Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
17 February 2011
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 10:17 a.m.
(Due to the absence of the Chairman, the Vice-Chairman presided at the meeting.)
A. Approval of the minutes of the 20 January meeting. Mr. Luebke reported that the minutes of the January meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. The Commission approved the minutes upon a motion by Ms. Plater-Zyberk with second 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: 17 March, 21 April, and 19 May.
C. Report on the site inspection of the mock-up of the inscription wall lighting for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. Vice-Chairman Nelson suggested discussing the inspection in conjunction with the review of the submission. (See agenda item II.B.)
D. Report on the inspection of objects proposed for acquisition by the Freer Gallery. Mr. Luebke reported the Vice-Chairman's approval of two objects for the Freer Gallery's permanent collection based on an inspection by Commission members earlier in the morning: a Chinese jade disk from the period 770-256 B.C.E. and a Chinese pole finial in the form of a dragon's head from the 13th to 14th century. Vice-Chairman Nelson expressed appreciation for the opportunity to inspect objects at the Freer Gallery and to hear the scholarly discussion of the artwork proposed for acquisition.
II. Submissions and Reviews
Mr. Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting.
Appendix I – Direct Submission Consent Calendar: Mr. Lindstrom said that there were no changes to the draft appendix, with a relatively short list of four projects. He noted that two projects eligible for delegated action by the staff were anticipated for inclusion in this appendix, but these submissions have not yet been received. Upon a motion by Mr. Belle with second by Ms. Plater-Zyberk, the Commission approved the Direct Submission Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported that supplemental materials were received for several projects, resulting in changes to two recommendations from the draft appendix (case numbers SL 11-048 and 11-050); both are now listed as favorable recommendations. She also noted that case number SL 11-044 was erroneously included in the draft appendix, but was eligible for delegation to the staff; it is therefore now listed separately as a report of a delegated action. Upon a motion by Ms. Plater-Zyberk with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the revised appendix. (See agenda items II.G.1 and II.G.2 for additional Shipstead-Luce Act submissions.)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martinez reported several changes to the draft appendix. Several recommendations have been updated in response to supplemental materials. Several projects have been added that do not require further review by the Old Georgetown Board, including six that were recently submitted for review in March but are not visible from public areas. Three projects have been removed from the appendix at the request of the applicants; these projects are being revised and will be resubmitted for further review by the Old Georgetown Board. Vice-Chairman Nelson noted the substantial length of the appendix; Mr. Martinez added that the March caseload will be even higher. The Commission approved the revised appendix upon a motion by Ms. Plater-Zyberk.
B. National Park Service
CFA 17/FEB/11-1, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. Independence Avenue, SW, at the northwestern rim of the Tidal Basin. Revised designs for inscription wall lighting and plaza paving surrounding the support building. Final. (Previous: CFA 21/OCT/10-2.) Mr. Luebke introduced the revised proposal for lighting at the memorial wall and for the plaza size and paving around the auxiliary building at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. He noted the Commission's site inspection the previous evening to view a mockup of the in-ground lighting, prepared in response to the Commission's recommendation in July 2010 to simplify the fixture and modify the lens. He asked Peter May of the National Park Service to begin the presentation.
Mr. May introduced Mike Caldwell, the new acting superintendent of the National Mall & Memorial Parks, and project architect Ron Kessler of McKissack & McKissack. Vice-Chairman Nelson asked about any remaining reviews for this memorial; Mr. May confirmed that the current submission would likely be the last, although some minor design modifications are being coordinated with the staff and may be brought to the Commission.
Mr. Kessler summarized the issues that were addressed in the site inspection the previous evening: the quality of the light on the wall—including its intensity, shadows, and the legibility of the quotations—and the design details of the in-ground lighting units. The demonstration included a 25-foot length of the wall, under construction and now nearing completion, lit by 10 lighting units, similar to what the Commission had seen on the previous site inspection in July 2010.
Mr. Kessler noted the Commission's concerns in July that that the light fixtures could be seen through the laminated glass and that the surface anti-slip texture was unsatisfactory. After considering various options for addressing each issue, the proposed solution is a denser texture on the top surface with an additional pattern on the bottom surface; this design will serve both to conceal the fixtures and to avoid a slipping hazard. He presented a sample of the new textured glass which had also been provided at the site inspection; the newly proposed glass would be the same thickness as the previous proposal with sufficient strength to support a vehicle and the thickness of the bronze frame has been increased slightly. Ms. Plater-Zyberk noted the Commission's concern at the site inspection with a bright line of light reflected from the framing below the glass, perhaps exacerbated by the increase in the frame's thickness. Mr. Kessler said that the design team will develop a solution to this unwanted reflection, such as by altering the surface finish or applying paint along the problematic edge.
Mr. Kessler described further revisions to the lighting system: the frames have been simplified by removing the decorative grooves that had been cut into them; the joints of the lights, plaza paving, and inscription wall have been aligned; and a new configuration of three three-foot-long fixtures is proposed to form a repeating ten-foot sequence beneath the 2.5-foot-long module of the lighting frames, providing a better alignment than the previous proposal for four-foot-long fixtures. He added that other details are still being studied, such as the alignment of the screws in the frames. Ms. Plater-Zyberk recommended that the light fixtures be precisely aligned with the joints, and she suggested consideration of a shorter fixture to fit within each frame.
Mr. Rybczynski noted the Commission's concern at the mockup with the color of the fluorescent light, recommending that a warmer color be considered. Mr. Kessler said that the design team will test different lamps to assess the color and intensity of the light in relation to the wall texture and the ambient lighting conditions. Mr. Belle observed that the memorial has a palette of warm colors except for the harsh white fluorescent light; he said that this light is detrimental to the overall palette, particularly where the light strikes the base of the wall. He recommended trying a warmer lamp and investigating a two-foot rather than three-foot length. He acknowledged that the two-foot lamps could increase the maintenance requirements; Mr. Kessler added that two-foot lamps would also be less efficient.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk and Mr. Belle commented on the impressive appearance of the memorial coming together after so many years of planning. Dr. Ed Jackson Jr., executive architect of the memorial's sponsoring foundation, responded that the project has been underway for fifteen years, and completion is anticipated in August. Ms. Nelson added that the memorial will be a particularly important addition to the experience of visiting Washington's memorials at night.
Vice-Chairman Nelson suggested a vote on the revised lighting before consideration of the proposals related to the auxiliary building. She summarized the consensus of the Commission to approve the changes subject to further consideration of the lamp color and length. Mr. Belle recommended that the Commission have the opportunity for an additional site inspection to review the alternative fixtures. Mr. Rybczynski acknowledged the importance of other light sources at the memorial, as noted by the design team; he recommended that the subsequent site inspection include these other light sources. Upon a motion by Ms. Nelson with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the revisions related to the in-ground lighting, including the frames and the glass covers, and requested a further site inspection of alternative lamps in the context of overall site lighting.
Mr. Kessler then presented the proposed modifications to the paving plan around the auxiliary building. The previous paving design called for poured-in-place concrete scored in a four-by-four-foot pattern, with the area immediately surrounding the building scored in a smaller pattern. He said the design team has subsequently decided that having two patterns would be unnecessarily complicated, and that precast concrete pavers would be preferable to poured-in-place concrete; the new proposal is two-by-two-foot precast pavers for the entire plaza. An additional revision is to extend the plaza northward by eight feet; he noted that this extension would not affect the location of trees or benches.
Mr. Kessler described additional details of the proposed materials, indicating the use of granite for the curb ramp and crosswalk on West Basin Drive leading to the memorial. Ms. Plater-Zyberk questioned the proposal to use granite, a higher-quality material, on the vehicular roadway while the lesser-quality concrete would be used on the pedestrian plaza. Mr. Kessler responded that the wear of vehicular traffic requires a smaller paving module, which is more easily obtained with granite; he nevertheless acknowledged that granite road surfaces are not necessarily a standard urban requirement. Ms. Plater-Zyberk reiterated that granite is a more ceremonial material than concrete and yet the road is less important than the pedestrian plaza. She asked about the material of the sidewalks; Mr. Kessler said they would be an aggregate concrete in accordance with the National Park Service standard design. He confirmed that the crosswalk material in the previously approved design was poured-in-place concrete. Mr. Rybczynski observed that the National Gallery of Art has a granite crosswalk on 4th Street between the two buildings, but that crosswalk continues the material of the adjoining plazas which makes sense; he agreed with Ms. Plater-Zyberk's concern with the disparity of materials in this proposal.
Dr. Jackson commented that the sponsoring foundation was dissatisfied with the previous proposal for poured-in-place scored concrete, which lacked the desired color and finish quality. The precast pavers would allow better color control and would work well with the National Park Service's standard sidewalk material. Ms. Plater-Zyberk reiterated her concern that the hierarchy of materials should give at least as much importance to the pedestrian plaza as to the roadway. Dr. Jackson acknowledged that paving the entire plaza in granite would likely be too costly. Ms. Nelson suggested using precast concrete for the crosswalk; Ms. Plater-Zyberk agreed and said that using granite for only the curbs and ramp details would be an acceptable solution.
Dr. Jackson noted the foundation's interest in using Georgia granite in the memorial. Ms. Nelson asked if granite could be used on the auxiliary building's facade; Dr. Jackson responded that the design intention is that the facade use the same material as the memorial, which is a different type of granite. Mr. McKinnell suggested using the Georgia granite for the plaza; or, if that area is too extensive for costly granite paving, the granite could be limited to a small area around the base of the auxiliary building, such as the area shown with a smaller-scale paving pattern in the July submission. Several Commission members agreed with this suggestion to use granite paving as an apron for the building. Ms. Nelson said that this solution would result in using precast pavers for the crosswalk and the remainder of the plaza, which would be an affordable combination of materials.
Upon a motion by Ms. Plater-Zyberk with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved the proposed changes to the plaza design at the auxiliary building with the modification to use granite paving at the base of the building and precast pavers elsewhere; the material for the ramp details could be determined by the project team. Mr. Luebke noted that the resulting paving pattern would be comparable to the previously approved submission from July 2010. (The Commission's action on the revised plaza design followed the action earlier in the discussion on the revised lighting for the memorial's inscription wall.)
C. Department of the Treasury / U.S. Mint
CFA 17/FEB/11-2, National September 11 Memorial & Museum Commemorative Medal. Design for a silver medal. Final. Mr. Simon introduced Kaarina Budow of the U.S. Mint to present the design alternatives for a commemorative medal that will be sold by the Mint to support the September 11th Memorial and Museum that is planned for the World Trade Center site in New York City. Ms. Budow introduced two attendees who will assist in the presentation: Jay Weinkam, the liaison for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum who is working with the Mint on development of the design; and Don Everhart, a sculptor-engraver from the Mint's Philadelphia facility.
Ms. Budow described the authorizing legislation for the commemorative medal on the 10th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Mr. Everhart said that he and other engravers from the Mint visited the World Trade Center site and studied the design of the planned museum as preparation for developing designs for the medal. The intention is to convey a complex series of ideas while being simple, concise, and sensitive; and to convey hope and a view to the future along with respect for the past, while not emphasizing sorrow. The design alternatives balance the desire to represent the three different sites while avoiding the depiction of the individual buildings involved, and include abstraction while commemorating the human experience of the attacks. Ms. Budow added that the Mint defined the medal's themes very broadly in order to allow latitude to the artists in developing the design alternatives.
Ms. Budow presented nine alternatives for the obverse. The design features include views of the planned memorial pools; acorns and leaves of swamp white oak trees, which are used in the grove of trees at the memorial; the numbers of the four airplane flights involved; a pentagon shape; paired shafts representing emptiness; and trident-shaped facade fragments from the World Trade Center towers which will be exhibited at the site and have taken on the symbolic meaning of hope and endurance in the face of tragedy, with the additional symbolism of the three prongs representing the three sites being commemorated. The last two alternatives featured an allegorical figure of Liberty in combination with various symbols.
At the request of Vice-Chairman Nelson, Ms. Budow continued with the presentation of sixteen alternatives for the reverse, allowing the Commission members to consider both sides of the medal in their discussion. The design elements include additional symbols related to trees, the memorial design, and the World Trade Center facade; a bell from St. Paul's Chapel near the World Trade Center site; columns of water; a phoenix or eagle; and two options for text—the quotation "No day shall erase you from the memory of time" from Virgil's Aeneid, and the phrase "Hope, honor, and rebirth" or similar wording.
Ms. Budow concluded by presenting several paired designs of obverse and reverse as intended by the submitting artists. She also described the preferences of the sponsoring foundation of the memorial and museum.
Ms. Nelson asked for clarification of the medal's size and the intended recipients. Ms. Budow responded that it would be slightly under 1.6 inches in diameter and made of silver. It would be sold by the Mint for a two-year period, and is not intended for presentation to specific honorees; the proceeds would be used to fund the memorial and museum, which she confirmed is only at the New York site. Ms. Nelson asked if the medal would be encased or could be routinely carried by people. Ms. Budow said that the medal is normally sold as an encased proof-quality object but is small enough to be carried easily; she confirmed the intention to offer the medals for sale at the museum. Mr. Weinkam clarified that the at-grade memorial will open in September 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, and the below-grade museum will open one year later; the Virgil quotation will be featured on a prominent wall of the museum.
Ms. Nelson expressed support for reverse alternative #16, featuring an eagle with the Virgil quotation and water flowing over a wall, commenting that the quotation and the composition would have a powerful appearance. She suggested selecting an obverse design that would be appropriately paired with reverse #16. She added that people may not understand the depiction of a facade fragment from the World Trade Center towers as featured on several alternatives, and a more generally themed design such as reverse #16 serves better to honor all of the September 11 victims rather than those at a particular site.
Mr. Rybczynski agreed in supporting reverse alternative #16, commenting that it is a simple design. He supported two obverse alternatives—#8 which has a more traditional character, and #10 which is less traditional—and said that #10 would most appropriately be paired with reverse #16. Ms. Nelson offered support for obverse alternative #1. Mr. Rybczynski questioned the tree leaves in several alternatives, including obverse #1; he noted that the Pentagon and World Trade Center are urban sites that do not seem readily associated with the tree leaves.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk supported the goal of recommending a pair of designs that go well together as a single medal, and noted the overall grouping of the alternatives into traditional and more modern designs. She agreed that obverse #10 and reverse #16 would be an appropriate pairing. She offered another possibility of pairing obverse #6—with references to each of the multiple locations—with reverse #13, an abstract depiction of a phoenix.
Mr. Belle offered support for reverse #3 depicting an oak sprig emerging from a tree trunk, commenting on its traditional composition. Ms. Nelson said that this design is attractive but the meaning—a reference to trees being planted at the World Trade Center site—would not be well known. She encouraged a design that would be more meaningful to people throughout the country and the world, regardless of whether they are familiar with the memorial.
Mr. Rybczynski commented that the phoenix (reverse #13) is a less widely recognized symbol than the eagle (reverse #16), adding that the abstract depiction of the phoenix could be misunderstood as a kite or a mountaintop. Ms. Plater-Zyberk added that the Virgil quotation, as in reverse #16, would be preferable to the three separate words in reverse #13.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk noted that the similar obverse alternatives #9 and #10 contain symbolic references to the World Trade Center towers, which might result in adding references to the other sites involved in the attacks; she instead supported obverse #8. Mr. Rybczynski added that the various references to the towers—paired vertical lines or the shape of their footprints—would be difficult to understand, while such elements are not present in obverse #8. Ms. Budow clarified that the New York memorial is intended to represent all three sites, and the alternatives include design elements related to the Pentagon memorial and to trees that are planned for the Shanksville, Pennsylvania site. Ms. Plater-Zyberk suggested that the paired vertical lines could be eliminated from obverse #9 or #10. Ms. Nelson supported this suggestion, offering a preference for obverse #10 as a closer view of the allegorical figure and flame, adding that the flame and the text "Always Remember" would be better emphasized by eliminating the paired vertical lines; Mr. Rybczynski supported this recommendation.
Mr. McKinnell questioned the circle around the flame in obverse #10, which creates a complex design configuration; he said that the simple flame against a background, as seen in obverse #9, is more poignant. Mr. Everhart responded that the circle is intended to indicate a slightly raised plane, with the background texture elements continuing across it. Mr. McKinnell reiterated that this feature is unnecessary and would clash with the neoclassical character of the design and the representational treatment of the allegorical figure. Ms. Plater-Zyberk added that the circular element would also collide with the circumferential lettering; Ms. Nelson agreed that this conflict would detract from the purity of the words. Mr. Everhart said that the texture on obverse #10 could be eliminated entirely, using just a flat background. Ms. Plater-Zyberk noted that the texture is a significant element of the design; Ms. Budow said that the artist's intention was that the two vertical lines would be polished and would read strongly against the textured background. Ms. Nelson suggested that this texture simply be extended consistently across the obverse. She summarized the Commission's preference that the allegorical figure and the flame be the prominent elements against the background, adding that the flame could be polished for further emphasis; Mr. Everhart confirmed that the polished flame would read well against the textured background. Ms. Nelson noted that the rising flame of obverse #10, paired with the rising eagle of reverse #16, would provide a consistent theme that emphasizes remembrance rather than sadness, as intended by the Mint.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk questioned the background texture of reverse #16, noting the apparent difference in pattern to the left and right of the eagle. Ms. Budow responded that the shifting pattern is intended to suggest the movement of water. Mr. Everhart clarified that the areas of wavy lines would be polished with a gradation from left to right. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked if the polish would be omitted from one side; Mr. Everhart said that the left side would have thinner lines and therefore less area that is polished. Mr. Rybczynski said that a continuous gradation would be an acceptable design, but the drawing suggests simply two different textures on each side of the eagle which results in an odd appearance. Mr. Everhart said that the apparent distinction will not be as strong when sculpted in metal.
Upon a motion by Mr. Belle with second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission recommended obverse #10 and reverse #16, subject to the modifications discussed. Vice-Chairman Nelson added encouragement for the development of the memorial and museum, noting the difficulty of developing a design that conveys the meaning of this event.
D. General Services Administration
CFA 17/FEB/11-3, Mary E. Switzer Federal Building, 330 C Street, SW. Landscaping and perimeter security. Concept (new design). (Previous: CFA 16/SEP/10-7.) Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposal for landscaping and perimeter security at the Mary E. Switzer building, the third presentation to the Commission of this project; he noted the Commission's dissatisfaction with the previous proposals and said that the General Services Administration (GSA) is now presenting an entirely new design. He asked Mina Wright, director of GSA's Office of Planning and Design Quality, to begin the presentation.
Ms. Wright said that GSA appreciated the Commission's previous comments which had helped lead to the current proposal that considers the site as part of a larger urban complex. She added that GSA wants this project to contribute to the revitalization of the surrounding neighborhood. She introduced landscape architect Jeff Catts of HNTB to continue the presentation.
Mr. Catts said that the Commission's previous comments had inspired the design team to look at the site in relation to the Cohen Building on the north, facing the Switzer Building across C Street. His firm has now partnered with AECOM, the firm that worked on the site design for Federal Office Building #8 (FOB 8), immediately east of the Switzer Building across 3rd Street, and is currently working with Gehry Associates on the design of the Eisenhower Memorial, one block to the northwest. He introduced Roger Courtenay of AECOM to present the design.
Mr. Courtenay described several influences of the context and site. Despite the constraints imposed on the neighborhood by major roadways and the railroad tracks, there is extensive pedestrian movement through the area. He noted that the approved design for the north plaza in front of FOB 8 includes a curving entrance walk. Between the Switzer and Cohen buildings, he indicated several utilitarian features obstructing the public space such as vents, generator stacks, and vehicular ramps to the underground service area. He noted that the current project includes improving all four sides of the Switzer Building.
Mr. Courtenay discussed the proposed treatment of C Street. Its cartway would be narrowed to one twelve-foot-wide travel lane in each direction plus curb parking lanes toward the middle of the block; sidewalk bump-outs would narrow the cartway at the ends of the block for traffic calming and to aid in safe crossing for pedestrians. He discussed the dimensions of the roadway including the 80-foot-wide historic L'Enfant Plan right-of-way and the 250-foot-wide open space established in the 1930s between the Switzer and Cohen Buildings. Mr. Rybczynski asked if an urban design plan had been developed for this large open space when it was first established; Mr. Courtenay said that no such plan has been found.
Mr. Courtenay described the concept for improving the 3.5-acre area between the Switzer and Cohen buildings. It would be treated as an urban park organized around C Street with clearly indicated pedestrian routes to the building entrances, curving walks leading from the intersections, and several places to cross the street. Seating pavilions would be added around the vents and generator stack. Landscaping would include a sloped lawn in the center of the site with landscaped islands at the corners providing space for program elements such as a coffee kiosk and a playground for the Switzer Building's child day-care center.
Ms. Nelson questioned the need for a north-south walkway between the Cohen Building and the mid-block C Street crosswalk, predicting that pedestrians would prefer to follow the two diagonal walks to the proposed pavilions. Mr. Courtenay said that the physical design attempts to balance pedestrian and vehicular movement by defining the crosswalk's boundaries at an appropriate width. Ms. Nelson reiterated her doubt that people would cross the street on the mid-block crosswalk and then turn to reach the diagonal walks, observing that they would be more likely to create social trails over the lawns. She asked if there could be two crosswalks on C Street instead of one; Mr. Courtenay responded that he did not think such a configuration would be as safe. Mr. Belle asked why C Street has to remain open to vehicles at all, rather than being reserved as pedestrian open space; Mr. Courtenay responded that it is expected to remain open as a through-street because it is part of the L'Enfant Plan street system, adding that it is an important connecting route within the neighborhood as well as a service road. Mr. Luebke noted that retaining the L'Enfant Plan street system is a fundamental principle of Washington planning. Mr. Belle suggested that using the street's area for pedestrian activities might not really be a violation of the L'Enfant Plan.
Mr. Courtenay discussed the proposals for paving, perimeter security, and street trees. He said perimeter security along 3rd and 4th Streets would be placed at the back of the sidewalks; while on D Street, it would be interspersed with new street trees along the curb. On C Street the barrier line would be placed close to the building, following the alignment of several site features—a secondary walk and then the curving walk adjoining the lawn—to diminish the barrier's appearance. The proposed design of the perimeter security fence would respond to the Switzer Building's design: in areas where the fence is at the back of sidewalks, wall segments would be clad in limestone to match the building, and open fence sections would reflect the building's fenestration pattern.
Mr. Courtenay presenting the planting plan, noting that all new trees and sidewalks would be in accordance with D.C. government standards for low-impact development. American elms would be planted along the curving arcs of the oval shape on the plaza, and the D.C. tree-planting plan specifies American elms for 3rd and 4th Streets, London plane trees for D Street, and swamp white oaks for C Street. He said that numerous planted bioswales are being considered along the borders of the main park area along C Street. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked how wide the tree planters would be on narrow sidewalks; Mr. Courtenay said this was still being determined.
Mr. Rybczynski asked why the proposal includes two parallel walkways along C Street, one at the curb and one further in the plaza space. Mr. Courtenay responded that, despite the attempt to integrate the existing utilitarian features into the sidewalk and landscape, these features will still obstruct the optimal sidewalk width along the C Street curb; the proposed double walk would enhance pedestrian use of C Street as well as allowing for a larger bus stop and bicycle parking. Mr. Rybczynski asked whether the second walk is intended to be perceived as part of the park or the street, commenting that he thinks it reads as part of the street although one rendering suggests the opposite. Mr. Courtenay responded that the answer might lie in the materials that are chosen for these walks. Ms. Plater-Zyberk observed that the color used to depict the walks in the renderings might be influencing Mr. Rybczynski's reading. Mr. Belle emphasized the importance of considering how people will use the open space; some areas of the park space may be in shadow and would not be comfortable places to sit.
Mr. Courtenay noted that an underground service area occupies the central 300 feet of the block between the Switzer and Cohen buildings, and its roof slab lies only a couple of feet below grade. Additional soil depth is necessary in order to plant trees above this area; the proposed solution is the sloping lawn, which would allow for planting the elms; a retaining wall would be used at the edge of the deeper soil and would also serve as a perimeter security element to stop vehicles from approaching the Switzer Building.
Noting that three sides of the building have walled areaways—the traditional place for perimeter security—Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked why these are not serving as the barrier in order to avoid the addition of another layer of security. Mr. Courtenay said that GSA prefers to have as much security as possible, and the narrow areaways are also not structurally resistant. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said they could be made resistant, adding that recent submissions have demonstrated that GSA has sometimes decided not to place additional security around the base of its buildings; she observed that the proposed additional security barrier seems like an expensive redundancy. Ms. Wright of GSA confirmed that security standards are currently being re-examined. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked if the northern perimeter security barrier could extend straight across the C Street facade of the Switzer building instead of developing the elaborate ensemble of wall, bioswale, and other security elements. Mr. Courtenay responded that the requirement is to provide as much stand-off distance as possible. Ms. Plater-Zyberk commented that the approach of treating the two buildings and street as a whole is appropriate but there were still many details to be worked out.
Mr. McKinnell agreed that conceptually this approach is a huge improvement and he complimented the design team and GSA. However, he said that this opportunity is not being realized in three dimensions; while there is a suggestion of an ovoid shape that would make the area a distinctive place, the potential has not yet been realized. Mr. McKinnell said the perspectives suggest that the plaza would be a place composed of many equivalent elements—everything is shown as having the same value. He acknowledged that this is partly a result of the rendering technique being used but might also be a fundamental problem of the design. He said that another part of the problem is the equivocal nature of the second walk and suggested that the proposed ovoid form should be reinforced. He said that, if the soil depth were sufficient throughout the lawn, a grand gesture could be made by filling the oval with trees, having lawn planted underneath, to create an area that would be appealing in Washington summers. He noted that such a gesture would realize in three dimensions something analogous to the gesture now visible in plan. Mr. McKinnell added that the design could provide a contrast to Frank Gehry's Eisenhower Memorial design—a great space defined by perimeter columns—if this plaza is treated as a space filled with an oval glade of trees.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk offered an alternative suggestion: since the design includes considerable effort to accommodate trees on top of the deck, which occupies only the middle of the site, she wondered if trees could instead be placed at the ends of the ovals with only lawn in the middle, abandoning the more elaborate, expensive landscape that is proposed. She said this solution would allow a person to perceive the oval and would unify the space and views. She also suggested changing the diagonal walks into slanted or curved walks that would run directly to the middle of the block and then continue the paving into the crosswalk. Mr. Courtenay responded that the D.C. government is reluctant to introduce new materials into roadways; Ms. Plater-Zyberk noted that granite is used on some D.C. streets.
Mr. Rybczynski said the design allows the presence of the ramps and vent stacks to determine the plaza's geometry, rather than treating the entire area as a park that can be freely designed. He observed the proposal would create walks that are simply the result of vehicular ramps and asked if these features could be less assertive in the design. Mr. Luebke asked if the second east-west sidewalk is actually necessary; Mr. Courtenay reiterated that it is needed because otherwise there would be only a single narrow sidewalk along the curb, and the ramps prevent access into the park for a third of that sidewalk's length.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk said the double sidewalk wouldn't be as disturbing if it weren't so crowded with additional elements, such as the bioswales and vents; she also expressed doubt that the pavilions around the vents would be nice places to sit. She said the infrastructure on the site should be treated in a straightforward way, related in appearance to the style and period of the building, and that seating should be placed somewhere appealing such as beneath trees. Ms. Nelson agreed that people would not want to sit around exhaust vents. Ms. Plater-Zyberk suggested that the park could simply be comprised of trees, lawn, and walkway. Mr. McKinnell said the number of elements is not consonant with the big idea of simplification and boldness. He advised resisting the temptation to elaborate the utilitarian elements by adding canopies and other features: "If ever there was a role for minimalism, that is it."
Ms. Nelson suggested removing some trees, probably a total of four, to allow the entrances and the sculptural plaques above them to be more visible; this would also eliminate the need to elevate some portions of the lawns. She also suggested replacing the second sidewalk with lawn, which would solve the problem of where people would actually walk; she reiterated that people would not follow the 45-degree jogs as seen in the plan, and curved walks would function better. Overall, she expressed support for the concept and said that work is needed on the details.
Upon a motion by Ms. Plater-Zyberk , the Commission approved the concept including a unified landscape to the north with the space being generally organized as presented but simplified and strengthened, and with the Commission's other comments taken into consideration as the project is developed.
E. Smithsonian Institution
CFA 17/FEB/11-4, National Zoological Park, North Road. General Services Building Retaining Wall. Concept. Ms. Batcheler introduced the proposal to replace a retaining wall on the north side of North Road within the National Zoo, adjacent to the zoo's General Services Building. She said that the existing timber retaining wall, now 35 years old, is failing and causing significant problems for the General Services Building. She described the wall's extent, with a length slightly over 1,000 feet and height ranging from 1 to 52 feet; the wall would be visible from nearby Rock Creek Park and from roads within and across the park. She added that the master plan for the zoo calls for construction of a parking garage on top of the General Services Building; this garage would largely conceal the proposed retaining wall, but the schedule for constructing this garage is not certain. She noted that the current proposal includes landscaping along the wall. She asked Ann Trowbridge of the Smithsonian Institution to begin the presentation.
Ms. Trowbridge said that the General Services Building contains critical service functions of the zoo, including the preparation of food for the animals. The building's roof is used for parking; the original plans for a larger parking garage and alterations to North Road were not implemented, and instead the temporary shoring wall was installed which is now failing. Construction of the proposed replacement retaining wall would begin later this year; the parking garage is scheduled for construction in approximately 2017 but is not yet funded. She introduced architects Jeffrey Luker and Don Pruitt of Quinn Evans Architects to present the design.
Mr. Luker described the context of the zoo and Rock Creek Park; North Road runs within the zoo to connect Connecticut Avenue on the west with the park's Beach Drive on the east. Rock Creek is adjacent to the project area along the zoo's north boundary. He indicated the proposed straight alignment of the wall, confirming that this is preferable to two slightly varied alignments that are included in the submission as alternatives; the straight alignment would be more flexible in relation to the likely configuration of the future parking garage addition. He indicated the potential location of car ramps and a pedestrian bridge in conjunction with the parking garage. He clarified that the current rooftop parking is not conveniently connected to the zoo and is used only for weekend overflow parking; a proposed pedestrian bridge and stair tower would provide a service connection for the zoo staff. He confirmed that the proposed wall would be the same length as the problematic existing structure.
Mr. Luker said that the proposed retaining wall would not be readily visible from within the zoo. He noted the photographs that were provided to the Commission members, taken in winter for maximum visibility, with the building slightly visible; when leaves are on the trees, the building would not be apparent. He added that the site is visible from Beach Drive within Rock Creek Park during the winter, but is difficult to see from Klingle Road and Adams Mill Road across the valley. He presented an additional view from the recreation trail within Rock Creek Park, indicating the limited views of a corner of the building containing offices; the existing topography conceals much of the site.
Mr. Pruitt said that the proposed retaining wall would eliminate the lateral loads from the hillside that are causing structural problems in the General Services Building, as well as the stormwater problems resulting from the existing wall's deterioration. He said that various configurations for the retaining wall were evaluated in comparison to the immediate structural issues as well as the future needs of the parking garage addition; the straight alignment emerged as the best option, particularly due to the uncertainty of where the garage's ramps would be located which could result in potential conflicts with any offsets in the alignment. He said that new landscaping is included in the proposal, and trees would be located where sufficient soil depth is available above the below-grade rock of the hillside. A proposed swale would collect stormwater runoff and channel it toward the existing drainage system.
Mr. Pruitt described the proposed treatment at the top of the wall along North Road. An open railing is proposed on the wall, supplemented by a vehicular guardrail several feet closer to the road; an alternative treatment is to extend the height of the wall to form a solid railing. He indicated a proposed zone of stabilized turf between the guardrail and the road; in the future, this area would be converted to a third lane for the road as envisioned in the zoo's master plan. The narrow strip between the guardrail and the top of the wall would be planted with ornamental grasses, providing a soft visual edge and discouraging pedestrians from approaching the top of the wall. Mr. Belle asked about the relationship of the road to the wall; Mr. Luker responded that the road, like the top of the wall, would follow the sloping topography; the slope would provide the opportunity for a separate entrance from North Road to each level of the parking garage. He added that the third lane might also be used in conjunction with a trolley system that the Smithsonian is considering to assist visitors in moving along the hilly zoo site. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked if the railing would match the other metal railings in the zoo. Mr. Luker responded that the intention would be to match the design, but only the concept of a metal railing is currently shown; Mr. Pruitt added that the design team has recently received the sketches for the zoo's planned perimeter fence, and this proposal will emulate it subject to differing performance requirements at this location.
Mr. Pruitt presented the preferred configuration for the stair tower and pedestrian bridge for staff use, noting that this proposal is flexible for incorporation into a future parking garage design; other alternatives that were considered would likely need to be demolished when the expansion occurs. He noted that some of the older renderings depict a smaller stair tower; the proposal is now slightly larger to accommodate the structural support for a roof over the exterior stairs, as requested by the Smithsonian. Mr. Luker discussed the potential design of the parking garage addition, emphasizing that it is not part of the current proposal. He said that the currently proposed landscaping would likely removed if the addition is built because the planted area would become a lightwell.
Mr. Pruitt discussed the architectural finish of the wall surface; the preferred construction method is to use a form liner to create the surface pattern—as seen elsewhere in the zoo such as the Asia Trail—and he presented three alternative stone-style patterns for the finish. Mr. Luker said that the design team is considering whether the design should relate more closely to rock patterns along Beach Drive in the park rather than the Asia Trail exhibit within the zoo. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked about the location of the Beach Drive examples; Mr. Luker said that several stone-patterned walls exist along the road, and patterning is also used on the wall at the entrance to the tunnel that carries Beach Drive beneath another portion of the zoo. He noted that the patterning is similar but not entirely consistent among the various walls in Rock Creek Park, and the proposed wall could be designed to be harmonious with these examples.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk commented that the appearance of patterned concrete walls is often compromised by the joints that must be placed within them; she asked if vines or other landscaping would be used to cover the face of the wall. Mr. Luker responded that this solution was considered but the plantings would be difficult to maintain and may cause deterioration of the wall; vines are therefore not proposed. Ms. Nelson commented that the attempt to make one material appear to be another is rarely convincing, and she questioned the effort to emulate stone on the face of this very large concrete wall. She acknowledged that using stone may be too costly and plants along the wall surface could be problematic, but she suggested consideration of alternative finishes such as metal, glass block, or a more direct expression of the concrete. Mr. Luker agreed that this issue is a challenge but noted that imitation stone is used extensively in the zoo, as well as along highways. He emphasized that the textured concrete surface is a reliable and cost-effective solution for a wall that will likely remain visible for only a five-year period. He added that a Cor-ten steel wall surface was considered, but it would be too obtrusive on the appearance of the Rock Creek valley; the suggestions for more expensive alternatives have not been considered. Mr. Rybczynski said that additional alternatives would be helpful for the Commission to see in the next submission, adding that the rock pattern will likely involve repetition along the great length of this wall. Mr. Luebke noted that expressed formwork is sometimes used for such concrete walls, particularly along highways in the western United States although less common in the east. Ms. Nelson said that this would be an interesting alternative to consider. Mr. Rybczynski emphasized that this wall is not part of a zoo exhibit, and the false stone appearance is therefore less appropriate at this location than elsewhere in the zoo. Mr. Pruitt acknowledged that other patterns could be incorporated into the surface, such as a more architectural approach that the Commission members are encouraging; he said that the park provides a wide range of examples to consider, and the goal is a design that will feel compatible with Rock Creek Park during the anticipated five-year period when it will be more visible prior to the construction of the garage addition. Ms. Nelson noted that the previous plans for the garage were not implemented, and the current planning may be comparably uncertain.
Mr. McKinnell suggested that the wall include buttresses, even if slight, which would provide structural benefits, relieve the long planar appearance, and provide inside corner locations where the necessary joints could be concealed. Mr. Luker responded that this feature was considered but would be significantly more expensive. He added that the structural system involves tiebacks into the hill to resist the lateral forces, and the buttresses would therefore not provide any structural benefit. He acknowledged the potential aesthetic benefit but emphasized that the buttresses might interfere with the future design of the garage addition and its connecting ramps to North Road. Mr. McKinnell characterized the proposed planar design as over 1,000 feet of unrelieved "wallpaper." Mr. Luker reiterated that the length of the wall is not readily visible except from the parking area on the roof of the existing building.
Vice-Chairman Nelson suggested that the Commission members visit the site to see the context and a demarcation of the proposal's extent, perhaps with additional alternatives of materials for examination at the site; she recommended deferring action on the proposal until after the inspection. Mr. Luker suggested visiting before the leaves fill in. Mr. Luebke added that the Commission could also view the wall's extent as seen from within Rock Creek Park, an important consideration. He suggested scheduling the site inspection in conjunction with the Commission's March meeting.
Vice-Chairman Nelson summarized the consensus of the Commission to arrange a site inspection before taking action on the proposal. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
F. Department of Defense
CFA 17/FEB/11-5, Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia. North Rotary Road and Fern Street Access Control Point—new vehicular security screening facility. Final. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposal to rebuild and upgrade a vehicular access control point in the Pentagon's south parking lot near the Metro station entrance and the building's main visitor and staff entrances; the site is also highly visible from Interstate 395 and lies along the pedestrian route between the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial and the transit and visitor parking areas. He described the existing character of this area as confusing and hazardous for drivers and pedestrians, with vehicular backups at the existing screening facility causing problems for access to the bus facility adjacent to the Metro station. He indicated other projects in the vicinity: the access control facilities at the two pedestrian bridges on the Pentagon's south side, reviewed by the Commission in January 2011; and a truck screening facility further west, near the memorial entrance, that will be submitted in the near future for Commission review. He asked William Battle, senior project manager in the Engineering and Technical Services Division of the Department of Defense, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Battle said the project is part of an overall program to upgrade the secure physical perimeter around the Pentagon. Vehicles entering the secured area near the south side of the Pentagon are currently screened at a single-lane access control point. The proposal would add another inspection lane to improve traffic flow and create safer conditions for pedestrians. Mr. Battle introduced Chris Garner of Wiley Wilson, the design firm working with AKIMA Construction on developing the project, to present the proposal.
Mr. Garner described the current conditions at the site and the proposed new features: the second inspection lane; a route for rejected vehicles including trucks; a new gatehouse and a guard booth; and two new canopies to shelter the pre-screening and screening areas. He said that the new canopies would resemble those used at the Metro entrance and adjacent bus loading bays; they would be made of tubular steel supporting a curving white plastic canopy. The two small buildings beneath would be made of concrete and constructed in accordance with the Pentagon Exterior Standards Manual.
Ms. Nelson asked about the visibility of the new facility from I-395; Mr. Garner responded that the most visible element would be the white canopies, which are omitted in some of the renderings to show the facilities beneath. Ms. Nelson asked what kind of screening had been used at the Pentagon entry points before 2001. Lynn Mariano of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency responded that intermittent screening was conducted from police cars; after September 2001, a total of 22 prefabricated gatehouses were installed. Ms. Nelson asked if all 22 gatehouses would be replaced in the current program, noting the large scope of such a project; Mr. Mariano said that most would be replaced with permanent structures and some would be consolidated.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk noted the intention to relate the proposed canopies to the existing Metro canopies but said that the Metro canopies were not clearly illustrated in the presentation, making the proposal difficult to evaluate; she recommended that all of the canopies be identical or very similar in appearance. She emphasized that the public will have a broad view of this area from many angles, particularly from I-395, and a proliferation of canopy types would look messy and incoherent. She also objected that the presentation drawings do not clearly depict the buildings beneath the canopies. She noted that the previous month, when reviewing access control points on the pedestrian bridges leading to the Pentagon, the Commission members had recommended using the same type of material and detailing as on the Pentagon building itself; she recommended the same treatment for the current submission, despite the modern tendency not to copy existing designs even when this approach would result in a more harmonious appearance. Mr. Battle responded that the design is intended to relate the appearance of the proposed canopies to the Metro canopies, although matching the shape is not feasible because of height requirements for the trucks that would drive through the access control point; the Metro canopies are much lower to provide rain protection to pedestrians. Ms. Plater-Zyberk suggested matching the support columns for the canopies. Mr. Garner responded that the proposed canopies would have a double-column configuration which is also used for the Metro canopies; the same type of plastic fabric would also be used. Ms. Plater-Zyberk requested better illustrations of both canopy systems to understand their relationship, emphasizing that they would be located in close proximity. Ms. Nelson noted the added importance of refining a design that would likely be repeated at multiple locations around the Pentagon.
Ms. Nelson asked if the proposed canopies are a standard manufacturer's product; Mr. Garner responded that they will be custom-made by a high-quality firm, and Mr. Battle noted their high cost, conformance to specific standards, and projected twenty-year durability. Ms. Nelson noted the importance of the location and expressed satisfaction that the design is not based merely on readily available products.
Mr. Rybczynski expressed satisfaction with the proposal, commenting that the Pentagon area is a large, chaotic place and does not need the same type of design refinement that might be appropriate within a national park. Ms. Nelson said the appearance should nonetheless be coherent when seen from the streets and highway. Mr. Battle confirmed that an improved appearance is the intention of the project; he emphasized that many different canopy designs were considered, and the submitted design is closest in appearance to the Metro canopies while also meeting the Pentagon's functional requirements.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk recommended close coordination between the current submission and the previous month's proposal at the pedestrian bridges, emphasizing that the surface detailing of the two projects should harmonize. Mr. Battle responded that the two project teams already participate in the ongoing master plan meetings and both are following the Pentagon Exterior Standards Manual. Ms. Plater-Zyberk suggested that a copy of the Commission's comments on the January 2011 submission be included in the response to the current proposal.
Upon a motion by Mr. Rybczynski with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the proposal subject to further coordination with the other security-related projects at the Pentagon.
G. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
1. SL 11-049, Office Building, 500 North Capitol Street, NW. Additions and facade alterations. Revised concept. (Previous: SL 11-038, January 2011.) Ms. Batcheler said that the submission for changes to this existing office building includes revisions in response to the Commission's recommendations the previous month. She introduced architect Jeff Barber of Gensler to present the design.
Mr. Barber summarized the Commission's previous comments: support for the concept of varying curtainwall treatments; a recommendation to lower the height of the glass that projects above the parapet; a request for clarification of the details and materials of the cladding system, particularly where a portion of the facade projects in front of the primary building plane; the need for stronger articulation of the volumes as they reach the ground; and a request for further study of the material for the planter edges at the building's front plaza.
Mr. Barber presented photographs of the context along with the proposed plans, unchanged from the previous submission. He then presented the new studies for refining the facade treatment. He indicated the proposed raising of the metal parapet at two facade areas—the west end of the south facade, and the north end of the east facade—in order to align with the adjacent glass parapet that extends upward from the remainder of the south and east facades. He said that this solution is preferable to the Commission's suggestion that the glass parapet be lowered; the parapet is serving as the safety railing for the roof garden, and lowering it would require introducing an additional railing. He also presented details of the metal cladding of the columns at the corners of the facades, indicating the reduced thickness to emphasize the primary plane of the metal-clad bays.
Mr. Barber then presented detailed drawings of the proposed projecting portions of the building and the extended glass fins at the edges of these areas; he noted the two-foot distance between the forward glass plane and the primary facade plane of the building. He indicated the thin mullion along the edge of the five-foot-wide glass projection, a detail that has been developed since the previous submission; the mullions at other glass areas would be on the interior and would not be capped on the exterior. Mr. Belle asked for clarification of the existing building elements; Mr. Barber indicated the columns on the plan and explained that the existing facade alignment, which is behind the columns, will be entirely changed. He presented drawings and photographs of comparable facade details at other recent Washington buildings.
Mr. McKinnell asked to see a vertical section through the projecting portion of the facade; Mr. Barber said that none is available in the presentation. Mr. McKinnell asked if the surface on top of the projection would be treated as a balcony, with the upward projection of the glass used as a parapet or railing; Mr. Barber responded that this area would be treated with a coping detail but would not be accessible to building tenants, emphasizing the narrow two-foot depth of the projection.
Mr. Barber described the two types of glass that would be used on the street facades. The primary facade plane would be a clear glass which is particularly desirable at the ground-level retail space and at the top-floor conference rooms; he presented a sample of the clear glass. The projecting facade layer would be a more reflective glass, contributing to the energy performance of the building; this glass would have a slightly gray or silver appearance but would not have a colored reflective surface. The lower portions of the windows would be fritted with a line pattern to obscure views of the office furniture from the exterior. Mr. Belle asked if the glass fins would be difficult to keep clean. Mr. Barber responded that this should not be a problem, citing the examples of other buildings that have comparable projecting fins; he noted that the five-feet dimension of the projections could be handled with an extended squeegee.
Mr. Barber presented a sample of the proposed white metal accent material, which he said has not changed from the previous submission. Mr. Luebke noted that this material may have appeared darker in previous renderings; Mr. Barber acknowledged one study with a more silver appearance and emphasized the difficulty of accurately rendering the slight color variations. Ms. Nelson asked for a comparison of the two colors; Mr. Barber presented both renderings and said that the silver color reacts differently to sunlight, preferring the white which he described as "light and crisp." He confirmed that the columns would be clad in the same metal.
Mr. Barber presented some of the design studies that have been done for the building's base, exploring how to bring the framed end bays of the facade to the ground. One option that was developed would be to recess the glass plane slightly, resulting in exposure of an existing intermediate column which would be clad in metal. He said that the preferred solution is an earlier design which would extend the primary facade plane directly to the ground at these end bays, a treatment that would contrast with the colonnade effect along other parts of the ground-level facade. He emphasized the awkward proportions of the recessed-base option, giving the appearance of the end bays being supported by a thin central column.
Mr. Barber presented the updated site plan, noting the Commission's previous concern with the material of the planter edges; he said that dark gray granite is now proposed, matching the granite to be used at the plaza steps and building entrance.
Mr. McKinnell asked if the design is intended to be perceived as a single building or as two buildings with a recessed joint between them. Mr. Barber described the appearance as a single building with modulation, adding that the slight difference in glass types would not cause the design to be understood as separate buildings.
Mr. Rybczynski said that he has recently visited the site and concludes that the building's two street facades have very different urban roles: the south facade has a relatively conventional relationship to a normal city street, while the east facade has the relatively rare situation of facing an extensive open space across North Capitol Street. He described the multiple buildings along North Capitol Street as forming an important composite facade that leads up to Union Station toward the north. He observed that each building contributes to this ensemble, and the proper design for a building along this portion of North Capitol Street is to provide continuity from one side to the other; the proposed design, however, creates three different facade segments along the North Capitol Street frontage. He recommended a simpler horizontal facade design that would be understood as a single element along North Capitol Street. In contrast, the south facade along E Street is not typically viewed from a great distance and could be articulated in various ways, such as in the proposed design, without harm to the urban form. He acknowledged the design intent to treat the two street facades as a unified composition, articulating the end bays as "bookends" around the southeast corner of the building, but said that this solution is inappropriate for the differing conditions of the urban context.
Mr. Barber responded that the existing buildings along North Capitol Street are actually not consistent in contributing to a composite facade along the street; Mr. Rybczynski reiterated that most of the buildings do contribute to this appearance. Mr. Barber also emphasized the importance of the building's southeast corner and said that the design is intended to take advantage of it, similar to the treatment of another building further north on North Capitol Street. He said that the east elevation includes much horizontal emphasis, establishing a strong character for the entire block; he added that this horizontal emphasis has been strengthened in the current submission while still providing for articulation of the facade. He said that a more uniform treatment of the east facade, as suggested by Mr. Rybczynski, was considered earlier in the design process but was rejected as lacking sufficient interest. Mr. Rybczynski said that the current proposal for this facade has too much interest, creating a busy appearance that is not appropriate along North Capitol Street; he reiterated that this busy character would be acceptable along E Street, which is the common treatment of many buildings in Washington such as those shown by Mr. Barber during the presentation. He emphasized the special character of this site, comparing the ensemble of buildings along North Capitol Street to a corniche that forms a wonderful street without requiring the creation of additional interest by individual buildings; he reiterated the need for simplicity which he said is lacking in the proposal for the east facade.
Mr. McKinnell agreed with Mr. Rybczynski's concerns, commenting that the Commission's role is to assess the urban design implications of the proposed design rather than to take on the role of the building's architects; he emphasized that the urban design issue for this project is significant. He observed that the proposed design strongly implies that the south and east facades are similar, but their urbanistic settings are actually very different. He added that the perspective view gives the strong appearance that the design is intended to be understood as separate buildings, notwithstanding Mr. Barber's different interpretation.
Mr. Barber noted that the project has already been presented to the Commission twice, and this guidance was not previously offered. Ms. Nelson noted that the issue involves only the east facade. Mr. McKinnell referred to the minutes of the previous meeting, describing his observation that the design creates the appearance of two buildings rather than one; he said the current discussion is an amplification of this previous comment. Ms. Plater-Zyberk acknowledged the Commission's previous guidance to refine the design concept in relatively small ways. She said that the current submission, having resolved these smaller problems, has allowed the Commission to evaluate more clearly the overall proposal, resulting in a stronger appreciation that the project really is a single building. She noted the overall symmetry of the building, including the centered entrance on the east facade and the symmetrical penthouse configuration, as well as the full breadth of its North Capitol Street facade.
Mr. Belle expressed appreciation for the responsiveness to the Commission's previous comments and said that the resulting design has become slightly too complex; he suggested a simplification of the concept. He said the project will inevitably be understood as a large glass building in any of the alternatives being considered. He recommended further refinement of the design with careful consideration of the site's special characteristics; he cautioned against adding complexity to the design. Mr. McKinnell acknowledged the proposed vocabulary of floating planes, deferring to the design team's intention for the project; he suggested using this vocabulary to articulate the northern portion of the east facade, rather than the proposed articulation of these bays as a pavilion which he said is too "strident." He added that the composition of volumes is an arbitrary effect that is being created by the proposed architecture.
Mr. Barber described an additional design study, not included in the presentation, that used glass at the end bays and wrapping the far corners of the street facades; this design would address Mr. McKinnell's recommendation by reducing the distinctiveness of the end volumes without the expression of the white metal framing. He noted that the treatment of the corner columns would still need to be addressed, perhaps using fritted or spandrel glass. Ms. Nelson requested the opportunity to see this alternative, commenting that the large white framing system be the problematic design element; her previous comments addressed its color, but perhaps omitting it altogether would be a preferable solution. She characterized the current proposal for the end bays as aggressive and tall in appearance. Mr. Barber offered to develop this alternative, noting that the separation zone between the volumes would still be an element of the design; he added that other Commission members seem to be favoring a more symmetrical approach to the east elevation.
Mr. Rybczynski acknowledged that the proposed design would be an interesting building considered in isolation; however, he emphasized that the line of buildings along North Capitol Street does not need to become more interesting. Ms. Plater-Zyberk suggested that the projecting glass-enclosed volume be extended across the entire east facade, which would be more consistent with the building's original expression as a single continuous volume. Mr. Barber said that this approach was considered earlier in the design process, but the project team—including the owner and future tenant as well as the architect—prefers the current concept. Mr. McKinnell clarified that he was not suggesting a single treatment across the full length of the east facade, but instead a more restrained articulation of the bays at the north end. Mr. Barber asked if this recommendation could be addressed through material selection rather than changes to the height and massing; Mr. McKinnell said that the design team rather than the Commission should resolve this, taking into consideration the subtleties of the facade composition.
Anne Adams of the law firm Goulston & Storrs, representing the project team, expressed appreciation for the Commission's comments but noted the difficulty of returning for multiple reviews. She said that the project involves a background building that expressed the prevailing design character of the period in which it was built; similarly, the current proposal is intended to express current mainstream design. She suggested that the proposed design is not excessively exuberant but is instead appropriate for the site. Noting the three concept presentations to the Commission, she asked if the design team could work with the staff to resolve the remaining issues rather than return for further Commission review; Mr. Rybczynski opposed delegating further review to the staff. Vice-Chairman Nelson noted the prominence of the site and the Commission's appropriate role in reviewing such projects; she acknowledged that the review process can be lengthy for some projects and emphasized the Commission's desire to see further design alternatives.
Mr. Rybczynski clarified that his concern is with how the east facade responds to the special issues of North Capitol Street; he reiterated his support for the proposed E Street facade—which would be seen from only limited angles—but said that it should not merely be mimicked on the east. He added that the next submission could continue to rely on the proposed design vocabulary, noting that the Commission is not suggesting a completely new concept such as a brick facade; the issue is how to use the proposed vocabulary to address the urban design problem.
Ms. Adams acknowledged this guidance but said that the Commission members appear to have a diversity of recommended directions for developing the design. Vice-Chairman Nelson said that this is part of the Commission's process, with each member offering guidance which may not always result in a single recommendation. Ms. Adams said that the project team would work on developing a proposal that would address all of the comments to a satisfactory extent. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
2. SL 11-051, 1700 New York Avenue, NW (Corcoran Gallery of Art). New eight-story office building. Revised concept. (Previous: SL 11-037, January 2011.) Ms. Batcheler said that this project—like the previous agenda item—is a third submission of the concept for an office building that was previously reviewed in January. She noted the site adjacent to the Corcoran Gallery and said that the submission responds to the Commission's recommendations concerning simplification of the massing. She introduced architect Andrew Rollman of SmithGroup to present the proposal.
Mr. Rollman summarized the overall concept of "a quiet, disciplined, taut minimal glass building" that responds to the special conditions of the site. He described the five major revisions to the design in response to the Commission's comments: the projecting planes along the New York Avenue facade have been eliminated; the facade is now proposed to align with the property line; the curtainwall module has been increased to ten feet, resulting in a simplified facade pattern with fewer vertical mullion lines. The deviations from the simple building form on the north facade have been limited to two locations: the east end adjacent to the Corcoran, and the west end adjacent to the United Unions Building. At the northwest corner, the west facade is now entirely orthogonal to the United Unions Building which provides more space between the buildings; he described the result as greatly simplified from the previous design. Finally, the penthouse has been pushed back from the north facade to reduce the proposed building's apparent height when viewed from New York Avenue; the height would align with that of the United Unions Building.
Mr. Rollman presented the site plan and perspectives to illustrate the proposed design, emphasizing the current revisions. He indicated the recessed treatment of the building entrance near the northeast corner, with a portion of the building mass pulled away from the Corcoran and aligned with its height. A shallow reveal in the sixth-floor facade would further emphasize this special configuration; the depth of this reveal has been reduced from six to three feet, and an adjacent five-foot projection beyond the property line has been eliminated. Marble would be used in this area, matching the marble of the Corcoran's facade; the soffits above the recesses would be glass. He described the penthouse design, indicating the allowable maximum height of 18.5 feet that would be consistent with the United Unions penthouse. The proposed penthouse, however, is reduced to the minimum necessary height to accommodate elevator equipment requirements and enclose the building's cooling towers: the height would slope from ten to sixteen feet, and two sculptural forms would enclose an elevator and an egress stair. Ms. Nelson commented that the penthouse profile suggests wings on the roof; Mr. Rollman indicated the two contrasting slopes of the roof forms and confirmed that they serve a functional purpose as well as adding interest to the design.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked about the thick appearance of the east facade behind the entrance area; Mr. Rollman said that the rendering illustrates the vertical glass fins, which were included in the previous submission with a depth of four feet but are now reduced to eighteen inches. He said that the smooth glass skin is expressed on the north side, while the other facades would have solar control features: vertical fins on portions of the east and west facades, and horizontal shading elements on the south facade. The glass for the fins would be transparent but would be selected to reduce the solar heat gain on the building. He confirmed that the facades shown in the renderings are the actual building skin rather than projecting screens; he indicated the proposed areaway—designed as a continuation of the Corcoran's existing areaway—and the glass railing that would protect its edge.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk observed that the windows forming the major massing elements would provide views of people's offices when the building is occupied. Mr. Rollman said that the view of office desks would be mitigated with a frit pattern that is being developed for the windows. Mr. McKinnell asked if the ten-foot-wide window module would be satisfactory for tenant office layouts, or if partitions might be introduced that do not align with window mullions. Mr. Rollman responded that the likely tenants include lobbying or law firms which would typically have offices that are at least ten feet wide. Nonetheless, he said that a detail is being developed for accommodating partitions that do not align with mullions: an interior glass mullion would be introduced that would prevent the appearance of drywall abutting the exterior facade.
The Commission members inspected a model of the proposal which included the context of the site. Ms. Nelson asked about the materials of the exterior features. Mr. Rollman said that the horizontal fins on the south facade would be the same transparent glass as the vertical fins used elsewhere; the penthouse cladding would also be glass.
Vice-Chairman Nelson recognized Frederick Bollerer, director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and president of the Corcoran College of Art and Design. Mr. Bollerer expressed the Corcoran's enthusiastic support for the proposal, as conveyed in his letter of February 9 to the Commission; he said that the supporters include the trustees and the architects on the Corcoran's staff. He characterized the design as an appropriate backdrop and neighbor to the Corcoran.
Vice-Chairman Nelson recognized Sally Berk, representing the Committee of 100 on the Federal City. Ms. Berk reiterated her organization's support for the overall concept of a glass box that expresses the typical form of an office building. She acknowledged the simplified design of the current proposal and said that it is an improvement over the previous submission. However, she said that several aspects of the proposal detract from the apparently intended concept of a taut glass form. For example, the western edge is jagged and could instead be treated as a smooth turn at the northwest corner; the form could also pull back further from the United Unions Building. She acknowledged that this change would slightly reduce the proposed building's floor area but said that the result would be a cleaner, simpler glass box. She said that the glass fins are an additional problematic feature, detracting from the concept of a taut volume; she recommended that solar heat gain be addressed by other techniques which might be more effective, such as a different type of glass or double-glazed walls. She supported the apparent high quality of the proposed materials and the use of glass for exterior details such as the soffits and the penthouse forms, characterizing the result as elegant. She said that the developer has promised restrictions on tenant features that would be visible from the exterior, such as window shades and desks; she encouraged fulfillment of this intention and noted that the building's appearance will be significantly affected by such features, particularly at night. She supported the relocation of the penthouse away from the New York Avenue facade, which she emphasized is the building's primary facade and would be seen in conjunction with the Corcoran. She said that the appearance of the proposed building when approaching along 17th Street from the south has not been well documented but would likely be acceptable. She noted the Commission's previous encouragement for consideration of reducing the building's height and expressed regret that the current submission does not include a study of this alternative; she emphasized the importance of this issue.
Vice-Chairman Nelson expressed appreciation for the responsiveness of the submission to the Commission's previous comments. She said that the treatment of the northwest corner in relation to the United Unions Building is improved. She asked about additional design features such as signage and landscaping, requesting that these be included in future submissions and emphasizing the importance of these to the overall design and to the project's relationship to the historic Corcoran building.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk agreed that the design has improved; she said that the treatment of the northwest corner is better but still gives the sense of a slot of space that has been grudgingly provided adjacent to the United Unions Building. She noted the prevalence of fins and fritted glass in the office building designs being reviewed by the Commission. She supported the request for inclusion of additional design features in the next submission and said that the ceiling lighting would be another feature to address, noting the non-orthogonal geometry of the building and the possibility that office partitions and ceiling lights would not necessarily be installed perpendicular to the facades. She recommended that these features be carefully controlled to the extent feasible so that the night appearance of the building supports the overall design intention, noting the precedent of Mies van der Rohe's architecture.
Ms. Nelson asked if a building tenant requiring perimeter security would result in the introduction of bollards or fencing along New York Avenue. Robert Carr of Carr Development, the developer for the project, responded that a higher-security government tenant is not anticipated for this building; multiple private-sector tenants would be more likely. Additional security elements would therefore not be necessary; he added that signage would be limited to metal letters at the front door to identify the building's address.
Mr. Belle described the design as a promising beginning, commenting that the building's character will be further defined with the presence of tenants. Mr. McKinnell said that the design is an improvement from the previous proposal; he supported Ms. Plater-Zyberk's recommendation to control the ceiling treatment carefully.
Upon a motion by Mr. Belle with second by Mr. McKinnell, the Commission approved the concept. Vice-Chairman Nelson noted the Commission's interest in reviewing future submissions with further development of the project's detail in accordance with the comments provided.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 3:47 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Last Modified: March 25, 2011