Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
15 July 2010
The meeting was convened in the Commission of Fine Arts offices in the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, at 10:15 a.m.
A. Approval of the minutes of the 17 June meeting. Mr. Luebke reported that the minutes of the June meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. The Commission approved the minutes upon a motion by Ms. Plater-Zyberk with second by Ms. Nelson. Mr. Luebke said that the minutes will be made available on the Commission's website.
B. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings: 16 September, 21 October, and 18 November; he noted that no meeting is scheduled during August.
C. Report on the approval last month of one object for acquisition by the Freer Gallery. Mr. Luebke said that a group of Commission members, led by Vice-Chairman Nelson, visited the Freer Gallery at the conclusion of the June meeting to inspect an 18th-century Japanese ceramic bowl proposed for transfer into the museum's permanent collection. Vice-Chairman Nelson reported that the Commission approved the bowl as part of the permanent collection, which will allow for its exhibition in the museum. She said that the bowl was previously thought to be a later copy but is now acknowledged as original to the period; she expressed appreciation for the scholarly work of the curators.
Mr. Luebke reported that the Commission visited the construction site for the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial the previous evening to view a night mockup of the proposed lighting for the inscription wall; he noted that the project is on the agenda for presentation during the meeting (agenda item II.C.1). Chairman Powell recommended deferring further discussion of the site inspection until consideration of the agenda item.
II. Submissions and Reviews
Mr. Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting.
Appendix I – Direct Submission Consent Calendar: Mr. Lindstrom reported one change to the draft appendix: a submission was added from the University of the District of Columbia for the first-phase renovation of the former Bertie Backus Junior High School, as part of a new community college program for Washington. He noted the favorable recommendation for this initial phase of renovation and said that the staff would continue to be involved with the later phases. He also noted the several concept submissions on the Consent Calendar; due to the two-month interval until the next Commission meeting, he suggested that the approval of the final design for these projects be delegated to the staff. Two of these projects are from the American Battle Monuments Commission for entrance modifications at foreign cemeteries; and one is for the D.C. Capital BikeShare program, which encompasses 100 new locations for automated bicycle rental racks. He said that the final designs for these bicycle installations would be submitted in groups of ten to twenty; some of the locations would be in areas of particular concern to the Commission—such as the National Mall, Pennsylvania Avenue, and Georgetown—and the Commission may wish to review only the proposals for these locations while delegating the remainder to the staff. Chairman Powell supported the delegation; Mr. Luebke said that the staff would therefore determine which locations should be presented to the Commission. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked if the siting of the bicycle racks is guided by overall principles or is determined independently at each location. Mr. Lindstrom responded that common principles include setbacks from curbs, space for maneuvering the bicycles onto the racks, and providing clearance for pedestrian access, but otherwise the siting is based on the conditions of the particular location. He said that many of the siting issues were resolved through the initial installations of the program, which already includes approximately a dozen locations; he added that the program has been very successful.
Ms. Balmori emphasized the Commission's critical oversight of the memorials at foreign cemeteries and noted that the two submissions from the American Battle Monuments Commission include entrance gates, an important feature at these cemeteries; she requested the opportunity to review the final design for these projects rather than delegate their approval to the staff. Mr. Lindstrom said that the staff has worked with the architects to determine the best siting and configuration for these proposals, and anticipated that the final designs would incorporate appropriate solutions.
The Commission approved the Direct Submission Consent Calendar with the delegation of the final design review for the Capital BikeShare installations to the staff, with the understanding that installations at particularly sensitive sites would be brought to the Commission for review.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported two changes to the draft appendix: the recommendation for signs at 801 17th Street, NW (case number SL 10-115) was changed from unfavorable to favorable based on revisions to the proposed design; and the listing for case number SL 10-116 was changed to a concept submission due to the limited scope of the submitted information. She suggested that the approval of the final design for this project and the next (case numbers SL 10-116 and 117)—both submitted by George Washington University—be delegated to the staff to allow for approval during August. Upon a motion by Ms. Plater-Zyberk, the Commission approved the revised appendix including the delegation of two cases to the staff.
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martínez reported several changes to the draft appendix. One project was added (case number OG 10-136) after receiving an unfavorable recommendation in June; the new submission conforms to the recommendation of the Old Georgetown Board. The staff has updated other recommendations in response to supplemental information; further information is still anticipated for four projects, and he suggested that the Commission authorize the staff to finalize these actions when the supplemental information is received. Upon a motion by Ms. Nelson with second by Ms. Plater-Zyberk, the Commission approved the revised appendix including authorization for the staff to finalize the recommendations for four cases based on anticipated supplemental information.
B. National Museum of the American Latino Commission
CFA 15/JUL/10-1, National Museum of the American Latino. Site selection study and site evaluation criteria. Information presentation. Mr. Luebke introduced the information presentation on the sites under consideration for a new national museum dedicated to American Latino arts, culture, and history. All four of the identified sites are on or adjacent to the National Mall, and some of the sites would incorporate a combination of buildings to accommodate the intended program. He noted that the Monumental Core Framework Plan identified two of the sites—the Department of Agriculture's Whitten Building and the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building—as potential locations for museums. He introduced Henry Muñoz, chairman of the National Museum of the American Latino Commission, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Muñoz described the museum commission which he chairs: it was authorized by federal law two years ago to study the feasibility of creating a National Museum of the American Latino; the commission will complete its work by delivering a report to the President and the Congress, anticipated for 15 September 2010. The issues being studied include financial feasibility, potential collections, governance, and a location in Washington or elsewhere. He said that the museum commission has traveled nationwide to meet with the public and has also solicited on-line comments. An additional source of information has been the feasibility studies recently generated for two other museums: the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The potential Washington sites were narrowed to nine that were studied in a design charrette several months earlier, then narrowed to the four that will now be presented; the museum commission will consider these four sites in August while finalizing its report. He noted that the authorizing legislation requires consultation with the Commission, adding that prior consultation has included meetings between the National Park Service staff—which is managing the project—and the Commission staff. He said that the design firm Wallace Roberts & Todd has been hired to assist the museum commission, and he introduced architect and planner Antonio Fiol-Silva of Wallace Roberts & Todd to present the assessment of potential sites.
Mr. Fiol-Silva said that the consideration of sites was accompanied by the initial development of the museum's program, undertaken with a specialized consultant firm. The resulting program size is 310,000 square feet for a main facility which could be located on the Mall, as well as an annex of approximately 49,000 square feet; he added that this scope is comparable to the program for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He emphasized that the program and the museum design would be influenced by the site that is chosen, and the appropriateness of the program size and resulting building volume would need to be considered for each potential site. He presented an evaluative matrix condensing the large amount of information that was generated for each of the sites, with rankings that were developed by the museum commission's members. He said that the desirability of a Mall location was clear from the nationwide public meetings, with emphasis on a location that would provide a high-quality visitor experience. The drawback of many potential sites was their current use by other government entities, resulting in cost and schedule concerns. He summarized the four potential sites that emerged from this process and compared them to past plans and legislation: the L'Enfant Plan, the McMillan Plan, the Commemorative Works Act zones, the National Mall Plan, and the Monumental Core Framework Plan.
Mr. Fiol-Silva provided additional analysis of each of the four sites, beginning with a site at the southeast corner of the Washington Monument Grounds. The open site between 14th and 15th Streets, Independence Avenue, and Jefferson Drive would accommodate only a portion of the intended program within established setback lines; the site would therefore also include the historic Yates Building (formerly known as the Auditors Building) south of Independence Avenue, currently used by the Department of Agriculture. He described the potential configuration of the museum within the site constraints: an entrance to the new building could be located along 14th Street; an underground connection could be provided to link with the Yates Building; and a group entrance area and service access could be located on the south side of the Yates Building, sharing a courtyard area with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He noted the constraints of the Yates Building including its inefficient fragmented plan and the difficulty of climate control; the museum's galleries would therefore be located primarily within the new construction. He presented a north-south section illustrating how the new museum building would balance the planned National Museum of African American History and Culture, framing views toward the Washington Monument. He said that a height of eighty feet would be appropriate for the new museum building in relation to the context, including the Yates Building. He presented several perspectives to illustrate the potential building volume within the context.
Mr. Fiol-Silva presented the second potential site: the Whitten Building, the northern part of the Department of Agriculture headquarters complex between 12th and 14th Streets along Independence Avenue. He noted that the Department of Agriculture is the only cabinet-level agency with headquarters on the National Mall, and this symbolism is important to the department. The center portion of the Whitten Building includes the Secretary of Agriculture's office, while the earlier east and west wings originally contained laboratories. He said that the entire Whitten Building was considered, encompassing 369,000 square feet of the department's two-million-square-foot complex. However, the proposed alternative is to use only the west wing of the building, retaining the Secretary of Agriculture's office in the center portion and providing a more modest scale of institutional frontages along the south side of the Mall; a future museum could make use of the east wing. He said that the existing west wing would be supplemented by an addition on its west side, a courtyard infill to the southeast, and additional space at the attic level. He presented a section across the Mall depicting the relationship of the potential museum to the National Museum of American History on the Mall's north side. He said that the enlarged attic would remain lower than the Whitten Building's central portion, retaining the overall hierarchy of the building. Exhibit galleries would be located within the new construction, allowing for desired climate control, illumination, and interior heights; the configuration of the new construction could allow the existing building's facades to remain visible. He said that the overall floor area for this site would be 281,000 square feet, which is 29,000 square feet less than the desired program; the shortfall could be accommodated through adjustments in the program.
Mr. Fiol-Silva presented the third site under consideration: the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building, currently undergoing restoration. He said that the floor area of this building is slightly less than 99,000 square feet and is shrinking as interior mezzanine additions are removed. The proposal would include 95,000 square feet within the historic building and an underground addition of 183,000 square feet. He noted the difficulties in adapting the Arts and Industries Building to modern museum use: poor climate control, light control, and acoustics. The building's character would influence the concept of the museum, with the historic building serving as a grand entrance and "living room" that would attract people from the Mall and bring them to the new underground space where the galleries could be located; he offered the analogy of New York's Grand Central Terminal which connects the surrounding streets to the underground train platforms. He noted that a similar configuration was explored for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He then described an alternative configuration involving the Arts and Industries Building: connecting it beneath Independence Avenue to a new structure located between 9th and 10th Streets, continuing south to the restored alignment of Virginia Avenue as envisioned in the Monumental Core Framework Plan. The appropriate height for the new structure would be ninety feet, and this configuration would accommodate the full desired program. The site south of Independence Avenue would include a small plaza that could include a monumental feature and would form part of a gateway to 10th Street, SW, replacing the existing Forrestal Building complex. Ms. Nelson asked what functions would be located within the Arts and Industries Building. Mr. Fiol-Silva responded that the interior would generally be left open to highlight the "spectacular" quality of the space, possibly incorporating freestanding climate-controlled pavilions that could contain exhibits. The building would otherwise not be suitable for exhibits, nor for performances, and it would primarily be used for restaurants, gift shops, and similar public components; he confirmed that the building would not be used for offices.
Mr. Fiol-Silva presented the final site under consideration, along Pennsylvania Avenue, NW at the foot of Capitol Hill; he noted that the site is under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol and is symmetric to the U.S. Botanic Garden on the south side of the Capitol Reflecting Pool. He indicated the McMillan Plan depiction of a building on this site and said that the appropriate height for a museum building would be 75 feet to match the height of the Botanic Garden conservatory building. The museum could be located on the east end of the site toward First Street, matching the conservatory, which would leave the west half of the site available for a planned commemoration of the Congressional Award which is given to young Americans; this siting would also avoid placing the museum above the interstate highway tunnel which passes beneath the western portion. He said that placing the museum at this location would help to establish the less-visited eastern end of Pennsylvania Avenue as part of a public space at the foot of the Capitol and would strengthen the relationship of this area to Union Station; he characterized the existing condition of the area as feeling incomplete.
Mr. Rybczynski commented on the apparent extent of below-grade space in the massing diagram for this site, compared to the previous sites; Mr. Fiol-Silva said that 102,000 square feet would be accommodated below grade—including curatorial space and an auditorium—while 149,000 square feet would be above grade. Mr. Muñoz added that the museum commission does not want to create a "segregated building" of Latino culture; if the museum is established as part of the Smithsonian Institution, the expectation is that each of the Smithsonian museums could incorporate the subject of the Latino presence, allowing the program for this museum to be reduced. He characterized this type of museum as a gateway to the Latino-related exhibits at other museums.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked for clarification of the color-coded matrix comparing the attributes of the four sites; she noted that the each of the summary categories is shown with the favorable color of green for the site near the Capitol. Mr. Fiol-Silva said that the museum commission members and the public had emphasized the importance of locating the museum in an appropriate honorific position on the Mall, and this criterion greatly affected the color-coded assessment of the sites. In addition to the Capitol site, the site at the Washington Monument Grounds is also evaluated favorably due to the importance of its location. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said that, in such a matrix, the color coding of the summary categories should correspond to the coding of the sub-categories; in this matrix, however, the pattern is inconsistent, with colors of summary categories that relate in varying ways to the combinations of red, yellow, and green evaluations of sub-categories. She observed that the matrix therefore reflects an apparent bias toward particular sites. Mr. Muñoz responded that the matrix does not reflect a bias; all four sites will be presented to the museum commission, which will consider the challenges and opportunities of each site and will decide which sites to include in its final report. He added that the museum commission members will consider such factors as the nationwide public meetings and the feasibility of completing the museum on a particular site within the established timeframe. Ms. Plater-Zyberk suggested that any intended weighting of the criteria in the matrix be clearly explained in order to avoid the appearance of bias; she added that such matrices tend to be overly simplistic and do not need to be an important part of the site evaluation process, but the matrix should be clear if it is included. Mr. Fiol-Silva acknowledged the overriding importance of certain criteria, such as the availability of the site within a reasonable timeframe; the museum commission members were concerned that some sites might be unavailable for ten to fifteen years and would entail vast additional costs for the relocation of a major government agency.
Mr. Belle requested further discussion of the museum's program, which he said is critical to the evaluation of the sites. Mr. Muñoz responded that the relationship between the program and each site has been carefully considered, including the general layout of spaces for both public programs and collections. He said that a subcommittee of the museum commission, including a museum professional, has been working with consultants to develop the program; the resulting program study will be released in conjunction with the site assessment study. Mr. Belle supported the inclusion of existing buildings as potential sites for the museum, which he said is a forward-thinking approach to museum planning; however, he noted the challenge of reconciling the program with an existing building, which requires further consideration of the program details. He offered the example of a performing arts space, which was described as an important part of the museum, and asked how well it could be accommodated on each of the potential sites.
Mr. Muñoz responded that difficulty in accommodating the program was an important concern for the Arts and Industries Building, which otherwise has several advantages: its location adjacent to the Smithsonian castle is very prominent; it is already owned by the Smithsonian and is currently vacant; its restoration is already funded; and its potential use for this museum was already established in an earlier report to the Smithsonian. Mr. Fiol-Silva said that the consultant team has studied each site carefully, offering the example of determining which interior walls in the Whitten Building could be removed. The program was also considered in detail, with a determination that the auditorium should include 350 seats; the program was then rigorously adapted to the diagrammatic layouts that are included in the presentation. Reductions in the program were also considered carefully where necessary due to site constraints, such as at the Capitol site. Mr. Muñoz noted his experience with performances in the Arts and Industries Building, which have been staged despite the acoustical problems; Mr. McKinnell commented that inserting a black-box theater may not be appropriate within this historic building. Mr. Powell expressed support for the using the Arts and Industries Building, which he said could have the welcome additional benefit of initiating redevelopment of the Forrestal Building site.
Mr. Rybczynski summarized the typical process for creation of major museums as seen by the Commission in recent years. In the first phase, little information is available about the collections and future building, and vacant prominent sites are considered to offer the best opportunity. The second phase, after a site is selected, is to design the museum building; the site constraints result in placing some program areas below grade—unpopular areas that may require skylights which then create undesirable elements within the landscape. The third phase, after solving the architectural problems and constructing the museum, is public appreciation of the collection itself: at this stage, the issues of the site and building become less important. He acknowledged the effort for this project to consider all of these phases simultaneously but encouraged further consideration of the Arts and Industries Building despite its apparent limitations. He noted examples in Paris and London of difficult historic buildings being converted into surprisingly successful museums, such as the Tate Modern museum in a former London power station; he contrasted this with the approach of creating an entirely new museum which can also be successful, such as at Bilbao, Spain. Mr. Muñoz responded that the museum commission members have been widely considering the overall experience of visiting the museum, beyond the specific criteria shown in the evaluation matrix; a positive experience could come from a historic building as well as from a new building that expresses a modern architectural statement, and this question would be further debated at their next meeting in August before finalizing their report. He acknowledged the importance of advice from the Commission of Fine Arts in shaping the future of this museum.
Ms. Balmori commented that reuse of an existing building would be consistent with modern sensitivity to energy conservation and recycling, and such a solution would set the museum apart from the more typical monumental new museum structures. She also supported the concept of promoting a series of Latino-related program spaces in other museums, which she described as "an incredibly fresh idea" that would further distinguish this museum. Mr. Muñoz confirmed that the museum commission members do not want a museum that segregates its topic from other museums, and the group's recommendation may therefore be that the museum should not be part of the Smithsonian Institution. He noted a report from twenty years ago—titled "Willful Neglect"—that unfavorably assessed the Smithsonian's presentation of Latino history and heritage, and many on the museum commission believe that the current situation is little improved; the concern is therefore to improve coverage in existing museums rather than focus only on constructing a new museum building. Several Commission members expressed support for this approach. Mr. Muñoz noted a renowned essay by the scholar Tomaso Ybarra-Frausto, now a consultant to the museum commission, describing the practice within poor communities of reusing things that others might throw away, thereby elevating and honoring the objects; this concept, called "rasquachismo," provides an artistic and architectural precedent to the museum commission's work. Ms. Nelson agreed that reuse of an existing building would be a forward-thinking concept, and Mr. Powell noted that this concept would favor the selection of the Arts and Industries Building.
Ms. Nelson expressed support for the overlook site at the southern end of 10th Street, SW, which had been considered but rejected in narrowing the list of potential sites; she commented that this site would help to attract visitors to the waterfront, adding that the area would be redeveloped in the future. Mr. Powell commented that the Forrestal Building is a major barrier to this site; Ms. Balmori said that some project must become the first to overcome this barrier, and the overlook site would then become a great opportunity. Mr. Muñoz responded that the overlook site was discussed extensively, with the conclusion that "every site has its time." The current site opportunity along the 10th Street, SW corridor is the Arts and Industries Building which would open the way for future development at the overlook site. He emphasized the preference for locating the museum on the Mall during the nationwide public meetings; Ms. Nelson and Ms. Balmori acknowledged this popular preference. Mr. Powell noted that the Monumental Core Framework Plan envisions the overlook site as a prominent future gateway for Washington, while acknowledging the importance of reusing the Arts and Industries Building.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk commented that political symbolism may be a significant factor in the site selection, which would suggest a preference for the site at the foot of Capitol Hill; she noted that this site also has the advantage of expediency because it is currently vacant. However, she recommended that expediency should not be a major factor in the site selection process because this criterion often results in decisions that are not optimal, and the time advantage is often not realized due to the typically slow pace of projects. She discouraged the creation of a future situation where people regret a poor site selection that was based on near-term expediency. She observed that the process for a major project is necessarily difficult in modern cities: vacant sites are very scarce, and their allocation is a challenging problem; demolition, as well as integration of a project with its context, is the norm.
Mr. Belle asked if a further presentation on the site assessment study would be provided to the Commission in September. Mr. Muñoz responded that the museum commission would meet in August to finalize its report, based on the four sites currently presented; the report may include all four sites and request legislation delegating the final site selection to an appropriate authority, as was done for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution. Alternatively, the report may recommend a shorter list of sites or a single site.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk noted the proximity of the two-part site at the Washington Monument Grounds and the site at the expanded Whitten Building, and asked if these sites had been considered jointly such as using a connection beneath 14th Street. Mr. Muñoz responded that this was considered along with numerous other site combinations, including the possibility of using a portion of the National Museum of American History site.
Chairman Powell summarized the Commission's interest in the project and appreciation for the careful consideration of sites. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
C. National Park Service
1. CFA 15/JUL/10-2, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. Independence Avenue, SW, at the northwestern rim of the Tidal Basin. Details for the Inscription Wall--Revised text layout and lighting. Final. (Previous: CFA 17/JUN/10- 1.) Mr. Luebke introduced the submission for final approval of several remaining design elements for the memorial, including refinements to the inscription wall that were reviewed the previous month without action, as well as the lighting of the inscription wall as demonstrated in the mockup seen the previous evening. He summarized the Commission's previous support for the proposed typographic design and request for revised details of the stone and the text layout to emphasize the horizontal character of the wall. He said that the content of the quotations is now also submitted for the Commission's review. He introduced Peter May of the National Park Service, who asked Dr. Ed Jackson Jr., executive architect of the memorial's sponsoring foundation, to present the design.
Dr. Jackson summarized the topics that were discussed at the site inspection: the lighting level and fixtures, the lettering, and the treatment of the stone joints and paving pattern. He introduced project architect Ron Kessler of McKissack & McKissack to begin the discussion of responses to the comments of the Commission members. Mr. Kessler said that many of these topics were presented at the Commission's June meeting, with new refinements that could be briefly described. He said that the plaza paving pattern would be adjusted so that the inscription wall's vertical joints are aligned with perpendicular joints of the plaza paving, as recommended by the Commission. He noted the Commission's recommendation the previous month to deemphasize the wall's vertical joints with the addition of grouting, which he said was a particular concern due to the proposal to place letters across the joints at some locations. He said that the lettering has now been adjusted to eliminate such situations, and therefore no change is proposed in the stone joints. Ms. Balmori commented that the issue is also the relationship of the inscriptions to the slanting stone joints toward the top of the wall, corresponding to the wall's tapering height; she said that grouting these joints would help to address the problem.
Inscription designer Nick Benson described the revisions to the text layout in more detail. He noted the previous recommendation to reconsider the line lengths to avoid a static appearance for the quotations. He indicated the revised layout with a shorter length for the successive lines of each quotation, resulting in an overall horizontal emphasis for the wall due to the length of the uppermost lines of text. He said that this adjustment results in fewer joints being crossed by many lines of the text, simplifying the problem of adjusting the spacing to eliminate the overlap of letters and stone joints.
Ms. Balmori asked if the design of the vertical and sloping joints is satisfactory in relation to the inscriptions. Mr. Benson responded that the open vertical joints are no longer a problem due to the elimination of overlapping letters, and the sloping joints serve to emphasize the cap course of the wall. He added that the horizontal joint below the text is advantageous in helping to ground the inscriptions; removing this lower joint would result in excessive negative space and may require further adjustment of the text location. He acknowledged the concern of Commission members at the site inspection that the attribution text lines at the bottom of each quotation are not at a consistent distance from the horizontal stone joint below; he said that the positioning of the attribution text was intended to relate to the quotations above but would be adjusted to relate consistently to the stone joint in conjunction with further separation from the quotations. Mr. Rybczynski asked about the alignment of the lower line of each quotation; Mr. Benson confirmed that the position of the quotations relative to the horizontal stone joint would also be consistent throughout the wall. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said that the quotations appear to be rising toward the taller portions of the wall on the small-scale elevation that shows multiple panels; she said that this effect might be desirable and should be studied using long elevation drawings, perhaps combining the rising alignment of the quotations with a consistent horizontal alignment of the attribution text at the bottom. She emphasized the need to consider the full scale of the wall in evaluating this issue. Mr. Benson responded that the relationship of the various alignments will be apparent to viewers from the plaza as part of the broad view along the length of the inscription wall. He reiterated his intention to revise the position of the attribution text from that shown in the submitted drawings in order to provide a continuous horizontal alignment.
Ms. Balmori emphasized that the sloping joints above are the more significant problem. Mr. Benson noted that the sloping upper joint is closest to the lettering at the two shorter ends of the wall, where the separation is only six inches; this is the area that was selected for the mockup. Ms. Balmori confirmed that the situation was particularly evident at the Commission's site inspection, as well as on the elevation drawings for the short end panels. Mr. Benson added that the line drawings of the elevations give a "much more severe visual representation" than the actual appearance of the wall; he said that the joints have relatively little visual impact when one steps back from the wall mockup, and he did not perceive the sloping joint as problematic. Ms. Balmori said that this joint appeared prominent in the mockup and reiterated her preference for detailing that would reduce the joint's visibility, such as with grouting. Mr. Kessler responded that grouting would conflict with the aesthetic intent to emphasize the edges of the granite blocks with narrow eighth-inch dry joints, as well as the technical intent to use the granite as a rain screen that allows water to pass through and behind the panels to the bottom of the wall. Ms. Balmori acknowledged these issues but emphasized the problematic prominence of the sloping joints, particularly at the shorter ends of the wall.
Dr. Jackson added that foliage behind the wall would cascade over the top and partially conceal the upper sloping joints, while the lower horizontal joints would be uninterrupted and would be consistent with the horizontal alignment of the lettering; he acknowledged that the drawn elevations, which do not depict the foliage, give undue emphasis to the sloping joints. Ms. Nelson asked if potential future elimination of the overhanging plants—perhaps due to maintenance problems or unwanted shadows—would require a change to the design. Mr. Kessler responded that the design intent is for this memorial to be closely related to the landscape, but the inscription wall would also be viable without the overhanging plants; he offered the example of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which does not have plants overhanging its wall. He clarified that the currently proposed design would be desirable regardless of the overhanging plants, noting that the grove of cherry trees behind the wall will convey the desired effect when the inscription wall is seen from a distance. Ms. Balmori asked about the proposed specification of plants at this location, as described in previous submissions; Dr. Jackson and Mr. Kessler were unable to recall the plant type. Mr. Powell said that the National Park Service would carefully control the overhanging plants; Ms. Balmori commented that landscapes are inherently difficult to control and are continually changing.
Chairman Powell summarized the anticipated revisions to design details such as the lighting trough including the glass panels. Upon a motion by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the overall intention of the submission.
2. CFA 15/JUL/10-3, National Mall and Memorial Parks Headquarters. 900 Ohio Drive, SW. Expansion of park headquarters with a modular office unit. Final. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposal to locate a temporary trailer in East Potomac Park to provide expanded office space for the headquarters of the National Mall & Memorial Parks unit of the National Park Service. This unit's office space is currently in a cluster of modular structures from the 1980s located adjacent to a historic Army Corps of Engineers building on the Washington Channel, and the National Park Service proposes this additional modular building to accommodate increased staff, paralleling the completion of new memorials on the Mall. He asked Peter May of the National Park Service to begin the presentation.
Mr. May said that he usually brings "wonderful projects" to the Commission, but the current submission is one of the occasional utilitarian projects that are necessary. He emphasized the pressing need to provide office space for the increasing number of employees; the broader goal has long been to construct a new headquarters building for this park unit, but that goal has not been a sufficiently high priority for the National Park Service to allocate funding for such a project. He described the planning guidance for East Potomac Park provided by the Monumental Core Framework Plan and said that the National Park Service is currently considering the long-term future of its various operational buildings within the park, including potential relocation of the regional office building; a possible site for the National Mall & Memorial Parks headquarters would be directly across Ohio Drive from its current location, a site which would be consistent with the Framework Plan's proposals. He said that various locations for the additional temporary facility were considered, noting that existing facilities are scattered within and beyond the Mall and related parks. The proposal is to site the new facility near the existing headquarters complex for several reasons: better operational efficiency; minimizing the physical impact on park land; and making use of existing utility connections and the existing fenced compound with vegetative screening. He asked John Piltzecker, the superintendent of the National Malls & Memorial Parks, to present details of the proposal.
Mr. Piltzecker described the location of the site in relation to the nearby Jefferson Memorial, elevated highway, and railroad tracks; he indicated the existing partial screening of the site from Ohio Drive and from the Washington Channel. He presented rendered views of the proposed modular structure from various vantage points within and outside the headquarters complex, including views from the highway and from the Southwest Waterfront across the Washington Channel. He indicated an existing cottonwood tree that would be removed to accommodate the new facility, with a new tree to be planted nearby; additional trees along the fence line would provide further screening of views from Ohio Drive, while retaining the open vista from the parking lot entrance toward the historic Army Corps of Engineers building. He noted that the new building would house the office handling special events and permits, involving visits from the general public. He said that the new plantings would be fairly large in size to ensure effective screening in the near term. He added that another siting option under consideration was to construct an addition to the Corps of Engineers building, but the risk of flooding would be problematic; the proposed site is located as far as possible from the flood zone within the headquarters site area.
Ms. Nelson acknowledged the need for the building and the rationale for choosing a prefabricated structure. However, she questioned the white color depicted for the window frames, which she said gives undue emphasis to this feature, and recommended a darker color; Mr. Piltzecker agreed to make this change.
Ms. Balmori asked about the possibility of obtaining a more attractive temporary building. Mr. Piltzecker responded that such an opportunity would be welcome. He said that the design details of this proposal were coordinated with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office staff, with particular attention to the windows and the cladding materials; consideration was given to a cladding that would resemble either the Corps of Engineers building—which was rejected as drawing too much attention to the new structure—or the existing headquarters building. The treatment of the cladding is intended to minimize the visibility of the building. Steve Lorenzetti of the National Park Service added that the proposed cementitious siding would be painted and is preferable to vinyl. He noted several changes that resulted from the coordination with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office: a proposal to remove a second tree was withdrawn, and the window frames will change from white to a dark bronze color, which is not yet depicted in the renderings.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked about the visibility of the building in winter; Mr. Lorenzetti responded that the existing and new trees along Ohio Drive will be evergreen to provide year-round screening, although the building's visibility from within the headquarters complex will be greater in winter. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked why the proposed facade color is brown; she and Ms. Balmori suggested that green might be a better choice. Mr. Lorenzetti responded that the intention is to match the color of the existing trailers, and the color would be slightly more green than depicted in the computer-generated rendering. Ms. Plater-Zyberk emphasized that the color selection provides another opportunity to mitigate the visibility of this structure, and matching the color of the existing building may not be the most important consideration. She also reiterated the desirability of providing views in winter conditions. Mr. Lorenzetti agreed to coordinate further with the staff for the color selection.
Several Commission members commented that this temporary structure may remain in place for a long time; they questioned the proposal to purchase a standard modular building and suggested the opportunity to obtain a better-designed structure. Ms. Balmori said that the National Park Service could use an improved modular building design at many locations. Mr. McKinnell described the proposal as an embarrassment for the Commission as well as for the applicant, and said that the Commission should not comment on the details of such a building. He said that one useful role for the Commission is to encourage a proposal for a well-designed temporary building, citing examples of beautiful temporary structures such as the work quarters on top of the Centre Pompidou in Paris; he acknowledged the additional cost of such a design and the apparent unwillingness to pursue this but emphasized that the National Park Service is an important agency and should consider this option. He said that an alternative role for the Commission is to encourage the removal of this temporary structure as soon as possible, such as by assisting the National Park Service in obtaining funds for a new headquarters. He recommended that such guidance be part of any approval granted by the Commission; Ms. Balmori agreed.
Chairman Powell recommended that the Commission place a time limit on its approval of this building, acknowledging that such a limit may be only a symbolic gesture; Ms. Nelson suggested a four-year limit. Mr. May agreed that such a limit might be advantageous in accelerating the process within the National Park Service of allocating funds for a permanent facility. He noted the project team's consideration of higher-quality modular structures, which the National Park Service has used in some locations, but the cost of this approach was prohibitively high for the current project. Ms. Balmori emphasized that an improved temporary building design would be beneficial for the National Park Service, and Ms. Nelson noted that the cost of each structure would decline if the design is used repeatedly. Ms. Plater-Zyberk added that designers and manufacturers may be interested in working with the National Park Service to develop an improved design that could be used by the National Park Service nationwide rather than the current proposal to use an existing modular design.
Several members Commission members reiterated the concern that purportedly "temporary" buildings tend to remain in place for a long period of time. Mr. May emphasized the goal of constructing a permanent headquarters facility as soon as possible to replace both the proposed structure and the existing headquarters complex, but said that the currently available funds are sufficient only for the proposed temporary structure.
Chairman Powell summarized the Commission's acknowledgment of the situation and willingness to approve the structure, subject to the comments that were provided; Ms. Plater-Zyberk reiterated the Commission's concerns of setting a time limit for the building's duration, and encouraging the development of an improved design for modular structures that could be used throughout the park system. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the proposal as a temporary installation for a period not to exceed four years, and with the additional recommendations provided by the Commission.
D. Department of the Treasury / U.S. Mint
Mr. Simon introduced the two sets of submissions involving the Presidential One Dollar Coin Program: the sixth set of circulating one-dollar coins depicting the U.S. Presidents, and the fifth set of First Spouse non-circulating coins and related commemorative medals. He noted that the Presidents are depicted on the obverse of the coins, with the reverse depiction of the Statue of Liberty to continue without change. The First Spouse submissions include both obverse and reverse designs. He introduced Kaarina Budow from the U.S. Mint to present the design alternatives. Ms. Budow provided the Commission members with copies of the official historical portraits used by the artists in developing the alternatives, as previously requested by the Commission; she added that photography was becoming prevalent in the period covered by these coins, and the Mint allowed the artists to use photographs in addition to the official portraits in preparing the alternatives.
1. CFA 15/JUL/10-4, 2012 Presidential One Dollar Coin Program. Obverse designs for sixth set of four coins: Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and Grover Cleveland. Final. (Previous: CFA 19/NOV/09- 5, 2011 issues.) Ms. Budow summarized the legislation authorizing the coin series and noted that the set of four coins to be issued in 2012 will include two separate coins for Grover Cleveland's two non-consecutive terms. She also provided a sample of a current Presidential one-dollar coin which includes the Statue of Liberty reverse design.
Chester A. Arthur
Ms. Budow presented six design alternatives for the Chester Arthur coin. Ms. Balmori said that only #1 and #4 are acceptable because they are closest to profile views, which the Commission has previously advised is preferable to frontal views for numismatic portraits. Ms. Nelson agreed, adding that the profile has the advantage of emphasizing the face rather than the hair; she expressed a preference for #4, which Ms. Balmori supported. Upon a motion by Ms. Nelson with second by Ms. Balmori, the Commission recommended alternative #4 for President Arthur.
Grover Cleveland (first term)
Ms. Budow presented five alternatives for the coin honoring Grover Cleveland's first term. She noted that only one set of official portraits is serving as source material for the two coins; for the second coin, the artists attempted to age his appearance and made use of photographs from his later term. She clarified that separate coins are not typically being issued for each of a President's terms; the exception is for Cleveland whose two terms were not consecutive. Ms. Plater-Zyberk commented that the alternative portraits are very different; Ms. Balmori said that they are not as good as the alternatives for President Arthur. Mr. Powell offered support for alternative #1; Ms. Balmori agreed that this is the only acceptable alternative, and the Commission adopted this recommendation. Mr. Powell added that this set of alternatives illustrates the difficulty of portraying the subject's hair on the coins; Ms. Budow responded that the portraits are intended to include distinctive features to the extent possible. Ms. Nelson commented that the medallic portrait of Cleveland—one of the historic source materials distributed by Ms. Budow—has a compelling profile view of Cleveland; Ms. Budow said that the Presidents were personally involved in developing the medal portraits.
Ms. Budow presented six alternatives for the Benjamin Harrison coin. Ms. Balmori commented that #5 would be the only acceptable alternative. Mr. Rybczynski said that none are acceptable, criticizing the emphasis on frontal views; he said the profiles from the historic medals are "much more evocative." Mr. Belle commented that the hair is poorly portrayed. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said that #4 would be the best among these alternatives. Mr. Powell supported #5, and Ms. Balmori reiterated her support for this alternative while criticizing the overall quality of the Harrison portraits. Mr. Powell noted the three-quarters pose in all of the alternatives and suggested that the Commission request that the Mint return with a profile portrait. Mr. McKinnell noted the Commission's ongoing preference for profiles and suggested an ongoing request that the Mint include at least one profile in each set of alternatives for portrait designs; several Commission members supported this proposal. Chairman Powell summarized the Commission's consensus not to recommend any of the alternatives for President Harrison.
Grover Cleveland (second term)
Ms. Budow presented four design alternatives for the coin honoring President Cleveland's second term, reiterating that these portraits rely on the same historical source material as the first Cleveland coin. Ms. Balmori and Mr. Belle expressed support for alternative #2. Several Commission members commented that Cleveland appears inappropriately jowly in this set of alternatives. Ms. Budow responded that the portraits are intended to be accurate, but the Mint would consider a recommendation for adjustment. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said that the features in alternative #2 appear to be exaggerated; Ms. Nelson agreed, and Mr. Powell said that Cleveland looks ill in this portrait. Mr. Powell suggested alternative #3; Ms. Plater-Zyberk supported #3 while Ms. Balmori said that the other alternatives are closer to a desirable profile view. Ms. Budow noted that the Mint tries to provide a variety of poses for the benefit of the several committees that review the design alternatives. Ms. Rybczynski said that the portraits are essentially the same and do not actually provide variety; Ms. Nelson agreed, while supporting alternative #3. Ms. Budow said that an adjustment to alternative #2 could address the concerns of the Commission members; Ms. Balmori reiterated the general weakness of this set of alternatives. Chairman Powell summarized the general consensus to recommend alternative #3; the majority voted in favor of this recommendation, with Ms. Balmori and Mr. Belle abstaining. Ms. Budow noted the Commission's additional request for inclusion of at least one profile alternative in future submissions.
2. CFA 15/JUL/10-5, 2011 Presidential One Dollar Coin Program. Designs for the fifth set of four First Spouse $10 gold coins and bronze medals: Eliza Johnson, Julia S. Grant, Lucy Hayes, and Lucretia Garfield. Final. (Previous: CFA 17/SEP/09-3, 2010 issues.) Ms. Budow presented the proposed designs to be issued in 2011 for the First Spouse series, noting that these non-circulating coins and medals have a shorter production schedule than the previously presented 2012 issues of the circulating Presidential one-dollar coin series. She reviewed the legislative requirements for this series, including an obverse portrait of each President's spouse and a reverse image representing the life and work of the spouse. The gold coins and bronze medals would have similar designs, and the medals would be larger than the coins. She distributed copies of the official White House portraits that were used as source material for the obverse design alternatives.
Ms. Budow presented five alternative obverses depicting Eliza Johnson, the wife of Andrew Johnson who served from 1865 to 1869. Ms. Nelson expressed support for alternative #2, commenting that it has the most expressive depiction of the face; she added that the careful attention to the clothing details in the various alternatives would not be readily legible at small scale. Ms. Plater-Zyberk supported alternatives #1 and #2, observing that the facial expressions are too severe in the other alternatives; Ms. Balmori agreed. Mr. Rybczynski supported #2. Upon a motion by Ms. Balmori, the Commission supported obverse #2 for Eliza Johnson; Ms. Balmori also expressed overall dissatisfaction with the quality of the portrait renderings in this set of alternatives.
Ms. Budow presented six reverse alternatives for Eliza Johnson, noting that the reverses are based on narratives developed by the Mint that were provided to the artists and distributed to the Commission members. The narratives for Mrs. Johnson include her and Andrew Johnson working together as teenagers at a tailor shop, where she taught him reading and arithmetic; and a children's ball held at the White House on the occasion of President Johnson's birthday. She added that the Mint's advisory body, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, prefers the narrative involving the tailor shop, which is the subject of three of the four alternatives. Ms. Balmori criticized the intent of conveying a story on the small coins and medals, commenting that the designs are too busy. Ms. Nelson agreed, expressing support for alternative #4 due to the sufficient negative space in this design. She suggested deleting the detail of the book in Mrs. Johnson's hands, noting that other reverse designs in the First Spouse series have already featured women holding books, and the book also seems odd in the context of the tailor shop. Ms. Balmori expressed support for alternative #1 due to the larger size of the two figures in this composition; Mr. Rybczynski agreed and recommended removing all of the background elements to focus attention on the two figures. Several Commission members supported this recommendation; Ms. Nelson added that even the detail of the cloth and scissors in Andrew Johnson's hands would be too difficult to discern at small scale. Ms. Budow responded that the intent was to provide a sense of context for the location, but the Mint could consider minimizing the background details and increasing the size of the primary design elements.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk expressed dissatisfaction with reverse alternative #1; she offered support for alternative #3 showing Andrew Johnson holding a book, which conveys better the narrative that he—not Eliza—was learning to read. Ms. Nelson noted that the overall purpose of the design should be to commemorate Eliza; Ms. Plater-Zyberk said that the design depicts her success in teaching Andrew. Mr. Powell supported a simplification of alternative #1, commenting that its overall composition of figures works well in the round format; however, he questioned whether Andrew's tailoring work would be understood as the context is simplified, and Mrs. Nelson agreed. Chairman Powell summarized the Commission's concern with the excessive complexity of the design. Ms. Nelson and Ms. Balmori expressed support for the narrative of the children's ball; Ms. Nelson added that this narrative is difficult to convey in a simple form, instead requiring a group of children which results in a crowded design. Ms. Budow responded that the gold coin would allow for more relief and detail than is typically feasible on a circulating coin, due to the method of striking and the softness of the gold. Ms. Balmori reiterated that the complexity of the proposed compositions is problematic and would require far better detail than is indicated on the submitted drawings.
Mr. Belle noted that the Commission has requested simplification of coin designs in the past; he asked whether the Mint is responsive to such requests. Ms. Budow responded that the Mint carefully considers the Commission's comments as well as those of the Citzens Coinage Advisory Committee, and consults further with historians if necessary; she confirmed that the Mint has revised past designs in response to the Commission's advice. Mr. Belle asked that the Commission be kept informed of specific examples; Ms. Budow responded that examples include coins currently in the production process, such as coordinating the obverse and reverse fonts on a coin. She offered to provide such feedback to the Commission in the future but said that there may be some time lag before information on the final design revisions can be announced publicly.
Chairman Powell summarized the consensus of the Commission not to recommend a particular alternative for the Eliza Johnson reverse, but to support simplification of alternative #1 or a new design for the children's ball narrative depicted in alternative #2.
Ms. Budow presented three obverse alternatives depicting Julia Grant. Ms. Plater-Zyberk and Ms. Balmori supported alternative #1; Mr. Belle, Ms. Nelson, and Mr. Rybczynski supported alternative #2. Ms. Nelson offered a motion to recommend alternative #2; Ms. Balmori instead offered a motion to support alternative #1. The Commission voted for alternative #2, with Ms. Balmori voting against. Ms. Nelson added that the portrait in alternative #2 has dignity, while the hair configuration in alternative #1 may be difficult to understand; Mr. Powell added that alternative #3 appears too fussy. Ms. Budow said that the recent gold coin honoring Louisa Adams included very successful detailing of the hair on the obverse.
Ms. Budow presented five alternatives for the Julia Grant reverse design; the topics include Mrs. Grant accompanying her husband on military campaigns during the Civil War (alternatives #1 at a military tent, and #3 at Vicksburg), riding horses with him in their youth (#2), packing his uniform into a trunk (#4), and bringing their son to visit him at a military post (#5). Ms. Budow added that the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee preferred the narrative of the military campaign scenes, depicted in alternatives #1 and #3, and she noted that alternative #2 does not have background detail so that the two figures and horses read more strongly. Ms. Nelson commented that Mrs. Grant, a military wife, would appreciate the packing of the trunk as a frequent part of her life. Mr. Belle questioned the purpose of including two background figures in alternative #1. Ms. Balmori and Ms. Palter-Zyberk supported alternative #1 while requesting adjustments to make the design more powerful: Ms. Plater-Zyberk suggested straightening Mrs. Grant's pose, commenting that the leaning posture appears odd; Ms. Balmori suggested eliminating the table at the left edge while leaving the tent in the composition. Ms. Nelson and Mr. Rybczynski supported alternative #2; Ms. Nelson commented on this composition's simplicity which emphasizes the two figures on horseback.
Ms. Balmori and Ms. Nelson commented that some of the intended narratives, such as her presence at the siege of Vicksburg, would be difficult to understand and primarily relate to her husband's life rather than hers; Ms. Nelson said that Mrs. Grant's position in the foreground of the compositions helps to address this concern. Ms. Plater-Zyberk characterized the wartime narratives as more serious than the others. Mr. Rybczynski said that the narrative should not be the Commission's primary concern. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said that the best composition would therefore be Mrs. Grant on horseback without including her husband; Ms. Balmori agreed, adding that the depiction of Mrs. Grant packing a trunk is not sufficiently interesting.
Ms. Balmori suggested that the Commission request a simplified design, with a preference for the narrative of alternative #1 as the most interesting subject; she reiterated the desirability of featuring Mrs. Grant prominently in the composition. Ms. Plater-Zyberk agreed, adding that if alternative #2 is explored further then the design should be adjusted to provide sufficient space between the horse's nose and the edge of the composition. Ms. Nelson offered support for alternatives #1 and #2, subject to the revisions that were discussed. Chairman Powell summarized the Commission's consensus not to vote for any of the alternatives but to support further development of alternatives #1 or #2 based on the comments provided. Several Commission members supported this consensus.
Ms. Budow presented three alternative obverses commemorating Lucy Hayes. Ms. Balmori supported alternative #2 due to the approximate profile pose of the portrait; Mr. Rybczynski and Ms. Nelson agreed. Ms. Nelson noted that the clothing is very elaborate but appropriate for this portrait; she summarized the consensus of the Commission to recommend obverse alternative #2 for Lucy Hayes.
Ms. Budow presented five alternatives for the Lucy Hayes reverse; the first two depict President and Mrs. Hayes renewing their marriage vows at a White House ceremony, and the remaining three depict the Easter egg roll at the White House. She noted that the depiction of the White House in alternative #3 would be in very low relief, indicated by the light gray tone on the submitted drawing. Ms. Nelson supported the subject narrative of the Easter egg roll due to its importance as a tradition and its familiarity as an ongoing event. She recommended the composition of alternative #4, while using the low-relief depiction of the White House as indicated in alternative #3, in order to provide sufficient distinction between the foreground and background; Ms. Balmori agreed. Ms. Budow said that the intent of alternative #4 was to depict the White House in low relief, which is not conveyed well due to the dark lines on the projection of the drawing. Ms. Plater-Zyberk also supported alternative #4 but noted the awkward depiction of the girl's legs, perhaps due to foreshortening, and recommended that her pose be revised. Ms. Nelson summarized the Commission's consensus to support reverse alternative #4 for Lucy Hayes.
Ms. Budow presented four obverse alternatives commemorating Lucretia Garfield. Ms. Balmori supported alternatives #2 and #4 due to the simpler hair configuration that does not overwhelm the portrait; Ms. Plater-Zyberk supported alternatives #1 and #3. Mr. Belle commented that the excessive emphasis on the hair is a problem in all of the alternatives; he and Ms. Plater-Zyberk agreed to support alternative #2. Ms. Nelson said that this had also been her preference in reviewing the submission materials. Ms. Plater-Zyberk added that Mrs. Garfield's expression is too severe in alternative #4. Vice-Chairman Nelson summarized the consensus to recommend obverse alternative #2.
Ms. Budow presented five alternatives for the Lucretia Garfield reverse design. The first alternative depicts Mrs. Garfield studying a telegraph message beside a ticker-tape machine during her husband's presidential campaign; a campaign poster appears in the background, based on historical research; two additional alternatives depict other campaign scenes; and the final two alternatives depict Mrs. Garfield painting in a studio at her Ohio home before moving to the White House. Ms. Plater-Zyberk supported alternative #5 depicting Mrs. Garfield painting in her studio; Ms. Nelson agreed but suggested eliminating background elements such as the windows and draperies to place emphasis on Mrs. Garfield engaged in painting. Several Commission members supported this recommendation. Vice-Chairman Nelson acknowledged the extensive research involved in developing the background details such as the campaign poster, but emphasized the need to eliminate such details due to the small size of the coins and medals; she added that the painting scene conveys an important part of Mrs. Garfield's life. Upon a motion by Ms. Nelson with second by Ms. Balmori, the Commission recommended simplification of reverse alternative #5 for Mrs. Garfield.
E. General Services Administration
CFA 15/JUL/10-6, Mary E. Switzer Federal Building, 330 C Street, SW. Landscaping and perimeter security. Concept. (Previous: CFA 19/APR/07-a, building modernization.) Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposal for sitework at the Switzer Building, noting that the ongoing modernization of the building was previously approved by the Commission. He asked Mike McGill of the General Services Administration to begin the presentation. Mr. McGill said that this project is the second component of an integrated landscape design project for the four federal buildings fronting C Street, SW, between 2nd and 4th Streets; the site design for Federal Office Building #8 (FOB 8), immediately to the east of the Switzer Building, was previously reviewed and approved by the Commission. The deep building setbacks along C Street result in a wide space that includes extensive surface parking and minimal landscaping, resulting in an unattractive streetscape. The site improvements for the Switzer Building will eliminate most of the parking, introduce more landscaping and a water-retention system, and improve pedestrian circulation. These aesthetic and environmental improvements will contribute to achieving a LEED rating of gold or possibly platinum for the building, and he emphasized the community benefits that will result from the project. He introduced project architect Mark Banks of the General Services Administration to continue the presentation.
Mr. Banks emphasized the project's dual goals of creating a more pleasant landscaped environment for pedestrians and achieving environmental improvements. The project includes a concession kiosk which would include educational information on sustainability features such as the geothermal system proposed at the west side of the site. The overall combination of site improvement projects for the four buildings along C Street will provide them with a more park-like setting. He introduced landscape architect Jeffrey Catts of HNTB to present the design.
Mr. Catts discussed the intention to create a vibrant urban space in a neighborhood of federal buildings; to demonstrate the federal government's commitment to create a healthy environment; and to provide a more dignified setting for the Switzer Building, constructed in 1939. He noted that the surface parking lot along C Street has been present since the building's construction; a similar parking lot on the north side of C Street is associated with the Cohen Building, from the same period. The existing condition therefore reflects an earlier emphasis on automobile convenience rather than pedestrian appeal, while the current project will implement present-day federal goals for site design. He added that this project will serve as a model for improvements to other federal buildings in the neighborhood and elsewhere. He said that the project also includes perimeter security; the Switzer Building's level-four security rating requires a 39-inch-high barrier with a maximum spacing of 48 inches.
Mr. Catts described the current conditions of the site, which is over ninety percent impervious and provides 100 surface parking spaces. The sidewalk along the south side of C Street is interrupted twice by a large vent and egress ramp for the below-grade service area that is shared with the Cohen Building. An additional prominent, unattractive vent serves a below-grade generator, which may be modified based on current engineering studies. He described the overall character of the pedestrian areas as "bleak." He indicated the Switzer Building's two main entrances facing north toward C Street; both will be fully operational. The south facade along D Street has several minor doorways that he described as simple and elegant, most of which will provide only emergency egress; one of these doorways will serve as an additional entrance. He noted the narrow 25-foot distance between the south facade and the D Street curb, and indicated the four large sidewalk vents for the Metro station that is located below the street.
Mr. Catts discussed the relationship of the site to the context of neighboring buildings. He noted the ongoing project for FOB 8 on the east to replace its surface parking along C Street with a pedestrian plaza and an improved entrance that accommodates pedestrian flow from the nearby Metro station; the proposal for the Switzer Building will provide similar improvements with related detailing while responding to the geometries of the Switzer Building's site. The Switzer Building and the Cohen Building on the north are "sibling buildings" with similar handsome design characters but are not well related to each other in their site designs; the most prominent site relationship is the similar surface parking lots that separate both buildings from C Street. He indicated the Cohen Building's single centered entrance facing C Street, compared to the two symmetrically positioned C Street entrances on the Switzer Building; the design of new C Street plazas for both buildings will attempt to reconcile these offset geometries and improve the pedestrian and vehicular circulation patterns. Existing vehicular access from 3rd and 4th Streets would be eliminated, and all access to the reduced-size parking and drop-off areas would be from C Street toward the middle of the long block.
Mr. Catts discussed how the broader community would benefit from the proposed site improvements. The building employees would benefit most directly from the plaza as well as from the improved building entrances and pedestrian circulation; he indicated the seating and shaded areas in the plaza design. The improved outdoor space could also be used by the seventy children in the building's day-care center. The nearby Metro station on 3rd Street generates significant pedestrian movement for the neighborhood, and the proposed refreshments kiosk is therefore sited at 3rd and C Streets; ongoing improvements along 4th Street, SW, will generate further pedestrian activity along the west edge of the site. The number of tourists in the area will likely increase upon the completion of two memorials that are planned in the vicinity: the Eisenhower Memorial one block to the northwest, and the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial at 2nd and C Streets, SW. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked about the size and program of the concessions kiosk. Mr. Catts responded that it would be ten by ten feet, primarily to serve coffee and perhaps pre-packaged food; it would likely contain a sink but not food preparation facilities, with the details of the program still being determined.
Mr. Catts described the design of the proposed parking area, which would have 11 spaces compared to the existing 110 spaces. Although the submitted concept plan indicates a guardbooth at the parking entrance, he noted the new information that parking access could be controlled remotely by guards inside the building, and the guardbooth is therefore being eliminated from the proposal. The parking would accommodate drop-off for the daycare center, handicapped access, and shared vans which would serve to promote this method of commuting. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked about accommodation of bicycles, noting the city-wide Capital BikeShare project that was reviewed on the Direct Submission Consent Calendar earlier in the meeting. Mr. Catts responded that the design includes a potential location for a BikeShare rack adjacent to the coffee kiosk, and this component is being coordinated with the D.C. Department of Transportation which sponsors the BikeShare program; he noted that this location is conveniently within a block of the nearby Metro station. In addition, for bicyclists not using the BikeShare program, the design will include racks to accommodate approximately 65 bicycles, the projected need, but this feature has not yet been sited.
Mr. Catts described other design features, in addition to the accommodation of bicycles, that promote environmental sustainability. Paving would be permeable wherever feasible; runoff from non-permeable paving would be collected in rain gardens or bio-swale areas to treat the water and slow the rate of runoff into the public stormwater system. Ms. Balmori asked about the relative extent of permeable and non-permeable surfaces; Mr. Catts responded that 60 percent would be permeable. The design also includes native plants and may include a green roof on the small refreshments kiosk. He said that geothermal wells may be included in the site design; although these would not be visible at grade, information would be provided to educate the public about this component and other sustainability features, and he emphasized that education is an important part of the project.
Ms. Balmori asked if the Switzer Building itself could have a green roof. Gene Cheek, the project architect for HNTB, responded that green roofs are being provided on two wings of the Switzer Building; other parts of the roof will be used for photovoltaic arrays. Additionally, several original skylights on the low-rise portions of the building—obscured during World War II due to concern of aerial attacks—are being restored to use. Ms. Balmori asked about additional portions of the roof; Mr. Cheek responded that photovoltaics will extend over portions of four buildings wings, with the exact configuration constrained by factors such as penthouse shadows. He noted the overall effort to achieve on-site power generation, including the photovoltaics as well as the geothermal system. Ms. Balmori cited research from Germany demonstrating that photovoltaic systems are more efficient when adjacent to planting, and she therefore suggested combining the photovoltaics with the green roofs rather than placing them on separate wings. Mr. Cheek offered to study this further, acknowledging that green roofs may be viable in shaded areas where photovoltaics would not be cost-effective; he said that roof pavers are currently planned for such areas. Ms. Balmori encouraged the further implementation of such sustainable design features. Mr. Cheek added that the building already has a system for capturing and reusing stormwater from the roof.
Mr. Catts described the proposed narrowing of the C Street cartway to provide adequate room for a sidewalk on each side; the result would be one travel lane in each direction, in addition to parallel parking at the curb. This narrowing would extend from 2nd to 4th Streets as part of the overall planning of the four-block area. The plantings along C Street are intended to frame the building's two major entrances and to provide tree canopy and shade, particularly at the corners of the site to invite people into the plaza. Ms. Balmori commented that continuity and sufficient scale are important design considerations for street trees; she suggested narrowing the gaps at the building entrances and using larger trees to frame these openings. Mr. Luebke noted that the site elevation drawing depicts both the large street trees proposed along C Street and the groupings of smaller trees within the plaza. Mr. Catts confirmed that the tree placement and size is further constrained by the location of curb cuts and the limited soil depth above the below-grade service area. He added that further study of the structural constraints may require the specification of smaller trees above the service area; Ms. Balmori expressed regret at this potential outcome. Mr. Catts emphasized the design team's preference for larger trees if feasible; oak trees would be used, matching the specified trees along C Street at FOB 8.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked about the configuration and size of trees at the small parking lot; Mr. Catts indicated the smaller-scale trees proposed at this location due to the structural constraints of the service area below, and Mr. Cheek noted the absence of trees along the alignment of a steam tunnel that runs parallel to the north facade of the building. Mr. Catts confirmed that the proposed configuration does not reflect a general intention to avoid placing trees near a parking area; he added that the parking spaces will be somewhat shaded by the building itself.
Mr. McKinnell asked about the treatment of the ground plane beneath the trees. Mr. Catts responded that these would be lawns and indicated the extent of lawn area on the site plan. Mr. McKinnell and Ms. Balmori criticized the legibility of the site plans in delineating the paved and lawn surfaces, emphasizing the need to understand the experience of a pedestrian in the proposed plaza. Mr. Catts indicated the pedestrian walkways, with a minimum width of six feet around the site, and the four-foot-wide bands of tree planting near the curb. The sidewalk paving would be exposed-aggregate concrete, matching the planned paving at FOB 8; within the Switzer Building's plaza, porous pavers are proposed. He clarified that the drawings depict an illustrative concept for the banding of pavers. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked for further clarification of the configuration of lawn panels; Mr. Catts confirmed that the two panels at the main entrances are raised, while others are flush with the plaza. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked if the raised panels are related to perimeter security requirements; Mr. Catts responded that the purpose of raising the panels is to provide seating, to create plinths at the entrances which he said would be elegant, and to create stage areas. Ms. Balmori commented that the site wall toward the center of the plaza is problematic, giving the appearance of a castle moat.
Mr. McKinnell criticized the lack of relationship between the proposed Switzer Building site design and the previously approved site design for FOB 8, noting the stated intention to design this project as part of an integrated four-block complex. He said that their concept and character are completely different, and described the FOB 8 design as more "congenial," pedestrian-friendly, and attractive than the Switzer proposal. He noted the desired diagonal pedestrian routes from the site corners to the building entrances which are accommodated well at FOB 8 but are obstructed by grass panels in the Switzer plaza proposal. He emphasized his disappointment at the failure to more closely relate the urban environments on these two blocks. Mr. Catts responded that the intention of the plaza design is foremost to relate to the architecture of the Switzer Building, adding that the proposed plaza does respond to the desire for diagonal movements while not repeating the curvilinear vocabulary of the planned FOB 8 plaza. He noted the additional design intent of establishing a site relationship between the Switzer Building and the Cohen Building on the north.
Mr. Rybczynski emphasized the clarity of the FOB 8 plaza design, with a clear relationship to the building's main entrance; he contrasted this with the proposed Switzer plaza, which places cars in the center and fails to provide a direct pedestrian route between the two main entrances and the sidewalk. He characterized the configuration of lawn panels as a "quilt arrangement" which he said was unconvincing, with many layers of grass and paving and raised panels that don't add up to anything significant; he recommended simplification of the plaza design. He particularly questioned the intrusion of the small parking area into the overall ecological emphasis of the plaza design, adding that its prominent placement at the centerline of the building is especially problematic. He recommended a simpler design that pulls together the various elements and reflects the two main entrances. He recommended less emphasis on the relationship with the Cohen Building and more effort to relate to the FOB 8 plaza design, agreeing with Mr. McKinnell that these two projects are not integrated. Ms. Balmori said that a further problem with the plaza design is its treatment as a series of small pieces of landscape with no overall sense of a space. She recommended further study of the area around the two entrances as having the potential for significant spaces where people can gather and circulate.
Mr. Banks of the General Services Administration responded that the site design for FOB 8 responds to its modern architectural character, while the Switzer Building and Cohen Building have a more monumental traditional character and would benefit from a more unified aesthetic relationship. He said that the sequence of improvements, beginning with FOB 8 and then the Switzer Building, should not supersede the long-term goal of a strong relationship between Cohen and Switzer. Mr. McKinnell said that the Commission's recommendations do not conflict with this goal. Ms. Plater-Zyberk observed that some of the design confusion results from the presentation graphics: the context plan uses white for paved areas and shading for lawns at FOB 8, while using the opposite graphic configuration at the Switzer Building. She added that the treatment of similar design conditions is different at each building: the FOB 8 plaza includes a continuous planted area along the service ramp wall at the northeast, while the proposed Switzer Building plaza would have numerous landscape panels and walks along a similar service ramp wall, including the questionable placement of a walk directly along the length of the the ramp wall. Toward the northwest of the FOB 8 plaza, where there is no interrupting service ramp, the landscaped area is crossed by paths that lead directly to the sidewalk; however, the similar condition at the northwest portion of the Switzer Building site simply repeats the plaza design from the east, with no direct connection to the sidewalk. She recommended consideration of different forms at the Switzer Building plaza in response to the site conditions. She noted the Commission's suggestion in reviewing the FOB 8 site design that general principles be developed for the four-block complex, with the response that this would occur in the subsequent submissions for the other buildings; however, such principles are not clearly emerging, and the Commission is therefore struggling to extract such principles based on the previously approved design for the FOB 8 site. She added that the treatment of trees in the building yard at FOB 8 could also serve as a model for the Switzer Building site, in addition to the comments on street trees that were already provided. Ms. Balmori agreed, criticizing the excessive variety of tree types and sizes which exacerbates the piecemeal character of the landscape design; she emphasized the need for unity and creation of significant spaces in the design.
Ms. Nelson and Ms. Balmori commended the emphasis on sustainability in the site design. Ms. Nelson said that this emphasis has apparently overridden some of the design choices, but the resulting problems could be resolved. She suggested that the small parking area be relocated or eliminated if possible, perhaps by accommodating dropoff on the D Street side of the building and providing handicapped parking spaces in the below-grade vehicular area.
Mr. McGill responded that the entrance to the daycare facility is on the north side of the building, and the daycare dropoff should therefore be nearby. The centered position of the proposed parking area is a response to the symmetry of the building and the paired configuration of the two main entrances; he said that an alternative would have been two small parking areas, one in front of each entrance, but an additional problem is the position of the service ramp which obstructs vehicular access from C Street to the vicinity of the eastern entrance. He added that the parking area could also be used as an event space, such as for a farmers market on weekends or for employee gatherings and meetings. He emphasized the relatively small size of the parking area—accommodating only one-tenth of the previous number of vehicles—and the landscaping that reduces its prominence, as well as the overall improvement and expansion of the pedestrian realm including the space gained from the narrowing of the C Street cartway. Mr. McKinnell emphasized the Commission's appreciation of the reduced parking program and commended the General Services Administration for this change; he said that the Commission's concern is with the specific design that is proposed. He emphasized that the formal characteristics of the design are less successful than the planned site design for FOB 8, regardless of whether the dropoff area remains as proposed or can be relocated.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk commented that design details contribute to the fragmentation of the plaza design, such as the proposed ramps leading from the two main entrances toward the outer edges of the site; she suggested that these ramps could instead lead toward the center of the site, which would be more convenient to the location of the handicapped parking spaces. Mr. Catts responded that these walks—not actually categorized as ramps, due to the slope of less than five percent, and therefore not requiring handrails—are aligned in relationship to major features of the Cohen Building across C Street, and would primarily be used by people arriving along the sidewalks such as from the Metro station, with relatively few people using the small number of proposed on-site parking spaces. Ms. Nelson asked about a more direct entrance route from the Metro station to the D Street side of the building; Mr. Catts reiterated that only one of the D Street doorways is currently used as an entrance, but most employees walk around the block to enter through the C Street facade.
Ms. Nelson noted the intention to introduce signs to educate people about the sustainability features of the project; she cautioned that such signage could become excessive and recommended restraint as the design is developed, adding that other layers of site features will likely be introduced into the design such as playground equipment for the children from the daycare center. She said people tend to ignore signs when there are an excessive number of them. She also questioned the proposal for multiple grass types in the planting areas, commenting that the renderings suggest the appearance of a prairie rather than a city. Mr. Catts responded that these are part of the rain garden and bio-swale system, with the intention to include a limited variety of grasses that would have the appearance of a continuous massing rather than a wild appearance that might be associated with an English garden. He added that architectural elements may be added to define the edges of these landscaped areas as the design is developed; he presented photographs of examples elsewhere that use such architectural edges, suggesting the desired character for this project. Ms. Plater-Zyberk summarized the Commission's advice, as with many projects, to simplify the design.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk recalled the careful consideration of perimeter wall and bollard configurations at FOB 8, and recommended similar systematic thinking in further developing the proposed concept for perimeter security at the Switzer Building; she acknowledged that the solutions do not need to be identical for the two buildings, but should reflect an overall language beyond the aesthetics of the individual components. Mr. Catts responded that the perimeter security is provided primarily with site walls and fences, with relatively few bollards that will be located primarily at the corners; the service ramp wall would also be hardened to serve as part of the perimeter security. Along D Street, where the building yard is narrow, bollards would be placed near the curb and their alignment would shift were necessary to avoid conflicting with the Metro vents; the row of bollards would also be relieved by other hardened elements such as lampposts, trash receptacles, and fencing around planting beds. Ms. Plater-Zyberk noted the continuity between this design and the FOB 8 streetscape along D Street. Ms. Balmori commented on the excessively heavy character of the site walls in the rendered perspective, recommending a more transparent, lighter design and reiterating her concern about the moat-like appearance. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said that the submission materials include a confusing mix of images from other locations—generally attractive—and renderings of the features proposed for this site, which tend to have a heavier character; Ms. Balmori agreed. Mr. Luebke said that the renderings in this submission may be intended to depict the general concept of the wall placement without articulating a particular character for its design. Mr. Catts said that the wall dimensions are based on the rhythm of window openings in the building, with a depth of 18 inches. Mr. Powell agreed with the concern that the resulting appearance is excessively heavy and should be reconsidered; Mr. Catts responded that the ornamentation on the Switzer Building has a heavy character but offered to study the design further.
Chairman Powell summarized the consensus of the Commission to request a revised concept submission in response to the Commission's comments; he commended the project team for the overall idea. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
F. Department of the Navy
CFA 15/JUL/10-7, Anacostia Naval Station, Thomas Road and Brookley Avenue, SW. Navy Systems Management Activity (NSMA) Administrative Facility and Warehouse. New six-story building. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 21/JAN/10- 4.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the revised concept for this windowless building that will be located near the west campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital and the I-295 highway. She summarized the Commission's recommendation in the previous review to take better advantage of the windowless condition and explore the massing and articulation of the building volumes. She introduced architect Irena Savakova of AECOM to present the revised design.
Ms. Savakova provided some planning details of the building, although much information is not being disclosed to the public: it would accommodate 116 employees, would have a predominant height of 75 feet with some portions extending higher, and is within the controlled perimeter of the Naval Station Anacostia military base, a joint installation of the Navy and Air Force. She acknowledged the building's visibility within the cityscape, resulting in the emphasis on careful design of its appearance. She described the relationship of the proposed building to the Coast Guard headquarters that is under construction at St. Elizabeths Hospital, concluding that the proposed building would not entirely block the view from the Coast Guard complex and more generally does not affect designated historic views in the area.
Ms. Savakova presented a range of precedents that influenced the proposed architectural treatment of the building's windowless mass, some of which were studied in response to the Commission's previous comments. One category of precedents is power plants, which often develop a visually appealing sculptural form in response to their functional requirements. She indicated examples of the breaking down of building volumes, exterior expression of the internal function, and the typical siting of such buildings toward the front or edge of urban centers. She said that the powerful visual impression of such buildings has contributed to the successful conversion of some power plants into museums, such as the Tate Modern in London. She added that power plants demonstrate the opportunity for bold exterior expression of the building's function while not literally conveying the interior operations, providing a useful parallel for articulating the volumes of the proposed Navy building. She emphasized the importance of overall proportions and design coherence in contributing to the successful appearance of such precedents, resulting in harmonious combinations of modern and historic buildings.
Ms. Savakova presented several examples of museums as a second category of precedents, noting their tendency to have relatively few window openings and to develop design character from the overall power of the structure; these examples suggested the opportunity for treating the proposed building as a three-dimensional sculpture with clear, bold forms. A third category of precedents is industrial buildings, such as Frank Lloyd Wright's Larkin Building which the Commission had previously cited. She described the Larkin Building's emphasis on strong treatment of the corners and the resolution of the design elements toward the top of the building; she noted the presence of windows but said that the building's strength comes from its overall composition, providing a valuable precedent for the proposed Navy building. Other examples include telephone equipment buildings that have few windows but provide a textured appearance, and a warehouse building that introduces vertical elements to relate the top and bottom of the structure. She summarized the range of design tools that are demonstrated by these precedents: layering of volumes, color change, three-dimensional composition. She also described the potential problems that are apparent from such precedents, including the undesirable appearance of an industrial building with window openings that have later been filled in.
Ms. Savakova discussed the relationship of these design strategies to the context of Naval Station Anacostia, which has a varied waterfront setting with clusters of buildings but no clear character. She presented a 1945 photograph of the Ancostia waterfront showing the multiple industrial structures and warehouses; modern functions have replaced these buildings but some of the historic design character remains apparent in the varied volumes, colors, and vertical elements of the newer buildings. She described the crisp waterfront edge of the military base and the clusters of buildings, primarily of brick with some structures clad in metal panels and, further downstream, in white stone; the immediate context of the proposed building is brick. She also indicated the two nearby parking garage structures.
Ms. Savakova presented the proposed massing of the building which expresses the vertical core and stair towers, the stacking of specialized internal zones, and special programmatic volumes that do not extend through the building. She indicated the entrance area which emphasizes the presence of daylight in contrast to the prohibition on daylight exposure in the remainder of the building. She also noted the roof deck, which would provide the only opportunity for employees to enjoy the panoramic city views from the upper portion of the building. She described the resulting massing as a balanced three-dimensional composition that expresses the clarity of the building's volumes—including the treatment of the building's top and corners, the emphasis on the entrance, and the overall background character that is desired for this building; she also indicated the low-rise warehouse building and service yard that are programatically required and are treated as interlocking components of the composition. She described several proposed design elements of the entrance area, including a projecting canopy, extensive glass, and a "feature wall" with a surface pattern that is distinct from the building's other volumes. She characterized the revised concept's overall design approach as contemporary with an emphasis on volumetric clarity, contrasting it to the initial concept submission which had a more traditional articulation of building details and used color to differentiate special features of the design.
Ms. Savakova presented several perspective renderings of the building, including a sequence of pedestrian-level views approaching the entrance and from a vehicle on I-295. Ms. Nelson asked about the second entrance indicated in the drawings; Ms. Savakova said that this is a service entrance and would be located on the opposite side of the building from the main employee entrance, with additional access available through a loading dock. She confirmed that the exterior material would be brick, with a color palette related to the context of nearby buildings; the detailing would emphasize the expression of shadow lines while forming larger planes that would have a powerful appearance from distant viewpoints. She added that the building has no signage, although the feature wall implicitly serves this purpose through its special pattern; several Commission members expressed appreciation for this restrained approach to signage. Mr. Powell said that additional typical issues, such as parking and landscaping, are not significant factors for this project; Ms. Savakova confirmed that the site and lower portion of the building will not be readily visible from most directions due to the existing low buildings in the immediate vicinity. She noted that the site plan incorporates setbacks from the surrounding streets, which is a security requirement even within this controlled-access military base.
Ms. Nelson and Mr. Powell expressed support for the revised concept, acknowledging the architectural history research and variety of precedents that were studied. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell, the Commission approved the revised concept.
(Chairman Powell departed the meeting during discussion of the following agenda item, and Vice-Chairman Nelson presided for the remainder of the meeting.)
G. District of Columbia Department of Transportation
CFA 15/JUL/10-8, Barracks Row Mural Project. Southeast Freeway bridge at 8th Street, SE. Murals. Concept. Ms. Fanning introduced the proposal to apply painted and mosaic murals on the north face and underpass of the Southeast Expressway bridge across 8th Street, SE, a busy commercial street connecting the Capitol Hill neighborhood on the north with the Washington Navy Yard on the south; the commercial area is adjacent to the Marine Corps Barracks and is known as Barracks Row. She said the art installation would be a joint effort of the D.C. Department of Transportation; Barracks Row Main Street, a non-profit community organization; and City Arts, a community arts group specializing in large-scale public projects. She asked Christopher Delfs of the D.C. Department of Transportation to begin the presentation.
Mr. Delfs said that the project would be funded under the Transportation Enhancement Program of the Federal Highway Administration, which supports the addition of public art, landscaping, and other amenities to enhance the civic spaces associated with transportation projects. He introduced Martin Smith of Barracks Row Main Street, the organization which originally applied for the federal funding, to continue the presentation. Mr. Smith said that commercial development and historic preservation have been successful in the past decade along the northern part of the 8th Street commercial corridor, but the freeway overpass constitutes an obstacle to improvement of the southern portion. In an effort to overcome this obstacle, the goal of the project is to make the overpass a destination in itself by creating a mural, with the intended result of encouraging people to visit the southern portion of 8th Street. He asked artist Byron Peck of City Arts to present the details of the proposed artwork.
Mr. Peck said that portions of the mural would be applied directly to the concrete spandrels of the overpass, while the remaining portions would be on concrete panels that would be attached to the overpass structure. Part of the mural would be within the 8th Street underpass, extending for approximately 200 feet, which he described as dark and uninviting although some improvements have been made recently to the lighting. The overall length of the mural on the north face of the overpass would be 450 feet, extending from 8th to 7th Street. The mural would emphasize this horizontality, incorporate colors found throughout the Barracks Row area, and use a wave-like line to reference the presence of the Anacostia River along the Washington Navy Yard; he said the rhythmic pattern along the face of the overpass would be visible from a distance and would draw people to it. Other parts of the mural would feature trompe l'oeil architectural decorations; portraits of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, chosen because of their roles in establishing the Marine Corps and the Navy Yard; features of Barracks Row such as its historic buildings; and the theme of transportation through depictions of trolleys, bicycles, boats, and other vehicles. The murals would be paintings with mosaic borders and in some areas would also incorporate mosaics, resulting in an artwork of many textures.
Ms. Nelson expressed concern with the small scale of the components for such a large mural, citing the example of the proposed portraits. She said that the focus of the project should be improving the underpass, where pedestrians would be able to appreciate the mural's small scale while walking through; the proposal for the north face of the overpass could be omitted altogether, or alternatively could be treated much more boldly. She commented that the light poles within the underpass would interrupt the artwork, and recommended that the lighting be mounted on the ceiling and focused directly on the mural. Mr. Smith responded that the light poles shown in the renderings are existing, and their replacement with lighting more appropriate to the art would need to be funded through an additional grant that is currently being sought.
Ms. Nelson commented that the mosaic borders would act as frames for the painted portions of the mural. Ms. Plater-Zyberk suggested amplifying this concept by treating the structure as a building which has paintings hung on its walls, while the columns supporting the overpass—effectively forming a colonnade—should be treated simply as structural elements, perhaps including architectural trompe l'oeil embellishments as proposed. The figurative paintings on the wall of the underpass could then be lit in the typical manner of an interior room, providing the light for the roadway; Ms. Nelson added that the effect would be of an interior art gallery, and Ms. Plater-Zyberk observed that the proposed configuration of mural paintings is already similar to this suggested treatment. Mr. Peck responded that some pedestrians traverse the frontage of the overpass between 7th and 8th Streets, rather than just moving north-south beneath the overpass, and the proposal therefore includes pedestrian-scaled embellishment of these columns; he expressed concern that leaving these columns untreated would diminish the impact of the project.
Mr. Rybczynski supported the suggestion to treat the underpass as a room and the murals as paintings on a wall that people walk by. He discouraged the proposed concept of using the artwork to hide the bridge, commenting that the overpass is too large to be hidden while the proposed mural for the north face is not three-dimensional but only a surface treatment. He supported further focus on improving the underpass, commenting that this component of the proposal is more successful than the treatment of the north face.
Mr. McKinnell also supported the comments of the other Commission members. He said that if the underpass is treated as a room, it has a potentially attractive beamed ceiling that is currently very dark; he therefore recommended extending the color and decoration to the ceiling. He agreed that the proposal for the north face of the overpass may be redundant and that the artistic effort should be concentrated on the underpass. Ms. Balmori added that the artist would have aesthetic control of the underpass and would therefore be able to transform this space completely. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said that many examples exist of public art in the form of mosaics on infrastructure, but the concept of framed paintings under a bridge, as if within a living room, would be "wonderful."
Mr. Peck summarized the Commission's advice to limit the treatment of the north face; he suggested at least applying color to improve on the existing gray concrete. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said that this face should be treated as the outside of a building, and then the underpass would become the building's interior. Mr. Belle said this approach would be more appropriate for the small scale of the proposed figurative paintings, rather than placing them against the large scale of the overpass structure. Mr. Peck noted the decorative patterning that is also part of the proposal for the north face; Ms. Nelson commented that this feature would be difficult to perceive at the scale of the overpass and reiterated the recommendation to concentrate the artistic effort on the underpass. Mr. Rybczynski added that, as a result of this recommendation, the presence of the detailed paintings along the underpass would be an enjoyable surprise for pedestrians who enter this space; Ms. Nelson said the underpass would become a destination and could be perceived as an art gallery.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk observed that outdoor art typically becomes dirty and is damaged by exposure, which would be particularly unfortunate for detailed paintings such as the portraits that are proposed for the exterior faces of the overpass columns. Ms. Nelson agreed, supporting the placement of such detailed artwork within the underpass where it would be better protected from damage. Mr. Peck responded that the paint to be used should last for at least 100 years, and he has been using this paint satisfactorily on projects for the past 25 years. He acknowledged that damage can occur but reiterated the desirability of applying some type of decorative element to the north face of the overpass—perhaps not as elaborate as the proposed trompe l'oeil treatment, but sufficient to improve on the existing pitted concrete surface. Ms. Plater-Zyberk and Ms. Nelson suggested an abstract design; Mr. Peck agreed that a decorative design could be used for the north face without including the proposed portraits and historical scenes at this location. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said that Art Deco buildings provide examples of effectively incorporating simple decoration into their structure, emphasizing that this suggestion is only an example and not a recommendation for a particular style. Mr. Peck agreed to explore this approach and asked if the Commission is recommending that the proposed murals be made even larger than their currently proposed scale. Ms. Balmori said that increased size would be helpful in allowing the murals to control the space of the underpass. Mr. Belle added that another stylistic direction to consider is the tradition of decorative painted exteriors associated with fairgrounds and circuses, commenting that this vocabulary could be more appropriate than the architectural trompe l'oeil, which would be unsuccessful in competing with the large scale of the overpass structure. Mr. Peck offered to explore sinuous forms rather than simply provide a set of rectilinear panels. Mr. Rybczynski suggested that the treatment of the north face should focus on the columns rather than the abutment and should be placed at eye level. Mr. Luebke suggested the apparent consensus to treat the overpass as a portal or gateway element, serving as a threshold for the special element of the underpass room.
Mr. Delfs reiterated that a key purpose of the project is to draw people on the northern end of the 8th Street corridor toward the south end by creating an attraction that would be visible from a significant distance; he supported the recommended improvement to the proposed treatment within the underpass but said that this artwork would attract people only from a short distance. He added that the project has been in development for several years and there is now pressure to begin allocating the funds; any substantial delay could be problematic, and he asked if there are steps that could be taken to show that funds are being spent on the project while the design is being worked out. Ms. Nelson suggested coordinating this issue with the staff, while the Commission's advice would address aesthetics. Mr. Luebke said that the staff could work with the project team prior to the next Commission meeting in September, adding that the Commission's comments provide general support for the concept with additional guidance. Mr. Rybczynski suggested that the Commission support the project by approving the concept for the area within the underpass.
Ms. Nelson supported the proposed use of removable panels, commenting that this technique would allow preservation of the art even if the overpass is razed in the future. Ms. Nelson and Ms. Balmori emphasized that improvement of the underpass lighting would be critical to the success of the project; Mr. Smith noted the jurisdictional problems involved in this issue, with 8th Street controlled by the D.C. Department of Transportation and the overpass controlled by the federal government, but said that a resolution may be feasible. He added that a further proposal is being developed to provide a similar artistic treatment for the south face of the overpass, and a sculpture garden is under consideration for a small park adjacent to this project.
Vice-Chairman Nelson summarized the consensus of the Commission to approve the concept for the underpass as the focus of the project, with the recommendations provided, and to request a revised concept submission for a simplified and bolder treatment of the north face of the overpass.
H. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
SL 10-119, United Unions, 1750 New York Avenue, NW. Revised landscape design. Permit. (Previous: SL 10-090, 20 May 2010.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the submission for the landscape design at the United Unions building, the only portion of the overall site renovation project that has not yet been approved as a final design. Mr. Luebke noted that the previous approval included the architectural portion of the project. Ms. Batcheler asked architect Anik Jhaveri to present the proposal on behalf of the architecture firm Mancini Duffy Winstanley.
Mr. Jhaveri indicated the two entrance features that were previously approved for the building and major retail space, noting that a desired zoning approval has recently been obtained to allow a restaurant to occupy the retail space. He summarized the Commission's comments in the January 2010 review: strengthening the connection between the elevated terrace and Rawlins Park to the west; simplifying the proposed landscape of the plaza, particularly the seating alcoves; and developing the proposed sculpture or fountain as a focal point.
Mr. Jhaveri presented a series of maps and photographs to illustrate the context of buildings and open spaces. He indicated the wide hedge and tree configuration along the entire 18th Street frontage of Rawlins Park facing the United Unions site, with pedestrian entrances to the park located only from the north and south sides approximately thirty feet west of the 18th Street sidewalk; the result is a strong sense of enclosure within the park, but no meaningful opportunity to directly relate the park to the United Unions terrace except at the corners. The terrace design has therefore been revised to strengthen the northwest corner of the site at New York Avenue and 18th Street, while simplifying the undulating configuration of seating along the west edge of the terrace to frame selected views toward Rawlins Park. He emphasized the descending topography that results in the terrace being substantially above the sidewalk level on the west and south. Stairs between the terrace and the 18th Street sidewalk were studied further in response to the Commission's January 2010 comments but this did not appear to be a successful solution due to the lack of any connection into the park; even a visual connection is almost entirely blocked by the park's heavily landscaped edge.
Ms. Nelson and Ms. Balmori commented that the extent of pavement on the terrace seems excessive and suggested enlarging the landscaped area. Mr. Jhaveri responded that this change would be preferable for maintenance purposes but may be undesirable for the restaurant which would benefit from paved outdoor seating areas. Ms. Nelson noted that the proposed hardscape area is very wide; Mr. Jhaveri confirmed that its width is seventy feet and offered to study a further revision to the design. He indicated the proposed sculpture location within the hardscape area but said that placing the sculpture within an expanded landscape area would also be a desirable arrangement.
Ms. Balmori supported the overall simplification of the design but questioned the design and configuration of the benches, recommending that they have backs and be arranged so that people can face each other while talking, in accordance with studies of people's preferences in using benches. She added that concrete and stone are undesirable materials for benches because they become too hot or cold for seating.
Mr. Belle asked about the solar orientation of the space; Joan Honeyman of Jordan Honeyman Landscape Architecture responded that the terrace is shaded by the United Unions building in the morning, and is fully exposed to the sun for the remainder of the day. Mr. Belle and Mr. McKinnell commented that the seating area on the plaza may become uncomfortably hot in the afternoon. Mr. Jhaveri responded that several features of the proposed terrace design will provide additional shade, indicating the proposed trees to the south, a canopy, and umbrellas. Ms. Nelson asked about the material of the proposed canopy; Mr. Jhaveri responded that it would be fritted glass.
Mr. McKinnell noted the apparent indication of a variety of paving materials for the terrace. Mr. Jhaveri responded that the multiple materials, such as different types of aggregate concrete, already exist on the terrace and would remain; the pattern would be extended where necessary. Ms. Nelson supported this approach of extending the use of existing materials, which is consistent with modern practices.
Mr. McKinnell commented that many present-day sculptors, such as Michael Singer, work with transformation of the horizontal plane; in this project, the concern is an excessive terrace surface, and he also described the proposed placement of a vertical sculpture within the terrace as "a real bore." He therefore suggested that the horizontal plane of the terrace itself be transformed into a sculpture; Ms. Nelson agreed that the terrace surface would provide a good opportunity for sculptural treatment. Mr. McKinnell added that the resulting artwork would closely relate to the site rather than being a separate sculpture, and Ms. Nelson said that such artwork would be interesting when seen from the building's upper floors as well as from the restaurant. Mr. Jhaveri asked if the Commission was suggesting a flat plane; Ms. Nelson clarified that the suggestion involves altering the shape of the plane. Mr. Jhaveri said that a potential concern with this approach is limiting the flexibility of the restaurant in making use of the terrace for outdoor dining; he offered to pursue a more limited change in the extent of the landscaped area and the location of the sculpture. Ms. Honeyman said that a further revision could include adding more trees to provide shade for the terrace; Mr. Jhaveri noted that the planting is limited by the depth of soil above the parking area located beneath the terrace. Mr. McKinnell suggested other options for providing shade, such as a pergola—which Ms. Nelson added could serve as the focal sculptural element.
Ms. Honeyman presented the proposed plants, describing them as very bold, lively, simple, and seasonal. Evergreen ground covers would be used to provide a more undulating and interesting texture than a typical lawn. Other plant groups around the site would be in blocks of color that would change seasonally. Small flowering trees would provide some shade, and evergreens would also be included to extend the shading through all seasons. She added that the plants are chosen to be somewhat tolerant of drought as a sustainability feature; Ms. Nelson supported this criterion. Ms. Honeyman said that the proposed plants are native species and are generally looser and livelier than other landscapes in the neighborhood, with some simpler shrubs and hedges that are more closely related to the neighborhood context. She confirmed that the landscape design does not include extensive berms.
Vice-Chairman Nelson commented that the landscape design appears unified, and she supported the concept of blocks of color, which she described as boldly scaled. She summarized the consensus of the Commission to support the design generally while requesting further revisions to the benches, reduced extent of paved area, and a more integrated sculpture proposal. She questioned whether these recommendations could be part of the requested final approval; Mr. Luebke suggested a conditional approval that would require a further submission to confirm that the revisions conform to the Commission's recommendations. Mr. McKinnell suggested delegating this further review to the staff; Ms. Nelson agreed. Upon a motion by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the final design subject to the recommended revisions that were discussed, and delegated the review of these further revisions to the staff. Vice-Chairman Nelson added that the project has become stronger through the course of the review process; she reiterated the Commission's support for the architectural elements that were previously approved.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 4:11 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, AIA
Last Modified: September 22, 2010