "BRL." She explained that the NFB requested an image of a child or children reading a Braille book. In addition to standard coin text and the Braille code, the word "independence" is included in most of the alternatives in response to the NFB's request. Ms. Budow noted the technical requirements for the Braille code to ensure its conformance with national standards; she explained that a steel prototype was created for Design #BC-R-04, the NFB's preferred design, to ensure proper spacing and relief height of the Braille dots as well as sufficient space around the code.
Mr. Powell and Ms. Nelson asked which features of the reverse are required by the authorizing legislation. Ms. Budow clarified that the children's image and the word "independence" are included at the NFB's request but are not required by law. Mr. Powell reiterated the Commission's suggestion to place the word "bicentennial" on the reverse, perhaps by replacing the word "independence." Ms. Nelson acknowledged the goal of depicting Braille literacy among children but suggested that the Braille code be placed at the center of the reverse, without the additional illustration of children. She commented that children are difficult to portray successfully, as shown by the awkwardness of the submitted alternatives, whereas her proposed modification would give more emphasis to the Braille code and ensure adequate space around it. Ms. Balmori agreed, commenting that the alternatives look like advertisements rather than coins; Ms. Nelson compared the submitted proposals to poster art.
Ms. Nelson clarified that she was supporting a new composition rather than any of the proposed alternatives. Upon a motion by Ms. Nelson with second by Ms. Balmori, the Commission recommended a revised composition for the reverse to include Braille code at the center and other text at the perimeter as needed, without the inclusion of children. Mr. Belle abstained. [He discussed his abstention at the conclusion of the discussion of the next agenda item.]
2. CFA 21/FEB/08-3, Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial One-Cent Coin Redesign Program for 2009. Seven additional reverse designs representing aspect four (Lincoln's Presidency in Washington, D.C.). Final. (Previous: CFA 17/JAN/08-3.) Ms. Budow briefly reviewed the context for the submission, which is the Commission's third review of reverses for the 2009 Lincoln penny to illustrate the fourth aspect of Lincoln's life, his years as President in Washington, D.C. She explained that the four new reverse designs will be part of the 2009 bicentennial celebration of Lincoln's birth, with the penny's traditional obverse design continuing unchanged. She reported that after the Commission's review in January, along with review by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) and the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (ALBC), the Mint decided to prepare additional designs; the new submission of seven alternative designs includes one proposal, Design #LC-R4-01, that this Commission saw in January along with six new designs. She distributed prints of the proposals showing the designs at the actual size of the penny. Mr. Powell and Mr. McKinnell commented that the proposals put too much information onto this small coin, and Mr. Powell emphasized the need for a simple design.
Ms. Budow said that Design #LC-R4-01, showing the Capitol dome under construction, was preferred by the ALBC and is similar, though not identical, to the design recommended by the Commission in September 2007. She noted that this design does not reflect the Commission's further recommendation in January 2008 to show the completed dome; one new alternative, Design #LC-R4-04, shows Lincoln in front of the Capitol after completion of the dome, while #LC-R4-03 shows another composition with the unfinished dome.
Ms. Balmori recommended Design #LC-R4-07 because of its simplicity, commenting that it is a well-designed coin while expressing concern about the full-figure depiction of Lincoln rather than a profile of his head. She said that the designs with the unfinished dome have too much information for a coin; Ms. Nelson agreed. Mr. Luebke noted that the obverse will continue to feature an image of Lincoln. Ms. Balmori acknowledged the Commission's previous guidance to emphasize a building on the reverse but said that the alternatives with buildings are not satisfactory as coin designs; she emphasized the need to have designers who understand how to design coins. Mr. McKinnell agreed, reiterating the Commission's concern from previous reviews that a coin is too small for developing a narrative. Ms. Budow acknowledged the challenge for the artists to tell a story in a simple way in a small area. She noted the Mint's determination that all of the alternatives could be produced and the text would be legible at the sizes shown.
Mr. Powell suggested that Design #LC-R4-01 could be adapted by substituting a completed dome and reducing the size of the text "one cent" below the building's image; alternatively, Design #LC-R4-04 could be adapted by removing Lincoln's figure to emphasize the view of the overall Capitol building. After further consideration of the actual size of the coin, Ms. Nelson, Mr. Powell, and Ms. Balmori concluded that Design #LC-R4-07 would be the best design. Mr. McKinnell suggested that this design be modified by removing Lincoln's figure to emphasize only his signature. Several Commission members agreed; Ms. Nelson said that the signature would provide a bold and iconic image to accompany Lincoln's image on the obverse.
Upon a motion by Mr. McKinnell with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission recommended Design #LC-R4-07 without Lincoln's figure and with additional emphasis on the signature. Mr. Belle abstained, explaining that his reluctance to vote on both of the Mint's agenda items results from increasing discomfort with the design and review process for coins. He said that the Commission's review often involves a response to the artistic technique of the submitted drawings, while the actual production of the coin designs is accomplished by engravers. He requested that the Commission be able to have a dialogue with the engravers in order to improve the design of the coins.
Ms. Balmori made an additional request that the Commission be kept informed of the Mint's final design decisions so that the Commission members could better understand the impact of their comments. Ms. Budow said that this information could be provided, subject to the Mint's timing for the public release of coin designs. Mr. Luebke and Ms. Budow said that they would arrange to provide periodic reports to the Commission on the final designs that are approved by the Secretary of the Treasury.
D. District of Columbia Public Library
Mr. Luebke introduced the next four submissions, all of which are concept designs for new branch libraries of the D.C. Public Library (DCPL) system. He said that these submissions are part of DCPL's seven-year initiative to replace facilities that are beyond repair or do not meet current needs. He introduced Ginnie Cooper, Chief Librarian of DCPL, to begin the set of presentations.
Ms. Cooper said that the goal of the DCPL board, the District of Columbia Council, and the Mayor is to transform the library system to be among the best in the nation. One of the most visible ways to achieve this is through new buildings. The four proposals being presented today are scheduled for completion by 2010; the entire construction program will involve seven or eight new buildings that will be presented to the Commission, as well as improvements to existing buildings. She noted that the current submissions supersede the designs that the Commission reviewed several years ago, adding that the current proposals are better funded which is reflected in the designs. She said that two architecture firms—the Freelon Group and Davis Brody Bond Aedas—are each designing two of the libraries. She introduced Phil Freelon of the Freelon Group to present the first two designs.
1. CFA 21/FEB/08-4, Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library, 4450 Wisconsin Avenue at Albemarle Street, N.W. New replacement building. Concept. (Previous: CFA 17/MAR/05-8.) Mr. Freelon said that his firm emphasizes sustainability in its library designs. He introduced the members of the design team and asked Rick Kuhn, the principal designer from the Freelon Group, to present the project.
Mr. Kuhn explained that the design has been updated slightly from the information that were submitted in advance of the meeting. He began with an analysis of the site in Tenleytown and its relation to the broader context of Washington. He explained that Tenleytown is one of the oldest settlements in the area, along with Georgetown, and is located in the vicinity of historic rural roads that contrast with the designed grid of the L'Enfant city. He indicated the hourglass-shaped pattern generated by the roads converging into Tenleytown. He said that the library design is intended to relate to both the city grid and the Tenleytown road pattern; the library site has an irregular shape generated by the intersection of these street systems. He showed examples of how these geometries are expressed at other locations in the area, such as at Fort Reno and the former Sears department store. He described the transportation systems in the area, including a Metrorail station across the street; he added that the site is at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue, a busy major street, and Albemarle Street, which has a quieter character leading into the nearby residential neighborhood. He emphasized the prominence of the site and the program, as well as the variety of nearby land uses including a public school immediately to the west.
Mr. Kuhn showed how the library design was generated by overlaying the various geometries of the context. He described the solar orientation of the building, part of the environmental goal of achieving a silver LEED rating for the building. The street facades have exposure to the north and east. The west side of the building is designed as a potential party wall due to the possibility of future development on the adjacent school property; depending on the schedule for this development, the concrete wall could be left exposed or finished with a perforated skin. The south side of the site will include nine parking spaces, a zoning requirement that factors in the proximity of Metrorail service; the second story of the library would be cantilevered southward to overhang this parking area. The proposed design emphasizes transparency at the northeast corner of the building at the street intersection to draw people toward the entrance on Albemarle Street. The bookshelves and reading areas are proposed for the eastern part of the site toward the windows, and the service areas are along the windowless western edge. He said that one goal for the design is a public space that would be notably significant even if not large in scale; this is provided in the double-height entrance lobby on the north side of the library. The varied geometry of the polygonal site is carried through the building design to draw people around the site as well as into and through the building; this geometry could also be carried into the paving pattern. The windows on the street facades would be embellished with vertical fins of glass that metaphorically refer to library books on shelves, and the facades also express the metaphor of a book cover wrapping the building. He explained how the massing of the building steps down with the topography of the site, which is lowest at the southeast corner.
Mr. Kuhn provided more details of the entrance area, with the entrance vestibule at the northeast corner leading to the polygonal lobby and main staircase that express the varied geometry of the site. The entry sequence is deliberately elongated to accommodate a display wall that would enliven these spaces and provide a retail atmosphere as people enter the library. He noted that high floor heights are proposed—eighteen feet for the first floor and sixteen feet for the second floor—allowing ample room for people to walk under the intermediate stair landing to enter the lobby.
Mr. Kuhn indicated the location of the children's library area, an important component of the program, along the southern portion of the Wisconsin Avenue facade; he emphasized the symbolic significance of the children's area for the community and the clear visibility of the proposed location from the Wisconsin Avenue sidewalk. The young adults' area of the library, which he said should be an enjoyable place that has its own identity, would be at the northeast corner of the second floor with windows facing Albemarle Street and Wisconsin Avenue. The conference room and multi-purpose room, which could be used by the public outside of library hours, would be on the second floor and would be accessible from the entrance lobby using the elevator or main staircase; he showed how the library areas on the second floor could be closed off from the meeting rooms. The remainder of the second floor would include the adult library area, with a linear skylight to bring additional daylight into the bookshelf and reading areas. The roof would have a small terrace and a green roof that could be accessible to the public and would also be visible from nearby taller buildings.
Mr. Kuhn emphasized the use of daylight in the building and the effort to reduce energy consumption; he said that further lighting and energy studies are underway to improve the use of daylight while avoiding glare, potentially leading to further refinements of the skylights, windows, and facade screening elements. He described the proposed facade materials including a slightly translucent perforated metal screen across the windows. He said that the design team is considering revisions to give added prominence to the corner entrance and the lobby as well as the first-floor library areas; he showed renderings with various types of signage at the corner—vertical or horizontal—and with different extents of the facade screening to provide greater transparency from the street for the lobby and the children's area. He also described the various color effects that would result from the different facade treatments that are being considered.
Ms. Nelson said that the concept for the library is very strong. She commented that the context map that was presented, with colors for the various land uses in the area, showed how this building will stand out as a public facility among the nearby schools and the linear retail corridor of Wisconsin Avenue. She said the library should be treated as a civic beacon in the neighborhood rather than as a retail building; she emphasized that the library should not be part of the retail context but should stand out from it as a special place of neighborhood pride and identity. She said that the vertical signage seemed insufficient as an entrance feature, recommending further study of this part of the design. Mr. Kuhn said that part of the facade study is the appearance of the building at night, when the building will have a strong presence from the street.Ms. Balmori asked if there is a specific proposal for the facade materials. Mr. Kuhn responded that the design team is still exploring options; the glass fins are emerging as the best solution due to the favorable orientation of the building's primary facades, but the issues of daylight and glare are still being studied as well as the cost of the various options. Mr. Freelon said that a vertical feature would be important for the library because it is lower in scale than other nearby buildings.
Ms. Nelson then questioned the proposal for unscreened windows that would provide direct views from the sidewalk into the children's area, commenting that it can feel inappropriate to place children on display. Mr. Kuhn said that further options are already being considered that would bring ample daylight to the children's area while providing some visual screening; he offered to pursue this further.
Ms. Balmori recommended that the entrance be studied further, commenting that the location of the entrance door isn't clearly expressed in the design of the building; Mr. Belle agreed, adding that the entrance to an important community building is especially deserving of special emphasis. Mr. Kuhn said that the original intention was to emphasis the door through its relationship to the prominent overhang of the second story at this corner; he agreed to study this area further. Mr. Belle said that the signage appears to give the most emphasis to the door location, which is not a sufficiently strong treatment. He commented that the volumetric treatment along the north suggests that the entrance is in the middle of this facade rather than at the corner; Ms. Balmori agreed.
Ms. Balmori asked how the sidewalk grade change is handled at the entrance area. Mr. Kuhn explained that the sidewalk along the north facade would include steps along the building leading down to a flat plaza beside the entrance lobby, while the remainder of the sidewalk would follow the existing slope of the site down to the entrance door.
Mr. Belle said that libraries often need a large amount of solid wall surface for books and storage, conflicting with the desire to have extensive windows for daylight and views; he asked how the proposed design resolves this conflict. Mr. Kuhn acknowledged the concern and emphasized the solid walls along the service area on the west side of each floor. Ms. Cooper responded that all of the submitted proposals meet DCPL's detailed programmatic requirements. She noted that the program for each of the four libraries is similar—approximately 20,000 square feet—with very specific requirements for shelving and adjacencies; she said that some requirements vary among the buildings according to community comments and demographic analysis, affecting the treatment of the children's, young adult, and adult areas.
Mr. McKinnell expressed support for the proposal, which he characterized as an intelligent and wonderful design for a library. He agreed with the concerns of the other Commission members while emphasizing his support for the overall concept. He said that the proposed signage would be excessively commercial and should not be included, with the volumetric treatment of the building providing sufficient identity for the library. He commented that the design appears to benefit from an ample budget, but he cautioned that new types of cladding systems often end up requiring more maintenance expense than is anticipated; he said that DCPL should be aware that this design will require a long-term commitment to maintenance expenses that may be higher than normal. Mr. Belle and Ms. Nelson agreed.
Upon a motion by Ms. Nelson with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the concept with enthusiasm, subject to the comments made by the Commission members.
2. CFA 21/FEB/08-5, Anacostia Neighborhood Library, 1800 Good Hope Road at 18th Street, S.E. New replacement building. Concept. (Previous: CFA 25/JAN/05-20.) Mr. Kuhn continued to the presentation of the Anacostia Neighborhood Library. In comparison to the previous library presentation, he described the similar program, the larger site, and the contrasting context of a low-scale residential neighborhood of single-family and multi-family homes. He said that a single-story library would normally be preferable, but the regulatory limit of forty percent site coverage results in the necessity for a second story while ensuring that the site design will include substantial open space.
Mr. Kuhn provided an analysis of the site and context. He explained that the topography gradually descends toward the Anacostia River to the northwest, including a twelve-foot grade change within the site. He noted the development occurring or anticipated in the vicinity, particularly near the Anacostia waterfront and along Good Hope Road which forms the southern boundary of the site. The historic district of Anacostia is nearby, including the Frederick Douglass House several blocks away; the house's setting in a large green space serves as a model for the library's site concept. Mr. Kuhn described the streetscape improvements underway along Good Hope Road and said that an urban plaza on this frontage of the library site would be appropriate, with more park-like open space toward the north of the site. He explained the presence of a temporary library on the northwest corner of the site that is intended to remain until the new building is completed, providing further reason for planning the northwest corner as open space in the final site plan. He also indicated two large trees on the site that the design team wishes to maintain. Without nearby Metrorail access, the full zoning requirement of twenty on-site parking spaces must be met; the alley on the site's eastern side could be used for parking access. He said that security is an important concern at this location so the building and site, including the parking area, should be open and transparent.
Mr. Kuhn presented an initial concept of solid pavilions, scaled to resemble the buildings in the vicinity, with an umbrella-like roof that would cover the reading rooms and open areas of the program. He said this scheme has been refined into the submitted concept which includes two entrances: a lower-level entrance on the north leading to the public meeting room, and an upper-level entrance on the south that provides access to the book and reading areas that would be spanned by a high roof, tentatively planned for 18 to 20 feet of clearance. The site concept includes a bio-retention facility for stormwater, intended as an educational tool which would serve as a component of the building's silver LEED rating and an acknowledgment of the water-quality problems of the nearby Anacostia River. The parking area on the east would connect to the alley, with pedestrian access to a side staff entrance and to the entrance plaza on the south. He explained that the entrance plaza has not yet been designed and may involve the participation of the D.C. Department of Transportation. He indicated the two pavilions extending from the west side of the building: the young adult area and a special room in the children's area. A staircase and elevator at the north end of the circulation spine would connect to the lower level.
Mr. Kuhn described the emphasis on daylight in the design. He indicated the substantial roof overhang on the south that would provide solar screening as well as emphasis for the upper-level entrance. The western exposure would be partially screened, possibly with the roof form or vertical fins. Skylights and reflections from the roof forms would bring daylight toward the center of the building; the roof itself could be designed to transmit light.
Ms. Balmori asked why the building is slanted diagonally across the site. Mr. Kuhn responded that the siting is intended to avoid conflict with the temporary library at the northwest of the site while putting some distance between the building and the alley on the eastern edge, which provides room for accommodating the required parking and also gives an open character to all sides of the building to enhance security. These design concerns resulted in the proposed parallelogram shape.
Ms. Nelson asked for further details on the lower-level public space; Mr. Kuhn said that it is a 1,200-square-foot meeting room. Ms. Nelson suggested that it be expanded into a larger auditorium for the community; she acknowledged the cost constraints and suggested that space could be taken from some other areas of the building such as the large circulation spine on the upper level. Mr. Kuhn explained that the circulation spine is becoming narrower as the interior is studied further, with additional detailing of display cases and furniture.
Mr. Belle commented that the design is sophisticated and will depend upon "elegant detailing" and the choice of materials; he expressed concern about the sufficiency of the budget and the undesirable possibility of constructing a "cheapened version" of the design. Mr. Kuhn said that the budget is being carefully considered and he emphasized that the budget for each library is reasonable. Ms. Nelson asked if the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) would provide funds for the plaza along Good Hope Road. Zena Howard, the project manager from the Freelon Group, responded that the design team has been working with DDOT to coordinate the design and construction of the plaza as well as a possible role for DDOT in the plaza's maintenance; she said that the agreements have not yet been finalized. Ms. Balmori asked about the budget for the landscape. Ms. Howard responded that there is a landscape budget but the plaza area is on DDOT property, not on the library site; she added that the cost of proposed improvements in this area would be outside of the project budget with the allocation of cost between DCPL and DDOT to be determined.
Ms. Balmori asked if the planted area on the northwest part of the site has been designed in more detail. Mr. Kuhn said that only the general concept has been developed at this point—creating a bio-retention area and maintaining some of the existing trees. He noted that some of the trees are not in good condition and further study is needed of which trees will be kept.
Mr. McKinnell said that his comments on the previous library design also apply to this project. Mr. Powell agreed, expressing support for the concept and commending DCPL for undertaking the projects. Upon a motion by Ms. Nelson with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the concept; Mr. Powell noted the Commission's enthusiasm for the proposal.
Following the lunch break, Mr. Lindstrom introduced the remaining two library projects, both designed by Davis Brody Bond Aedas. He introduced Jeff Bonvechio, director of capital projects for DCPL, to begin the presentations. Mr. Bonvechio explained that the programs for the next two libraries are similar to those of the previous projects, while the design approaches are very different. He introduced architect Peter Cook of Davis Brody Bond Aedas to present the projects.
3. CFA 21/FEB/08-6, Benning Neighborhood Library, 3935 Benning Road near Minnesota Avenue, N.E. New replacement building. Concept. (Previous: CFA 25/JAN/05-21.) Mr. Cook showed examples of the traditional design of small libraries as solid monumental buildings that protected their valuable contents; he contrasted this with a modern concept for library design which includes making the interior visible from the sidewalk to engage the public in the civic building. He described the context for the library site between two Metrorail stations—Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road. He showed how the site fronts on Benning Road, a busy car-oriented commuter artery, and backs up on the south to a retail complex that is very active with pedestrians; it is therefore unclear which side of the site should be treated as the front. He described the design solution of providing two main entrances, taking advantage of the ten- to twelve-foot slope of the site to provide an entrance at each of the building's two levels. He noted that much of the retail area has been purchased by a developer who is considering a redevelopment of the site; the library design team has seen preliminary plans for this work but is proceeding with this project independently.
Mr. Cook said that the program of approximately 22,000 square feet would be divided into 9,000 square feet on the lower level—containing public meeting rooms and support space with an entrance from the retail area—and the remaining space on the upper floor at the level of Benning Road, containing the book and reading areas under a high ceiling. A large interior open staircase would connect the two levels. Fourteen parking spaces would be provided along the eastern edge of the site.
Christiane DeJong, the project architect from Davis Brody Bond Aedas, presented further information on the building design. She indicated the circulation zone along the west edge of the building and the organization of the upper level into a central bookshelf area and a zone along the east for the children, young adult, and periodical areas. She explained that the Benning Road entrance is intended to be the primary front of the library. She emphasized that the stair connecting the two levels would be monumental in character and would serve as a gathering space; on the exterior, adjacent to the stair, the western edge of the site would be contoured to follow the staircase design. The east and west facades would be primarily solid, while the extensive windows on the north and south would emphasize the front-to-back movement through the building. The roof form would provide further emphasis to the slope of the site, folding over the building from the west and east facades, and a sunscreen of horizontal fins would screen the south-facing windows. Mr. Cook said that a copper skin is being considered for the major forms of the exterior walls and roof, with bamboo for the window detailing. He emphasized the prominence from Benning Road of the clerestory window and the windows along the monumental staircase, with the possibility of seeing through the building from some vantage points due to the large window areas. The windows of the children's area along Benning Road would include various transparencies and colors to screen the view from the sidewalk.
Ms. DeJong discussed the site plan, explaining that the building occupies most of the site aside from the parking on the east that is primarily for staff use. She said that the required amount of parking is still being resolved. Mr. Cook described the sustainability aspects of the design, part of the goal of achieving a silver LEED rating: the green roof, solar shading, operable windows, and zones for the mechanical systems.
Ms. Balmori asked for further information about neighborhood circulation patterns, questioning whether the placement of the primary entrance along Benning Road is appropriate when the plentiful parking is actually to the south in the retail area. She commented that the site appears to be more suburban in character, with patrons driving to the site; as a result, they would tend to enter from the south and would then have to ascend a level to the library's main floor. Mr. Cook responded that the parking lot to the south is outside the library's property and is subject to redevelopment; with the future availability of this parking uncertain, the on-site spaces to the east may become more heavily used by library patrons. Ms. Balmori asked for clarification of the slope along this parking strip; Mr. Cook confirmed that that the area is sloping, and patrons would have to walk uphill or downhill to reach one of the building entrances. Ms. Balmori noted that the south entrance is at the southwest corner of the building, distant from the parking on the east. Overall, she expressed support for the scheme and particularly supported the clerestory window for adding interest to the building.
Mr. McKinnell asked for further information about the planned redevelopment of the shopping area. Mr. Cook said that he had seen a preliminary scheme that was organized around a "Main Street" concept. He said that it was unclear whether the future retail stores would face toward the library and reiterated that he had seen only a preliminary scheme. Mr. McKinnell asked about the road shown adjacent to the west edge of the site; Mr. Cook responded that this is a private road that could be part of the planned redevelopment. Mr. McKinnell commented that the success of the library design is dependent on this future redevelopment, such as the continued visibility of the west facade and the appropriateness of emphasizing the view to the south. He expressed support for the concept but said that his approval would be contingent on learning more about the future redevelopment of the context. Mr. Cook said that the design is intended to make the library a good neighbor with some awareness of the likely future context, but the library project has its own program.
Mr. McKinnell said that the library is indeed being designed as a good neighbor but the concern is whether the design for the adjacent property will be similarly sympathetic; Mr. Belle and Ms. Nelson agreed with this concern. Mr. Cook said that the adjacent property's developer has expressed an appreciation for the library as an asset to the community and to the redevelopment project. Mr. Powell said that the D.C. government could ensure that the redevelopment is sympathetic to the government's library project. Mr. Bonvechio responded that DCPL could not confirm of the D.C. government's policy for the redevelopment. He said that the library project is moving forward faster than the adjacent redevelopment; he confirmed that coordination is occurring and said that he does not expect the redevelopment to include buildings directly along the library site.
Mr. Powell said that the Commission is unable to assess the potential redevelopment and suggested that the Commission focus on the concept for the library; Ms. Nelson expressed her support for the overall design. Mr. Cook said that the Benning Road entrance was included as an important gesture toward the community. Ms. Balmori agreed but said that the suburban character, with the possibility of patrons coming primarily from the parking area to the south, suggests that the main library could be on the lower level with direct access from the south entrance, while the meeting rooms could be located above. Mr. Belle asked for confirmation of patrons' likely modes of transportation. Mr. Cook said that the community is historically underserved and may be more reliant on transit than would be expected in other neighborhoods. He said that the Metrorail stations, and particularly the nearby Metrobus stops, would account for a substantial proportion of patron arrivals, while acknowledging that some would also arrive by car. Mr. McKinnell said that he is not concerned about this issue because there is a long tradition in library design of grand staircases leading from the entrance up to the main library floor. He emphasized his support for the library concept and reiterated his concern about the unknown character of the adjacent redevelopment. Mr. Powell said more might be known about that this development at the time of the next submission for the library; he suggested that the Commission note the concerns and act on the concept. The Commission voted to approve the concept subject to the comments that were raised. Ms. Nelson commented that this group of library submissions could constitute a "golden age of libraries in D.C." and a model for other communities to follow.
4. CFA 21/FEB/08-7, Watha T. Daniel / Shaw Neighborhood Library, 1701 8th Street at Rhode Island Avenue, N.W. New replacement building. Concept. (Previous: CFA 17/MAR/05-9.) Mr. Cook and Ms. DeJong continued with the presentation of the concept for the fourth library submitted by DCPL. Mr. Cook described the full-block triangular site with 8th Street on the west, Rhode Island Avenue on the southeast, and R Street on the north, with the narrow point of the library facing toward 7th Street on the east. He emphasized the prominence of the site from Rhode Island Avenue but explained that the previous library building on the site, with its fortress character, was not memorable despite the site's prominence. He described the context with Howard University to the north, the Convention Center to the south, and Shaw Junior High School to the west. He indicated the Metrorail station immediately to the north across R Street at 8th Street and noted the bus routes along both Rhode Island Avenue and 7th Street. He showed examples of nearby buildings including the historic former Shaw School across 7th Street, now a home for senior citizens, as well as houses and churches. He described the pedestrian circulation routes, with a mixture of signalized and unsignalized intersections around the site; he said that the signalized crosswalks near 7th Street would be the safest pedestrian routes to the library site. He indicated the property line and the extensive yard area beyond the property line along Rhode Island Avenue, resulting in a relatively small buildable area of approximately 9,500 square feet.
Mr. Cook described the design response of creating a sculptural jewel-like building on the site, emphasizing that the library would be visible from all sides as the only building on the block. After careful study, the design team proposes to locate the entrance at the east end of the building toward 7th Street to take advantage of the traffic signals. This decision will result in some library patrons walking by the library along the R Street and Rhode Island Avenue sidewalks, so these facades are designed to show the library activities within the building. Service areas would be placed along the west facade which would have more opaque surfaces.
Ms. DeJong explained that the building will be three stories—two above-grade and a basement—and will fill most of the site to the property line. The library will also have a cantilevered area that extends beyond the property line, and the project includes landscaping of the generous public space areas between the building and the sidewalks. She explained the proposed hierarchy of the facades, with Rhode Island Avenue as the primary frontage, R Street as secondary, and 8th Street as the least significant. The entrance plaza on the east would be designed as an urban space sheltered by the overhanging roof and extension of the south facade screen, creating a combined indoor-outdoor character that would provide a "quiet pause" between the busy urban context and the library interior. A thirty-foot-high column supporting the roof overhang would provide a focal point. On the interior, the circulation spine along the north would lead to the children's area at the northwest corner of the ground floor. An elevator and open staircase would connect the building's three levels; she explained that the design follows the tradition of a grand staircase leading up to a second-floor stack area. She showed how the stacks would be arranged in a north-south orientation to emphasize the transparency and thin shape of the building. The young-adult area on the second floor would occupy the cantilevered bay projecting toward Rhode Island Avenue. A horizontal screen would shield the Rhode Island Avenue windows from the southeastern sunlight; she added that the screen would help to stengthen and formalize the uneven alignment of buildings facing Rhode Island Avenue.
Ms. DeJong showed the basement-level plan with the public meeting rooms as well as mechanical, service, and staff space. An areaway on the north would bring daylight to the basement's public lobby area and an office. She indicated the large window area extending along the staircase from the ground level into the basement-level areaway; she said that the night-time lighting of the building is part of the design concept of making the building a beacon in the landscape. The facades would include transparent and translucent walls.
Mr. Belle asked how the elevator shaft would affect the north facade; Ms. DeJong clarified that the elevator would be contained in a three-story enclosure of glass and steel that would be positioned slightly inside of the exterior wall. She said that the relationship among the elevator, areaway, and facade is still being studied with the possible result of altering the size of the areaway. Mr. Belle expressed concern that the elevator location cuts deeply into the public lobby area in the basement. Ms. DeJong acknowledged the problem and said that DCPL has already commented that the basement lobby is larger than necessary, especially because the ground-floor entrance gallery would be available in conjunction with special events in the basement meeting rooms; she added that the basement lobby might be redesigned as an enclosed space in response to DCPL's security concerns for this unstaffed area.
Ms. DeJong continued with the building's elevations, showing the extensive second-floor clerestory window on the north and the western ground-floor windows of the children's areas. She presented a landscape plan but explained that it is preliminary and will soon be revised; she said that it is not intended to be part of the current submission. She explained the landscape design intention for each of the site's edges: an urban front along Rhode Island Avenue with willow oaks that are part of the city's urban street tree system; a more modest design on the north along R Street which has a more residential character; and landscaping on the west that would provide some privacy to the children's areas.
Mr. Belle commented on the importance of understanding how people will approach the library, particularly because it occupies the entire block. Ms. DeJong indicated the Metrorail entrance to the north but added that the library is likely to attract patrons from the surrounding neighborhood rather than people arriving from other areas by Metrorail; the lack of on-site parking gives further emphasis to neighborhood pedestrians as the primary source of patrons. Mr. Belle agreed and said that this makes the varying directions of approach especially important to consider. Ms. DeJong reviewed the crosswalk locations, concluding that their pattern would bring a large proportion of pedestrians to the eastern point of the site. Mr. Cook added that the schools to the west would be another source of patrons, particularly at the end of the school day; Mr. Belle observed that these patrons would arrive at the western corners of the site, while those coming from the Metrorail station would tend to arrive at the northwestern corner; he therefore questioned the decision to place the entrance on the eastern end. Ms. Nelson added that many patrons might be neighborhood residents coming to the library from the Metrorail station on their way home from work; Ms. Balmori emphasized the importance of convenient access from the schools. Mr. Cook acknowledged the concern and said that the design team considered different locations for the entrance. He explained that the community residents said that convenience from the Metrorail station should not be a high priority, although some patrons would come from there.
Mr. Belle said that an entrance toward the west would appear to be the best response to the direction of arrival. Mr. Cook said that the high visibility of 7th Street made an east entrance seem appropriate, and he emphasized that the relatively small site would be easy for a pedestrian to traverse. He noted that the previous library on the site had two entrances, one at the eastern point and one on the west along 8th Street; community residents said that the 8th Street entrance was not well known because 8th Street is not as prominent as 7th Street. Ms. DeJong added that the previous library's 8th Street entrance had the appearance of a back door. Ms. Nelson said that the community residents' comments show that the legibility of the entrance is an important design issue. Ms. DeJong said that another entrance location could be along the Rhode Island Avenue facade, which the design team is treating as the building's front, but an entrance on this side would be inconvenient for pedestrians; the decision to enter at the eastern point therefore reflects a balance of visibility—including night-time visibility—and pedestrian access. She emphasized that the design character of the entrance would be open with a formal paved urban space.
Mr. Luebke said that the staff had considered the issue of locating the entrance and agreed with the design team that the narrow angle on the west—a result of the L'Enfant plan—provides an opportunity for an exciting and prominent entrance, despite its disadvantages. He emphasized that the angle results from the site's position along a diagonal avenue, and Ms. Nelson acknowledged that many people will see the library from vehicles along the avenue. Ms. DeJong said that the design studies have included manipulation of the roof or sunscreen to provide emphasis to the entrance and give it visibility from a distance. Mr. Powell agreed that the entrance location is a concern and said that 8th Street is the least important frontage; he commented that the two long sides of the library could be used for the entrance but the prominence of 7th Street is also an important consideration.
Mr. Cook showed a model of the library and its context, explaining that the surrounding buildings are slightly taller and one nearby building is ten stories tall; he said that the library would have a green roof that will be attractive when seen from the higher locations and would also contribute to the building's LEED rating. He described the solar screening of the facades as well as the raised floor and natural ventilation system that would also contribute to the building's energy efficiency. He concluded with a night-time view of the library with the interior lights providing dramatic emphasis to the building. Ms. Nelson asked when the library normally closes each day. Mr. Bonvechio said the normal hours extend until 9:00 p.m. on two nights per week and 5:30 p.m. otherwise, so the library interior would be visibly lit on some winter evenings. He said that DCPL could keep the library open on additional evenings if the level of use is high enough to justify the expense; Ms. Nelson said this would be desirable.
Ms. Balmori questioned the design of the entrance plaza, commenting that the planter and bench have a suburban appearance while the setting is urban. She said that the proposed trees appear to detract from the entrance and recommended further study of this area; Mr. Cook agreed to do so. Mr. Powell noted that the design will be submitted again for further review. Ms. Nelson asked if existing trees would be saved; Ms. DeJong said the remaining street trees would be kept and additional trees planted to complete the rows.
Mr. McKinnell expressed support for the proposed entrance location but questioned the proposal to extend the sunscreen to the entrance area, commenting that this feature has the effect of concealing the entrance and dividing the public space. He recommended that the roof and sunscreen be revised in this area so that the column and entrance facade would be more visible. He emphasized the importance of "public presentation" for a library building.
Upon a motion by Mr. McKinnell with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the concept and again noted the Commission's enthusiasm for the design. Mr. Powell expressed his support for all of the library concepts that were presented and offered a commendation to the D.C. government; Ms. Nelson agreed.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:30 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, AIA
Last Modified: March 26, 2008