Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
20 January 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 10:08 a.m.
(Due to the absence of the Chairman during the first part of the meeting, the Vice-Chairman presided through agenda item II.D.)
A. Approval of the minutes of the 18 November meeting. Mr. Luebke reported that the minutes of the November 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 February, 17 March, and 21 April.
C. Confirmation of the approval of the recommendations for the December 2010 Old Georgetown Act submissions. Mr. Luebke asked the Commission to take a formal vote to confirm the Old Georgetown Board recommendations that were circulated and endorsed in December, when no Commission meeting was held. Upon a motion by Ms. Balmori with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission adopted the December recommendations. (See agenda item II.A, Appendix III, for the January 2011 Old Georgetown Act submissions.)
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 the only changes from the draft appendix are minor editing and format adjustments. He noted the staff's successful implementation of a database system for generating the appendix, resulting in slight format differences, and the substantial length of the appendix with 24 projects. Upon a motion by Ms. Balmori with second by Mr. Belle, the Commission approved the Direct Submission Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported no changes but one outstanding issue from the draft appendix: revisions have not yet been received for the window and door replacement on a residential building at 416 South Capitol Street, SE (case number SL 11-036). She anticipated a favorable recommendation and requested permission to finalize this action upon the receipt of supplemental materials. Upon a motion by Ms. Plater-Zyberk with second by Ms. Balmori, the Commission approved the revised appendix. (See agenda items II.F.1 and II.F.2 for additional Shipstead-Luce Act submissions.)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martinez reported only minor changes to the draft appendix, including updated recommendations in response to supplemental materials. For several other projects, the necessary supplemental information remains outstanding; he requested authorization to finalize these recommendations after verifying that the requested design revisions have been made. One project on the draft appendix has now been removed due to a revised submission that will be reviewed by the Old Georgetown Board in February. Upon a motion by Ms. Plater-Zyberk with second by Ms. Balmori, the Commission approved the revised appendix. (See agenda item I.C for the approval of the Old Georgetown Board recommendations from December 2010.)
B. National Park Service
1. CFA 20/JAN/11-1, Dwight D. Eisenhower National Memorial. Intersection of Maryland and Independence Avenues, between 4th and 6th Streets, SW. Concept designs—three alternatives. (Previous: CFA 20/MAY/10-1, Information presentation.) Mr. Luebke introduced the concept submission for the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Memorial, last seen by the Commission in May 2010 in an information presentation. He said that three options have been developed as part of the National Environmental Policy Act compliance; one of these is designated as the preferred alternative—a design which features three large metal-mesh tapestries. He summarized several issues to be addressed, including the technical concepts for the tapestries and their support; the axial view corridor along Maryland Avenue to the U.S. Capitol; the character of the landscape and focal plaza; and the relationship of the design to the adjacent Department of Education headquarters. He noted that models of all three alternatives that are available for the Commission's inspection. He asked Peter May of the National Park Service to begin the presentation. Mr. May said that the design has evolved and improved; he introduced architects Frank Gehry and John Bowers of Gehry Partners to present the alternatives.
Mr. Bowers discussed the features of the site—a large, mostly paved plaza, one of several urban spaces located along Maryland Avenue between the Jefferson Memorial and the Capitol, and lying in an area dominated by large federal office buildings. He described the extended areas relating to the three-and-a-quarter-acre memorial site: a three-quarter-acre security zone on the south along the Department of Education building; and an overall perceived area of seven and a half acres, including the adjacent streets on three sides, as defined by the surrounding buildings. He indicated the 160-foot right-of-way of Maryland Avenue and a historically typical fifty-foot-wide cartway; the existing cartway splits and deflects as it passes through the site. An existing sunken courtyard in the southeast corner of the site would remain, providing light, access, and ventilation to the basement level of the Education building.
Mr. Bowers presented several photographs of the views to the north from various locations within the Education Department building, describing the design team's study of the potential impact of the large tapestry on these views. Ms. Nelson asked about the height relationship of the memorial's elements to the Education building; Mr. Bowers responded that the top and bottom of this tapestry would be aligned with the top and bottom of the Education building's primary volume.
Mr. Bowers discussed the features of the three alternative designs, including comparisons to the previous versions of the alternatives that were presented in May 2010. In Design Concept 1, the Maryland Avenue cartway would be consolidated and remain as a through street for traffic; the memorial would be organized along both sides of the avenue, with a central precinct defined by colossal columns surrounding a grove of trees and sculpture blocks. The ground plane for the remainder of the site has been developed with landscape elements and a grid of trees. In Design Concept 2, the cartway would be eliminated and traffic diverted around the perimeter so the site could be unified; this option retains the central memorial precinct of the first alternative but incorporates more landscaping, including trees of various sizes, to create a different character. The support facilities, previously shown in a single building, are now configured as two buildings that would be sited to frame the diagonal alignment of Maryland Avenue in order to reinforce this visual corridor.
Mr. Bowers said that Design Concept 3, the preferred alternative, would feature two rows of colossal columns—one along Independence Avenue and the other in front of the Department of Education Building—to define the site's boundaries. The southern colonnade would support a large tapestry of woven stainless-steel mesh, creating a backdrop for the site; two smaller tapestries on the northern colonnade would form a "proscenium." Subsequent to the May 2010 presentation, two columns have been removed from the northern colonnade to focus emphasis on the tapestries, and the central memorial precinct had been simplified into a rectangular area defined by two flanking walls on the east and west. The support facilities—including a bookstore, ranger contact station, and restrooms—would be located in a single building, previously shown toward the northwest corner of the site but now on the southeast where it would help to define the anticipated primary entrance route from the northeast.
Mr. Bowers asked Mr. Gehry to discuss the main tapestry and the memorial's imagery in more detail. Mr. Gehry said that the primary issue facing the design team is to create a viable tapestry with a dignified representation comparable to those used on historic tapestries. Traditional tapestry techniques produce a solid wall-like artwork, which would not be appropriate in front of the Education building; the goal for this project is to achieve a balance between opacity and transparency in the mesh of the tapestry. He said that the design team is making progress toward this goal, and he provided samples of metal-mesh weaving for the Commission's inspection. He added that one of his inspirations in developing the concept has been trying to emulate the dignity and simplicity of the Lincoln Memorial.
Mr. Gehry said that he had invited the choreographer, designer, and actor Robert Wilson to be part of the design team because Mr. Wilson is a minimalist who could articulate the essence of a character. He said that Mr. Wilson had suggested a photograph of Eisenhower's boyhood home and the surrounding landscape near Abilene, Kansas, as the appropriate image for the main tapestry because it would convey the Midwestern background of Eisenhower and many other American leaders. Mr. Gehry said he had consulted with members of Eisenhower's family, who supported the use of this image; they also mentioned the two "poles" of Eisenhower's career—as general and politician—and supported the configuration of the memorial space as a central wall bridging between two flanking walls that represent these two aspects of the president's life. He said that Mr. Wilson had suggested placing a small sculpture of Eisenhower on this central wall.
Mr. Gehry reported the coordination efforts with the Department of Education. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission had met with the previous Secretary of Education, and Mr. Gehry said he has talked about the memorial design with the current Secretary; they had discussed the views from the building and the role of the memorial site as a forecourt to the Education building. Mr. Gehry described the effect of the relationship of the preferred alternative to the Education building: the 75-foot-wide space between the facade and the proposed tapestry would be treated as a plaza aligned with the building's lobby level. The plaza could contain cafes and other amenities for employees, and would encourage employees to use the entrances on the north side of the building rather than the current preference for using the entrances on the south. He added that an outdoor cafe would also be a desirable amenity on the terrace of the National Air and Space Museum overlooking the memorial site from the north.
Mr. Gehry said that the proposal includes planting sycamore trees on the site because they are common in the Abilene area and would recall the imagery proposed for the large tapestry. He added that the proposed large columns are related in form to grain silos, another common feature of the Kansas landscape. He indicated the trees in the site model, commenting that they work well with the overall design. Ms. Nelson asked when the trees would reach the large size that is modeled; landscape architect Joe Brown of AECOM responded that the trees would be grown in advance and when planted would be about six to eight caliper inches and 15 to 20 feet high. He added that an array of other tree species of different sizes would be planted.
Mr. Gehry said the proposed columns would have a diameter of twelve feet, only a small amount larger than the structural minimum of ten feet to accommodate the cladding. He discussed the removal of two of the freestanding columns which had helped to define the edge along Independence Avenue, explaining that these had become less important after the image for the large tapestry was chosen. Mr. Belle asked if the current configuration of the colonnade is still intended to define the edge along Independence Avenue. Mr. Gehry responded that the intention is for the tapestry to define the precinct and integrate it with the surrounding buildings, to establish Eisenhower's simplicity as a person, and to represent "Middle America" in Washington.
Mr. Gehry discussed the research into the tapestry technique, with the goal of making a dignified tapestry that would last hundreds of years. The samples show the progress so far, and the effort continues to achieve the necessary range of transparency for the proposed image—from opaque at the bottom, where land would be represented, to more transparent at the top, in the area that would represent sky. He anticipated that the mesh would need to be very fine in order to be dignified; wider mesh would lose the richness of the image.
Ms. Balmori asked if the image of Eisenhower's face represented on some of the samples would be used in the memorial; Mr. Gehry said it would not, and had been chosen for the samples because the portrait is the most difficult type of photograph to render well in metal tapestry. Ms. Balmori recommended that, rather than reproducing a photograph, an artist should be engaged to create the image for the tapestry. Mr. Gehry responded that this has been considered, resulting in discussions with several artists including Chuck Close, but the difficulty is that prominent artists would want to choose their own subject rather than conform to the guidance of the memorial's designers.
Mr. Belle asked about the effect of wind on the tapestry, particularly due to the varying density of the weave. Mr. Bowers responded that this will be explored further; issues being studied are whether to configure the tapestry as multiple layers or an integral, uniform fabric, and whether it should be constructed as separate panels. The support system is also being studied, with the goal of concealing the support as much as possible; one option under consideration is a cable-net system. Mr. McKinnell asked if the proportions of the columns shown in the model are different than in the drawings; Mr. Bowers said they are the same. Ms. Balmori asked about the location in the memorial of other images included in the presentation, such as a photograph of Eisenhower mending a fence; Mr. Gehry responded that this image would not be on a tapestry, but may be used for the small sculpture or the bas-reliefs.
Mr. Rybczynski expressed support for the preferred alternative, particularly the focus of the design, the use of the columns to define the space, and the idea of representing the two poles of Eisenhower's life; he said that creating an urban space with a central precinct would allow for other uses within this large site. However, he expressed ambivalence about the tapestry itself, observing that tapestries are works of art whereas this tapestry would use a photograph—which typically is used for a work of advertising—and the result is reminiscent of a billboard. The tapestries also suggest that the entire urban square is part of the memorial, while the columns without the tapestries would simply serve to define the overall urban space rather than being perceived as memorial elements; the memorial itself could then be a more concentrated area at the center, and the remainder of the large site could comfortably be used as an urban park, accommodating activities such as eating lunch. He offered to withhold judgment on the tapestry, acknowledging that it is an unfamiliar design element and requires extensive further study; meanwhile, he reiterated his encouragement that the rest of the design—especially the ground plane—is moving in the right direction.
Mr. McKinnell said he generally agreed with Mr. Rybczynski's comments, and he supported the design team's selection of the preferred option. He said that the design raises a conceptual issue of whether the elements defining a space could themselves constitute a memorial; the preferred alternative proves that this can be done. He said that he shared Mr. Rybczynski's concern about the tapestry, while acknowledging that the design team would be able to resolve the technical challenges of this feature. He commented that the tapestry would likely disintegrate in the distant future, while the columns would remain; the memorial would then resemble the ruined temples at Paestum, which he said would be "marvelous." He reiterated his impression that the columns were more widely proportioned when previously presented, and said that he preferred that massiveness; he encouraged the ambiguity of whether these elements are columns or silos. He also expressed support for the relationship of the memorial to the Department of Education headquarters, commenting that the space created along between the building and the line of columns would be "extraordinarily memorable" and would accomplish the significant feat of making the building look good. He asked about the material of the columns; Mr. Gehry said they would be clad in limestone.
Mr. McKinnell said that the design of the tapestry support system would be critical to the success of the memorial; any solution that reduces the abstract nature of the columns would diminish their impact. He commented that a problematic example of this diminishment is the proposed use of the columns to support a canopy in front of the Education building—actually just a symbolic canopy which does not extend to the building's entrance. He reiterated his support for the great strength of the preferred alternative's major gestures.
Mr. McKinnell said he prefers the grids of trees to define the ground plane, as shown in the first two alternatives, rather than the informal arrangement of trees in the third alternative. Mr. Gehry responded that the informal arrangement was an attempt to represent the essence of Eisenhower's character. Mr. McKinnell commented that the grid is a quintessential formal characteristic of the Midwest, adding that the arrangement of trees in this pattern may nonetheless not be readily discernible. Mr. Gehry said that the tree grid would also be in conflict with the diagonal view corridor of Maryland Avenue extending through the site; Mr. McKinnell acknowledged that this corridor would be an essential feature.
Ms. Nelson joined in supporting the design team's preferred alternative. She said at first she had been concerned that the image of the Midwest could look like anywhere, but she now thinks it possesses a sense of mystery and dignity, preferable to a massive image of a face. She commented that people are not used to equating large images seen outdoors with dignity but rather with billboards or drive-in movies, and dignity is the quality needed for a timeless memorial; she cautioned against a gesture that is banal or electronic that might recall the Las Vegas strip. She expressed support for the creation of a sacred space within the site, allowing the remaining area to be a general public park; she also favored the siting of the support facilities toward the southeast, away from Independence Avenue.
Ms. Nelson commented that the tapestries might be difficult to maintain due to problems such as dirt, snow, and wind, and she asked about the potential character of the memorial if the tapestries eventually have to be removed. Mr. Gehry responded that he could not envision the memorial without the tapestries and that he did not think maintenance would be difficult; he said that similar structures have been maintained, and any technical problems will be resolved. Mr. McKinnell added that his concern with the tapestries is related to their concept, not the maintenance which he agreed could be resolved; he said that he and Mr. Rybczynski still have reservations about incorporating two-dimensional imagery into a timeless monument. Mr. May added that the National Park Service will ensure that whatever memorial is built could be maintained in perpetuity.
Ms. Balmori observed that several features of the design alternatives—the large tapestry, the columns, and the grid of trees—work to capture the entire site, which she said is fundamental to making a successful memorial rather than a collection of individual pieces. The large columns serve this role in the preferred alternative, which she said is an effective solution, while in the first two alternatives the columns are used to define the smaller memorial space within the larger site. She expressed regret at the removal of columns along Independence Avenue, commenting that a more continuous line of columns along the site would be a stronger gesture. She said that the previous configuration had clarified the definition of the Maryland Avenue vista, but limiting the columns to the sides has left the Maryland Avenue alignment floating as an unintegrated feature; she suggested somehow capturing this alignment in the design of the central portion of the site.
Ms. Balmori offered several comments on the treatment of the tapestry. She said that using a landscape with a continuous horizon line is a "brilliant move;" however, she expressed concern at the growing number of public art works that have been derived from photographs, such as the Korean War Memorial and the sculpture at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, commenting that this approach is too similar to television or advertising. She said that it is time to move beyond photographic imagery and take a step forward to another level, suggesting that the Eisenhower Memorial could begin this process. She asked whether the two smaller tapestry screens would be necessary, remarking that a grand gesture is usually diminished when it is repeated. Mr. Gehry responded that he has included these screens to create a proscenium configuration for the site, which will often be seen from the north; he added that he would pursue the recommendation to find an artist to develop appropriate images for the tapestries.
Mr. Belle commended the design team's careful analysis of the urban setting. He questioned the relationship among the memorial's various elements, and asked whether the two smaller tapestries and the columns are the right solution. He observed that the model depicts the memorial with a mature landscape and asked how it would appear in the near term. He also commented that the scale of the large tapestry would be appropriate for Eisenhower, describing him as a powerful general who was unafraid to wage an uncompromising war to achieve peace; he said a memorial to such a man requires elements of massive scale and he urged the design team to retain this scale as the design is further developed.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk said she agreed with many of the Commission members' comments. She expressed support for the evolution of the design, commenting that the ground plane and the memorial precinct have become more calm, subtle, and focused on the pedestrian scale. She supported the concept of recognizing the two poles of Eisenhower's life and the treatment of the site's central area a place to understand his life. She commended the separation of the memorial precinct from the interpretive and commercial structure, which she said is a good response to a typical problem with memorials.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk observed that two elements of the memorial are perceptually the most important: the central memorial precinct and the definition of the space as a whole. She supported the use of the large columns to create a space where none existed, commenting that their scale is appropriate; she added that this gesture to define the site is particularly important because there is no alignment with the entrance to the National Air and Space Museum across Independence Avenue. She supported the use of a calm ground plane landscaped with lawns and trees; she said that even more trees could be included, whether or not they are on a grid, to make the site a more comfortable place for visitors. She commented that the tapestries are not the most important feature of the design, emphasizing that the other features already accomplish the design goals in a sublime way—a focused memorial space within a broader place defined by the columns.
Mr. Gehry said that he had tried to keep in mind what Eisenhower would think if he saw the memorial; he thinks that Eisenhower would be pleased that his image has not been used and that the memorial would be a public space for the enjoyment of visitors, including employees of the Department of Education which Eisenhower had established. Mr. Gehry said he had felt ambivalent about removing two of the large columns along Independence Avenue; Ms. Plater-Zyberk supported retaining them in the design, agreeing that they would help to complete the definition of the space. Ms. Nelson suggested eliminating the two smaller tapestries, allowing all of the Independence Avenue columns to be freestanding; Mr. Gehry said this was considered but did not seem successful.
Mr. McKinnell commented that an important strength of the preferred alternative is successfully incorporating Independence Avenue into the overall memorial complex but he discouraged the static proscenium configuration, suggesting that the design could accept the more dynamic configuration of including the two columns that were removed. Mr. Gehry said that the view from Independence Avenue was critical in developing this design concept; he had spent much time viewing the site from the terrace of the National Air and Space Museum to the north.
Mr. Rybczynski recalled Mr. Gehry's reference to the image of the Lincoln Memorial and speculated how such a project might have been reviewed by the Commission members: they would have understood Henry Bacon's idea to build a large temple, but would not have been able to assess Daniel Chester French's proposal to place a massive statue of Lincoln inside until they saw the actual artwork, realizing then how moving it would be and how it would unify the entire concept. He said that his reaction to the tapestry proposal is similar: it is a concept that is not yet fully imaginable, but one that he believes could be powerful.
Ms. Balmori asked about the proposal for a sculpture of Eisenhower. Mr. Gehry clarified that the initial concept was to use bas-reliefs on the side walls of the central precinct, but the new idea of using a small figure of Eisenhower has eliminated the need for the reliefs; the alternative being considered is to inscribe the side walls with statements by Eisenhower, perhaps concerning the military on one wall and the presidency on the other. Ms. Balmori expressed strong support for this idea. Mr. Gehry referred to a very successful sculpture by Charles Ray in Venice of a boy holding a frog; Ms. Nelson said such a figure would draw people to the memorial and provide a focal point.
Upon a motion by Ms. Balmori, the Commission approved the preferred concept for the Eisenhower Memorial subject to the comments and suggestions that were offered, and particularly noting the possibility of eliminating the large tapestry from the design.
(See beginning of next agenda item for an additional comment from the General Services Administration on the Eisenhower Memorial proposal.)
C. General Services Administration
CFA 20/JAN/11-2, GSA Headquarters Building, 1800 F Street, NW. Additions for retail space and modifications to the south building entrance. Revised concept. Final. (Previous: CFA 21/OCT/10-8.) Ms. Batcheler summarized the Commission's previous reviews of this project in June and October 2010, with recommendations for further study by the design team and coordination among the review agencies. She said that the design of the retail bays and building entrance have now been revised in response to comments from the Commission and the staffs of the review agencies. Mr. Luebke introduced Mina Wright, the newly appointed director of the Office of Planning and Design Quality (OPDQ), a new division within the National Capital Region branch of the General Services Administration (GSA). He said that OPDQ consolidates the various design disciplines as well as the regulatory compliance processes and the submission of projects to the Commission; the creation of this office indicates a promising commitment from GSA to preservation and design. He also noted Ms. Wright's extensive background in historic preservation and the arts.
Ms. Wright said that the revised concept is intended to respond to the comments of the Commission, the staff, and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office. She emphasized GSA's interest in enlivening the streetscape and encouraging use of Rawlins Park across E Street. She added that GSA envisions a comparable treatment for the north facade at the Department of Education headquarters to create a lively frontage toward the planned Eisenhower Memorial, the preceding project on the Commission's agenda; she noted GSA's enthusiastic support for the memorial design, particularly the allee that would be created along the Education building's facade. She introduced architect Shalom Baranes of Shalom Baranes Associates to present the GSA headquarters proposal.
Mr. Baranes summarized the context and overall intention of the design as previously presented to the Commission. He noted the presence of 15,000 federal workers in the GSA headquarters and the Department of the Interior headquarters, the two buildings framing Rawlins Park; he emphasized that there is little existing retail space in the vicinity. He presented photographs of the existing south facade, which has historically been the back of the GSA headquarters; the building's main entrance is on the north. He indicated the massing of three vertically proportioned pavilions connected by hyphens providing continuity at the sidewalk level, with overall symmetry to the facade and a vertical emphasis that would be respected in the proposed design of the retail bays as well as the previously reviewed infill additions between the pavilions. Each pavilion has a small existing entrance on the south facade; the proposal includes enlarging the entrance at the center pavilion, where the floor level is nearly four feet above the sidewalk. He noted an earlier design to provide exterior steps and lengthy ramps at this entrance, describing the result as more monumental in character than the building's main entrance on the north. The current proposal, in conjunction with the introduction of retail space, is to lower the lobby floor to align with the sidewalk level and provide interior steps and a small lift to connect the lobby to the rest of the building; the scale of the new south entrance can therefore be reduced, resulting in a more appropriate character. He added that the enlarged south entrance would provide the opportunity for the building to accommodate two federal agencies in the future, with the north and south entrances providing separate access of substantial scale for each agency.
Mr. Baranes indicated the proposed retail spaces, totaling approximately 13,000 square feet. The two existing service drives, leading to the building's courtyards, would remain. The proposed facade alterations for the retail spaces include the addition of bays and the reconfiguration of each pair of windows into a single opening. The design of the bays would vary slightly to respond to the moderate slope of nearly three feet across the length of the south facade. The current proposal is for a unified horizontal alignment within each grouping of three bays; the alignment would differ for each of the four groupings along the facade, which are separated from each other by the service drives and building entrance. He noted that the three bays within each grouping could be used for either one or two retail tenants.
Mr. Baranes described several details of the proposed design. After the window openings are extended, portions of the original stone walls would remain as piers which would be completed with additional stone cladding. The piers would become features within the retail spaces and would also be visible from the exterior through the new bays. He also indicated the proposed alignment of the bay cornices, which would be slightly below the spring points of the existing arches at the service drives; he said that this alignment would be preferable to emphasizing the higher line of the existing window lintels. The exact dimension of this detail would vary as the grade changes along the facade. He presented a comparison of the retail bays to the canopy design for the proposed building entrance; the entrance canopy would be higher than the bays to establish its greater importance on the facade. He indicated the extent of demolition of existing windows and wall for the retail spaces and for the building entrance, which would include three openings instead of the existing single door. He said that the design of the bays has also been revised to more closely resemble the planned courtyard infill wings, as the Commission recommended; the bays would have glass facades supported to an interior steel frame, with minimal exposed metal and an emphasis on transparency. He noted the local regulatory requirement that the bays be removable within 24 hours, and said that the details of complying with this requirement are still being studied.
Ms. Nelson asked about landscaping along the street. Mr. Baranes confirmed that street trees would be included in the planting beds near the curb, although not always fully shown in the renderings. He added that the sidewalk is wide enough to accommodate outdoor tables and seating, noting that the width is slightly greater than the sidewalks in downtown Bethesda which are used for outdoor dining; he confirmed that this amenity would be permissible at this location.
Ms. Nelson asked about perimeter security requirements, noting that the drawings indicate only a pair of bollards at each service drive. Mr. Baranes responded that the proposed introduction of retail space is part of an overall decision not to provide extensive perimeter security; he noted that an earlier proposal was developed for an extensive security barrier around the entire building, but this has been abandoned. The bollards at the service drives are therefore the only perimeter security elements in the proposal. Mr. McKinnell supported this approach to security and asked the rationale for it; Mr. Baranes responded that GSA undertook a detailed study of the building's vulnerability and the potential advantage of placing a barrier near the curb, concluding that the added protection from such a barrier would be minimal and not worthwhile to implement. Mr. McKinnell asked if this reasoning could be extended to other buildings in order to remove bollards that have been approved previously. Ms. Plater-Zyberk noted that this building has an areaway which provides some degree of protection; Ms. Balmori observed that the areaway is relatively narrow and doesn't extend around the entire building. Mr. Baranes confirmed that the south facade would not be protected by an areaway.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk expressed support for the proposal, commenting that the independence of the retail bay designs from the existing window pattern has resulted in an improved configuration. She asked about the roof treatment above the bays; Mr. Baranes clarified that portions of the roof would be solid and other portions would be glazed, and he indicated the gutter system within the bays. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked whether the limited extent of the retail canopies at the projecting bays would be problematic at the recessed areas between the bays; Mr. Baranes clarified that the entrance doors to the retail stores would be located on the face of the projecting bays rather than within the recesses, and the doors would therefore be protected by the canopies. Ms. Plater-Zyberk observed that the proposed building entrance is appropriately more prominent than the retail bays but is nonetheless relatively modest, particularly if it becomes the primary entrance for a second building tenant in the future; she asked why the more dramatic entrance proposal depicted on an earlier rendering is not being pursued. Mr. Luebke clarified that the earlier rendering depicted a previous proposal, not the existing condition which includes only a minor entrance door; the older proposal has been superseded, and the current proposal retains more of the historic facade. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked if taller entrance openings could nonetheless be part of the new proposal. Mr. Baranes responded that extending the second-floor window openings downward would require matching the existing stone around the enlarged openings, which would be difficult; the current proposal involves relatively minor changes to the detailing of the openings as well as the addition of the entrance canopy.
Mr. McKinnell emphasized the importance of retaining the visibility of the masonry piers within the retail spaces; he expressed concern that tenants might alter the appearance of the piers, such as with mirrored cladding, and asked if GSA would control this. Ms. Wright responded that GSA would control this very carefully, with restrictions written into the lease agreements, and she added that signs for the retail tenants would be similarly controlled. Mr. McKinnell also asked about the treatment of the roofs above the two-story hyphens containing the retail space; he acknowledged that the design of these roofs was part of a previous submission but noted their prominence in the aerial perspective view and their visibility from the extensive windows of the planned courtyard infill wings. Mr. Baranes responded that these roofs have been drawn with two treatments: as landscaped green roofs or as paved surfaces. Ms. Balmori expressed a preference for green roofs; Pat Daniels of the General Services Administration responded that the green roofs will be implemented. Ms. Balmori and Mr. McKinnell supported this decision; Mr. McKinnell added his support for the overall submission, commenting on the elegance of the design.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk suggested approval of the revised concept. Mr. Luebke asked if the Commission would prefer to delegate approval of the final design to the staff; Ms. Nelson supported this option, commenting that the design appears to be well resolved. Upon a motion by Ms. Plater-Zyberk with second by Ms. Balmori, the Commission approved the revised concept and delegated further review to the staff.
D. American Battle Monuments Commission
CFA 20/JAN/11-3, Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, Cambridge England. Visitor center and restrooms. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the submission from the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) for an interpretive center, restroom pavilion, and expanded parking lot at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial near Cambridge, England. He asked Michael Conley of the ABMC to begin the presentation.
Mr. Conley discussed the ABMC's overall intention of updating interpretive and visitor services at its overseas cemeteries, an important goal as the number of World War II veterans shrinks. Mr. Rybczynski and Ms. Nelson asked how many overseas cemeteries are operated by the ABMC; Mr. Conley replied that there are fourteen World War II cemeteries and eight from World War I, most of them in Europe. He introduced Harry Robinson, executive architect for the ABMC and former Chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, and design architect John Cole of BBC Architects in Cambridge, England.
Mr. Robinson described the main elements of the existing complex including the chapel, the flagpole, the Wall of the Missing, and the cemetery itself; he said that the defined axes and nodes of the complex presented difficulty in finding an appropriate location for the new interpretive center. The proposal has been developed in cooperation with a review body in England as well as the Commission staff and the ABMC's own staff; the intention is to have the interpretive center relate to the existing visitor building while not being visible from other parts of the complex. He asked Mr. Cole to present the proposal.
Mr. Cole described the cemetery, which lies three miles west of Cambridge; it was designed by Boston architects Shaw, Perry and Hepburn with the landscape architecture firm of Olmsted Brothers and was dedicated in 1955. He indicated the features of the gently sloping rural site. He said the entrance had originally been at the north with a carefully designed entry sequence into the cemetery, but cars now arrive at the south which necessitates a reorganization of the circulation. The site has two modest buildings—a chapel and a small pavilion containing a visitor center—while the mature landscape includes a backdrop of woods behind the flagpole and belts of trees bordering the site on most sides.
Mr. Cole described the plan to double the number of parking spaces in the parking lot to eighty by accommodating cars within an existing grove; several bays of parking would be inserted among the existing trees, with each bay accommodating approximately fifteen cars. An additional proposal is to extend the parking bay for buses, which now stop directly in front of the south entrance. A new pavilion containing restrooms is proposed across from the existing visitor center, sited so that the two buildings will create a small entrance court; he confirmed that the building levels would align with the entrance plaza, and barrier-free access is available to all of the various levels within the site. He said that visitors arriving by car would proceed from the parking lot through an open passage extending across the middle of the restroom building to arrive at the entrance court, while those arriving by bus would enter the court directly through a gate between the two buildings.
Mr. Cole described how the design team had defined the critical viewshed where nothing should be built, encompassing an area between the flagpole and the chapel; based on this study, the location for the interpretive center was selected in a wooded area behind the visitor center. The proposed interpretive center would be a 4000-square-foot rectangular building, concealed within the trees on a slightly raised base. He said it would have a front veranda and solid walls, with windows only at the entrance and at the corners to allow views of key features.
Several Commission members commented that they had not been given sufficient information to understand fully the site's existing condition and the proposed changes. Mr. Belle asked for clarification of the existing features on the site; Mr. Cole responded that, apart from some small service structures, the only two buildings are the chapel and the visitor center, and the only road is the entrance road.
Ms. Balmori observed that it would be necessary to introduce new materials and remove trees in order to expand the parking lot; Mr. Cole responded that only a few trees would be removed, and a porous surface would be used that does not require extensive excavation. Ms. Balmori and Ms. Nelson recommended that any impact from additional parking be minimized; Mr. Cole said that the proposal is intended to achieve this. Mr. McKinnell and Ms. Balmori observed that the full extent of the proposed parking expansion is not illustrated on the plan, which shows only one additional bay of parking; Mr. Cole confirmed that additional bays are proposed that would extend beyond the drawn area. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said the presentation does not make clear what the impact of the parking proposal would be on the existing lawn and trees as seen from the road, as well as the relationship of the parking to the nearby memorial wall. Mr. Cole clarified that a hedge is located between the road and the site.
Ms. Nelson and Ms. Balmori expressed support for the proposal to site the restroom building near the visitor center to create a formal entrance court between them, and to design this new building to be similar in appearance to the existing one. Ms. Nelson added that the proposal for two signs marking the entrance is excessive.
Mr. McKinnell asked for clarification of a visitor's route from the entrance court to the interpretive center. Mr. Cole responded that a visitor arriving by car would walk from the parking lot through the new restroom building and then, from the entrance court, would proceed either through or around the visitor center to reach the interpretive center. Ms. Plater-Zyberk objected to having some visitors enter the site through the restroom building rather than coming to the front entrance gate; Mr. Cole responded that the goal is to keep visitors on the site rather than have them circle around its perimeter. Ms. Plater-Zyberk recommended designing the front approach to be more attractive rather than treating it as a leftover space, perhaps by shaping it with a complex curve and somehow defining the edge of the park.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk also recommended that the new interpretive center use the same architectural language as the two entrance buildings. She emphasized that the interpretive center would be part of the visual experience of entering the site and suggested having a sequence of related structures arrayed along the curving boundary hedge. She said the logic of using a different architectural language for the interpretive center is not apparent; it should instead be related to the grander, more unified entrance. Mr. Cole said the different function of the interpretive center seems to call for a different, more self-effacing treatment. Several Commission members countered that the proposed design would not be self-effacing; it is neither large enough nor important enough to be treated differently but, on the contrary, would form a natural part of the ensemble. Mr. Cole responded that the materials would be similar to those used in the other buildings, particularly the chapel. Mr. McKinnell said that this design relationship is insufficient, and the Commission members are recommending that the new center should use the same formal vocabulary as the entrance pavilions, adapting such features as porticoes or roofs. Mr. Cole asked if the Commission members meant the roof form specifically, because the other features were similar; the Commission members reiterated that the entire language employed in the design of the interpretive center is different from that of the pavilions but should be the same. Mr. McKinnell observed that the interpretive center would be about twice the size of the entrance pavilions and therefore could be treated as an aggregation of the pavilion forms, which possess a solemnity that would be disturbed if a different language were used for the interpretive center.
Mr. Cole noted that one of the unusual architectural features of the proposed interpretive center, the corner windows, results from the goal of providing key views to the cemetery. Mr. McKinnell said that providing views could be handled in different ways, while corner windows are so antithetical to the vocabulary of the entrance pavilions that the architects should look for another solution. Ms. Plater-Zyberk summarized the goal of having an ensemble of buildings that appears intended to be together.
Ms. Balmori noted that the proposal includes changing the gravel paths to paving in order to improve accessibility by wheelchair users. She emphasized the current preference to avoid an excess of paving and to design paths with sufficient drainage and porosity; one solution would be to pave paths for only the width of a wheelchair, so that one portion has a smooth and impervious surface while the rest is permeable. She recommended that the design team consider this approach to retain the bucolic charm of the gravel paths. Mr. Cole said that the design team is reviewing various solutions: reducing the thickness of the gravel paths; using resin-bound gravel, which allows water to permeate; or to offer visitors the use of motorized wheelchairs that would more easily be able to traverse the gravel paths. Ms. Balmori commented that the resin-bound gravel treatment would not look as good as the gravel paths, an important feature of this beautiful Olmsted Brothers landscape.
Vice-Chairman Nelson thanked the ABMC for its dedication to these sites and their maintenance, and summarized the Commission's request for further study and documentation of the proposal in a subsequent concept submission that responds to the concerns that were raised. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
(Chairman Powell arrived during the lunch recess and chaired the remainder of the meeting.)
E. Department of Defense
CFA 20/JAN/11-4, The Pentagon. Arlington, Virginia. New secure pedestrian access control points at entrances to Corridors 2 and 3. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposal for security-related alterations at the Pentagon. Two modern pedestrian bridges connect the parking area to the two entrances on the building's southwest facade; temporary screening facilities have been installed on the bridges, and the proposal would replace these with permanent screening facilities. Each entrance is being designed with capacity in excess of normal operating requirements in order to accommodate screening when another building entrance is not available. He introduced David Bell of David Bell Architects to present the proposal.
Mr. Bell described the programmatic requirements and design goals for the project; he noted that the screening facilities on the two bridges would be similar. He described the existing temporary facility at each bridge—a guard booth and iron fences—and said that the staffs of the review agencies had discouraged an earlier master-planning concept to reuse the existing booths, instead recommending a more permanent design. The facilities are intended to be consistent with the architectural character of the setting, and are not intended as prominent design elements. He said that the building and grounds are of historic importance; the bridges are not designated historic but are compatible with the building's architecture. The project involves entrances that are primarily used by employees walking into the building from the adjoining parking lot or arriving on shuttle buses; he clarified that the Metro station and associated building entrance are on an adjacent facade, unrelated to this proposal. The location of the proposed facilities is determined by two desired setbacks from opposite directions: a minimum stand-off distance of 33 feet from the building face for blast protection; and a desired minimum distance between the screening facilities and the elevator and stairs connecting each bridge to the parking area, in order to provide sufficient time for guards to respond to anyone approaching the screening facilities. An additional constraint is the presence of secure facilities below a portion of each bridge, limiting the locations where utility connections can be provided from below and preventing additional weight beyond the bridge's existing structural capacity.
Mr. Bell described the proposed design. An entrance fence would extend the full width of each bridge; arriving employees would enter an open gate toward the right, turn to pass through one of the turnstiles aligned along the center, and then turn again to continue along the bridge to the building entrance. Employees would also exit through the turnstiles due to the overall need to monitor who is entering and leaving the building; the turnstiles would have specialized technology for verifying the identity of employees. Visitors would enter the screening booth rather than use the turnstiles. Portions of the fence system that are normally closed could be opened in emergency situations, providing additional egress capacity from the building when necessary. Guards stationed in the screening booth would monitor the overall entrance facility. The booths would be metal, glass, and cast stone; the entrance fence would be framed by a cast-stone portal structure, matching the material of the existing bridge; and other elements would be metal. A metal roof with a shallow vault would cover the turnstiles and the screening booth. Existing planters would remain along most of the bridge edges, and the fences would wrap around these planters as unobtrusively as possible; the trees in the planters would provide some visual screening of the proposed construction. He summarized the major visual elements of cast stone as one approaches the facility—the portal structure in front, and the cube of the screening booth beyond—with all other elements being metal or glass. The view for people departing the Pentagon would include the cast-stone booth with utility doors facing the building, metal egress gates, and fencing across the planters. He noted that the amount of cast stone in the proposal is limited due to the structural constraints of the existing bridges.
Mr. Bell presented several perspective views of the proposal. He emphasized the relationship of the portal structure to the Pentagon's large-scale piers defining the building entrance. The three gate segments—for emergency egress on the left, a solid segment screening the turnstiles at the center, and the gate for regular use on the right—would recall the three entrance bays of the Pentagon facade beyond.
Ms. Nelson asked about wheelchair access at the turnstiles; Mr. Bell indicated an additional entrance gate, slightly smaller than the three adjacent turnstiles, to accommodate this need. Ms. Balmori asked about the overall dimensions of the facility. Mr. Bell responded that it would be 55 feet long and would extend across the width of the bridge, which has a 29.5-foot-wide walkway surface. The roof above the turnstiles would be approximately 13 feet wide, which was increased from an earlier 8-foot-wide proposal in response to the staff's recommendation to provide additional weather protection at the turnstiles. He presented several views of an earlier design with a more extensive roof structure, which he said was part of the submission materials provided to the Commission but has since been rejected; he noted that the turnstiles do not have significant requirements for protection from the weather.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked why the more extensive roof design was rejected. Mr. Bell responded that cost and weight were the issues, and these problems were compounded because this configuration would have required extending the structural system to the perimeter of the bridge. Mr. McKinnell asked how much additional cost would be involved; Mr. Bell was unable to provide this information. Ms. Nelson said that she had preferred the option with the more extensive roof, based on her advance review of the submission materials.
Ms. Balmori commented that the proposal would modify the existing architecture by placing new elements in front of it, but this impact is difficult to evaluate because the submission materials do not adequately depict the full context of the Pentagon's facade. She criticized the emphasis on isolated views and requested improved depictions of the proposal in relation to the entire building as one approaches along the pedestrian bridges. Mr. Bell indicated the existing elements of the bridge as well as the facade alignment of the Pentagon, but acknowledged that the full width of the building is not depicted. Ms. Nelson suggested an additional viewpoint from the south toward the Metro station.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk commented that the cast stone panels would likely not relate closely to the Pentagon's facade; she noted that the proposed panels would be larger than those on the building. Mr. Bell responded that the material will match the cast-stone material of the bridges and planters, but with a simplified profile that is more similar to the Pentagon's entrance detailing. He confirmed that the Pentagon facade is stone; Ms. Balmori expressed regret that the proposed material is cast stone, and Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked if stone could be used instead. Mr. Bell said that this was considered but the conclusion was that repeating the Pentagon's facade material would not be appropriate. Ms. Balmori commented that the proposed portal structure will clearly serve as a gateway to the building and therefore deserves more careful attention in its design, including further consideration of using stone; she expressed support for the use of the portal structure to screen the turnstile apparatus behind. Mr. Bell confirmed that the elevator housings on the bridges are clad in cast stone, and he emphasized that these are significantly taller than the proposed screening facilities which have been designed to be as low as possible. Ms. Balmori said that the elevator enclosures are clearly infrastructure while the portal structure has a more significant purpose, effectively serving as the new entrance to the building. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said that either the bridge or the building could serve as the basis for detailing the proposed new elements, but she emphasized the need for careful review—perhaps delegated to the staff—of how this question is resolved; Ms. Balmori agreed. Ms. Plater-Zyberk added that the scale of the drawings is too small to depict important details such as the joints, railing caps, and dimensions of component pieces, all of which can contribute to a unified design language; she emphasized the need for review of these details to evaluate the overall consistency of the design.
Chairman Powell noted that the project is at the concept stage and suggested that the Commission approve the concept and provide its comments for further development of the design; he noted the staff's ongoing involvement with the design and suggested delegation of the final approval. Upon a motion by Ms. Nelson, the Commission approved the concept subject to the comments provided, and delegated the final approval to the staff; Ms. Balmori requested that the staff also circulate the final design proposal to the Commission members.
F. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
1. SL 11-037, 1700 New York Avenue, NW (Corcoran Gallery of Art). New eight-story office building. Revised concept. (Previous: SL 11-010, November 2010.) Ms. Batcheler summarized the Commission's review in November of the initial concept submission, with comments concerning the height and massing of the proposed office building. The current proposal does not include a change to the height, but adjusts the massing of the building's corners and shifts the penthouse volume northward. She noted two other streetscape projects along the same block of New York Avenue, providing the potential opportunity to reshape the character of this area: renovation of the United Unions Building plaza on the west, reviewed by the Commission in recent months; and perimeter security for an office building on the north side of New York Avenue that is occupied by the Federal Reserve, anticipated as a submission for the Commission's review in the near future. She introduced architect David King of SmithGroup to present the proposal.
Mr. King discussed the design responses to the Commission's previous comments, presenting comparisons of the initial and current concept submissions. Concerning the relationship of the proposal to the United Unions Building to the west, he acknowledged the unusual triangular space that results from that building's orthogonal form in relationship to the diagonal of New York Avenue. The initial proposal for the new office building followed the avenue's geometry at this boundary, which the Commission did not support; the revised concept mediates between the two geometries and supports the overall massing concept of the new office building stepping up from the Corcoran on the east to the taller United Unions Building on the west.
Mr. King discussed the response to the Commission's second concern: the relationship of the proposed building to the existing Corcoran building on the east, particularly at the corners of the buildings along New York Avenue. He described the proposed corner treatment in the initial submission as "fairly aggressive" and said that the revised concept responds better to the specific geometry at this location. He indicated the reduced massing in this area, which he said would better respond to the Corcoran's geometry; he described the revised proposal as more clearly expressing the overall design strategy of a "chiseled block."
Mr. King described the Commission's third concern in the previous review, involving the visual impact of the 18.5-foot-high mechanical penthouse—originally located near the south facade, where it would be prominently visible in distant views. After further study, some of the mechanical systems requirements have been refined to reduce the amount of equipment in the penthouse, although the need for a penthouse could not be eliminated completely. Its location has now been shifted to the north and its height reduced to less than fifteen feet; its exterior also contains a sloping surface which he said would further reduce the impact of the penthouse on views from the south. He said that the location of the required elevator over-run and fire stair cannot easily be moved northward due to the desired layout of the office floors below, which are constrained by party walls; the location of other mechanical equipment—such as pumps and cooling towers— is more flexible, and this has been shifted to the north. The proposal treats the penthouse as an upward extension of the glass New York Avenue facade.
Mr. King discussed the Commission's fourth concern involving the relationship of the proposed building to the overall urban ensemble. He said that the design team gave further consideration to the nearby Octagon House, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) headquarters, other neighboring buildings, and the Corcoran. He said that the revised massing of the corner near the United Unions Building would improve the building's relationship to the space formed by the AIA headquarters. He described the Corcoran and Octagon as object buildings at each end of the block; the proposed office building is intended to provide a simple, modern backdrop. He offered a comparison to the backdrop of Brutalist-style federal office architecture from the 1960s on the north side of New York Avenue, which he described as having a rigid grid; the proposed building would instead have a more casual character that would better engage the neighboring buildings, providing an appropriate modern setting that would emphasize the object buildings. He noted the intention to provide a contrasting height pattern on the two sides of the avenue, based on the position of the object buildings: on the north side, the taller construction is toward the east and steps down toward the Octagon House on the west; on the south side, the proposed building is intended to respect the Corcoran's lower height on the east, and step upward to the United Unions building on the west. He also noted the planned glass infill wings at the GSA headquarters building a block to the west; the resulting pattern along E Street would be an idiom of simple glass modern buildings at intervals along the street.
Mr. King presented several views of the proposed building and summarized the varying configurations of glass on the facades: vertical glass fins would be used on the east and west to provide shading from low sun angles, while the north facade would be a smooth glass surface. He noted that the vertical fins would relate to the prominent roof battens on the Corcoran, which features a series of consistent roof forms across the building; he described the visual effect as abstractly folding the Corcoran's roof into the wall of the new building. He said that the site plan is similar to the previously submitted concept, indicating the main entrance, parking garage exit, extension of the Corcoran's areaway, and landscaping. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked about the railing at the areaway; Mr. King confirmed that a glass railing is proposed in contrast to the stone coping and metal railing along the Corcoran's areaway. Ms. Balmori asked about the areaway's width; Mr. King responded that it would be 7.5 feet to match the width of the Corcoran's areaway, although he acknowledged that the glass railing may give the appearance of greater width. He clarified that the Corcoran's areaway accommodates lower-level windows as well as emergency egress, and its depth varies due to the changing grade around the Corcoran site. Ms. Nelson asked about the street trees in the proposal; Mr. King responded that several of the trees are existing and would be retained, while others would be added. He noted that the planned streetscape work at the United Unions Building could affect some of the trees shown.
Chairman Powell recognized Sally Berk, representing the Committee of 100 on the Federal City. Ms. Berk said that her organization supports the overall concept of a glass box building on this site, consistent with her comments to the Commission in November, but continues to have concerns about how the design is being developed. She said that the proposal remains two stories too tall; the problem of excessive height has been exacerbated by shifting the penthouse to the north which makes it visible on the building's primary facade along New York Avenue, giving the proposal the appearance of being even taller in relation to the Corcoran. She noted her previous concern with the projecting fins which she recalled had been proposed for the west facade, and are now proposed on the east facade as well. She said that the fins detract from the design concept of a taut glass skin, and as elements on a vertical wall they would not have the intended relationship to the battens on the Corcoran's sloped roof. She recommended eliminating the fins entirely or, if they remain, that they be glass and be used to differentiate particular building volumes on all sides to clarify the concept of stacked and skewed volumes rather than appearing only on the east and west facades. She added that the volumes could be distinguished by other techniques, such as varying the thickness or texture of the glass facade, rather than using the fins.
Ms. Berk expressed support for the treatment of the penthouse as two "whimsical objects" on the building's roof—one for the elevator equipment and another for air-handling equipment—and noted the likely use of the roof for events. She encouraged further development of the roof design, including a green roof and perhaps a third object that could contain gardening equipment and furniture for the terrace. She said that this treatment—on a building that is two stories lower—would result in an interesting and appealing roofscape combination of the three new whimsical penthouse structures and the Corcoran's two copper-roofed monitors; she said that this form would be a positive contribution to views from the Mall and President's Park.
Ms. Berk said that the first-floor setback appears to have been eliminated from the design, but the drawings do not depict this clearly. She recommended that the facade be brought straight down to the ground, and supported the continuation of the Corcoran's areaway—which she has measured as eight feet wide—across the facade of the new building; this feature, if finished well, would be a nice space and would help to define the bridge approach to the building's entrance. She recommended further study of this area.
Ms. Berk concluded by acknowledging the loss of rentable space that would result from the Committee of 100's recommendations; she encouraged the Corcoran to consider this as a building for posterity—similar to the purpose of the Corcoran's own building—rather than for expediency.
Mr. King responded that the vertical fins were proposed on both the east and west facades in the previous as well as current submission, and they would be glass; he summarized their purpose as both solar shading and an abstract aesthetic reference to the Corcoran's roof. He also clarified that the proposed areaway would align with the Corcoran's, although this alignment may not be depicted with precision on the model.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk noted that the setback of an intermediate floor would result in a sliver of roof beneath the projecting floor above; she asked how this area would be designed. Mr. King responded that the soffits would be glass to reinforce the concept of a cubic volume that has been chiseled; he said that he is using a similar detail successfully on a building in San Francisco. The method of hanging the glass will be developed further, and an undesirable drywall transition would not be needed.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk expressed concern with the elevation diagram that includes red lines to indicate the stepping of building volumes. She said that the diagram wrongly implies that all of the transitions would be setbacks, but some would actually be cantilevered projections, and cantilevers would not be perceived in the same way as setbacks. The building's form would therefore not achieve the design effects that were described. She questioned the need for the cantilevers, and said that the red lines on the diagram are not meaningful.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk reiterated her concern from November that the relationship of the proposed building to the United Unions Building on the west is not successful. She said that the corner of the new building, and the parking driveway as well, would project in front of the United Unions; the result will appear to be an awkward mistake. She added that the reason for this condition—the design of the United Unions Building following the orthogonal grid rather than the New York Avenue diagonal—is irrelevant, and the new building should respond to this existing condition. As a solution, she recommended that the alignment proposed for the upper floors—cutting off the corner of the building at this location—be extended all the way down to the ground. Mr. King responded that this was studied but resulted in awkward interior conditions; he said that the relationship of these two buildings could be understood as part of the richness of Washington's urban form—a conjuncture of geometries resulting from the city's Baroque street pattern.
Mr. McKinnell supported the idea of a glass building with a taut, minimal skin but criticized the proposed concept of chiseling or deconstructing it into multiple volumes in order to break down its scale. He said that the result of this concept is anti-urban, giving the building the assertiveness of an institution rather than the ordinary street wall of a typical rentable office building. He described the volumes as far too assertive, distracting from the buildings that should be the main focus of the block—the Corcoran at the east end, and the Octagon House at the west end.
Mr. Rybczynski agreed, commenting that the proposal is reminiscent of New York's Whitney Museum, which is an institutional building having a character that would be excessive for a simple office building. He said that the result is not good for New York Avenue, nor for the Corcoran; he expressed surprise that the Corcoran is supporting this conceptual approach, commenting that the proposed building would draw attention away from the beautiful existing museum. He said that the various stated reasons for cutting into the proposed building's volume are unconvincing, and are likely due merely to the architect's desire to chop pieces off of buildings. He described the result as far too sculptural and aggressive for its location, recommending instead a quieter design solution. He suggested a simple box with a taut glass skin, perhaps with some special configuration at the building entrance adjacent to the Corcoran but omitting the unusual design gestures in other parts of the building. He summarized that the street deserves "a lot more discipline."
Ms. Balmori said that the building's height remains a concern, recommending that it not be taller than the United Unions Building. Mr. King clarified that the habitable floors would match the height of the United Unions Building; the additional height on a portion of the north facade results from shifting the mechanical penthouse to this location, which was done to improve the views from the south but exacerbates the height problem on the north. Ms. Balmori nonetheless recommended further study of lowering the building height.
Mr. King responded to the concerns of the Commission members. He said that the design goal is a simple modern building that does not compete with the Corcoran; the chiseling and beveling of the form is intended as a flexible way to modulate the glass box. He said that the risk of a simpler design concept is that it is reduced to a rigid form which cannot easily respond to the unusual corner conditions and adjacencies. He acknowledged that flattening the building volume would be easy to do, but the goal is to combine the glass language with a sympathetic response to these adjacent conditions.
Mr. McKinnell supported Mr. Rybczynski's recommendation, summarizing it as a request for a simple box with responses to the contingencies of the edge conditions. Ms. Balmori agreed.
Mr. King asked for the Commission's advice on whether the penthouse should be moved back toward the south—where it was seen as problematic before—in order to reduce the building's silhouette along New York Avenue. Mr. Luebke clarified that the Commission has authority under the Shipstead-Luce Act to advise on appearance and height, and does not need to resolve the architect's programmatic concerns in formulating its advice. Mr. Rybczynski said that the impact on the appearance of the Corcoran is most important; Ms. Balmori agreed. Mr. Powell noted that the southern facade of the proposed building would only be viewed from a distance, such as from Constitution Avenue and the Mall, which would be less critical than the close views along New York Avenue; he added that the height issue remains a general concern for the Commission. Ms. Plater-Zyberk supported reducing the height along New York Avenue; Mr. Rybczynski said that the solution is not clear, but the design priority should be given to the appearance along New York Avenue.
Mr. King offered to consider the Commission's comments. Chairman Powell summarized the Commission's desire to assist in improving the design; he emphasized the importance of the Corcoran as a building and as an institution, commenting that it needs to have a good neighbor. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
2. SL 11-038, Office Building, 500 North Capitol Street, NW. Additions and facade alterations. Revised concept. (Previous: SL 11-004 and SL 11-005, October 2010.) Ms. Batcheler said that the submission is revised from an initial concept reviewed by the Commission in October 2009. Two alternatives were presented at that time, and the current submission develops the approved alternative, previously labeled Scheme A; the alternative labeled Scheme B with less alteration of the existing building—not approved by the Commission in the previous review—is not being pursued. The proposal includes adjustments to the composition of the facade and a simplification of the landscape design. She introduced architect Jeff Barber of Gensler to present the design.
Mr. Barber said that the proposed architectural revisions involve the proportions of the facade and the refinement of the curtainwall in relation to these overall proportions. He summarized the building's context at North Capitol and E Streets, presenting a series of photographs of the existing conditions. The ground floor plan is similar to the previous proposal, with retail space to the south and the building tenant's space on the north; the lobby design has been slightly refined. The typical floor plan would move the facades outward to align with the outer edge of the perimeter columns, as previously presented. The roof plan would include an extensive terrace.
Mr. Barber presented comparative perspective views of the previous and current design concepts, describing the changes that have been made. The articulated end pieces of the building have been narrowed at the north end of the east facade and at the west end of the south facade; the articulated large volume of the southeastern portion of the building has been lengthened along both of these facades. The treatment of the end pieces has been simplified and will no longer have the effect of a framing element; the distinction among the different building volumes would be subtler, which he said would give a more unified sense to the entire building. As examples, he indicated the reduced separation of the wall planes and the closer alignment of metal details near the floor slab of the different volumes. The curtainwall of the end pieces has also been extended downward to grade, eliminating the expression of exposed columns that had a contrasting pattern to those of the larger southeast volume. He said that this change would provide greater emphasis to the southeast volume, including the building entrance that is set within it. He indicated the projecting glass wall plane that would extend from the southeast volume, serving to veil the secondary volume of the building, and described the improved relationship of the extended southeast volume to the entrance. The previously proposed lintel above the exposed columns has been eliminated, and the columns would simply extend behind the plane of glass projecting from the upper volume. He indicated the fritting pattern in the lower part of each floor level that would screen views of the interior furniture. He noted that the proposed north and west facades, fronting on alleys, are unchanged from the previous submission.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked for clarification of the glass treatment where the curtainwall extends beyond the building volume. Mr. King indicated a perpendicular plane of glass behind that would serve to enclose the interior space, with a depth of 2.5 feet; the facade plane would extend four feet to the sides and three feet above the interior volume, in addition to extending downward. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked about mullions at the outer edges of the glass; Mr. Barber responded that no mullions would be required. Ms. Plater-Zyberk expressed doubt that the simple design depicted in the renderings could actually be constructed; she questioned why the glass is proposed to extend beyond the edges and whether this feature would actually have the intended appearance. Mr. Barber responded that the modeling in the submission drawings is intended to be as accurate as possible. He indicated the location of mullions and said that they would not be capped on the exterior face, giving the appearance of butt-jointed glazing with a slight shadow between panes. Ms. Plater-Zyberk observed that one pane of glass would extend beyond these mullions in each direction on the wall plane, and asked if these panes would be identical to the others; Mr. Barber said its size would likely be different due to the edge conditions. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked if the glass extension at the top would serve as a railing; Mr. Barber responded that the shallow space above the southeast volume's projection would not be deep enough to serve as a terrace, and the upward projection on this volume would therefore not serve as a railing. Ms. Plater-Zyberk commented that the design concept involves a minimalist approach to the detailing, and therefore this detailing is critical to the design's success. Mr. Barber responded that his firm used similar detailing recently at 111 K Street, NE.
Mr. Barber presented the proposed landscape plan, which he said has been revised from the version included in the submission materials. He described the design as simpler than the November proposal, with a more uniform paving treatment that uses the D.C. government's standard materials. The previous design used railings to define three separate zones along North Capitol Street; this has been simplified, and the design now includes planters and the several steps necessary to accommodate the sloping grade. He indicated the proposed use of scored concrete London pavers and granite accents, as well as the site features at the neighboring properties including raised planters and exposed-aggregate concrete to the south and brick pavers to the north. He said that the proposed width of spaces between the building face, planters, and curb would match the condition to the south across E Street. He indicated two existing street trees that could remain and said that the others would be replaced; the proposed trees would be spaced approximately thirty to forty feet apart in accordance with D.C. government guidelines.
Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked if the entire paved area near the building entrance could be sloped rather than introducing steps. Mr. Barber responded that this area is currently sloped but is too steep to meet modern requirements; the feasibility of omitting steps in the new design could be studied further upon completion of a more precise survey. Ms. Balmori asked about the height and material of the proposed planters. Mr. Barber responded that the planter edges would be concrete and their height would be quite low, ranging from a few inches to approximately fourteen inches above the sloping grade. Ms. Balmori suggested that the material match the color of the London pavers to avoid calling too much attention to the planters; Mr. Barber agreed to make this color adjustment.
Ms. Balmori asked the reason for the special design treatment of the end bays of the facades. Mr. Barber responded that this gesture is derived from the original concept of emphasizing the southeastern corner of the building facing the nearby U.S. Capitol; the special treatment of the north and west ends help to accentuate this special corner. He acknowledged the discussion in the previous review of whether the grouping of bays along North Capitol Street is intended to repeat the massing of the adjacent Phoenix Park Hotel, and said that this is not a specific goal. Ms. Plater-Zyberk asked if the special treatment at the north and west ends of the street facades is necessary to handle the transition to the alley facades; Mr. Barber responded that this is a factor, although the transition could be achieved with other solutions including a single-plane treatment. He added that the overall composition of these corners provides a helpful end condition for establishing the desired emphasis on the building's southeast corner.
Mr. McKinnell observed that the entire project involves a single building, although the variety of curtainwall treatments suggests that one building is wrapping around another; specifically, the appearance is of a new building placed against an existing tall skinny building. Mr. Barber clarified that the only difference in the facade treatments is whether the curtainwall is framed, a simpler distinction than was shown in the previous submission; he said that the result is a more unified appearance within the larger composition. Ms. Balmori agreed that the simplified curtainwall treatments are an improvement to the design, and she suggested that the framing could also be removed from the end bays. Ms. Plater-Zyberk expressed ambivalence about the mix of framed and unframed curtainwall areas but supported the effort to reorganize the proportions in order to relate the larger volume more clearly to the building entrance beneath it. She described the implied massing as a glass block in front of an L-shaped building, but said that the design gestures to support this understanding are too limited; she suggested that the two implied buildings be differentiated in height. She added that the glass extension above the framed end bays is a problematic design gesture, contradicting the overall form of the framed bays as the backdrop for a corner building. Mr. Barber offered to study a taller treatment of the implied L-shaped building to differentiate it further; Ms. Nelson encouraged this additional design exploration. Mr. Barber noted that the upper projection of glass on the main facade plane serves as a railing for the roof terrace, and this need would have to be considered as part of the further study. Ms. Plater-Zyberk said that the study could also include reconsideration of exposing the columns at the base of these framed areas, providing legs for the more solid part of the composition, with the remainder of the building having a lighter character. She emphasized the overall goal of providing a distinct character to the end volumes.
Chairman Powell summarized the Commission's sense that the design investigation is moving in the right direction, and he welcomed the opportunity to review a further submission when ready. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:58 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Last Modified: February 25, 2011