Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
16 September 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 10:10 a.m.
A. Approval of the minutes of the 15 July meeting. Mr. Luebke reported that the minutes of the July meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. The Commission approved the minutes upon a motion by Mr. Belle. 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: 21 October, 18 November, and 20 January; he noted that no meeting is scheduled during December.
Mr. Luebke reported the Commission's site inspections prior to the meeting, relating to several items on the agenda: the 300 block of C Street, SW, where site improvements are proposed at the Switzer Building (agenda item II.D.3); and 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW, to view the locations of proposals for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (agenda item II.B.1), the National Museum of American History (agenda item II.B.2), and the National Aquarium entrance at the Department of Commerce headquarters (agenda item II.D.2). Chairman Powell recommended that the Commission members discuss the site inspections in conjunction with the review of each of these projects.
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. He added that, in consideration of the lengthy agenda, the Commission could act upon some cases based on the submission materials, waiving the scheduled presentations; these actions could be included with the approval of the appendices.
Appendix I – Direct Submission Consent Calendar: Mr. Lindstrom said that there were no changes to the draft appendix. He added that the Commission may wish to forego the scheduled presentation of the concept for the boiler plant at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (agenda item II.E) and approve this submission in conjunction with the Consent Calendar, and may also wish to delegate to the staff the review of the final design. He noted that Mr. Belle's firm is involved with one project on the consent calendar—Building C of the District of Columbia Courts—and this project would therefore require Mr. Belle's recusal, which could be arranged through a separate vote on this project. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the recommendation for the D.C. Courts, with Mr. Belle not voting. Upon a further motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the remainder of the Direct Submission Consent Calendar along with the concept submission for the boiler plant at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and delegated to the staff the final design review of this project.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported several changes to the draft appendix. Case number SL 10-149 was renumbered to SL 10-087, with no change to the content of the recommendation. The recommendation for cellular telephone antennas at the Willard Hotel (case number SL 10-124) was changed from unfavorable to favorable based on the receipt of a revised proposal. Two other projects for cellular telephone antennas have been withdrawn at the request of the applicants (case numbers SL 10-131 and SL 10-132). Case number SL 10-136 encompasses seven projects involving window replacement at each of the condominium units in a multi-family complex; she anticipated that the outstanding issues would be resolved through the refinement of window details, and the recommendation has therefore been changed from unfavorable to favorable subject to finalization by the staff. The recommendation for a sidewalk cafe enclosure (case number SL 10-141) has been changed to favorable based on supplemental materials, and the recommendation for a proposed automated teller machine (case number SL 10-143) has been changed to favorable based on the revised design for a recessed rather than freestanding machine. She added that the Commission may wish to forego the scheduled presentation of the revised concept for an entrance vestibule at the Embassy of Canada (case number SL 10-148, agenda item II.G) and approve this project in conjunction with Appendix II. Upon a motion by Ms. Nelson with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the revised appendix and the Embassy of Canada project.
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martinez reported several changes to the draft appendix. The staff has updated some recommendations in response to supplemental information. Five projects were withdrawn at the request of the applicants in response to the Old Georgetown Board's objections to the proposed designs; alternatives for these projects will be resubmitted to the Board for further review. One project has been added that had been accidentally omitted from the draft agenda (case number OG 10-225). Upon a motion by Mr. Belle with second by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the revised appendix.
Mr. Martinez noted the unusual length of the Old Georgetown Act appendix, with 44 cases. Mr. Luebke added that the Commission's overall caseload has been growing, including a 25 percent increase in direct submissions of federal and District of Columbia government projects over the past two years; he said that nearly forty such submissions were received for the current month, compared to a typical monthly average of sixteen. Chairman Powell observed that the Commission does not meet in August, perhaps contributing to the increased caseload in September; Mr. Luebke said that an apparent additional factor is the increased funding for public-sector projects, while the private-sector caseload had a slight dip but has generally been holding steady.
B. Smithsonian Institution
1. CFA 16/SEP/10-1, National Museum of African American History and Culture, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. Concept. (Previous: CFA 15/APR/10-1, information presentation.) Mr. Luebke said that the proposed concept design has been developed in response to the Commission's comments on the information presentation in April 2010 and to other comments received by the design team through the Section 106 historic preservation review process. The proposal is based on the simplest of the alternatives in the information presentation, which the Commission preferred; the concept retains the corona form while eliminating the articulated base structure that was included in other alternatives. The above-grade massing of the building has been reduced from the size previously presented, including a seven-foot reduction in height and a twenty-foot reduction in width; the result is a reduced visual impact and greater flexibility in the site design. He added that the site design has been developed substantially since the information presentation and has been a critical element in advancing the overall design of the project. The proposed siting continues to align the building with the Commerce Department headquarters to the north but moves the building further south to accommodate a landscape design that responds to the Washington Monument grounds and provides improved sightlines from Constitution Avenue. Other adjustments to the design have included the alignment of the penthouse, the scale of the porch, and the treatment of the water element on the south side of the building. He said that the concept continues to use the strategy of accommodating portions of the program below grade, including the delivery area which would be reached from a vehicular ramp descending from 14th Street on the east side of the site.
Mr. Luebke introduced Ann Trowbridge, the Associate Director for Planning at the Smithsonian Institution, to begin the presentation. He added that Ms. Trowbridge replaces Harry Rombach, who held this position for many years before retiring recently; he noted Mr. Rombach's attendance in the audience.
Ms. Trowbridge said that the Smithsonian has chosen to advance the alternative named the "Refined Pavilion" as the proposed concept. She said that the Commission's comments on the concept, particularly on the placement of major elements on the site, would support the Smithsonian's effort to move forward with the design of the building's foundation. She also encouraged a response to the site design, emphasizing its improved integration with the landscape and topography of the Washington Monument grounds. She anticipated the submission of further refinements of the concept in the spring and fall of 2011, and the final design in early summer 2012; those submissions would provide more detail about the design of the building's exterior surface. The opening of the museum is scheduled for November 2015. She added that coordination will continue with the staff of the Commission and other agencies throughout the process, and emphasized the vigorous consultation process that has been underway since 2007 for environmental and historic preservation issues; she expressed thanks to the Commission staff for its participation. She introduced Phil Freelon, managing principal architect of the design team Freelon Adjaye Bond and SmithGroup, to begin the presentation. Mr. Freelon joined in acknowledging the staff's guidance, and introduced landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol and architect David Adjaye to present the design.
Mr. Adjaye summarized the design alternatives that were developed before selecting the Refined Pavilion alternative: "the Plinth," a modification of the original competition proposal; "the Plaza," configured as two buildings defining a central space; and "the Pavilion," which used a single larger volume. The Pavilion alternative has been studied further to address the issues of impact on the site, bringing light to the lower-level gallery spaces, and the configuration of the penthouse. He indicated the previously presented studies of using lightwells within the landscape to address the lighting issue, possibly in conjunction with a perimeter security design; the current proposal uses clerestory windows.
Mr. Adjaye described the adjustments to the proposed site plan and massing. The building was previously centered on the east-west alignment of the National Museum of American History, approximately in the center of the site; but this resulted in front and rear building yards of similar size, neither of which provided sufficient "breathing space" for the building and the development of a site circulation system. The current proposal therefore places the building further south to align with the McMillan Plan's setback line for the Mall; the inclined corona would project forward from this alignment. The building size has been reduced by consolidating the internal vertical circulation system to the east side rather than ramping around the entire perimeter of the building; the result is a twenty-foot reduction in the building's width. Other minor reductions in the program were also made, and more of the program has been shifted below grade; the result is that only forty percent of the program will be above ground. The height of the building's corona form would align with the cornice of the Federal Triangle across Constitution Avenue, and the top of the penthouse would align with the rooftop height of Federal Triangle. He said that the revisions have also resulted in more harmonious proportions in the design.
Mr. Adjaye presented perspective views from 14th Street and Constitution Avenue looking toward the Washington Monument with the previously and currently proposed massing of the museum, indicating the increased visibility of the monument due to the revisions. He also presented perspective views from the base of the monument toward the museum site with the previous and current proposals; he indicated the improved visibility of the top of the Old Post Office tower and the pediments of the Federal Triangle buildings, noting that the topographic heights may not be accurate in the computer model used to generate the perspectives. He presented views along Madison Drive, indicating that the revised building volume would be slightly more prominent due to the southward shift but this would be somewhat offset by the overall reduction in massing and by the screening from existing trees. He also presented aerial views as seen from airplanes approaching and departing from nearby Reagan National Airport. He compared the proposal to the row of other museum buildings extending eastward from the site; the proposed porch would align with architectural features of the other buildings. He presented overlay diagrams of the proposal with other museums, noting the similarity in size to the Hirshhorn Museum.
Ms. Gustafson presented the proposed landscape concept. She described the approved landscape plan from 2003 for the Washington Monument grounds, with groupings of trees to frame views; she indicated the contrast between the picturesque character of the Monument grounds and the rectilinear character of the National Mall to the east. She emphasized the importance of the arrival sequences into the site from the Ellipse and from 14th Street, which involve comparable landscape characters but different scales. She noted the low elevation of the site—historically part of the Potomac River—and the topographic configuration of plateaus and slopes. She acknowledged that the landscape design should relate to the Monument grounds but emphasized that it should also embrace the museum.
Ms. Gustafson said that an important principle of the site design is that each approach route involves moving across water, relating to the story being told by the museum. The south side of the museum would have a single wide approach path that crosses a ceremonial water feature to reach the building's porch. Along Constitution Avenue, paths from the northeast and northwest corners would curve into the site and cross a more naturalistic water feature extending the full width of the site. The paths would converge at a low point, and the topography of the paths would provide gentle slopes toward the building entrances and emphasize views toward the Washington Monument and the museum building. The path from the 14th Street corner would be paved to match the paths of the Monument grounds; the paving of the path from the 15th Street corner would match the materials of the museum. From the ceremonial south water feature, located at a relatively high elevation, a water channel would extend along the downward-sloping path and terminate at the oculus near the northwest corner of the building, descending as a water and daylight feature into the building's below-grade level. She added that the northern water feature would be a rain garden, recalling the historic marshes in the vicinity, and would serve as part of the stormwater management system for the site.
Ms. Gustafson said the site design would accommodate areas for seating, socializing, and activities such as storytelling; the southern portion of the site would be designed for a particularly high intensity of use, and the porch would also be a major location for such uses. The concept for the tree canopy would be based on the 2003 plan for the overall Monument grounds. The plantings would go beyond the Monument grounds character—primarily trees and lawn—to include shrubs or perennials as another layer of vegetation; this feature would provide a more intimate backdrop to seating areas and would also help to integrate the perimeter security barrier around the site, which would incorporate various elements including the water features.
Mr. Adjaye presented the building program and interior plan organization. The ground floor would be an open concourse, interrupted by the revised configuration of four vertical cores that rise through the building. An atrium on the north side of the building would be open to the below-grade gallery level, supplemented by the oculus and perhaps additional skylights within the landscape that would be developed for future submissions; the oculus area would serve as a meditative reflecting space for this gallery area. The below-grade loading area would extend south to Madison Drive beneath the landscape, and the appearance of the service ramp on the east would be mitigated with extensive planting. The second and third floors of the museum would contain the remainder of the museum's gallery spaces; the fourth and fifth floors would accommodate library and office space, as well as a lounge and small terrace for VIP functions. The top floor would be encircled by the skylight system for the corona.
Mr. Adjaye discussed the design of the porch on the south side of the ground floor. Its height relates to the glazing of the entrance area and the configuration of views, while providing some sense of enclosure from the street. The underside of the porch's roof would emphasize reflections from the adjacent water feature and relate to the geometry of the building's corona. The porch would provide respite from the summer heat and serve as a gathering place before entering the museum.
Mr. Adjaye described an additional design feature that is currently under initial consideration: a small rotational offset of the museum's corona, perhaps by one or two degrees, from the inner museum building which would conform to the Mall's geometry. This rotation would serve to softly articulate the site's role as a hinge location within the overall composition of the Mall. The rotation would be only barely perceptible—primarily from within the atrium on the north side of the building—and would slightly emphasize the building's relationship to the Washington Monument. He clarified that this feature is not incorporated into the submitted drawings and model. Mr. Luebke added that the staff had suggested this exploration of how the design could respond to the existing offset of approximately one degree between the Mall centerline and the orthogonal city grid. Mr. Adjaye said that the idea of a rotational difference between the corona and the inner building of the museum would emphasize the composition of the design as two separate forms configured as a building within a building. Mr. McKinnell said that the rotational idea could produce an exciting interior effect and would address the inevitable question of which part of the building relates to which part of the surrounding context.
The Commission members inspected the site model for the project. Mr. Adjaye said that the oculus is scaled to provide a view of the corona from the below-grade interior space, with the descending water serving to frame the view. He confirmed that the proposed building's at-grade footprint would occupy only 23 percent of the site. Ms. Nelson asked what proportion of the site surface would be water; Mr. Adjaye offered to generate a calculation of this number, and generally characterized the site design as a landscape garden with an emphasis on water. Ms. Gustafson said that the site design actually emphasizes stormwater management rather than open water, in keeping with the modern emphasis on sustainability and environmental health; the site design will contribute to the LEED rating for the project.
Mr. Belle asked if the location of the proposed water feature on the north could be reconsidered; Ms. Gustafson responded that it is by necessity located at the low point of the site. Mr. Belle asked if that reason applies to the siting of the water feature on the south side of the building. Ms. Gustafson responded that this water feature is a more formal element that serves to frame the porch space; additionally the cooling effect of the water, combined with the air movement from the prevailing westerly wind and the angle of the porch canopy, would significantly cool the air of the porch to create a pleasant space in the summer heat, a welcome amenity near the extensive unshaded open spaces in the vicinity. Mr. Belle asked if the size of this water feature would be sufficient to generate this beneficial effect. Ms. Gustafson responded that the appropriate size is still being studied; the submission indicates the conceptual proposal for water at this location, in approximately the indicated shape, that would move as well as reflect. She added that the grade change on the site requires careful study, including appropriate grading of the site paths.
Mr. McKinnell observed that the proposed perimeter shape of the south water feature appears elliptical in the plans while in a rendering it appears more rectilinear; he asked which conceptual geometry is intended, emphasizing the importance of this distinction. Ms. Gustafson responded that a rounded shape is intended; Mr. Adjaye clarified that the architectural renderings depict an earlier rectilinear form, while the design has more recently been developed to include a curving southern edge. He said that the refinement is derived from three principal types of circles occurring on the site, and would be developed further. Ms. Gustafson added that the conceptual approach is to use a variety of forms that relate to the building geometry as well as to the Washington Monument grounds. She said that an early option depicted an oval form for this water feature which fit well in the landscape, and this study will be revisited as the design is developed.
Mr. Belle asked about the acoustics within the porch space, noting the proximity of traffic noise and the intended use of the outdoor space for storytelling programs. Mr. Adjaye responded that this issue will be studied further, adding that the proposed landscaping hedge, in addition to providing visual intimacy, would give some degree of acoustic baffling. Ms. Gustafson said that the traffic sound is generated by the vehicle tires, and therefore even a low feature of substantial mass would be sufficient to significantly reduce the problem of traffic noise. She said that, in developing the design of the porch's edge treatment, further study will be done of the related issues of a perimeter security barrier, sound absorption barrier, landscape hedges, site seating, and a welcoming aesthetic character. Ms. Nelson supported the intention to design the perimeter security barrier as part of the landscape plan rather than adding it later; Ms. Gustafson said that the Washington Monument grounds provide a larger-scale example of successfully integrating perimeter security and landscape design.
Mr. Belle noted that the model and renderings suggest a dark finish for the building, contrasting with the surrounding buildings. Mr. Adjaye said that the intended surface material continues to be bronze, which will darken with age; the original competition entry, however, depicted a brass-colored finish. Ms. Gustafson added that several buildings in the vicinity are dark red brick, although this color is not always depicted on the site model; Mr. Belle said that the contrast is also apparent in the rendered perspective drawings. Mr. McKinnell asked about the intended transparency of the corona surface. Mr. Adjaye responded that portions of the corona will be perforated and it will be designed to allow views through its surface at specific locations, a concept which will be developed further; he confirmed that the perforations would not extend to the entire corona. Ms. Nelson asked if the surface material would change color after construction or would be aged before installation; Mr. Adjaye responded that this is still being studied.
Chairman Powell recognized Judy Scott Feldman, chairman of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall. Ms. Feldman commended the Smithsonian Institution and other involved government agencies for the thoroughness of the historic preservation review process, which she said has included good discussion that resulted in adjustments to the project design. She said that a remaining issue is the alignment of the building and consideration of the site's role as a hinge in the composition of the Mall; she emphasized the site's relationship to the north-south axis between the White House and Jefferson Memorial, as well as to the Mall's east-west axis. She noted that an important product of the historic preservation review process is an evaluative matrix of that will be used to guide the development of the design. She discussed the potential conflict between treating the building as an object within the naturalistic landscape of the Washington Monument grounds, and as a continuation of the formal alignment of buildings along the Mall; these dual criteria are contained within the matrix, and the resolution of this issue may weaken the site's function as a hinge element in the Mall composition. She summarized the changing categorization of the museum's site in various studies: the McMillan Plan treats the site as part of the Mall, while the National Park Service and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office have recently been changing their definitions of the Mall as extending west to either 14th or 15th Streets. She recommended that the Commission play a major role in resolving the categorization of the site, which would affect the siting, massing, and design of the museum. She noted that the matrix acknowledges that the new museum building will alter the perception of the site, causing it to be perceived as part of the row of museums; but the historic preservation review process does not accommodate this changed perception, and instead focuses on the project's adverse impacts on the historic condition; the result is guidance to minimize the building's impact, which conflicts with the goal of creating an additional component of the Mall's row of museums. She said that this guidance has resulted in reducing the size of the proposed museum's footprint, weakening the project's relationship to the Mall axes which was more strongly expressed in the earlier version of the design. She asked the Commission to provide guidance on these broader issues of the National Mall's beauty and design unity which may not be adequately addressed within the historic preservation review process. Chairman Powell acknowledged these concerns and said that the Commission would discuss the issues further.
Mr. Rybczynski commented that the design already addresses some of the issues raised by Ms. Feldman, serving multiple roles in response to the complex context, and said that the simpler form and reduced size of the building are helpful in achieving this result. He said that the building has shifted too far to the south, which would be apparent if distant views were provided from the World War II Memorial to the west or from a location further east on the Mall; he acknowledged that the shift serves to open views in certain directions but results in a greater imposition of the building on the central space of the Mall. He added that a siting closer to Constitution Avenue would more strongly define the museum as an urban building.
Mr. Rybczynski expressed support for the geometry of the proposed landscape design as well as the quality of the interior space but criticized the building's exterior appearance as "heavy-handed." He noted the typical problem of creating an appropriate entrance for a pavilion-style building, and said that the large porch is not a convincing solution, overly reminiscent of the 1950s and the work of LeCorbusier and others in embellishing a slab building with a sculptural canopy. He added that this large entrance element on one side undermines the building's role as a hinge within the overall Mall composition. He recommended further study of an entrance solution without such a gesture, observing that the design already includes a north entrance that does not have a canopy.
Mr. Rybczynski questioned the proposed water elements in the site design. He said that the Mall includes successful small fountains associated with buildings, in addition to the larger axial water features along the Mall; however, larger water features associated with individual buildings tend to be less successful, such as at the National Museum of the American Indian. He said the proposed large water elements would be an inappropriate attention-getting imposition on the Mall and Constitution Avenue contexts. He acknowledged the symbolic and ecological purposes of the water but recommended reconsideration of this proposal. He said that the use of water as part of the oculus design is more compelling and offered support for this proposal, possibly including the stream of water on the site that would lead into the oculus.
Mr. McKinnell supported Mr. Rybczynski's comments and acknowledged the philosophical issues raised by Ms. Feldman, commenting that the project team fortunately includes talented designers who are capable of addressing these issues. He characterized the overall design as a "brilliant amalgam" of classical platonic forms with a picturesque landscape extension of the Washington Monument grounds. He said that this conceptual achievement would be further enriched by the development of the rotation that was presented, describing this idea as very intriguing. He described the issue in developing the design as determining which elements are part of which vocabulary. He agreed that the water elements are problematic, particularly along Constitution Avenue where the picturesque vocabulary would be extended to the edge of the site facing the classical city; he nonetheless acknowledged the beauty of the proposed features themselves as illustrated in the renderings. He said that the water element on the museum's south side, although initially a concern, appears more promising based on the full presentation of the design; he said that the quality of the porch space is appealing with the canopy above and the reflecting water, and this beauty justifies the proposal even if this use of water is not typical of other buildings.
Mr. McKinnell said that his previous understanding was that the corona form would be translucent or transparent, allowing a perception from outside of the building volume within; he expressed regret that the corona would be primarily opaque, and suggested reconsideration of this design feature. In conjunction with the corona design, he suggested that the newly consolidated vertical circulation could be shifted to the other side of the building to allow views between the circulation areas and the Washington Monument.
Ms. Nelson agreed that the porch and associated water element would be welcoming features in the summer but expressed concern about the winter conditions, when the water might be drained. She also observed the need for entrance queuing space at major attractions, noting the need for security screening at this museum even though no ticket purchasing would be required. She said that the canopy would provide protection to a queuing area on the south side, but no such provision is made for the north entrance. She noted the desirable views at the site and supported the proposed transparency of the building's ground floor, while encouraging a more transparent treatment of the corona. She supported the strong relationship between the museum and the Washington Monument, as expressed through the landscape geometry.
Mr. Belle commented that water is sufficiently prevalent along the Mall and nearby buildings that its use for this museum is not inherently problematic. However, he said that the proposed location and scale of the water features is too tentative and the role of water in the design is unclear; he recommended further refinement of this component. He said that a critical issue is the relationship between the proposed museum and the Washington Monument, which he acknowledged as a very difficult problem within the competing context of the Mall and characterized as a lost opportunity. One design question is whether the building faces the Monument, the Mall, or both; he described the current proposal as having "a front-row seat" but it does not satisfactorily address this question in its present form. He also asked whether the contrasting color of the proposed museum is accurately depicted and would successfully fit in, or contrast, with its neighbors.
Chairman Powell expressed overall support for the "impressive" concept, commenting that the outstanding issues are matters of design rather than broader philosophy. He agreed that the water elements require further study, commenting on the moat-like appearance along Constitution Avenue. He suggested further study of the project's 14th Street frontage, describing this as "the forgotten side of the building," and said that a guardhouse at the service driveway would likely be added to the design. He commented generally on the significant visibility of this driveway and noted the past discussion of connecting the museum with the existing service area of the National Museum of American History to the east. He agreed with Mr. Rybczynski that the design team is already beginning to address some of the issues raised by Ms. Feldman, and said that the Commission would continue to consider these issues as the design is developed.
Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the concept for the museum. Mr. Powell commended the Smithsonian and the design team on the development of this important project, and said that the Commission's comments would be summarized and sent to the project team.
2. CFA 16/SEP/10-2, National Museum of American History, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. New windows in lower facade of the west terrace and modifications to the terrace. Concept. Ms. Batcheler introduced the concept proposal to enlarge the area of windows on the west facade of the National Museum of American History, directly across 14th Street from the site of the preceding agenda item. She said that the proposal also includes a modification to the building's west terrace to provide an emergency exit door, which would require removal of an existing planter. She added that the presentation would illustrate the intended relocation of a sculpture by Alexander Calder, titled Gwenfritz, to its original location on the west side of the museum; this relocation is not part of the current proposal but would be submitted separately in the future. She introduced Ann Trowbridge of the Smithsonian Institution to begin the presentation.
Ms. Trowbridge said that the proposal is part of the museum's comprehensive plan for renewal of public spaces, most of which involves interior alterations; the Commission has previously reviewed some exterior elements such as the garage infill and perimeter security projects. The 2006 master plan is based on a 2002 report which identified several major goals for the museum; this project would support the goals of improving the architectural and aesthetic setting for exhibits, restoring the museum's access to natural light, and improving intuitive wayfinding for visitors. The proposed windows would provide views between the first-level galleries and the exterior, comparable to the views from other public spaces at the east and west ends of the building. The proposal includes four options, all involving the creation of an opening in the masonry plinth for an upward extension of the existing band of continuous dark-tinted windows at the lower-level cafeteria. The alternatives were developed through consultation with the staffs of the Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, with the goals of compatibility with the building's exterior character, requirements for blast-resistant glazing, and the proposed interior functions. She said that the Smithsonian prefers the option labeled I.AA. She introduced architect Don Jones of Ewing Cole Architects to present the design and noted that the museum's director, Brent Glass, is present to respond to questions.
Mr. Jones presented an overview of the building and site, including the current location of the Gwenfritz sculpture at the corner of 15th Street and Constitution Avenue. He indicated the existing window configuration on the east side of the building, which provides a precedent for the expanded configuration that is proposed for the west side. He described the proposed modification at the second-level terrace, including the removal of a planter, addition of an egress door, and associated modifications to the terrace paving; the proposed door would replicate an existing door nearby on the terrace. He said the terrace would have an open character and would be easily accessible for events and enjoyment of the view toward the Washington Monument.
Mr. Jones described the alternatives for the insertion of windows in the first-level west facade. He presented the plan for this area, including an interior "public plaza" area and a display area for objects—named the "Objects Cafe," although not related to food and drink—along with flanking gallery space. Alternatives I.A and I.AA include a three-bay width of windows, providing the desired views from the Objects Cafe area while not introducing windows to the proposed gallery areas. Alternatives I.B and I.C would extend the windows across five bays, matching the extent of the lower-level cafeteria windows and resulting in a window at one of the planned exhibit areas. He said that the proposed glass would match the existing dark-tinted glass that was developed for the museum in the 1960s. Alternatives I.A and I.C would introduce a taller expansion of the window opening, approximately twelve feet high and matching the height of the existing window configuration on the east facade, while Alternatives I.AA and I.B include a shorter opening approximately nine feet high that rises through one less course of the existing limestone facade. He presented renderings of the alternatives and confirmed that all would be symmetrically composed, although partially obscured by the Gwenfritz sculpture which is depicted in its intended future location. He said that the window details would replicate the custom stainless-steel forms of the existing windows.
Mr. Jones emphasized that the optimal size of the window opening is related to the interior space as well as the facade composition. Daylight in the public plaza area would be appropriate, with additional lighting control provided by the dark tint of the glass; daylight in the gallery areas would be problematic, however, and would need to be obscured with spandrel glass or otherwise controlled. Mr. Glass clarified that the interior function in the plaza area will be an education center or learning center. Mr. McKinnell asked if clear windows would be feasible; Mr. Glass responded that the darker tint is proposed in order to match the appearance of the building's existing windows, and is not required for the plaza area which would not have exhibit galleries and therefore could tolerate more daylight.
Mr. Rybczynski commented that the stepped profile of masonry in Alternatives I.A and I.AA has a troublesome visual effect and mars the appearance of the facade, observing that existing windows extend vertically through the height of the building and do not produce the configuration of masonry floating above glass that would be created by this stepped configuration. He recommended the wider extent of the window opening, or a new alternative that would narrow the extent of the existing windows in the lower-level cafeteria to match the desired three-bay width of windows in the first level. Mr. Glass responded that losing a portion of the existing windows in the cafeteria would be problematic for that space; Mr. Rybczynski therefore recommended Alternative I.B, notwithstanding the potential impact of introducing a window at the planned first-level gallery space, which he said should be resolved on the interior of the building. Mr. McKinnell and Ms. Nelson agreed with Mr. Rybczynski's recommendation.
Ms. Nelson emphasized the desirability of returning the Gwenfritz sculpture to its original location and supported its original installation surrounded by water and beautifully lit. She noted the public accessibility of the exterior areas and the potential to program outdoor events, asking if barriers would be installed to control access. Mr. Glass responded that private events at the museum are typically scheduled outside of public hours, and any needed access control would be provided by temporary barriers or increased staffing of security guards. Ms. Nelson emphasized that a permanent barrier would not be desirable; Mr. Glass agreed.
Mr. McKinnell asked if the cafeteria windows could be altered to use clear glass, which would help to overcome the building's character of impenetrability; Mr. Glass said this has not been considered and offered to study it further. Mr. Jones noted that the glass provides a clear view from the interior, notwithstanding its dark appearance from the exterior. Ms. Nelson noted that the planned National Museum of African American History and Culture would generate additional pedestrian activity on the west, increasing the desirability of a view from this direction into animated public areas of the museum with the relocated sculpture in the foreground. Chairman Powell suggested that the glass color be considered in the further development of the concept, and he summarized the Commission's consensus to support the overall configuration of Alternative I.B. Mr. Luebke said that the staffs of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office and other review agencies have also discouraged the stepped profile configurations, concluding that the introduction of a window in conflict with interior gallery space could be addressed on the interior.
Mr. Rybczynski suggested that the Commission's action include its enthusiastic support for moving the Gwenfritz sculpture to its more prominent original location rather than being hidden within the grove of trees where it is currently installed. Mr. Glass confirmed that its original setting included a reflecting pool, noting the Commission's concern with introducing water elements in the discussion of the previous agenda item; the intended new setting could include landscaping or the reestablishment of a water feature. Mr. Powell advised simplicity in designing the setting for a Calder sculpture.
Upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the concept submission and recommended the window configuration in Alternative I.B; Mr. Belle recused himself from the vote due to his firm's work at the museum. Mr. McKinnell added his appreciation for the design of the newly constructed perimeter security barriers, as seen at the site inspection earlier in the day; he cited the beauty of the materials.
C. National Park Service
1. CFA 16/SEP/10-3, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. Independence Avenue, SW, at the northwestern rim of the Tidal Basin. Final inscriptions and modifications for accessible seating areas. Final. (Previous: CFA 15/JUL/10-2.) Mr. Luebke said that the submission addresses part of the series of outstanding design items requiring further review as a condition of the Commission's approval of the final design in September 2008. The current submission includes a modification to the seating areas within the memorial plaza, initiated by the National Park Service to comply with accessibility requirements for assembly areas, and the text of the memorial's quotations and associated attributions as proposed by the memorial's sponsoring foundation. He noted that copies of the text have been distributed to the Commission members and said that the recently revised details include such issues as punctuation. He introduced Peter May of the National Park Service to begin the presentation.
Mr. May said that the inscriptions are a straightforward part of the ongoing review process, while the seating area modification results from the National Park Service's ongoing concern with the design of this feature. He said that the goal is to set a positive example of universal accessibility in the memorial design and to meet the Park Service's internal policy standards, and offered support for the resulting proposal. He asked Dr. Ed Jackson Jr., executive architect of the memorial's sponsoring foundation, to continue the presentation; Dr. Jackson introduced project architect Ron Kessler of McKissack & McKissack to present the seating area modification.
Mr. Kessler said that the previously approved design was in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the National Park Service had requested further study of the seating area so that wheelchair users could sit shoulder-to-shoulder beside people who are on the memorial's benches. He indicated the two locations of bench groupings within the memorial's plaza, symmetrically placed around the Stone of Hope. Previously the configuration included continuous benches along low planter walls; the new proposal is to create forty-inch-deep alcoves along a portion of these walls and set benches along a portion of each alcove edge; these benches would terminate to leave open areas at each end that could be used by visitors in wheelchairs. This configuration would not result in any interference between users of these open areas and the desired width of unobstructed visitor circulation along the path between planters in this area. He presented the detail of the bench and wall combination, which would be the same as previously approved, and the new detail for the planter wall alone.
Ms. Nelson asked if signage would be necessary to identify these areas as available for wheelchair users. Mr. Kessler acknowledged the potential issue of how people would recognize the intended purpose of these areas but said that the desire is not to add signage. Mr. May added that the National Park Service has no policy requiring such signage and is not requesting it; the adequate opportunity for shared seating is sufficient. Ms. Nelson observed that the design does not preclude wheelchair users from occupying a position that would obstruct the circulation path; Mr. May acknowledged this possibility but said that the goal is to avoid a design that leaves no other opportunity. Ms. Nelson commented that the proposed design is similar to that of movie theaters, where the seating and alcove configuration suggests the appropriate location for wheelchairs; Mr. May agreed and noted that theaters also have more stringent egress requirements than would be needed for the memorial's exterior plaza space. He said that the goal at the memorial is to provide a comfortable location that is away from the predominant flow of visitors. Ms. Nelson added that visitors will also tend to gravitate toward shade when desired.
Chairman Powell suggested a vote on the portion of the submission involving the seating area modification. Upon a motion by Mr. Belle with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the modified seating design.
Dr. Jackson presented the proposed text of the quotations, including fourteen locations along the inscription wall and two quotations on the sides of the Stone of Hope. He said the quotes relate to the ideals often expressed by Dr. King concerning democracy, justice, hope, and love—adding that other major memorials address the themes of the first several ideals while this memorial would add the new theme of love. He indicated the revised position of the main identifying inscription on the Stone of Hope so that visitors will see it immediately upon emerging from between the two portions of the Mountain of Despair. He said that three quotations are taken from his books; one from his Birmingham Jail letter; two from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech; and others from his speeches given at various locations in the United States, including his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. The dates of the quotes range from 1955 to 1968, with the last quotation from four days before his death. He confirmed that the proposed text is the proposed final version resulting from careful editing by scholars; for example, the word "towards" in one quote has been corrected to "toward," and "a moral example" has been corrected to "the moral example." Ms. Nelson commented that some quotations may have occurred in several speeches and been spoken differently on each occasion; Dr. Jackson confirmed that such issues have now been fully researched.
Mr. Rybczynski observed that quotations on buildings and monuments typically do not include bibliographic source information; the quotes are generally familiar, the speaker is known, and the details of where and when the statement was made are not relevant in such contexts. He offered the example of the quotations at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, or the inscription on the facade of New York's main post office. He said that people could readily obtain the detailed source information elsewhere, and including it as part of the stone engraving is unnecessary; he said that this text would also detract from the intended uplifting effect of the quotations. He acknowledged that some details, such as the chronology, may be valuable for particular quotations but the result is that excessive information is provided for all quotations to achieve consistency; he questioned whether an inscription needs to convey that the quotation was spoken on a specific date, and that it was spoken in Oslo, and that Oslo is in Norway. He also said that identifying the titles of books is inappropriate in a memorial; the carving of words into stone suggests the weight of the words in the quotation itself—emphasized by the beautiful carving in this memorial, as shown in previous presentations—while the bibliographic information has a bureaucratic character that is not uplifting. He suggested reducing the scholarly approach and relying on people's knowledge that the words are Dr. King's.
Mr. McKinnell agreed that the attribution text dilutes the strength of the message. Mr. Belle said that some of the quotations are associated with well-known events, and it may be desirable to establish this relationship. Mr. Rybczynski said that visitors should already be aware of such well-known events, and it is not necessary to convey excessive details; he offered the example of the powerful Roosevelt quotation "I hate war," which would be weakened by further explanation of its time and place. Ms. Nelson said that some dates add poignancy to the quotations from Dr. King, such as the quotation beginning "We shall overcome..." from four days before his death; she suggested a greatly reduced size for the attribution text so that it is perceived as part of the background of the wall. Mr. Rybczynski said that such information should be on the memorial's website rather than on the wall; the website could provide much greater context such as the entirety of a speech.
Dr. Jackson said that the National Park Service has been closely involved in monitoring the citations and accuracy of the quotations, and asked Mr. May to respond to the Commission's comments. Mr. May said that members of the public take a close interest in the accuracy of quotations on existing memorials, and the Park Service is concerned with the accuracy of the proposed quotations and the availability of information to respond to public inquiries. He said that the Park Service is less concerned with the amount of detail in the attribution; shorter forms would be satisfactory, such as a year rather than a full date, and a city name without its state. He said that some sort of attribution information is an important part of the educational purpose of the memorial, and many visitors will come to the memorial as an educational experience. He offered the example of citing Oslo which will remind people that Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize; not all visitors would know this, and not all would visit a website. He added that park rangers will also be stationed at the memorial to provide information to visitors upon request.
Mr. McKinnell acknowledged Mr. May's comments and offered support for an abbreviated format of citations, such as "OSLO, 1964". Dr. Jackson asked how quotations from books would be cited in a shorter format; Mr. Rybczynski said that citations to books should not be provided, and recommended resisting the bureaucratic tendency to treat each quotation identically. Dr. Jackson said that attribution text for some quotations and not others could be a problematic design feature.
Mr. Luebke noted additional questions concerning the typographic treatment of the quotations in the typed submission materials; for instance, the underlining of book titles is appropriate on the page but would be problematic in stone carving. He asked if a contrast of italic and non-italic script might be sufficient to identify such titles.
Mr. Powell supported Mr. McKinnell's proposal for abbreviated attributions. Ms. Nelson suggested eliminating the abbreviated state names due to their questionable appropriateness on a memorial; she suggested an example such as "1967, LOS ANGELES". Mr. Rybczynski said that the citation of books could be limited to the year of publication. Chairman Powell summarized these recommendations as the consensus of the Commission. Upon a motion by Ms. Nelson with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the final quotations subject to the recommended revisions to the attribution text.
2. CFA 16/SEP/10-4, Jefferson Memorial, East Basin Drive, SW. Perimeter vehicular security barrier. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 15/APR/10-2.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the presentation for the Jefferson Memorial security barrier, noting that the Commission did not take an action to recommend an alignment for the barrier when this project was last presented in April; the Commission had concluded that the question of the barrier's location was inseparable from its design character which required further study. She said the current proposal further develops the three options: Alternative 1, placed at the perimeter of the site and associated with the streetscape; Alternative 2, running through the site as a feature in the landscape; and Alternative 3, an alignment concentric to the memorial's circular form and associated with its architecture. She asked Peter May of the National Park Service to begin the presentation. Mr. May emphasized the desire for specific guidance from the Commission on the best alignment because the design of the barrier would be based on this decision. He introduced architect Ignacio Bunster of Wallace Roberts & Todd to present the alternatives.
Mr. Bunster listed several issues that the Commission had asked the design team to consider: making the barrier more permeable but less complicated; providing further information on how the alternatives would respond to topographic changes; and assessing the impact of the alternatives on existing vegetation. He presented a composite plan comparing the original landscape design by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. with the present condition, and a diagram of existing vegetation that would be assessed with each alternative.
Mr. Bunster discussed several features that are common among the three alternatives. Bicycle and pedestrian traffic would be separated, placing bicycle traffic outside the barrier and pedestrian traffic inside; each alternative has a slightly different path system relative to the wall alignment. All three alternatives allow for relocating the existing concessions kiosk to a site that better relates to the bus drop-off area. Another shared feature is replacing the pavement of the driveway—no longer in use due to the closure of the memorial's parking area—with the type of paving that surrounds the memorial. The sidewalk around the south lawn panel would also be removed and the lawn extended to the existing curb; he said that this treatment would best preserve the historic integrity of the lawn panel.
Mr. Bunster presented Alternative 1, a barrier along the roadway. He said this option would be the most transparent in views of the memorial because it would be in the lower foreground of views from the road and bicycle route. This alternative is illustrated with cables spanning between piers; using cables rather than bollards as the barrier element would allow the piers to be spaced further apart than is typical for bollards, further increasing the visual transparency of this alternative. He said the design team has developed a simple modular rhythm for this alternative that would allow additional amenities such as benches to be introduced at entry points and other key places. The one exception to the overall rhythm in Alternative 1 would occur opposite the memorial's east side, where the wall would be simpler and more transparent in order to emphasize the cross-axial view toward the memorial. The piers would be designed with a base to avoid the simple vertical appearance of bollards. As the pier-and-cable system extends across sloping grades, the cable would slope to match the grade while the piers would remain vertical. Ms. Nelson commented on the substantial size of the piers in the drawings and asked about the accuracy of their dimensions; Mr. Bunster responded that the design team does not yet include a structural engineer, and the size illustrated is only a tentative estimate.
Mr. Bunster said the barrier in Alternative 1 would engage the abutments of the small bridges at each end of the site; the design of the barrier in this area would relate to the historic bridge abutments, although the new construction would use different materials and design details to differentiate it, and the barrier alignment would also step back slightly to further distinguish it from the bridge abutments. He said the relationship between the Inlet Bridge and the proposed barrier would be studied further in order to address the problem of pedestrians walking down a steep slope to reach the path around the Tidal Basin.
Mr. Bunster indicated the slightly enlarged plaza area proposed at the south end of the south lawn panel. The alternatives include several ways of treating the barrier alignment in this area, and two options are illustrated with Alternative 1: a row of bollards set forward from the lawn edge into the sidewalk that would define a protected pedestrian zone that is separated from cyclists, or a continuation of the pier-and-cable system across the south edge of the lawn. He said that either scheme would terminate the ends of the barrier in this area with benches, and removable bollards across the driveway would allow vehicles to enter the site when desirable. He noted that the barrier in this area would often be seen longitudinally instead of frontally, and the project team is still studying an appropriate depth for the bench that would avoid excessive visual intrusion.
Mr. Bunster presented an overlay plan of the proposed Alternative 1 barrier alignment and path system compared to the Olmsted Jr. design for the site, portions of which were never executed, and also the social paths that have evolved on the site; he said that the design team used this comparison to develop a solution for the modern circulation system. Mr. Luebke clarified that the proposed paths do not match those of the historic plan; Mr. Bunster confirmed that the proposal responds to current conditions.
Mr. Bunster presented a diagram showing the impact of the Alternative 1 alignment on existing vegetation, including historic trees. The diagram illustrates a twenty-foot-wide zone cleared for construction—ten feet to each side of the barrier alignment—resulting in the loss of many trees close to the road. He said that the project team has calculated the impact by tree count and caliper count for each alternative; the result is the loss of 53 trees totaling 701 caliper-inches, of which 7 are historic trees totaling 188 caliper-inches.
Mr. Bunster then presented Alternative 2 which treats the barrier as a landscape feature. Much of the barrier would be a landscape wall which would have a rough-textured stone face to provide a rustic character, and the wall's flowing alignment would create a sense of movement to reinforce the informal character of the landscape. The design details in this alternative would not be as refined; the wall would be solid with no base, shaft, and cap. When crossing the memorial's east cross-axis, the barrier would be treated as bollards rather than a wall, in order to frame the view of the memorial and its landscape. The barrier in this alignment would not be located near the bridges, eliminating this type of condition. At entrance paths into the site, the barrier wall would extend past the necessary control points to define gateways that would include benches and other features to encourage people to pause and rest. He said the profile of the wall could flare outward, and elements like benches could grow organically out of the wall and the wall itself would have the character of growing out of the landscape.
Mr. Bunster described the treatment of the south lawn panel in this alternative: the barrier would be at the edge of the lawn panel, with plazas created on either side of the driveways, and bollards in the paving would frame the views of the memorial from the south. He said that the barrier wall in this alternative would be independent of the relocated kiosk, allowing for these components to be constructed separately; in comparison, the barrier wall in Alternative 1 would be engaged with the wall and would be part of the barrier system. He noted the overall tree loss in Alternative 2: 69 trees, all non-historic, totaling 403 caliper-inches.
Mr. Bunster then presented Alternative 3, which he called the most formal. The barrier would be a concentric circle around the memorial except at the end of the south lawn panel. This alignment would be the furthest removed from some vantage points and therefore the least visible, and the barrier is therefore treated as a simple wall that is interrupted only where paths cross it. He said that views of the memorial, including its base, would be uninterrupted by the barrier. The two points where the barrier meets the Tidal Basin and waterfront path would include a terminal treatment that would allow the introduction of amenities such as benches. He said the wall would follow the slope instead of stepping down, but the project team had also explored the option of maintaining the wall's horizontal character as it crosses the most steeply sloped areas, using stepped panels interrupted by gaps. He said more guidance from the Commission on specific design features would be desirable if Alternative 3 is chosen. He noted that the Alternative 3 alignment passes through relatively open areas, resulting in less tree loss than in the other alternatives: 44 trees totaling 229 caliper-inches, of which 2 are historic trees totaling 50 caliper-inches. Ms. Nelson asked about the character of the stone proposed for Alternative 3; Mr. Bunster responded that it would have a simple surface and might incorporate a slight cove for a bench on the terminal feature.
Mr. Rybczynski asked how high a barrier wall would need to be. Mr. Bunster said three feet of reinforced concrete is required, plus the stone coping, so the barrier wall would be approximately 3.5 feet high; the wall in Alternative 3 would be higher at its terminal points. Ms. Nelson observed that all three alternatives would come out to the edge of the south lawn, and Mr. Rybczynski observed that this edge would be simply a low wall.
Mr. May said the National Park Service has concluded that Alternative 1 is the preferred option, even though it would have the greatest impact on trees. He said the preference is due to the advantage of treating the barrier as a streetscape rather than landscape element; this alternative would interfere less with the landscape which would remain a pedestrian area and would actually have less visual impact than the other two when seen by pedestrians or cyclists. He said Alternative 1 would also allow greater opportunity to implement Olmsted Jr.'s landscape plan; the other two alternatives, by running walls through the landscape, would change its character more significantly. He explained that the National Park Service tries to design security elements to be seamless within their context; but at this memorial the barrier would inevitably be visible, and the design goal is therefore to consider locating the barrier where seams are already present such as along the road.
Chairman Powell agreed with Mr. May's analysis. Mr. McKinnell commented that Alternative 1 clearly sets the memorial in a garden, while the other alternatives would intervene between the viewer and the memorial. He recommended a clean and simple design that avoids a classicized treatment of the piers, and he encouraged the introduction of short segments of continuous wall within the barrier system.
Ms. Nelson expressed appreciation for the thoughtfulness of the design team and the three strong options that were presented. She said she did not support Alternative 2 due to its steel bollards and rough wall, and had been prepared to support Alternative 3 as the cleanest solution; but she acknowledged that the alignment of Alternative 1, if implemented well, would least detract from the landscape character of the site. She emphasized the importance of replacing the removed trees to provide sufficient shade. She added that Alternative 1 would allow greater design control; she initially thought this could be achieved through projection and recession of the wall sections, but she now concluded that varying the size of wall sections or using benches could help alleviate the visual monotony of such a long wall. Mr. Rybczynski said he had been undecided between Alternatives 1 and 2, and agreed to support Alternative 1; he commented that the opportunity with Alternative 1 to restore the landscape for the remainder of the site is a compelling reason to favor this alignment. Mr. Belle added his support for the National Park Service's choice of Alternative 1.
Mr. Luebke noted the Commission's previous guidance not to elevate the southern edge of the south lawn panel and asked if this remains an issue; he added that the staff suggests further consideration of the treatment of this area shown in Alternative 3. Mr. May requested flexibility in combining the best features of each alternative. Mr. Rybczynski encouraged such further exploration, and Mr. Powell said that such refinements could be explored in the development of the next submission after approval of the concept. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the Alternative 1 concept with the flexibility to explore and develop the features shown with the other alternatives, particularly at the south lawn panel.
D. General Services Administration
1. CFA 16/SEP/10-5, Southeast Federal Center (The Yards). Parcel D (4th and M Streets, SE), new nine-story mixed-use building. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 19/JUL/07-1.) Ms. Batcheler said that the Commission approved a concept proposal for this site in July 2007 with an eleven-story mixed-use building, in conjunction with several other buildings in this development project. The revised concept submission is a reconfigured massing for a nine-story building including two residential wings above a three-story base of retail and parking. She introduced Mike McGill of the General Services Administration to begin the presentation.
Mr. McGill confirmed that the current revision is submitted at the initiative of the General Services Administration, in conjunction with the developer of The Yards, rather than as a response to any concerns expressed by the Commission. He summarized the building's context as part of the overall 44-acre development of The Yards which includes extensive residential, office, and retail space along with a recently completed waterfront park. He introduced Alex Nyhan of the development firm Forest City Washington and architect Shalom Baranes of Shalom Baranes Associates to present the proposal.
Mr. Nyhan said that the design revision to this building results from the change in economic conditions since the previous design submission; the earlier mix of office space with residential and retail uses would not be feasible in the current market. Rather than delay development of this building in anticipation of future economic conditions, the developer has chosen to revise the program in coordination with the overall master plan for The Yards; the resulting program includes more emphasis on residential and retail space.
Mr. Baranes described the Parcel D site extending between M Street on the north and Tingey Street on the south, with 4th Street on the west and a new service road on the east. The context includes the existing Building 202 on the east, illustrated with an addition on top although the future use of that building is not yet known; the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters complex on the west; and on the southwest a historic low-rise building, known as Building K, which will be renovated for retail use. He described the overall pattern of taller buildings surrounding a central cluster of low-rise buildings, which influences the proposed massing for Parcel D. He presented the proposed configuration with two bars of residential units connected by a glass bridge, and the retail base extending along 4th and Tingey Streets. He indicated the historic wall along M Street with a turret at the corner of 4th and M; preservation of the wall is a requirement, and the proposed building would be sited approximately twenty feet to the south. Other site constraints include a Metro tunnel beneath a corner of the site and floodplain concerns which result in the first floor being raised several feet above grade. He indicated the pedestrian walkway along the Department of Transportation headquarters, noting the attractive landscaping and sculptures within it; the proposed building will provide an eastern terminus to this walkway.
Mr. Baranes said that the major retail component would be a large full-service supermarket which would serve the entire development at The Yards. The supermarket requires approximately 50,000 square feet with a simple configuration on a single level. The retail space along Tingey Street will have smaller tenants and this area will include an entrance to an anticipated health club located on the second and third floors. The previous proposal included two levels of below-grade parking; based on further investigation of subsurface conditions in this landfill area, this excavation would not be affordable; the current proposal therefore includes one level of below-grade parking for residents, and an additional third-floor level of parking to support the retail area.
Mr. Baranes summarized the additional design influences on the building which emerged from the historic preservation review process and the resulting master plan. One guideline is for new construction to reinforce the prevailing north-south alignment of existing buildings, a result of the historic munitions manufacturing activities on the site which related to the ships at the waterfront on the south; this guideline influenced the massing of the two proposed residential bars. The southwest corner of the proposed building would be treated as part of the adjacent cluster of low-rise buildings; the southernmost residential bar is therefore shifted to the eastern side of the site. The massing on the north is intended to reinforce the street wall along M Street; the north facade of the western residential bar is therefore aligned to match the M Street setback of the Department of Transportation headquarters and Building 202. The tall portion of the building at the northwest would serve to emphasize the corner of 4th and M Streets, an important entrance point to The Yards. The south side of the northern residential bar is aligned with the south side of the Department of Transportation headquarters, while the south side of the eastern residential bar is aligned with the south side of Building 202. The adjacent south facade of the low-rise retail portion at 4th and Tingey Streets is aligned with the south facade Building K, which will also have retail uses; he emphasized the importance of this corner as a retail area, to be supplemented by future construction on the south side of Tingey Street. He also indicated the proposed siting of the residential entrance at the eastern terminus of the pedestrian walkway along the Department of Transportation headquarters; he noted that the configuration of the project's uses results in a large residential lobby, and this substantial volume of space will be lit at night to provide an attractive focal point. He said that modern urban grocery stores tend to include outdoor displays of merchandise, and the lengthy supermarket frontage along 4th Street will therefore not be likely to have the appearance of a blank wall. He said that the retail facade is illustrated as a placeholder, with the detailed design to be developed in cooperation with the future tenant; the goal will be a varied facade that enriches the street experience, possibly including an outdoor seating area.
Mr. Belle asked for clarification of the supermarket program and parking; Mr. Baranes said the 50,000-square-foot store would have 120 parking spaces, adding that many customers—probably a majority—would arrive as pedestrians. Mr. Rybczynski asked about the height of the supermarket space. Mr. Baranes responded that the interior would be approximately 22 feet tall, plus six to eight feet above for service space; he confirmed that a tall space is required for supermarkets, preferably 24 feet. Ms. Nelson asked if this requirement is based on the clearance for equipment used for moving groceries; Mr. Baranes said that this is not a constraint because the height of the grocery shelves is not great, but the tall space is desired for creating a pleasant shopping experience.
Mr. Baranes described the landscaped treatment of the roof above the low-rise retail area at the southwest corner of the site; a portion of this roof would be for use of the residents, and a portion would be for the health club. The design for this roof is still being developed; it would include plantings and furniture. He confirmed that the third-floor parking would be open-air, but views from the street would be screened by metal louvers and views from above would be partially screened by trellises and planting.
Mr. Baranes summarized several of the overall design gestures in the proposal, including a variety of heights in the new construction; simple forms and expression of structural bays to relate to the context of historic buildings; and an emphasis on horizontality. He said the facades would be various textures of metal in dark and light gray, with louvers to provide solar screening for the south-facing glass. The low-rise retail facades would be fritted glass panels having the character of a mosaic, with a portion of clear glass to provide a view from Tingey Street and Building K into the space that is planned for a health club.
Mr. Baranes described a change to the treatment of the historic wall along M Street, noting that this proposal is still undergoing the historic preservation review process. The previous design identified four panels of the wall for removal, with the remainder to remain intact; these panels have already been removed. Subsequent study of truck circulation and loading has resulted in the conclusion that two different panels should be removed, rather than the four that were identified earlier. The proposal is therefore to reconstruct the four demolished panels of the historic wall, and remove two different panels. He confirmed that the historic bricks were retained during the demolition of the four wall panels.
Mr. Belle commented that the design of the facades has changed significantly since the previous submission. Mr. Baranes confirmed the change and noted that it corresponds to a change in the overall mix of uses in the building, with an office building previously proposed for two-thirds of the site; the previous facade included curtainwall and large trusses to address the different span requirements, while the new emphasis on residential use results in different structural solutions.
Mr. Powell and Ms. Nelson expressed support for the project. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the revised concept.
2. CFA 16/SEP/10-6, Herbert C. Hoover Building, Department of Commerce, 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. New entrance for the National Aquarium on Constitution Avenue. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 17/JUN/10-2.) Mr. Lindstrom noted the Commission's inspection of the proposed aquarium entrance site prior to the meeting, and introduced Mike McGill of the General Services to begin the presentation. Mr. McGill said that the submission responds to the Commission's request for changes to the previously submitted concept design, which will provide a new Constitution Avenue entrance to the relocated and expanded National Aquarium. He asked Tim Pula, senior director of capital planning for the National Aquarium, to continue the presentation. Mr. Pula summarized the Commission's previous satisfaction with the overall idea of the entrance, including its size and location, with the request for more detail on the concept which is addressed in the current submission. He noted that the aquarium was part of the Department of Commerce building since its construction in 1932, and it is now operated by his organization which also operates the National Aquarium in Baltimore. He expressed excitement at the opportunity to move the aquarium to the Constitution Avenue side of the Commerce building and improve its attractiveness to the public. He introduced architect Louis Goetz of Group Goetz Architects to present the design.
Mr. Goetz provided an overview of the site context and existing conditions, including the areaway located on the south side of the Department of Commerce headquarters where the new entrance addition is proposed. He said that the Commission previously questioned the intended sense of separation between the proposed entrance pavilion and the Commerce headquarters, recommending instead that the pavilion be treated as a more integral extension of the historic building. He presented the resulting revised design which he said has the character of a drawer extending out from the building; he described it as an extension of the areaway and the building's plinth, covered by a green roof. The corners where the new and old portions intersect would be notched to resemble the existing treatment elsewhere on the Commerce building; he emphasized the overall simplicity of the proposal.
Mr. Goetz said that the entrance's railing wall along the sidewalk has been developed as a separate element from the existing building's vocabulary; he added that the railing is necessary both as a safe edge to the drop-off at the descending ramp and stairs, and as a potential component of the building's perimeter security barrier. The railing would be the same height as the historic building's plinth and would appear to be an extension of it, but would be slightly differentiated from it such as through a different material or color. The descending walls of the entrance would be rusticated below this plinth level, an inversion of the historic building's rusticated base above the plinth. The railing would be a stainless-steel mesh that could be etched with signage or otherwise articulated, such as with aquatic themes that would give a sense of the aquarium. A more monumental sign nearby would provide an opportunity for additional information such as on current exhibits. He presented two alternatives for the railing and plinth design in order to illustrate several design options: different decorative metal railing patterns; different relationships between the plinth and the existing building's wall; and different treatments of the walls along the descending stairs and ramp. He said that the client's preferred alternative is a combination of the alternatives.
Mr. Rybczynski asked if the notched plan of the entrance pavilion where it meets the existing building is a result of the basement dimensions; Mr. Goetz responded that the notch was added in response to a previous Commission comment about the historical character of the building and is not required by the basement layout. Mr. Rybczynski asked if the placement of perimeter security within the railing wall would require extending the perimeter security line beyond the ends of the wall; Mr. Goetz responded that some continuation of the perimeter would be necessary, although it might consist of other elements rather than an extension of the wall. He said that this issue would be part of an overall perimeter security design for the headquarters building that would be developed separately. He emphasized that the aquarium's railing wall would still be useful even if it does not end up serving as part of the building's perimeter security system; the stainless-steel mesh would provide visual transparency, as required by the D.C. Department of Transportation. Ms. Nelson asked if the mesh would have color; Mr. Goestz confirmed that it would be simply stainless steel but could be embellished with etching or lighting.
Mr. McKinnell asked for further clarification of the preferred solution for the joint between the entrance pavilion and the existing building, as illustrated in a rendering. Mr. Goetz indicated the five-foot-wide depressed channel between the two elements and said that this area would be simply a stone surface with necessary drainage details; its purpose is to provide a visual separation between the new and old construction. Mr. Belle said that lighting could be provided in this area. Mr. Goetz responded that some of the building's lighting is being reduced in order to meet the energy-conservation requirements for a LEED rating; this area nonetheless provides the opportunity for some further development, including a different material. Mr. McKinnell said that the soil depth for green roof areas might limit the range of options; Mr. Goetz responded that only a low ground cover is proposed, which does not require significant soil depth.
Mr. Belle asked if visitors would see the aquarium upon reaching the bottom of the entrance ramp. Mr. Goetz said that visitors would see the aquarium entrance, and a display tank would be visible from immediately inside the entrance. He noted that aquariums must be relatively dark spaces to facilitate visitors' views into the tanks, and the entrance lobby will therefore have a low light level. He acknowledged the opportunity for further development of the ground plane and walls along the entrance area. Mr. Rybczynski asked about the features depicted along the entrance walls having the appearance of windows; Mr. Goetz responded that these would not be windows but are locations for graphic elements or video displays, taking advantage of the pattern of openings in the base of the existing building.
Mr. Belle commented that this location for the aquarium is unconventional, which he said suggests the opportunity to make visitors aware of the pavilion's function before reaching the entrance. Mr. Goetz said that the new entrance would be a significant improvement on the prison-like character of the existing aquarium's entrance. Ms. Nelson commented on the extensive length of the entrance sequence and emphasized the importance of embellishing it as part of the visitor experience. She said that the design should be more subdued at the sidewalk level, where the nearby Washington Monument dominates the view; she emphasized that the aquarium's signage and graphics should not detract from the dignity of the Monument nor compete with it. Mr. Goetz presented an example of architectural graphics at a customs inspection station that uses changes in the color of stainless steel; a subtle version of this technique could be used at the aquarium railing, such as an etched version of the aquarium's logo. Mr. Rybczynski agreed that the more active part of the entrance design should be in the below-grade areas; he said that a water feature might even be appropriate. He said that the new entrance location will benefit from the proximity of the Washington Monument and the planned National Museum of African American History and Culture, but this context also places great responsibility on the aquarium's entrance design; anything having the character of a large sign would be inappropriate at the sidewalk level. Ms. Nelson emphasized that the flooring as well as the walls of the entrance area could provide an opportunity for a more animated treatment. Mr. Goetz noted that visitors may need to wait in this area before entering the museum, and the design can therefore provide an opportunity to engage them in the concept of the aquarium. Ms. Nelson discouraged the proposal for lighting within the handrail, commenting that such features pose maintenance problems.
Chairman Powell summarized the Commission's overall support for the concept and the guidance on its development. Mr. Belle supported the design team's preferred combination of design elements. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the design concept with these comments. Chairman Powell asked how the aquarium came to be associated with the Department of Commerce; Mr. Pula responded that it had been part of the Bureau of Fisheries in the early 20th century, later becoming part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the Department of Commerce. Control of the aquarium was eventually transferred to an outside group which had difficulty operating the facility, and the National Aquarium in Baltimore then began operating it.
3. CFA 16/SEP/10-7, Mary E. Switzer Federal Building, 330 C Street, SW. Landscaping and perimeter security. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 15/JUL/10-6.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the revised concept for the landscaping and perimeter security at the Switzer Building, including the design of the plaza space on the south side of C Street, SW, which will be related to a future submission for the plaza of the Cohen Building on the north side of C Street. She asked Mike McGill of the General Services Administration (GSA) to begin the presentation. Mr. McGill said that the project is the final portion of an ongoing overall modernization of the Switzer Building. He introduced project manager Mark Banks of GSA to continue the presentation.
Mr. Banks said that the submission addresses the Commission's comments from July 2010, including the simplification of the design and more careful study of its relationship to the previously approved streetscape improvements at Federal Office Building #8 (FOB 8) to the east as well as the anticipated improvements at the Cohen Building to the north. He introduced landscape architect Jeffrey Catts and architect Gene Cheek of HNTB to present the design.
Mr. Catts acknowledged the Commission's inspection of the site prior to the meeting and described the obvious opportunity to improve the conditions of the site and the neighborhood. He said that GSA's goal is to improve the effect of federal buildings on their local neighborhoods and environments in addition to improving the buildings themselves. The challenge at the north side of the Switzer building is to convert an existing parking lot—dating from the building's construction in 1939—into an inviting public space and a dignified setting for the building.
Mr. Catts described the extent of the project, encompassing the entire block as well as the north curb of C Street; he indicated the buildings in the vicinity including the four that are part of the current GSA planning for the area around Third and C Streets, SW. He noted that the Cohen Building to the north is of a similar style and date as the Switzer Building, while the Humphrey Building to the northeast and FOB 8 to the east are from the 1960s and 1970s. He described the design strategy for the C Street plaza: inviting people into the space from the corners, where there is a significant pedestrian flow between the Metro station to the south and the Mall to the north; and reconciling the relationship between the Cohen Building, which has a single central entrance on its south facade, and the Switzer Building which has a symmetrical pair of major entrances on its north facade. He indicated the small eleven-car parking plaza that would be located at the center of the Switzer Building plaza, between the two major entrances. He said that the relationship of this concept to the future treatment of the Cohen Building plaza is not yet determined, but indicated the similar strategy at FOB 8 of treating the corners of the site as welcoming access points. He indicated the unobstructed sightlines from the corners to the Switzer Building's doors, noting that both major entrances would be fully operational with security screening. He said that the historic planters at the base of the building would be retained, and adjacent ramps are proposed to provide barrier-free access to the entrances.
Mr. Catts presented a diagram of anticipated pedestrian movement through the plaza, indicating the adjustments that were made to the design to preserve major existing trees. The paving material would be exposed-aggregate concrete, which is also being used at FOB 8. He said that the site design is an important part of the environmental quality and LEED rating for the overall modernization of the Switzer Building, citing the example of porous paving that is proposed; the proportion of impervious surface on the site would be reduced from 95 to 60 percent, and the landscape will use roof water stored in cisterns rather than the potable water supply. Environmentally friendly transportation is encouraged by the site's proximity to Metro as well as by the intended inclusion of a solar-powered bicycle sharing station, part of the 1,000-station program sponsored by the D.C. Department of Transportation. He said that removable bollards would allow emergency vehicles to have limited access to the plaza.
Mr. Cheek provided further information about the environmental sustainability features that are included in the ongoing building renovation, which will be integrated with the proposed site design. Rooftop photovoltaic equipment will generate approximately five percent of the building's electricity requirements, and solar thermal panels will meet all of the building's hot-water requirements. In-ground wells will provide additional heating and cooling for the building; areas of green roof will contribute to the overall stormwater retention system and supply for the site's irrigation system. He said that the design exceeds GSA's requirement for a silver LEED rating, and the project is expected to meet or exceed the standards for a gold rating.
Mr. Catts described the perimeter security proposal for the site, with the requirement for a three-foot-high barrier. An existing wall along the ramp to a below-grade service area would be hardened to provide protection at the eastern end of the C Street frontage. This alignment would continue as a garden wall along the remainder of the C Street frontage, with various openings for pedestrians and retractable gates at the entrance and exit drives for the small parking area; bollards would be used to accommodate pedestrian access, particularly at the corners. A garden wall is also proposed along Third and Fourth Streets at the minimum required twenty-foot distance from the building face. Along D Street on the south, this twenty-foot distance is not available within the building yard; the barrier is therefore proposed near the curb, using a variety of barrier features such as hardened lightpoles, benches, trash receptacles, newspaper boxes, and bicycle racks in addition to bollards. The barrier alignment would deflect along D Street where necessary to avoid the existing Metro station vents near the curb; the design would maintain a six-foot-wide clear zone for pedestrian movement. He said that a similar streetscape treatment is planned at FOB 8.
Mr. Catts said that the proposed street trees, in accordance with the D.C. government's streetscape standards, would include: oaks along C Street; elms along Third and Fourth Streets; and London plane trees along D Street. Mr. Rybczynski asked about the uneven tree spacing proposed along C Street. Mr. Catts confirmed that it results from underground conditions, including a parking and service structure that extends between the Switzer and Cohen Buildings; the estimated soil depth of 21 inches in this area precludes the planting of street trees. He added that the soil would be mounded within the plaza area to accommodate mid-sized trees, which will provide desirable shade. He also indicated the bus stops on the north and south sides of C Street and said that trees are not proposed at those locations, based on consultation with the D.C. Department of Transportation. He indicated the proposed honey locust trees within the C Street plaza; these trees would be limbed up to maintain open sightlines while providing partial shade. Smaller trees around the site would be aligned with the architecture to frame views from windows. He described the varied levels of the plaza, indicating the seating opportunities that would be available along the edges of the raised lawn panels. Bioswales would be part of the stormwater management system for the site; runoff from the parking area would also be captured and treated on the site. He clarified that the bioswales would be landscaped with several varieties of plants that can tolerate the occasional presence of water. He noted that the proposed proportion of tree canopy coverage would be thirty percent, further contributing to the project's LEED rating.
Mr. Catts indicated the proposed coffee kiosk at the northeast corner of the plaza; it would have a green roof. Mr. Rybczynski asked about the curved line in this area of the site plan, and the similar curve at the northwest corner. Mr. Catts responded that these mark the boundaries between different types of paving materials, but the surface would be continuous across these lines. Ms. Nelson noted the prevalence of dropoff for the day-care center during the morning site inspection. Mr. Catts said that the small parking area would be available for this use, and four or five of the eleven spaces would be designated for short-term parking; three spaces would be for handicapped use, one for a shared van, and possibly one with recharging equipment for an electric car. This arrangement would showcase these different options in operation at a government building, while also contributing to the project's LEED score.
Ms. Nelson asked if the raised lawn panels would be used as part of the day-care center; Mr. Catts responded this would be feasible and desirable in appropriate weather conditions. Ms. Nelson asked if this use would result in fencing around the lawn. Mr. Catts said that the appropriate activity would be a supervised outdoor classroom use rather than a general play area. Ms. Nelson said that a young child might nonetheless wander into the street if the area is unfenced; Mr. Catts emphasized that no fencing is proposed. Mr. McKinnell asked about the various shades of green used in the site plan. Mr. Catts responded that the light green areas would be lawns, while the dark green areas would have more traditional foundation planting along the building or the bioswale planting near the curb.
Ms. Nelson asked about the unattractive electric generators and exhaust stack that are currently on the site. Mr. Catts indicated their current location along C Street and said that they would be eliminated if feasible in conjunction with the Cohen Building modernization; if any of these elements remain, they would be redesigned with a more sympathetic character. Ms. Nelson asked about the small shelters on the site, apparently used as smoking pavilions; Mr. Catts responded that these would be removed, and bicycle racks would be installed at these locations.
Mr. Rybczynski asked if the plaza's lawn panels are raised due to some functional need or physical constraint. Mr. Catts said that this feature is intended to strengthen the framing of the monumentally scaled entrances to the building, which are also slightly raised. The edges of these lawn panels provide the opportunity for seating, which creates desirable gathering places near the building entrances. He said that these seating edges would also contribute to the success of potential programmed uses of the plaza space, such as a ceremony or a farmers market. He summarized the intention for the plaza design to pay homage to the building's architecture. Mr. Rybczynski said that the beautiful, powerful design of the building does not need such homage, and the small panels instead seem to create clutter and tripping hazards within the landscape. He expressed regret at the lack of trees near the entrances, and overall frustration with the unclear concept for the plaza design. Mr. Catts responded that another purpose of the design is to frame views from C Street toward the building entrances, resulting in the decision not to propose trees in these areas. Mr. Rybczynski said that the location of the entrances would be sufficiently obvious, and the architectural gestures within the landscape are unnecessary; he recommended a simpler and more easily used landscape design. He questioned the relationship among the formal elements and said that the design has the character of a "croquet field" without serving any such useful function. Mr. Catts presented elevations to further illustrate the design; he added that the raised landscape areas should not impede the flow of pedestrians nor weaken the simplicity of the plaza, but would instead help to animate the space. Mr. Belle suggested alternative treatments to the line of low planting proposed along the garden wall, such as treating it as a bench wall, and commented that the plaza design appears to encourage people to move through the space, rather than linger within it. Mr. Catts agreed to study the wall edge further, and indicated the location of additional seating near the coffee kiosk, parking area, entrance doors, and along the building facade.
Ms. Nelson commented on the interesting relief sculptures above the doorways of the Switzer Building as well as the Cohen Building; she suggested improved lighting to enhance their visibility. She said that sculptures that are included in the plaza should be sympathetic with the 1930s era of the building.
Mr. McKinnell said that the character of C Street would be changed radically by the projects along its edges as well as the planned narrowing of the cartway, providing a welcome opportunity for improvement. The expected result at this location would be an urban place extending between the facades of the Switzer and Cohen Buildings; however, the submission suggests that this space is being designed incrementally as separate forecourts to each building rather than with an overall vision for this potentially wonderful urban space. He described the proposal as a missed opportunity that does not make sense, and recommended a single design effort for the area between the facades of the two buildings. Mr. Catts indicated the building elements that influence the design; Mr. McKinnell said that the issue is developing a coherent design that responds to these parameters.
Chairman Powell observed that the submission does not include the Cohen Building, making it difficult for the Commission to address this in its recommendation; Mr. Luebke suggested that the Commission could ask GSA to extend the project's scope. Chairman Powell suggested that such a study could be undertaken as the project moves forward. Mr. Rybczynski described the project as a missed opportunity and declined to support the current submission, commenting that "it needs more work, by somebody." Mr. McKinnell said that the individual components of the design are potentially beautiful, but their combination into a site design does not make sense. He acknowledged the importance of the site inspection in making clear the high quality of the two facing buildings and their large, wonderful scale. He expressed regret that the proposed plaza design is an assembly of individual items that do not convincingly relate to the building nor to each other; Ms. Nelson agreed.
Chairman Powell summarized the consensus of the Commission to request a further concept submission, preferably with the inclusion of the Cohen Building's south plaza even if that project is not yet moving forward. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
E. Department of Veterans Affairs
CFA 16/SEP/10-8, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 50 Irving Street, NW. New boiler plant. Concept.
The Commission acted on agenda item II.E earlier in the meeting without a presentation, in conjunction with the approval of the Direct Submission Consent Calendar (agenda item II.A).
F. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
CFA 16/SEP/10-9, Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro Station, 7th and F Streets, NW, entrance mezzanine. Art installation. Concept. Mr. Simon introduced the proposal for artwork in the Metro entrance mezzanine at 7th and F Streets, NW, the largest of three entrances to the Gallery Place-Chinatown station; he noted the existing artwork in the station's track area near one of the other entrances. He asked Michael McBride, the art program manager for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), to begin the presentation.
Mr. McBride said that the project is funded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities as well as corporate sponsors. The artist, local sculptor Martha Jackson-Jarvis, proposes a design of four mosaic panels related to the themes of wind, water, and moon using images from Chinese landscape and related traditional Chinese iconography. Each panel would be six feet high and four feet wide and would be curved to follow the shape of the existing wall; he said that the installation details have been resolved. Ambient lighting would be sufficient to view the artwork, and no special lighting is proposed. He introduced Ms. Jackson-Jarvis to present the artwork.
Ms. Jackson-Jarvis said that the artwork is inspired by feng shui, the ancient Chinese tradition of organizing space, color, and design. She chose to develop the design using the natural elements of water, wind, and fire. The first panel is based on a landscape photographed at Washington's Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens including early-morning reflections on the water; the landscape is combined with ancient Chinese iconography that is often found on pottery, including symbols for home, prosperity, and the moon. The second panel depicts a crane in flight, symbolizing longevity, along with the moon and fire. The third panel would depict an aquatic landscape in conjunction with a traditional Chinese landscape, with a partially seen butterfly symbolizing love as well as other symbols of home and longevity. The fourth panel would depict a carp symbolizing longevity, water, and prosperity. She said that each mosaic panel would be constructed of smalti, an Italian glass that will provide beautiful reflective surfaces, along with stone tesserae.
Mr. McBride noted the many layers of meaning in Chinese imagery and said that Ms. Jackson-Davis worked closely with the local Chinese cultural center as well as the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery in developing the design; he offered examples of symbolically important details such as the direction an animal is facing and the color of a circle.
Mr. Powell asked for further details of the mosaic construction. Ms. Jackson-Jarvis responded that each piece of glass and stone would be hand-cut and set on a concrete panel base. The three-dimensional surface quality of each glass tessera would generate a lively reflection of light that is not fully conveyed by the flat images of the presentation. Ms. Nelson asked about the size of the tesserae; Ms. Jackson-Jarvis said they would be approximately a quarter-inch thick, and typically a quarter- to half-inch long with the largest being one inch. She confirmed that the tesserae would be installed individually by hand, citing her experience studying the Byzantine mosaics at Ravenna, and said that the mosaic technique could accurately depict the features shown in the renderings. Ms. Nelson commented that the artwork would nonetheless be somewhat abstract due to the use of tesserae to form the image; Ms. Jackson-Jarvis agreed and emphasized that the tesserae would also produce a lively, shimmering surface that would be interesting for close viewing as well as from a distance. Ms. Nelson agreed that the Ravenna mosaics are very effective in catching light with the irregularity of the tesserae; she said that the scenes depicted in the presentation would have a very different appearance when executed as mosaics. Mr. McBride noted that Ms. Jackson-Jarvis was the artist for the large mosaic spheres near the Van Ness Metro station, titled "Music of the Spheres," as well as the mosaic tile wrapping the roofline at the Anacostia Metro station.
Ms. Nelson commented that the composition of the panels suggests the appearance of separate photographs that have been layered with additional information; the result is then rendered in the ancient art of mosaic. She asked if the panels could be combined into a single long mural that would have a greater visual impact, or perhaps unified by a border that would encompass all four panels. She noted that the curved form of the panels might also be strengthened by combining them into a single unit. Mr. Rybczynski agreed, commenting that the panels have the appearance of four posters that are displayed without frames; he said that the artists of traditional diptychs and triptychs would unify their compositions into a single piece, and this effect would be more powerful than the appearance of four separate artworks. Ms. Nelson added that the current proposal includes three themes—wind, moon, and water—spread across the four panels.
Ms. Jackson-Jarvis responded that she originally conceived of the artwork as a single panel, but developed it as four separate panels in response to the specifications of WMATA. Mr. McBride said that this format was chosen in conjunction with the decision to set the artwork slightly forward of the wall; however, WMATA could try to develop the artwork as a single large piece if desired by the Commission. Mr. McKinnell said that the magic of mosaics, particularly at Ravenna, is the transformation of a wall rather than the application of an artwork onto it; he suggested that this artwork be similarly integrated into the wall rather than set in front of it. He cited the example of the mosaic signs set into the walls of New York City's subway stations, which have a beautiful appearance and have been durable. Mr. McBride said that WMATA generally prefers art installations that are removable to accommodate unknown future conditions; excavating the surface of the existing wall would also be a costly change to the project. Ms. Jackson-Jarvis noted the large number of people who pass by the artwork location, influencing the proposed specifications for the fabrication and installation. Mr. Powell agreed that the mosaic would ideally be integrated into the wall but acknowledged the practical difficulties in doing so; he expressed support for the proposal.
Mr. Rybczynski said that the format of four separate panels could be problematic from a practical viewpoint, such as the greater number of edges which people could come into contact with; a unified composition would have much less length of edge and fewer corners at this heavily travelled location. Chairman Powell suggested that these concerns be addressed in the development of the submitted concept. He commented that the artwork is apparently conceived as four separate compositions that might not be easily combined into a continuous mosaic image, but minimal framing might be useful. Mr. McBride responded that some type of framing, probably made of aluminum, is intended as part of the installation; it would be selected to complement the artwork. Mr. Belle suggested that a simple alternative would be to butt-joint the panels and set them as close as possible to the surface of the wall, with an edge treatment framing the entire composition. Ms. Nelson suggested that this frame could be made of mosaic rather than aluminum. Mr. Luebke asked if the Commission was requesting that the four scenes be reconceived as a single continuous image. Mr. Belle and Mr. Rybczynski said that the Commission is not making this recommendation, while Ms. Nelson noted that a single composition was apparently the original intention; Ms. Jackson-Jarvis clarified that she originally conceived of the design as individual vignettes that would have some space between them. Mr. Rybczynski emphasized the precedent of the unified triptych art form, commenting that the appearance of strips of concrete between the separate panels would not be attractive.
Chairman Powell supported the suggestion for four independent compositions that would be unified by a mosaic frame and perhaps moved closer together, with the feasibility and details of this treatment to be explored by the artist. He summarized the Commission's consensus to approve the submitted concept with this guidance, and requested that the next submission include samples of the tesserae that would be used.
Ms. Nelson said the proposed combination of stone and glass tesserae would be an interesting alternative to using either material alone; she also acknowledged the extensive cultural research that was involved in developing the art proposal. She asked about the other artwork at this Metro station. Mr. McBride responded that it is a neon piece known as the Chinese Fan, installed in another part of the station; he confirmed that it could not be viewed simultaneously with the proposed mural.
G. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
SL 10-148, Embassy of Canada, 501 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Security vestibule addition. Revised concept. (Previous: SL 09-08, June 2010.)
The Commission acted on agenda item II.G earlier in the meeting without a presentation, in conjunction with the approval of the Shipstead-Luce Act appendix (agenda item II.A).
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 3:55 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, AIA
Last Modified: November 1, 2010