Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
17 November 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 10:09 a.m.
A. Approval of the minutes of the 20 October meeting. Mr. Luebke reported that the minutes of the October meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. The Commission approved the minutes upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg with second by Ms. Plater–Zyberk. 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: 19 January, 16 February, and 15 March 2012; he noted that no meeting is scheduled during December.
C. Report on the approval of objects proposed for acquisition by the Freer Gallery of Art. Mr. Luebke reported that the Commission had visited the Freer Gallery earlier in the morning to inspect a scroll and two paintings proposed for acquisition, in accordance with Charles Lang Freer's will. The scroll is Japanese from the Edo period, titled Orchids and Rock ("Lofty Fragrance"); the two paintings are Indian folio works on paper–Praudha Dhira Nayika from approximately 1660, and Rana Amar Singh II Seated On a Terrace With Courtiers from approximately 1705. Vice–Chairman Plater–Zyberk confirmed her approval of the acquisitions on behalf of the Chairman, commenting on the beauty of the artworks and the thorough descriptions of their history provided by the Freer staff.
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 consent calendar. Upon a motion by Ms. Plater–Zyberk with second by Mr. Schlossberg, the Commission approved the Direct Submission Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead–Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported that two unfavorable recommendations in the draft appendix have been changed to favorable based on revisions to the proposed designs (case numbers SL 12–009 and SL 12–010). Upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg with second by Ms. Fernández, 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. Martínez reported the changes to the draft appendix. Several recommendations have been updated in response to supplemental materials, including the change of one recommendation from unfavorable to favorable (case number OG 11–298). Two projects have been added that were recently submitted for review in December but would not be visible from public space and therefore do not require further action by the Commission. Upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg with second by Ms. Plater–Zyberk, the Commission approved the revised appendix.
B. Department of the Treasury / U.S. Mint
CFA 17/NOV/11–1, American Eagle Platinum Coin Program for 2012. Reverse design. (Previous: CFA 18/NOV/10–3.) Mr. Simon introduced Ron Harrigal, the Mint's acting chief engraver, to present the alternative designs for the reverse of the non–circulating 2012 platinum coin. Mr. Harrigal summarized the authorizing legislation and history of the American Eagle platinum coins, which have been minted since 1997. The bullion coins depict the Statue of Liberty on the obverse and a soaring eagle on the reverse; the proof coins have a different reverse design each year, and beginning in 2009 the proof reverses have been based on six principles from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. The theme for 2012, the fourth in this series, will be "To Provide for the Common Defence." He noted the involvement of the Chief Justice in developing the narratives for these reverses. He described the required inscriptions for the reverse and the inclusion of a small American Eagle privy mark to relate the designs to the overall program of American Eagle coins.
Mr. Harrigal presented ten alternatives for the reverse design, including depictions of a Revolutionary War minuteman, the American flag, and various allegorical representations of defense, unity, wisdom, liberty, and the executive and legislative powers of the government in defending the nation.
Ms. Fernández commented that the human figures are often poorly depicted and would be difficult to discern at the small size of the coin; she noted that this concern was also discussed in the previous month's review of the Mint submissions. She offered the example of the traditional cap on the allegorical figure of Liberty in alternative #9, which is an important part of the narrative but would be illegible or open to misinterpretation at the scale of the coin; she emphasized more generally that good narrative ideas do not necessarily work well as visual design elements. She offered support for alternative #10, depicting a shield and eagle, as the clearest design image; Mr. McKinnell and Ms. Plater–Zyberk agreed.
Mr. Schlossberg supported the overall design of alternative #10 but questioned the placement of the "1 Oz." and "$100" text; he said that the treatment of these elements is better in #11 where "1 Oz." is appended to the circumferential text ".9995 Platinum." He suggested that the weight, and perhaps the denomination, be placed in this alignment rather than floating as separate elements in the composition. Sculptor–engraver Don Everhart of the U.S. Mint responded that the three text elements could be combined along the edge of the coin; in order to provide sufficient space for this text configuration, the double–curved banner depicted in alternative #10 would be replaced by the single–curved banner seen in #11. Several Commission members commented that the double–curved banner is preferable, resulting in better proportions for the design. Mr. Everhart offered to study the configuration further; Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested reducing the size of the text. Mr. Schlossberg said that the "1 Oz." text is most problematic and should be moved, while the "$100" text could perhaps remain in the position shown; he added that the weight should not be a primary feature of a coin design and could instead be associated with the platinum text, while the denomination could be separate.
Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. McKinnell, the Commission recommended alternative #10 subject to the revisions discussed.
C. General Services Administration
CFA 17/NOV/11–2, St. Elizabeths Hospital, West Campus, 2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE. Adaptive Reuse Plan (Phase 1b) for Building 49 and campus landscape for the Department of Homeland Security Headquarters. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 20/MAY/10–5.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the revised concept for the adaptive reuse of Building 49 on the west campus of St. Elizabeths, noting that the Commission had not approved the previous submission in May 2010 due to concerns about the design of the building addition and the landscape in the context of the campus. She said that the revised concept places most of the addition underground, and the architectural expression is primarily a series of tall retaining walls and at–grade skylights. She asked Tony Alonso of the General Services Administration (GSA) to begin the presentation.
Mr. Alonso said that GSA has been working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the future occupant of the campus, to adjust the program and reduce the footprint for this building while considering the overall needs of the DHS headquarters consolidation. He noted that Building 49 is at an important transitional location between the historic buildings on the plateau of the campus and the new construction of the Coast Guard headquarters building, presenting a difficult design challenge. He introduced architect Thomas Mozina of Perkins+Will to present the proposal.
Mr. Mozina described the program for the building: the Coast Guard's retail store, barber shop, dry–cleaning shop, and gymnasium, and support space for the DHS guards. An additional component of the previous submission–GSA's facility management offices–has been removed from the program and will be located elsewhere on the campus, resulting in the reduced scale of development in the current proposal for Building 49. He described the master plan proposal and the previous concept submission, which placed the two–story DHS guard support space below the gymnasium in new construction and used much of the existing historic building for the GSA offices. The current proposal places the DHS guard support space in the historic building, and the new construction would be a two–story gymnasium that would be partially below grade and partially enclosed by retaining walls. He indicated an additional retaining wall along the curved road adjacent to the gymnasium, accommodating additional landscaping. Skylights would be provided above the gymnasium space and its entry and circulation area.
Mina Wright of GSA said that the proposed design is considered to be a temporary solution, and the reduced scale of construction is a response to the current interruption of funding; the proposed construction is designed to accommodate a future building above the gymnasium, but the timing and likelihood of the future building is unknown. She said that the reduced program provides the needed elements for the near–term future occupancy of the campus within the limits of available funding. Mr. Rybczynski commented that the Commission is only reviewing the proposed construction–largely below grade–and GSA cannot be assured of the Commission's approval of a future proposal for an additional building; Ms. Wright acknowledged that any future design would be submitted for additional review. Mr. McKinnell said that some intention for the future building, such as its weight and volume, must have been considered as part of the design and engineering of the current proposal; Ms. Wright responded that the scale and program of the future building are not yet known and will depend on future funding and the evolving needs of the campus. Mr. Powell commented that this interim design is effectively a landscape solution for the site. Ms. Fernández asked if the design considers the potential impact of future construction on the skylights that are a feature of the below–grade space in the current proposal, an important issue in the Commission's current review; Ms. Wright responded that this question would be considered later, as part of any future construction proposal.
Ms. Fernández described her impressions from a recent visit to the campus, commenting that its beauty is particularly attributable to the striking prevalence of large historic trees–a character that is difficult to convey in the renderings. She supported the revised concept as more respectful of the site than the previous submission; however, she expressed concern that the impact on the proposal from potential future construction is unknown. Chairman Powell commented that temporary solutions in Washington have often become permanent solutions; he suggested reviewing the proposal with this assumption, and joined in supporting the revised concept with a preference that it not be subject to a future additional building.
Mr. Mozina described the sloped terrain and the proposed landscaping, which would continue the ecological approach of the landscape that is being constructed on the nearby site of the Coast Guard headquarters. He indicated the occupiable landscape proposed for the roof of the gymnasium–level with the grade of the higher portion of the site–which is a beneficial result of the reduced massing of the revised concept. He described the stepped configuration of the retaining walls and noted their 42 inches of additional height to serve as a safety barrier around the occupiable roof. He also indicated the proposed treatment of the site toward the adjacent historic Ice House, revised in response to the Commission's previous concerns. He described that the effort to minimize the footprint of the new construction to allow ample space for the landscape, while nonetheless providing an eight–foot separation adjacent to historic Building 49 in order to avoid damage from the new foundation. He also noted that utility tunnels, designed earlier in the redevelopment of the campus, introduce further constraints on the proposed design. He said that the previously proposed placement of some fitness facilities within the historic building had resulted in a complex circulation pattern which has now been simplified by placing all of these facilities in the new construction. He summarized the overall satisfaction of the design team and DHS with the disposition of the program into the new below–grade construction and the historic building.
Mr. Mozina concluded by presenting a series of elevations and perspective renderings of the previous and current proposals, indicating the "very quiet entry opportunity" to the gymnasium at a gap between the retaining walls. He emphasized the effort to integrate the landscape into the site topography and existing road system, and the increased prominence of the historic building that results from the reduced program. He presented a section illustrating the relationship of Building 49 to the Ice House; the monumental exterior stair between these buildings would be part of the overall campus circulation system.
Mr. Powell noted the substantial change from the previously submitted concept. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the proposal illustrates how cost reduction can improve a design. She reiterated the concern of other Commission members that elements of the current design–such as the position of columns– would establish constraints on the massing of a potential future building above the gymnasium, possibly resulting in a bulky form that the Commission had previously declined to approve. She suggested that reversing the configuration of the large basketball court space and the smaller support spaces behind it would allow for a structural system that provides more opportunity for a future building above to have a stepped massing, which may be preferable to an extrusion of the gymnasium volume that would be necessitated by the current layout. Mr. Mozina responded that the layout was determined by the current programmatic needs, and he offered to study the design further in relation to potential future expansion.
Mr. Rybczynski commented that the revised design has resulted in a beautiful forecourt to Building 49 on the roof of the gymnasium. However, he observed that the forecourt would highlight the emergency–egress stair that is proposed on the exterior of the historic building, and asked if this exiting requirement could be handled differently. He described the staircase as an eyesore in comparison to the beautifully composed landscape. Mr. Mozina responded that placing this second egress stair on the interior would be disruptive and inefficient within the small floor area of the historic building; he presented the upper–level plan and indicated the elevator and stair that are already proposed within the small floorplate. He added that the campus has a history of external stairs on its buildings, and the proposed design is based on the detailing and articulation of these precedents. Mr. Rybczynski said that such stairs would typically be seen in a rear or courtyard setting, while the proposed design creates a more prominent open–space setting that would not be consistent with the stair proposal. He suggested further consideration of an alternative location for the egress, while acknowledging that a better solution may not be available; Mr. Mozina offered to restudy this issue in relation to the program, structure, and necessary emergency egress.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk questioned the composition of the retaining walls that frame the gymnasium entrance, observing that the walls are of unequal height and the entrance appears to be merely a point of interruption between them. Mr. McKinnell agreed, offering overall enthusiastic support for the revised concept and the landscape approach, while commenting that the retaining walls may have become overly massive–particularly at the corner adjacent to the gymnasium entrance. Mr. Schlossberg asked if the solution might involve stepping the alignment of the wall or moving its location; Mr. McKinnell said that some modification of the massiveness is needed, and the change could include an indication of the occupied space behind the walls.
Mr. McKinnell asked for clarification of the curving stone wall along the lower road adjacent to the site. Mr. Mozina responded that the wall is 42 inches high along the road to serve as a guardrail and varies from three to four feet in height above the landscape; he emphasized the goal of the contour design to treat the wall as a landscape element and minimize the amount of exposed stone. Mr. McKinnell suggested further effort to achieve this goal. Ms. Plater–Zyber added that one improvement would be to taper the ends of this curved wall to meet the grade; Mr. McKinnell agreed. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the proposed squared–off treatment of the curved wall is related to the excessively abrupt treatment of the walls framing the gymnasium entrance; she criticized this character of slicing and sharp corners. Mr. McKinnell observed that the perspective views illustrate plants growing up the retaining walls and requested that the plans include a location at the base of the walls for this planting; Mr. Mozina confirmed that sufficient space is available to provide this landscaping edge.
Mr. Schlossberg suggested that the surface of the retaining walls be patterned to echo the window pattern of the historic building, perhaps providing breaks in the wall that relate to the location of the gymnasium entrance. Mr. Mozina noted the intent for a restrained treatment of the walls; Mr. Schlossberg said that they could nonetheless have some design relationship to the historic building, perhaps through a slight shift in alignment to improve the visibility of the entrance. Mr. Mozina responded that such solutions were explored and could easily be reconsidered, acknowledging that a relatively quiet treatment of the entrance was selected for this submission. Ms. Plater–Zyberk noted the tradition of articulating garden walls with features such as niches and other elements that provide a sense of scale or alter the perception of size; Ms. Fernández agreed and indicated the particular renderings that illustrate the abruptness of the retaining walls as proposed.
Chairman Powell summarized the enthusiastic support of the Commission and suggestions for further refinement. Upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg, the Commission approved the revised concept subject to the comments provided.
D. University of the District of Columbia
CFA 17/NOV/11–3, University of the District of Columbia, 4200 Connecticut Avenue at Van Ness Street, NW. New student center. Final. (Previous: CFA 19/MAY/11–7.) Mr. Lindstrom introduced architect Roland Lemke of Cannon Design to begin the presentation of the proposed student center at the University of the District of Columbia. Mr. Lemke summarized the issues identified by the Commission in the previous review: resolution of the south elevation which is prominently visible as people approach the site from the south along Connecticut Avenue; a better relationship of the proposed materials to the existing materials of the campus; less concealment of the existing Buildings 38 and 39 by the student center's northern wing; and further development of the rain garden proposed for the southwest portion of the site. He also emphasized two overall goals for the project: to create a building that is inviting for students; and to achieve an environmental LEED rating of platinum, which has influenced many of the design decisions including the organization of the building.
Mr. Lemke described the context and site of the student center, which will serve as a focal element along Connecticut Avenue and as a gateway between the avenue and the upper–level central courtyard of the campus. He indicated the nearby entrances to the Metro station and the setbacks of the adjacent buildings; the student center is intended to respond to these setbacks and contribute to the definition of a large urban square that encompasses the Metro entrances. He also indicated the location of a below–grade Metro easement for a utility vault that affects the configuration of the proposed student center. The proposal includes an exterior stair connecting the Connecticut Avenue plaza to the campus courtyard, replacing the existing enclosed escalators; he noted that the enclosure had itself replaced the open–air staircase of the original campus design. He summarized the various users and access points that affect the proposed design: students approaching the building as pedestrians from the Metro or the upper courtyard; a vehicular drop–off to the southwest along Van Ness Street; and neighborhood residents walking along Connecticut Avenue, who would be encouraged to use the student center's cafeteria. He emphasized the importance of providing a visual connection and pedestrian circulation between the upper–level courtyard, currently being renovated, and Connecticut Avenue.
Mr. Lemke introduced landscape architect Rhonda Dahlkemper of Lee and Associates to present the site design and sustainable landscape features. Ms. Dahlkemper noted the extensive area of impervious surface on the existing plaza along Connecticut Avenue and indicated the proposed lawn that could serve as a student gathering area and would absorb rainwater. Another garden would be created along Van Ness Street between the student center and Building 38. She said that the proposed sidewalk paving material has changed since the previous presentation, based on further discussions with the D.C. Department of Transportation and D.C. Office of Planning: scored concrete would be used along Connecticut Avenue, instead of continuing the Van Ness Street context of brick pavers. She indicated the continuous soil bed of the planting area for street trees, with granite pavers to provide pedestrian crossing points. Bicycle parking, outdoor cafe seating, and additional planting areas would also be provided along the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk. She provided a sample of the proposed clay paver; permeable and impermeable varieties would be used in different areas. She said that some of the existing cherry trees along Connecticut Avenue–a notable amenity in the spring–would be transplanted if possible as part of the proposed landscaping. She indicated the swales and bioretention areas that would collect rainwater into a cistern for irrigation use. The landscaped area between Building 38 and the proposed student center would serve as a rain garden and would also include walks and seating areas.
Ms. Dahlkemper presented the proposed upper–level landscape, a continuation of the courtyard of the campus extending beneath the bridge connection between Buildings 38 and 39. The proposed two–foot–square concrete pavers would match the paving of the courtyard, with special treatment of color and with recessed in–grade light fixtures to highlight the primary circulation route between the courtyard and the proposed exterior stair leading down to Connecticut Avenue. She indicated the planting areas and seating that would be provided beneath the bridge structure, as well as skylights to bring daylight to the first–floor lounge of the student center. She noted the minimal treatment of the plaza's edge to ensure that the landscaping would form a foreground of the eastward views to the cityscape.
Ms. Dahlkemper presented further details of the site plan. Pole lights and bollard lights would be used in the plaza areas; a banded pattern in the paving would relate to the location of planted areas. The roof of the student center would be partially vegetated and a paved rooftop gathering area would be provided–a slight modification from the previous submission. The plant selections for the project would generally be native species, with the exception of the cherry trees; the street trees would be swamp white oaks as requested by the D.C. government. Other site furnishings would also conform to local standard types; she presented images of the proposed trash receptacles, bicycle racks, wood decking, and streetlights.
Mr. Lemke presented the proposed floor plans of the student center. The below–grade level includes a connection to an existing loading dock for the campus, as well as space for the cistern; he indicated the Metro utility vault that determined the location of the student center toward the southern part of the existing plaza. The proposed U–shaped configuration of the upper levels is intended to provide natural light for most of the interior spaces; the north–facing atrium is positioned to avoid solar heat gain. He compared the previous and current plans, indicating the minor changes such as refinement of the entrances to the dining and retail areas. He indicated the similar length of the existing and proposed pedestrian route between the Metro station and Van Ness Street–a concern of neighborhood representatives. He indicated the changes to the proposed roof plan, including the adjustment to the photovoltaic array to accommodate additional mechanical support space for the atrium.
Mr. Lemke introduced architect Michael Marshall of Marshall Moya Design to present the development of the exterior design. Mr. Marshall described the introduction of precast concrete to the previous materials of metal and glass, in response to the Commission's recommendation to relate the building to the existing campus materials which include extensive cast–in–place concrete. The design of the proposed clock tower has also been refined to emphasize the clock faces and to incorporate lightning protection. The second–level opening has been enlarged to emphasize the connection to the campus courtyard. The south facade–highly visible when approaching from Connecticut Avenue–and the west facade along the rain garden have also been refined in response to the Commission's concerns. The previously proposed fins on the east facade are now proposed as perforated metal; he provided a sample of the material to illustrate the texture but not the intended color. The main entrance to the atrium has been given more emphasis, and the interior facades of the atrium have been developed to relate to the exterior materials. He added that the proposed facades could serve as a design precedent for future exterior alterations to the existing buildings on the campus, and noted that university officials have supported this approach.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked for clarification of the proposed color palette. Mr. Lemke and Mr. Marshall responded that the renderings generally illustrate the preferred colors, including the two contrasting shades of metal panels; the concrete would be a sand color that appears darker on the renderings due to the shadows. Ms. Plater–Zyberk noted the varying color depictions in the renderings; Mr. Marshall acknowledged that the design team is still considering whether the proposed concrete should resemble the existing buildings in both color and texture, or whether the color should relate more closely to the proposed metal panels. Ms. Plater–Zyberk emphasized the desirability of relating the concrete color to the existing building facades, commenting that any future remodeling of these buildings is uncertain and their existing character should therefore be accepted as part of the design context.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk observed that the proposed northern wing of the student center does not have significant programmed area, and she suggested revising its design to provide more emphasis to the second–level terrace which is depicted as a slot–like space rather than an entrance area. She said that the building configuration and proposed glazing provide an opportunity for further development of the design. Mr. Lemke clarified that the upper wall of this wing would include openings for the third–level terrace and metal panels matching the remainder of the facade rather than glazing as implied by the renderings. Mr. Marshall said that the bridge–like treatment of the third level is intended to provide a sense of entry and a gateway for the second–level extension of the campus courtyard; a sense of openness and transparency is also intended, which is not fully depicted in the renderings, while the design does show the intended continuity of the facade rhythm. He noted the staircase that would be visible behind the perforated panels; Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the visibility of people moving along the staircase would add dynamism to the facade. Mr. Lemke offered to update the rendering to illustrate more clearly the current design proposal.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk offered a more general concern that the second–level horizontal slot is treated merely as a missing portion of the building; she indicated the soffit of this space which would be visible from the sidewalk but has not been designed with sufficient care. Mr. Lemke responded that the height of the opening results from the alignment of the floor levels with those of the existing buildings; Ms. Plater–Zyberk emphasized that the treatment rather than size of the opening is problematic, particularly the soffit. Mr. Marshall responded that the lines of the facade panels could be continued along the soffit, acknowledging that this area has not been studied. Chairman Powell noted that such information should be documented as part of a final submission.
Mr. Schlossberg offered overall support for the proposal, commenting that the building is designed well for student use. He noted the apparent strategy of creating an entirely new appearance for this gateway area but observed that the existing campus buildings will remain prominently visible from many vantage points; he therefore questioned the design strategy of concealing the facades of Building 38 and 39 with panels along the proposed terraces, and suggested consideration of allowing the existing facades to be seen as a backdrop to the terraces. He also questioned the contrast between the proposed colors and the existing campus palette, recommending a more subtle approach that results in a more limited tone range for the campus.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk emphasized the importance of color when introducing a new building to an existing context, influencing the perception of a singular and different new element or a harmonious, unified ensemble. She recommended that the existing identity of the campus and institution be considered, and suggested that a goal of unified design would support the campus as a community; she questioned the expectation that the existing buildings would all be changed to match the appearance of the proposed student center, commenting that such a strategy is undesirable and likely would not occur.
Mr. Schlossberg noted that one of the renderings depicted the proposed facades with a gray tone similar to the existing buildings, which he said provided a sense of relief that the result would be harmonious and would establish a sense of place. Noting the successful resolution of the circulation patterns through the building, he recommended more careful consideration of the color palette as the next stage of design, with an emphasis on gray, white, and silver tones.
Mr. McKinnell commented that the material sample of the metal panel–presented as not being the proposed color–is actually an appropriate response to the Commission's concerns. He said that the proposed student center would provide sufficient contrast to the existing buildings through its proportions, different materials, and different design aesthetic, without the need to introduce further contrast through color; he supported a weaving of the existing color palette into the proposed design. He also questioned the proposal to extend the light–colored precast concrete panels to grade at the plaza along Connecticut Avenue, commenting that they would reflect excessive heat to the adjacent pedestrians and would also tend to attract graffiti or postings. He recommended planting and a trellis along the wall to soften its appearance and to emphasize the public amenity of landscaping that is provided by the project. Mr. Lemke responded that planting was considered in this area and would be studied further; he noted that the precast was selected for this location as a more durable material than the metal panels, which would be vulnerable to scratched graffiti. Mr. Powell supported the addition of a planting strip at this location.
Mr. McKinnell supported Ms. Plater–Zyberk's concern with the treatment of the northern end of the student center; he said that the proposed design vocabulary provides the opportunity to vary the facade rhythm in this area, such as by removing some of the panels. Ms. Plater–Zyberk agreed that a more porous facade could be considered; Mr. McKinnell said that the overall concept of the facade could be retained while removing some of the panels.
Mr. Schlossberg questioned the rendered view of the university's name and logo along the Connecticut Avenue plaza, commenting that the depicted scale is excessively loud and more appropriate to a highway, while many other features of the design are focused on the pedestrian scale.
Mr. Luebke noted that the project is submitted as a final design, while the Commission has raised numerous issues concerning the facades and site design; he offered to address the outstanding issues through delegation to the staff. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Schlossberg, the Commission approved the final design subject to further review, delegated to the staff, of the issues discussed.
E. D.C. Department of General Services
CFA 17/NOV/11–4, Reno School, 4820 Howard Street, NW. Building rehabilitation and addition. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced architect Ronnie McGhee of R. McGhee & Associates to present the proposed changes at the Reno School, which was prominent in the history of African–American schools in Washington.
Mr. McGhee noted his collaboration with Quinn Evans Architects for the project, and described the context and history of the building. It is adjacent to Fort Reno Park and Alice Deal Middle School, which has recently been expanded. Reno School was constructed in 1903 and designed by Snowden Ashford, with a pebbledash exterior that resembles stone. The school was built to serve Reno City, a predominantly African–American neighborhood that was settled during the Civil War. Reno City was largely demolished in the 1920s and 1930s; the school is one of the few surviving buildings of this community and has been vacant since the 1990s. He described the square plan with four classrooms, a common configuration for Washington schools although usually used for taller buildings; the Reno School has only two stories, with the lower level partly used for utilities. The street level is between the two occupied floors, resulting in difficulty adapting the building to modern accessibility standards. He also indicated the high attic story framed by wood trusses and the historic entrance portico that is no longer extant. He said that the existing condition of the building has been evaluated carefully, and much of the historic interior remains or can be replaced; later interventions have been non–structural and would be removed. Access to the school is from an adjacent road that is controlled by the National Park Service and is in poor condition; the D.C. government would pursue an agreement with the National Park Service for maintenance of the road, similar to the agreement for the road adjacent to the Deal School.
Mr. McGhee described the program for the Reno School and addition, and the overall design strategy for the project. The historic interior and exterior would be restored, with missing elements replicated such as the portico and downspouts. The freestanding character of the school would be respected by placing most of the addition away from the building; the addition would also connect the Reno and Deal buildings. The Reno School's front facade would remain exposed to the street; the addition would provide a new rear facade facing the playing field of the larger school complex, continuing the recent gallery–space addition to the Deal School along the playing field. The program includes classrooms and special uses such as a media center and daycare facility. He explained that the Deal School is already above its planned capacity of 800 to 900 students, and is expected to have 1,200 students in approximately two years; Deal's curriculum organizes the students into teams and the program includes space for three of them, each requiring four classrooms. He noted that, due to the increasing enrollment, this program had grown from the initial intention to provide a simple connector between the Reno and Deal buildings; the current proposal would add 24,000 square feet to the existing 12,000 square feet in the Reno School, and the design challenge is therefore to avoid having the addition overwhelm the character of the historic building. He also indicated the complex massing of the Deal School, including large volumes such as the recently added gymnasium that is sited very near the Reno School; he said that the modest size of the Reno School has resulted in the intention of designing the proposed addition to relate more closely to the Reno School than to the Deal School volumes. He presented several precedents of modern additions to historic buildings, including other D.C. school projects and the Blaine mansion at Dupont Circle.
Mr. McGhee described the site circulation and access points. The daycare center would be placed at the north end of the addition, and would have its own access from the existing road which would be rehabilitated. Access to the school spaces would be through the Deal School, using that building's existing entrance, and the historic Reno School entrances would therefore not be in daily use although their architectural form would be restored. Doors from the proposed addition to the playing field would be used regularly by students. He clarified that the intention not to use the historic entrances is based on the school system's preference for fewer student entrances to simplify control; he added that security would also be enhanced by completing the fence line that partially surrounds the Deal and Reno site. He also noted that the historic east entrance on the main facade was blocked off early in the building's history; students used the side entrances on the north and south for boys and girls, a common configuration in schools of this period.
Mr. McGhee presented further details of the site plan. A walkway on the north would allow for public access to the playing field, which is desirable for weekend sports events; a small plaza in this area would accommodate gatherings and outdoor events. He indicated the addition's hyphen that would connect to the historic Reno School, emphasizing that most of the original facades would remain visible and the building would continue to appear freestanding when seen from Howard Street. He noted the windows facing the public outdoor areas, contributing to the security of the site. Rain gardens would be included on the site, and tentatively a green roof would be provided above much of the addition; the project is intended for an environmental LEED rating of silver. He noted the shift of Howard Street from the orthogonal city grid, and indicated the rotation of the daycare center to match the city grid and to suggest the completion of the sequence of angled volumes that partially frame the playing field. He described the shifting grade of the site and the proposed regrading to create a desired flat play area adjacent to the daycare center.
Mr. McGhee described the proposed interior configuration. Classrooms in the addition would be grouped to face the playing field; a two–story central circulation spine and atrium would provide a strong visual connection between the playing field and the historic school. An existing historic opening would become the interior access point to the Reno School building through the proposed hyphen, which would have a low height to avoid disturbing historic facade elements. The corridors connecting to the Deal School on both levels would provide exhibit space for student artwork. Additional "social learning spaces" would be provided along the corridors near the classrooms to support the team–based organization of the school. He emphasized the intention to provide a well–lit and easily understood design, comparing it to the complexity that has evolved at the Deal School through various additions.
Mr. McGhee presented the proposed elevations and sections. The facade of the addition would include a storefront system. A skylight would be added at the peak of the historic hip roof to provide daylight to the central hall of the Reno School. He described the scale and configuration of the addition as having a comfortable relationship to the existing building, including a correspondence of window sizes. He presented a model of the proposal, noting that some elements are preliminary and the color variations do not correspond to the current proposal. He noted additional preservation–related information in the submission materials that was developed primarily for the upcoming review by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board. He concluded by emphasizing the design approach of creating a special character for the Reno School and addition that is distinct from the Deal School while also extending the Deal School's notable academic excellence into the proposed project.
Mr. Schlossberg commented on the thoughtful presentation of the project, the respectful design approach, and the successful organization of the spaces to support the interesting team–based academic program. However, he questioned the architectural character of the addition, describing its design as two monolithic blocks when seen from the playing field; he contrasted this boldness to the delicacy and scale of the other elements in the proposal and in the existing Deal School, which have a smaller rhythm of verticals and horizontals rather than large–scale design gestures. He expressed support for the proposed design of the daycare center as having a more successful character than the large identical classroom volumes. Mr. McGhee responded that other facade organizations are being considered, possibly to express the team–based organization of the academic spaces or to improve the proportional relationship to the historic school. Mr. Schlossberg encouraged further study and more careful adherence to the design principles that were presented.
Ms. Fernández agreed that the presentation of the design intent and history of the site was compelling, although the design of the west facade is problematic. She emphasized the distinction between symbolic public space and the actual public space that people use on a daily basis. She said that students would likely identify with the playing field, which will be the most heavily used part of the site and was historically the most democratic area. However, the design emphasizes views from the interior toward this space, rather than the view from the playing field toward the proposed addition. She noted that one unfortunate result of the proposed massing is to conceal the historic building from the playing field, effectively placing the Reno School at the back of the composition. She acknowledged the design gesture of the glass atrium to provide views through the interior to the historic building but said that it would still have the appearance of being at the back. She noted the historical interest of the playing field and suggested acknowledging it as a dynamic primary public space that is in daily active use rather than as an empty area that is only occasionally used.
Mr. McGhee responded that the initial design was a smaller one–story addition that would have left more of the Reno School visible from the playing field. However, due to the expanded program and the desire to connect to the Deal School on two levels, the proposed addition unavoidably blocks much of the school's visibility from the playing field; he said that some moderation of the massing is being discussed with the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board to improve this visibility. Mr. Schlossberg said that the interior configuration may not be problematic, but the exterior treatment should be studied further; he said that the goal is for all of the highly visible facades not to have the appearance of being at the rear.
Mr. McGhee emphasized that the atrium provides visibility of the historic school from the playing field, which Mr. Schlossberg acknowledged. Ms. Fernández said that the addition nonetheless has a massive appearance when seen from the playing field, despite the effort to consider such issues as height. She recommended more visibility of the Reno School from the playing field so that people would more readily be aware of its existence, suggesting that the design be considered from the viewpoint of a Deal School student who might experience the historic school building only from the playing field rather than from using its interior. She observed that the limited view of the historic roofline from the playing field would not be enough to convey the presence and importance of the Reno School building. Mr. McGhee responded that students entering the proposed addition would be in the atrium that provides a clear view of the historic building, while acknowledging that the addition would be more problematic for clear views from the playing field. He added that the gallery space in the proposed addition would relate to the existing gallery space in the Deal School, further contributing to the intention of tying the two buildings together.
Mr. Rybczynski questioned the interior organization of the proposal. He supported the intention of establishing an identity within this portion of the overall school complex, but observed that students coming to the addition from the main entrance of the Deal School would arrive at a very unimpressive place. He suggested abandoning the east–west axial organization of the plan which insufficiently addresses the more important direction of arrival from the south where the addition would connect with the Deal School. He added that the daycare center is the most successful part of the design because its geometry is more relaxed and the emphasis is on resolving the design issues; he questioned the large wall in this area but supported its angled plan and resolution of the design details. He suggested that the less monumental character of the daycare center be extended to all of the proposed addition in order to relate more appropriately to the historic building, concluding that the Commission's dissatisfaction is with both the character of the addition and its relation to the existing architecture.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk questioned the design intention of creating a distinct character for the Reno School and its addition, observing that the proposal will become part of the overall Deal School complex, both visually and functionally. She said that the overall design concept is already emerging on the site: the historic Deal and Reno buildings toward the street edge, with a rear building with circulation that knits the complex together in a post–modern style. She suggested that the proposed addition be designed as part of a unified treatment along the playing field rather than having a new type of character; the historic buildings would clearly be on the side of the complex nearer the street and away from the playing field. She suggested further exploration of the shape of the addition along the playing field to complete this overall ensemble, while acknowledging the constrained space toward the edge of the baseball field. Mr. Schlossberg and Mr. McKinnell supported this recommendation.
Mr. McKinnell commented that the internal plan organization could be addressed by the client, but emphasized the Commission's concern with the exterior style of the proposed addition. He noted the three existing styles–the historic Deal School, its existing additions, and the historic Reno School–and opposed introducing a fourth style in the proposed addition. He contrasted the large–scale appearance of the addition with the modest program of paired classrooms, and contrasted the two–story curtainwall expression with the consistent pattern of single–window punched openings of the existing Deal School facades. He recommended that the proposed addition be treated instead as an extension of the previous additions to the Deal School, with the west facade serving as a wall along the playing field rather than expressing the interior volumes.
Ms. Fernández suggested that a more natural treatment of the addition would be two smaller volumes with a modest connection and with an opening between them that provides a view toward the historic Reno School; she summarized an overall concern with the large–scale treatment that does not appear compatible with the existing Deal School additions. Mr. McGhee responded that the existing portions of the Deal School along the playing field include a variety of architectural treatments that express the gallery, cafeteria, mechanical spaces, and classrooms, resulting in difficulty identifying a particular style to extend to the proposed addition. Mr. Schlossberg observed that all of the existing edges are formed by lower–height volumes that extend from the larger volumes behind, a treatment that is not used in the proposed addition; he reiterated the desirability of continuing the existing vocabulary along the playing field, perhaps through the expression of two volumes and avoidance of treating each half of the addition with an identical facade.
Chairman Powell summarized the Commission's varied comments that all suggest the need to study further the architectural language of the proposed addition. Ms. Plater–Zyberk noted that the location of the addition is not problematic. Chairman Powell also noted the Commission's satisfaction with the program disposition and its relation to the organization of the school's curriculum, suggesting that the Commission approve the design concept while requesting further study of the architectural language; the Commission supported this action.
F. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs–Shipstead–Luce Act
1. SL 12–015, 1700 New York Avenue, NW (Corcoran Gallery of Art). New eight–story office building. Final. (Previous: SL 11–05, February 2011.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the final design submission for the office building proposed as an addition to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, noting that the submission responds to the Commission's comments at the previous review in February 2011 when the concept was approved. She asked Robert Carr of Carr Development, the leader of the development team for the project, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Carr said that, with the Commission's approval of the submission, construction could begin within two months, at which time the Corcoran would receive funds under the terms of the development agreement. He introduced Lauren Garcia, chief operating officer of the Corcoran, and architect Andrew Rollman of SmithGroup. Ms. Garcia conveyed the Corcoran's support for the project and, under the terms of the development agreement, reliance on the design guidance of the Commission and other review agencies.
Mr. Rollman said the presentation would address refinements to the design that have resulted from continuing consultation with the Commission staff, as well as the proposed technical details that would execute the design concept. He described the overall approach of taut, clean, refined detailing for the building, with variations on each facade that respond to the solar orientation.
Mr. Rollman presented the streetscape proposal, developed in consultation with the Commission staff, the D.C. Office of Planning, and occupants of neighboring buildings to develop a consistent landscape design along this block of New York Avenue to connect Presidents Park with Rawlins Park. The sidewalk would be London pavers, continued from the Corcoran's 17th Street frontage. A nearly continuous planting bed would be provided for trees, and pervious paving would be used along the street. He indicated the lawn area, which he described as generous and simple to extend the character of the open spaces at each end of the block. He noted the areas of paving at each end of the proposed building's frontage: a walk between the sidewalk and building entrance at the east end, and a vehicular egress ramp from the building's below–grade garage to the street on the west end. He said that both would be paved in granite to match the water table of the Corcoran Gallery, using a flame finish and both small and large units. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked about the treatment of the areaway along New York Avenue; Mr. Rollman responded that it would be clad in the same granite and confirmed that the areaway would not have landscaping.
Mr. Rollman described the revision to the shape of the building's northwest corner to improve the relationship to the adjacent United Unions building. In response to past comments from the Commission and staff, the building line has been pulled back and simplified; he said that this revision echoes the simple treatment of the east end of the street facade, strengthening the concept of the building and respecting the geometry of the United Unions building.
Mr. Rollman presented the proposed detailing of the glass walls which he said would have a minimalist character. The horizontal lines express the floor and ceiling lines and interior desk heights; a graduated linear frit pattern between the floor line and desk height would help to conceal furniture and clutter. The glass would be clear with a very light reflectivity, and the titanium coating and natural glass color would give a blue–green tint that he said would relate to the copper roof of the Corcoran. The facade surface would be flush; the joints would have a reveal formed by a one–inch aluminum channel with a silver–colored finish, using a dry gasket instead of a typical wet sealant joint to enhance the simplicity of the elevation. Mr. Rybczynski asked about the treatment of the horizontal band immediately below the floor line; Mr. Rollman responded that this band would be a shadowbox using the same glass on the surface to provide uniformity to the facade. He added that the horizontal channel at the floor line would be wider–2.5 inches–and would project an inch, providing a slight hierarchy to the elevation pattern at the joint between the facade units.
Mr. Rollman presented the additional facade elements that would provide solar protection. The south elevation would have a series of eighteen–inch–deep horizontal glass sunshades at ceiling height, supported at the intersection of the horizontal and vertical joints and held together with paired aluminum brackets; the sunshades would have the same frit pattern as the glass windows. On the east and west elevations, a series of one–foot–deep vertical sunshades would be spaced at thirty–inch intervals, dimensioned in response to the solar shading needs of these facades. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked how the facades with the sunshades would be cleaned; Mr. Rollman responded that outriggers on the building would support a conventional suspended cleaning platform located beyond the sunshades. Mr. Powell asked if the eighteen–inch depth of the south sunshades would be sufficient; Mr. Rollman responded that this dimension is effective, noting a similar sunshade that his firm designed at 901 K Street, NW, which casts shadows approximately 2.5 feet long on the facade in summer.
Mr. Rollman presented further details of the exterior. The glass facade panels would project above the roof level; where needed around the occupiable roof deck, the safety railing would be set back from the glass and would not be visible from the street. Other portions of the roof would be planted. In areas where the building volume is recessed, the soffits would be glass with a small aluminum reveal to define the corner between the soffit and facade glass. He presented a nighttime rendering of the building, indicating the low–voltage LED lighting of the soffit at the fifth floor and at the entrance to highlight these facade elements. He also noted the interior lighting configuration that is being coordinated with the building's lead tenant, with linear light fixtures placed perpendicular to the New York Avenue facade to provide a uniform appearance when seen from the street.
Mr. Schlossberg asked about retail space on the ground floor; Mr. Rollman responded that this level would only be office space. Mr. McKinnell asked for clarification of the areaway design and basement–level use. Mr. Rollman responded that the areaway would be approximately 7.5 feet wide to align with the existing Corcoran areaway and would extend downward twelve feet to align with the basement floor height; he noted that the areaway would be slightly wider toward the building entrance as the facade plane bends back. He clarified that a pedestrian approaching the areaway railing would see the glass facade extending down along the occupied basement level, and granite cladding would be on the other three sides of the areaway.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented that the relationship of the proposal to the two adjacent buildings along New York Avenue–a previous concern of the Commission–remains problematic. She questioned the anomalous white–colored facade areas at the east and west ends of the ground–floor elevation; the area near the Corcoran includes an emergency–egress door, which she suggested be repositioned so that it does not face directly toward the street. Mr. Rollman responded that the material would be marble. Using a detail that his firm has implemented elsewhere, the egress door would have a thin marble veneer and only an edge reveal would be noticeable on the exterior; Ms. Plater–Zyberk acknowledged that this treatment would greatly reduce the visibility of the egress door. More generally, Ms. Plater–Zyberk questioned the transition between the proposed facade and the historic Corcoran building, which includes an awkward combination of setback space at the ground level and near–alignment of the facades on the second through fourth floors. She said that the variety of alignment conditions is disturbing, particularly on a building that is generally very precise in its design character, and suggested that the proposed facade not be aligned closely with the Corcoran facade. Mr. Rollman responded that this area was studied carefully, and the intention–perhaps not conveyed adequately in the presentation graphics–is to provide visibility for the Corcoran's finished stone treatment which extends from the street facade to a small portion of the west facade; the remainder of the west facade is brick. The Corcoran's cornice similarly turns the corner, and the proposed massing avoids interfering with this feature.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk observed that the proposed paved area at the west end of the proposed streetscape–only a portion of which is used for the narrow vehicular egress driveway–appears to be the same overall width as the pedestrian entrance area at the east end. She suggested that the paving on the west be narrowed to establish a clear distinction between the west and east areas, with the pedestrian entrance on the east having more importance. Mr. Rollman responded that the vehicular driveway would be at a different grade than the adjacent paved areas and would have a different paving pattern, but offered to study this further. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the proposed massing at the northwest corner is improving but could be refined further to diminish the sense of crowding the existing United Unions building. She criticized the limited depiction of the United Unions building in the drawings but said that the model more clearly demonstrates the desirability of reducing the proposed massing slightly further in this area. Mr. Rollman said that the volume was reduced in this area as much as possible within the constraint of the floor plan; Ms. Plater–Zyberk rejected this response, observing that the plan is an open floorplate rather than defined rooms.
Mr. Schlossberg agreed that the building volume appears squeezed within the site, commenting that the proposal is especially disturbing because of its prominent location and the lack of a specific reason for the floorplate's proposed dimensions. He said that narrowing the building width by ten feet or more on the east and west sides would improve the relationship to the adjoining buildings and would be aesthetically stronger. He acknowledged the economic reasons for the design but said that the resulting proposal is disappointing; a slightly smaller size, combined with further design study, would allow a more graceful solution that could address such issues as the unresolved alignment with the Corcoran facade and the desirability of additional space between the proposed building and its neighbors.
Mr. Rollman responded that reducing the size has been a goal during the design process. He presented a stepped alignment along the United Unions building as an alternative to the angled alignment that is currently proposed. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that her concern has been with the treatment of the massing at the New York Avenue frontage rather than toward the rear of the site, indicating the problematic overlapping relationship of the building corners when seen orthogonally such as from across New York Avenue. She reiterated the recommendation to move the northwest corner of the proposed building to be further from the United Unions building by perhaps a bay or half–bay; Mr. Powell and Mr. Schlossberg supported this suggestion. Mr. Rollman responded that the overlap may not be perceived from an orthogonal viewpoint, although other angles may be problematic.
Mr. Schlossberg said that the effort to light the upper floors but not the street level gives the building a hermetic feel, suggesting instead that the building have a "conversation with the street"– which benefits every building. Mr. Rollman responded that the lighting priority is on the Corcoran, then on the proposed entrance and the building setback. Mr. Schlossberg said that the result is dark spaces around the building.
Chairman Powell summarized the preference of the Commission for a reduction in the building size–an issue that had been raised during previous reviews–while acknowledging the potential infeasibility of altering its size substantially at this stage in the design process. He suggested that the Commission approve the final design submission with the request that the comments be further considered by the project team, and with review of any remaining design details to be worked out with the staff. Mr. Luebke noted that this action would in effect be delegating the final approval to the staff. Chairman Powell said that the intention would be to facilitate the project schedule but commented that the proposal might better have been submitted as a revised concept. The Commission members summarized the issues of concern from this and prior reviews–including the scale of the building in relationship to its neighbors, street–level lighting, and areaway railings–which would be delegated to the staff for further review. Mr. Luebke noted that streetscape issues such as the railing and the extent of paving are being coordinated with the D.C. government agencies regulating public space, which have expressed concerns.
Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. McKinnell, the Commission approved the final design subject to the comments provided, and delegated further review of the outstanding issues to the staff.
At this point, Chairman Powell departed the meeting to recuse himself from the remaining case, and Vice–Chairman Plater–Zyberk presided for the remainder of the meeting.
2. SL 12–017, 435 L'Enfant Plaza Center, SW. Replacement retail pavilion and alterations in courtyard. Revised concept. (Previous: SL 11–150, September 2011.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the revised concept design for landscape modifications and a retail entrance pavilion in the central courtyard of the L'Enfant Plaza complex. She noted that the Commission did not approve the initial concept design submitted in the previous review of September 2011 and had expressed concern that the entrance pavilion's design was based on anticipating the structure for a future larger building above. She asked Britt Snider of The JBG Companies, the owner of the property, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Snider said that the entrance pavilion and skylight is part of the second phase of renovations to the retail space at L'Enfant Plaza; the first phase is complete and has been very successful. He said that the new submission responds to the Commission's previous comments and contributes to strengthening 10th Street, SW, as called for in the Monumental Core Framework Plan that was developed by the Commission and the National Capital Planning Commission. He introduced architect Colden Florance of SmithGroup to present the design.
Mr. Florance said the context of the site is an enclave of government offices characterized by the heroic modern style that is typical of mid–20th–century urban renewal. He summarized the current public–sector planning goal of redeveloping 10th Street, SW, to reinforce the connection between the National Mall and the Southwest Waterfront, including private infill construction at L'Enfant Plaza and greater density overall along 10th Street. He said the problem with the area is not the architectural style but a failure in planning: access is primarily underground, including the Metrorail and parking garage connections, with only limited opportunity for access to the plaza.
Mr. Florance presented the proposal, which he described as a landscape and urban design concept in contrast to the more architectural form of the previous submission. A series of four glass enclosures would be placed along the central east–west axis, including two entrance pavilions leading to the underground retail promenade; the enclosures would have the light character of park structures or follies. The plaza would be a destination in itself, serving as a landscape where people could walk, sit, or play. The enclosures would be set on an eighteen–inch–high platform constructed of glass panels that could be walked on. The two end enclosures would provide entrances from the direction of 10th Street on the west and the existing hotel on the east; the two middle structures would be skylights providing daylight to the retail promenade. The edge of the glass platform would include seat walls and planters, and pedestrian access would be provided at each end by pairs of ramps. He provided photographs of a similar installation of glass paving and said that a variety of translucency is available to allow light transmission while obscuring the view from below of people walking overhead. He presented a section and perspective renderings of the proposal, and said that the courtyard's proposed lawn parterres surrounding the enclosures are derived from the Baroque planning that had influenced L'Enfant. He summarized the design intention of a light, airy, and ephemeral appearance while conveying the presence of the underground retail space.
Mr. Rybczynski asked about the function of two small structures placed to either side of the four aligned enclosures. Mr. Florance responded that they contain ventilation stacks that exhaust air from the retail promenade and the parking garage, and would be clad in an opaque version of the glass used for the four central enclosures. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked if the ventilation stacks currently exist; Mr. Florance responded that they do, but are in a different location that would conflict with the proposed design. Mr. Rybczynski noted their significant height; Mr. Florance responded that fans would be located within, and said that the design intent is for these two structures to be in the same formal family as the other glazed enclosures. He clarified that the tops of the two structures would be open for the air exhaust, and the glass would only be enclosing the sides.
Mr. Schlossberg commented that the project is much improved since the previous submission, and he expressed support at a preliminary conceptual level while suggesting further exploration of how the concept could be developed. He offered the examples of making the forms even more interesting as sculptural elements, and integrating the walks and the glass elements more fully with the space rather than treating them as individual objects. He said that the project is moving in the direction that the Commission had hoped, and encouraged development of the concept into a unique and interesting design.
Ms. Fernández expressed support for the treatment of the project as a landscape design. She commented that the use of historic garden elements such as the parterres would generate an interesting dynamic as visitors trace the shape of the landscape elements with their bodies as they walk through the space. However, she said that the extent of glass in the project may be excessive, resulting in a disembodied character in the central portion of the courtyard; the four central enclosures may make sense as isolated geometric objects, but setting them on a glass platform could be disorienting. She acknowledged that the glass surface would be structurally sound but said that walking on it may produce a psychological sense of instability. She therefore suggested limiting the use of glass to the enclosures, which would be sufficient to convey the sense of lightness, airiness, and access to the retail area below, even though perhaps less evocative than the proposed design.
Mr. Florance recalled that the site of the L'Enfant Plaza complex was originally intended to become Washington's cultural center, when architect I.M. Pei was first working with developer William Zeckendorf on the urban renewal plan for the neighborhood, but instead the cultural center was built elsewhere as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He also noted that a large reflecting pool was part of the courtyard when L'Enfant Plaza first opened in the 1960s, and he described the proposed glass platform as a reference to this earlier pool that would provide an enjoyable experience in the courtyard. Ms. Fernández agreed that the glass platform would be comparable to a reflecting pool, reminiscent of the use of water in the foreground of the Versailles chateau. She encouraged further consideration of such metaphorical references which she said can be helpful in understanding how people feel when using a space.
Mr. Rybczynski asked why the glass platform would be elevated; Mr. Florance responded that the eighteen–inch height would accommodate seating along the edge to encourage enjoyment of the park. Mr. Rybczynski noted that the renderings do not depict seated people and questioned whether any seating locations would actually be feasible. He suggested that the platform be at the same level as the courtyard so that people could enter it at any point, eliminating the need for the proposed ramps which could be removed from the design. Mr. Florance responded that a secondary reason for the platform height is to provide additional ceiling height for the retail–level atrium below. Mr. Rybczynski questioned whether eighteen inches would provide sufficient benefit; he said that the raised platform has a "clunky" appearance as an inappropriate architectural element dropped into the park, while a flush glass surface would provide an interesting episode along the walkway system. Mr. Florance responded that the precedent of a reflecting pool would likely not have been flush, and would have had a curb. Mr. Rybczynski said the pool reference is irrelevant, reiterating the recommendation to treat the glass surface simply as part of the garden. Ms. Fernández commented that the raised glass platform, although accessible, does not seem to encourage walking and would leave people unsure how the space should be used; Ms. Plater–Zyberk observed that visitors would have no reason to go up onto the platform.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested that the design team choose between the two apparent goals of the platform design: a walking surface, which would be more viable if flush with the courtyard as suggested by Mr. Rybczynski; or a raised skylight for the atrium below, which could be designed without encouraging its use as a walking surface such as by eliminating the access ramps. Mr. Snider responded that the eighteen–inch additional ceiling height is not critical for the space below, and the design could be revised to provide a flush glass surface.
Mr. Schlossberg commented that the emphasis on light and the experience of the space suggests the potential for further emphasis on plants, including possible use of a greenhouse form for the enclosures to provide more unity to the design and to establish more clearly its identity as a park. He expressed support for the idea of introducing a translucent material at grade in the middle of this environment and not placing any large, heavy structures on the site.
Mr. McKinnell offered support for the comments of the other Commission members. He expressed appreciation for the client's willingness to listen to the Commission's previous advice and to support an exciting response, acknowledging that the Commission now wants more of this thoughtful design treatment. He supported treating the design elements as part of a landscape rather than as buildings. He noted that the idea of a garden folly is something that is not what it seems to be but is instead a surprise; he said that the experience of a translucent or transparent area within the walking path through the courtyard would provide this type of surprising experience, describing the effect as "magical." He encouraged a design approach of treating the enclosures as whimsical follies rather than as greenhouses and suggested that they could be more arbitrary, such as having the appearance of shards emerging from the courtyard. He emphasized the importance of avoiding the appearance of a building in developing the details for the enclosures. He acknowledged the structural issues that need to be resolved but emphasized his appreciation for the direction of the new concept design. He also acknowledged that he would not be comfortable himself on the glass surface but encouraged its inclusion in the design.
Mr. Luebke noted that the Commission members have some degree of consensus but some diverging comments. Mr. McKinnell offered a motion to approve the concept. Vice–Chairman Plater–Zyberk noted the expectation that the design of the enclosures would be submitted for further review; Mr. Schlossberg said that alternative forms should be submitted, and Ms. Fernández requested further study of the transitions in the design. Mr. Luebke suggested that an additional review of the conceptual development would be appropriate prior to the submission of a final design proposal. Mr. McKinnell supported this guidance; upon a second by Mr. Rybczynski, the Commission approved this action.There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:35 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Last Modified: January 20, 2012