Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
19 January 2012
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 9:06 a.m. (The starting time of the meeting was published as 9:00 a.m., one hour earlier than usual, due to the anticipated length of the agenda.)
A. Administration of oath of office to Philip Freelon. Mr. Luebke introduced Philip Freelon, who was appointed by the President on 11 January to a four–year term on the Commission, and administered the oath of office to him. He summarized Mr. Freelon's background as the founder of The Freelon Group, an architecture firm in Durham, North Carolina, with museum projects in Baltimore, Charlotte, and San Francisco; the firm is also part of the current design team for the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
B. Recognition of Michael McKinnell's service, 2006 to 2011. Mr. Luebke reported that Mr. Freelon replaces Michael McKinnell, who has served on the Commission since January 2006. Chairman Powell read the body of a letter of appreciation being sent to Mr. McKinnell citing his exemplary contributions to the Commission over the past six years.
C. Approval of the minutes of the 17 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 Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Schlossberg. Mr. Luebke said that the minutes will be made available on the Commission's website.
D. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings: 16 February, 15 March, and 19 April of 2012.
E. Confirmation of the approval of the recommendations for the December 2011 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. Plater–Zyberk, the Commission ratified its approval of the December recommendations. (See agenda item II.A, Appendix III, for the January 2012 Old Georgetown Act submissions.)
F. Report on site inspection. Mr. Luebke reported on the Commission's visit to the Southwest waterfront, the location of multiple submissions on the agenda. Chairman Powell suggested discussing the inspections in conjunction with the review of the submissions. (See agenda items II.D.1 through 3.)
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 Ms. Fernández, the Commission approved the Direct Submission Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead–Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported the changes to the draft appendix. Three cases with unfavorable recommendations (case numbers SL 12–021, 026, and 036) have been withdrawn by the applicants to allow time for design revisions. The recommendations for four cases (SL 12–019, 027, 035, and 038) were changed to favorable based on revisions and supplemental materials. Case number SL 12–034 was recategorized as a concept rather than permit submission. Upon a motion by Ms. Plater–Zyberk with second by Mr. Freelon, the Commission approved the revised appendix. (See agenda items II.E.1 and II.E.2 for additional Shipstead–Luce Act submissions.)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martínez reported the changes to the draft appendix. Three cases have been withdrawn at the request of the applicants. Several projects have been added that were recently submitted for review in February but would not be visible from public space and do not require further action by the Commission. Several recommendations have been updated in response to supplemental materials; one project (case number OG 12–071) is still being coordinated to ensure compliance of the detail drawings with the Old Georgetown Board's recommendation. Upon a motion by Ms. Plater–Zyberk with second by Mr. Freelon, the Commission approved the revised appendix. (See agenda item I.E for the December 2011 Old Georgetown Act submissions.)
Mr. Luebke noted the trend of an increasing numbers of projects, with a total of nearly 700 cases reviewed by the Commission in 2011 including an all–time high of 480 Georgetown cases.
B. National Park Service
CFA 19/JAN/12–1, Japanese Lantern and Memorial Stone, Northwest edge of the Tidal Basin. Landscape enhancements and new walkways. Concept. Mr. Luebke introduced the proposed landscape enhancement of the Japanese lantern and memorial stone adjacent to the Tidal Basin, submitted by the National Park Service on behalf of the Government of Japan. He said that the project would commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the people of Japan to the people of the United States; the hundreds of cherry trees that have been planted around the Tidal Basin and in East Potomac Park have resulted in an iconic image of Washington. A memorial stone and several commemorative plaques have been installed to memorialize the event and to mark the original trees. Additionally, in 1954, Japan presented to the United States an eight–foot–tall 300–year–old Japanese stone lantern to honor the 100th anniversary of the first treaty of amity between the two countries; the lighting of this lantern now marks the beginning of the annual cherry blossom festival. He said that the landscape proposal would improve the setting and relationship of the lantern and the commemorative elements. He asked Peter May of the National Park Service to begin the presentation.
Mr. May said that the National Park Service has been working with representatives of the Japanese embassy for more than two years to develop this proposal. Although modest, the project would be an important improvement to the setting of the lantern and commemorative plaques. He introduced Ichiro Fukisaki, the Japanese ambassador to the United States.
Ambassador Fukisaki said the gift of the cherry trees had been the initiative of First Lady Helen Taft. The embassy is organizing various events to mark the anniversary, including the distribution of cherry tree saplings to different cities and states. He said the embassy had wanted to do something at the Tidal Basin that would not be a commemorative monument nor would greatly change the landscape, but would rather be a moderate change suggestive of Japanese design. Progress on the project was interrupted following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, and a launch date in March 2012 is now planned to coincide with the cherry blossom festival; the project will show the gratitude of the Japanese people to Americans for their aid following the earthquake and also demonstrate that Japan is recovering from the disaster. Ambassador Fukisaki expressed his gratitude to the Commission for reviewing this project; Chairman Powell thanked the Ambassador for his presence.
Mr. May introduced landscape designer Hoichi Kurisu of Kurisu International to present the design. Mr. Kurisu said the intention is to bring together the lantern and the memorial stone in an appropriate landscape setting. He described the existing conditions, noting that the land is sinking so much that the concrete foundation of the memorial stone has been revealed. He presented the proposal for a new plaza and a walk that would connect at two points to the existing six–foot–wide concrete walk along the Tidal Basin. He said that the project is designed to avoid disturbing the roots of the existing cherry trees while meeting accessibility standards. A new concrete walk would require a ten–inch–deep foundation, which would injure the existing roots; therefore the proposal in some areas is to use a top surface of composite wood made of recycled materials that would require only a four–inch foundation with occasional grade beams. The walk would be concrete in areas where roots would not be damaged. A root barrier would be installed below the walk to prevent future damage from the roots. He presented images of the proposed materials and texture, noting that the colors have not yet been chosen. He said that the intention is to grade the walk to avoid any need for a railing, but the design includes a railing detail if necessary.
Mr. Kurisu described the proposed plaza. The intention is to suggest a Zen–style garden but with more durable materials, using granite paving with a hammered finish and circular scoring to represent the traditional raked gravel; he provided a sample of the material. He noted the Japanese people's deep affection and respect for boulders, which would be included along the plaza. Mr. Kurisu presented to the Commission a sample of the Tennessee granite he recommended, a mottled black and white stone with a hammered surface. He said he would employ a striated, wave–like pattern that would hide the horizontal joint lines between paving blocks. He added that the plaza and concrete walk edges would blend with the adjoining lawn.
Chairman Powell asked for clarification of the project's March deadline. Mr. May responded that the original intention was to complete the project for the centennial cherry blossom festival; but because of the delay caused by the earthquake, the goal is to obtain the necessary approvals and then announce the project at the March festival.
The Commission members had no further comments; Chairman Powell summarized the Commission's enthusiasm for the project and suggested delegating further review to the staff. Upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg with second by Ms. Plater–Zyberk, the Commission approved the concept submission with the staff delegation.
C. District of Columbia Department of General Services
1. CFA 19/JAN/12–2, La Casa Permanent Supportive Housing, 1444 Irving Street, NW. New seven–story building. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the project from the D.C. Department of General Services for a building in the Columbia Heights neighborhood that would provide permanent supportive housing. He asked John Burke of Studio Twenty Seven Architecture to present the proposal.
Mr. Burke said he was representing the design team of Studio Twenty Seven Architecture and Leo A. Daly. He described the project as a new prototype for homeless care in the city that would provide permanent housing, unlike a typical shelter which people must leave every day; the intention is to provide only minimal oversight from the D.C. Department of Human Services. As permanent housing, a goal is to create a warm and welcoming interior instead of the expected paradigm of institutional homeless housing. He said that the site's proximity to the Columbia Heights Metro station is another factor influencing the design: the neighborhood is very lively and pedestrian–friendly, and the proposed building would be among the first seen by people ascending from the Metro station.
Mr. Burke indicated the proposed location on a neighborhood map and described the design issue of making a transition from the higher, denser commercial development along 14th Street on the east to the lower–density residential development along Irving Street. The building program is forty efficiency units of approximately 300 square feet; the units would offer typical apartment amenities, and offices would be provided for the small number of staff on site. He said the design goal is an environmental rating of LEED gold if it is possible within the budget. The building's exterior would have a rain–screen cladding of concrete board and wood panels, with operable windows for each unit; the intention is to create a facade with an open, porous appearance. He said that the northeast corner of the building, facing 14th Street, would be particularly prominent; he indicated the proposed setback and said that this corner would be treated as a light, open "lantern" by replacing the concrete structure with a steel truss in the double–height lobby. Ms. Plater–Zyberk noted a fenced area adjacent to this corner in the site photograph and asked how it would be used. Mr. Burke responded that this would be a courtyard for the entrance to the adjacent market–rate building to be constructed, and the project team is working with that building's developer to integrate this courtyard space with the proposed building. He noted that the courtyard would usually not receive direct sunlight, and the brightness of the proposed lobby space could actually enhance this neighboring courtyard.
Mr. Burke described the proposed treatment of the lobby. The intention is to make it inviting through a clean, simple, and "slick" design; materials would include drywall attached to the steel truss system and ceramic tile. The second–floor community room would be reached from a balcony overlooking the lobby, and a rear courtyard above the first floor would provide additional light to the balcony and lobby space while providing daylight exposure for the rear apartments. He added that two units would be located along the first–floor street facade.
Mr. Freelon commended the development of this type of project; he asked for further information on the design and materials of the facade. Mr. Burke said that both masonry and precast concrete were considered but they were too expensive, resulting in the proposed rain–screen assembly which is durable and efficient. He said that black was selected as the color because it would provide a neutral background, and the wood panels would relate to the color of the brick used for the adjacent building. He added that since residents will not own their units but will move out as they find employment, the building would be a cross between a dormitory and an apartment building; the wood panels and varied fenestration are used to create a random facade pattern that avoids a repetitive appearance resulting from the small unit sizes.
Mr. Schlossberg offered general support for the proposal but questioned the design of the lobby, which he said conflicts with the building; one type of structure is placed inside another, and the two are fighting each other. He commented that the large truss in the lobby is a discordant feature that would make the space uncomfortable, and the limited light entering from behind the second–story balcony would not be of significance. He acknowledged the desire to create a light character for the entrance but asked why it had been placed at the corner rather than in the middle of the building, especially because the treatment of the fenced area adjacent to the corner is not known. Mr. Burke responded that other locations were considered for the entrance, but a corner lobby allows the desired floor layout.
Ms. Fernández asked how the roof space would be used; Mr. Burke said it would be a green roof but would not be occupiable due to budget constraints. Ms. Fernández commended the interiors and the overall project but agreed with Mr. Schlossberg that the lobby is problematic; she said that its design seems like a self–conscious attempt to make it appear the opposite of a cliché of what homelessness looks like, and instead offers a different cliché of hard–edged details typical of a "high–living" apartment building. She recommended that the lobby present a warm, inviting, and homelike atmosphere for the residents.
Mr. Rybczynski commented that the typical problem with this type of building is that it is recognizable as a place where the homeless live, ostracizing the residents. He disagreed that black is a "neutral" color and said there are probably no other black buildings on Irving Street; the use of black would therefore exacerbate the problem of exclusion and set apart the building's residents. He said that the modern design style is reasonable but recommended using gray or another color, expressing surprise that the client had agreed to the choice of black which seems to fight the purpose of the building.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk agreed that the use of black would be inappropriate; she said that the building would be a home for people who are trying to blend into society, and the building should reflect that and not make them stand out. She supported the exterior design strategy of not revealing the scale of the units but agreed with the concern that the lobby should be more home–like, perhaps through furnishing it as a sitting area.
Ms. Fernández joined in agreeing that black is aesthetically and visually the wrong color. She observed that two features of the design are fighting each other: the effort to create a light, airy lobby space and the heavy, dark, unreflective facade. She suggested using a color or finish that would reflect more light.
Mr. Schlossberg expressed support for the approach of basing the design on the point of view of the people who would live there. He recommended continuing this approach by designing the lobby as an inviting place, observing that it is inherently a social space—the one room that everyone uses. He acknowledged that the building would have a community room, but said that the homeless typically suffer from an isolation from information, including information about what is going on in the community. He suggested that the proposed cold, corporate lobby space would be improved if it were only one story high and treated in a more engaging way, as a place where residents can find out what is happening in the community, and this would reinforce the message that the building is a good place in which to live.
Mr. Burke expressed appreciation for the comments and said that this design approach has already been developed for the second–story rear courtyard through the use of wood decking, green walls, and seating areas. Ms. Fernández said that one problem with the lobby design is the placement of the reception desk near the entrance, where it would feel like a resident needs to check in; she suggested moving the desk further from the entrance so most of the space would be available for use. Mr. Burke responded that the location and need for the reception desk have not yet been decided.
Upon a motion by Ms. Plater–Zyberk with second by Mr. Powell, the Commission approved the concept while recommending different treatments for the lobby and the exterior color, with further review delegated to the staff. Chairman Powell commented that the building would likely be a desirable place to live and asked how residents would be chosen. Mr. Burke responded that the selection would be made by individual case workers; a staff member of the Department of Human Services added that residents would have to meet certain requirements to live in this building, such as continuing to search for employment. Chairman Powell described the project as a noble gesture and offered congratulations to the D.C. government for undertaking this initiative.
2. CFA 19/JAN/12–3, Reno School, 4820 Howard Street, NW. Building rehabilitation and addition. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 17/NOV/11– 4) Mr. Lindstrom introduced the revised concept submission for rehabilitation of the historic Reno School. He said the project would involve adding a large new structure that would connect the Reno School building with the existing Alice Deal Middle School complex. He noted the Commission's previous recommendation in November 2011 that the design team further study the elevation of the addition facing the playing field. He introduced architect Ronnie McGhee of R. McGhee & Associates to present the proposal.
Mr. McGhee summarized the history of the school and its current poor conditions, as previously presented. He noted the three architectural styles that are evident in the complex of school buildings: the 1903 Reno School, the Alice Deal School of the 1920s and 1930s, and the Deal addition of 2004–2005. He indicated the site for the new addition adjacent to the Deal School gym.
Mr. McGhee summarized the Commission's previous recommendation to revise the monumental fenestration pattern of the original concept and to integrate the design more carefully with the existing Reno School and Deal complex. He described several changes that have subsequently been made to the program: the day care center has been eliminated and a multi–purpose room has been added at the same location, accommodating community access; and several of the classrooms are now designated as science classrooms, resulting in slightly larger space requirements.
Mr. McGhee said that the original concept for the addition maintained an orthogonal relationship with the Reno School, a strategy encouraged by the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, but the Commission had commented that the addition should respond to the playing field and the overall configuration of the Deal School complex. In the new submission, a portion of the addition is rotated to align with the Deal School and playing field, which are oriented to the city's orthogonal grid. This change results in an irregularly angled central atrium that is on the axis of the historic Reno School, and the atrium's facade is designed to frame views between the historic school and the playing field. He also noted the Commission's advice to strengthen the connection with the main circulation route connecting to the Alice Deal complex. The corridor configuration has therefore been revised and the classroom positions shifted; he said that breaking the programmatic spaces apart and making them less monolithic has helped in creating a clear circulation route. He indicated the resulting gallery space and said that it would recall the two–story gathering space that is a feature of the Deal School. He noted that the proposed location of the multi–purpose room is at the terminus of the school's internal circulation system while also allowing for separate community access from the exterior.
Mr. McGhee said that the design of the addition's facade has been revised to relate to elements of the Deal School through the use of more masonry while retaining a relationship to the proportions of the Reno School. A brick base is also proposed for the addition to correspond with the Reno School facades. The proposed fenestration has been revised to suggest typical classroom windows, instead of the large expanses of glass that dominated the previous submission; the facade would combine vertical proportions and punched openings to refer to the various styles of the existing school buildings.
Mr. McGhee indicated the proposed portico on the addition which would extend the covered area along the playing field and act as a portal that frames the axis leading to the historic Reno School building. He also indicated the canted alignment of the northernmost portion of the addition to improve the relationship to the playing field. He said the site plan is still being developed to respond to community requirements; the intention is to create outdoor gathering areas and provide easy access from the street to the playing field. He concluded by illustrating the rain gardens that are proposed in the small courtyards between the addition and the Reno School building.
Mr. Schlossberg complimented Mr. McGhee on the significant improvements to the design. Ms. Fernández also commended the revisions and observed that the decision to extend the brick base all the way across the addition will emphasize the historic importance of the Reno School. Mr. Freelon said that the scale has been broken down successfully but expressed concern that the design now had too many small pieces; he suggested consideration of consolidating the elements, particularly in the composition at the north end of the building. Mr. McGhee responded that the roof at this location might house mechanical equipment, and the rooftop structure in the presentation is only a preliminary design that might be eliminated. He said that the intention is to provide a slight change in the facade's appearance at this area with the goal of creating a light source at the end of the corridor and making a transition to the outdoors. Mr. Freelon said that the proposed solution is too fragmented but the design is heading in the right direction.
Mr. Schlossberg suggested that some parts of the addition could echo the gabled roofs of the existing Alice Deal structures instead of using only flat roofs; he added that the narrow glass windows in several places look peculiar and could be slightly enlarged. Mr. McGhee responded that the windows on the proposed addition are slightly less than four feet wide and are intended to recall the historic Reno School windows, which are slightly over four feet, but he offered to restudy the proportions. Mr. Schlossberg and Ms. Plater–Zyberk both questioned the decision to drop the brick base down in some places, recommending a continuous level for the top of the base to give the building greater coherency. Mr. Schlossberg commented that the proposed building as seen from the direction of the playing fields would appear approachable, which he called a valuable and important improvement.
Indicating the stairway in the atrium connecting to the Reno School building, Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the historic school's axis provides important, if partial, views forward and back; she said that there may be enough space in this area to enlarge the views if the upper floor of the addition could be cut back to create a double–height space at the switchback stairway. She also said that the proposed portico is a welcome feature—especially if the openings depicted in the rendering are doors—but it is only a fragment; she recommended bending the facade so that the portico would come at the middle of the angular shift, so that the portico would become part of the building rather than only a sliver or layer. She added that these suggested changes are minimal compared to those already made, reiterating the Commission's appreciation for the revisions.
Ms. Balmori said that the next submission should include more development of the landscape, particularly at the entrances and along the walks. She commented that a perspective rendering of the building suggested some very awkward pieces of the landscape design. As an example, the north end is particularly important because people would walk around this part of the building and then, according to the rendering, would climb a stair up to the playing field; she suggested consideration of ramps. Mr. McGhee said that the connection to the playing field has not yet been studied but noted that it would need to meet accessibility requirements; he said that questions over jurisdiction of these areas has delayed their design. He added that the D.C. government's goal is for the public to be able to reach the playing field without disturbing the school, while also accommodating student access. Ms. Balmori reiterated the importance of studying this area carefully.
Ms. Fernández commented that the rain garden would provide a welcome complement to the large monolithic building, and she suggested consideration of a similar garden near the north end of the building—a garden that would puncture the monolithic building, allowing light and landscaping to go through, so that this area would appear separate from the larger portion of the building. She said that such a garden would help in resolving the access to the playing field, as well as providing a respite between the scale of the large building and the smaller–scaled northern end that now seems tacked on and poorly integrated. Mr. McGhee responded that a lot of stormwater drainage will occur at this end of the building, and the sustainable design features will need to be developed; he offered to consider introducing a rain garden as a transitional element to the playing field. Ms. Balmori supported this suggestion.
Chairman Powell summarized the Commission's enthusiasm for the project and the many suggestions for developing the design. Upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg, the Commission approved the revised concept with the comments provided and delegated further review to the staff.
D. District of Columbia Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development / Hoffman–Madison Waterfront
1. CFA 19/JAN/12–4, Southwest Waterfront Development Master Plan. Area bounded by Washington Channel and Maine Avenue, SW, between the Case Memorial Bridge and the Titanic Memorial/Ft McNair. Final. (Previous: CFA 18/NOV/10–1, Information presentation)
2. Southwest Waterfront Development – public spaces and landscapes. Concept designs for:
3. Southwest Waterfront Development – new buildings and structures. Concept designs for:
Mr. Luebke introduced the multiple submissions for the Southwest waterfront, including a final master plan for the overall development and concept designs for several of the public spaces, piers, and buildings as well as signage. He noted the Commission's previous comments on the master plan in response to an information presentation in November 2010. The project is a public–private partnership on a site owned by the District of Columbia government, and is submitted by the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development on behalf of Hoffman–Madison Waterfront, the private–sector development consortium holding a long–term lease of the site. The parcels will be developed separately by various private–sector developers, and the proposals will therefore be treated as Shipstead–Luce Act submissions in later stages of review. He introduced Shawn Seaman of PN Hoffman & Associates, the managing firm of the Hoffman–Madison development consortium, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Seaman described several aspects of the project from the developer's perspective. He noted the extensive community involvement and the collaborative design approach that includes a variety of architects for the different development parcels. He said that the project celebrates its location at the convergence of the federal and local characters of the city, and the large size of the site—27 acres of land and 25 acres of water—provides an exceptional opportunity. He noted that the presentation is intended to emphasize the overall experience of the project rather than merely show an assortment of separate buildings. He said that the process began in 2000, when twenty federal and D.C. agencies signed a memorandum of understanding for the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative which called for the transformation of the Anacostia waterfront continuing up the Potomac River along the Washington Channel where this project is located. The project is currently being coordinated with the D.C. Zoning Commission as a planned–unit development. He noted the neighborhood's mid–20th–century urban renewal and said that the design is intended to avoid the past failures of development at this location by combining the work of numerous architects and landscape architects, with the goal of city–building rather than a monolithic project. The first phase of development includes half of the total planned building area of three million square feet. He described the proximity of the site to the Tidal Basin and National Mall but also the sense of isolation due to the intervening expressway. He noted that the project would include more affordable housing units—twenty percent of the total units—than any other market–rate development in Washington. The project is being designed to achieve an environmental rating of LEED gold and includes many sustainability features, such as retaining stormwater and reusing it in an on–site heating, cooling, and power generation plant. He said that the project would contribute to the recent wave of development in the Southwest and Southeast waterfront areas, and he emphasized the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative vision of vibrant urban neighborhoods that combine maritime activity, commerce, culture, and housing. He introduced architect Stanton Eckstut of Perkins Eastman/EEK to present the master plan and portions of the more detailed concept submissions.
Mr. Eckstut said that the project encompasses an expansion of the city in keeping with the McMillan Plan images that are displayed in the Commission's meeting room, and is intended to improve the city while remembering its past. He acknowledged the large scope of many of the presentation drawings but emphasized the design focus on creating a variety of smaller experiences within a broader awareness of the waterfront and the city. He said that the design addresses some of the issues discussed earlier with the LaCasa housing (agenda item II.C.1), such as the relationship to the street and the city fabric. He also emphasized the combination of architecture and landscape architecture in achieving the goal of placemaking.
Mr. Eckstut outlined the presentation format: a brief presentation of the master plan, which was previously presented in November 2010, with an overview of the open spaces and building sites; and presentations by several architects and landscape architects of the concept design proposals for many of the specific sites, beginning with the wharf as the project's unifying element and then generally proceeding from the northwest end of the development. He noted that the concept designs for the areas toward the southeast would be part of a future second–phase submission, although the Waterfront Park component in this area is included with the first phase at the request of the local community. The presentation also includes the proposed treatment along Maine Avenue and the alleys, or mews, within the development; he noted that none of the edges is considered a back side, and all open spaces are designed for pedestrian use. The concluding component is graphics, which he described as an integral part of the development. He also indicated the large site model that is available for the Commission's inspection.
Mr. Eckstut presented an historic image of the intensively used waterfront and emphasized several themes of the master plan. The development is intended as a destination as well as a place of economic activity and urban growth. The waterfront was intended as a place of arrival in the L'Enfant plan, as was traditional with waterfronts around the world. The waterfront was also a commercial place that did not have the composed aesthetic character of the federal government areas of the city; the master plan is intended to renew this sense of a busy commercial setting. The livelier and noisier activity would be placed toward the northwest end of the development, apart from the more residential context toward the southeast, although he emphasized that all parts of the development would be designed for intense use.
Mr. Eckstut said that a waterfront design should begin with a plan for the water area itself, which is common for great harbors worldwide although not common in the United States. Different types of boats and activities would occur in the various water areas; the existing marinas for smaller boats would be consolidated, and additional space would be used for tour boats, water taxis, and other commercial uses. He envisioned that the harbor would include a wide variety of vessels including ships from around the world. The focal point of the waterfront would be the District Pier at the foot of Ninth Street, serving as an arrival point for visiting ships and an important public place for celebration and temporary events. He emphasized that the quality of the public space, rather than its quantity, is important in creating an active waterfront; he contrasted the development to the more typical landscaped edge of federal waterfront areas.
Mr. Eckstut indicated the parcels where development would occur, shaping the public spaces between them. The ground floor of each building would include retail space. He described the streets as shared–use spaces, dominated by pedestrians but with cars allowed—a treatment that is relatively unusual in the United States. Driving through the development is not encouraged; cars would primarily be used for drop–off and pick–up, and management of the streets would include limitations on car access along the wharf during times of heavier pedestrian use. Parking would be entirely below grade—a costly infrastructure expense, but one that provides the opportunity to create the project's active character. Vehicular access would be from Maine Avenue using primarily a series of right–turn access streets; service zones, indicated in yellow, on the master plan, would be designed not to interfere with pedestrian areas. He noted that the master plan includes pedestrian crosswalks and traffic–calming measures; curbs and stop signs would not be used, while bollards would provide some guidance to car movement. A single paving material, possibly Belgian block, would be used to provide a unifying treatment of the open spaces; additional stone throughout the development, including the parking garages, would be from local quarries. A dedicated bicycle path would be placed along Maine Avenue; bicycle parking and rental stations would be provided throughout the development. He emphasized the mix of uses in the project and in relation to the context. The existing Arena Stage is located near the southeastern part of the development; a new music hall is proposed at the northwestern end, resulting in two cultural anchors for the development. He noted that the music hall would require occasional access by large trucks, which has been accommodated in the master plan.
Mr. Eckstut described the master plan's emphasis on open space, encompassing sixty percent of the site area—compared to fifty percent at his firm's earlier project of Battery Park City in New York. He indicated the treatment of open spaces and view corridors as extensions of existing streets across Maine Avenue, including Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, and M Streets. He emphasized the relatively small block widths of approximately 200 feet that would provide porosity between the waterfront and Maine Avenue, a contrast to the typically larger block sizes in Washington and particularly in the Southwest neighborhood. He also emphasized the varied characters and activities of the streets, which are themselves intended as destinations. He indicated the existing fish market, located outside the development boundary to the northwest, which is part of the commercial history of the waterfront. He described several of the sustainability and landscaping issues: the available soil depth for trees would be four feet; stormwater would be reused on the site; and half of the roof area would be green.
Mr. Eckstut compared the current master plan to the previously presented version; he said that the changes are relatively few. The accommodation of automobiles and streetcars has been simplified to improve the continuity of the streets. The formal circle proposed in front of Arena Stage has been eliminated. The small mews have been introduced into the middle of some blocks to provide alternative routes to the wharf, which would be particularly attractive during very hot or cold weather.
Mr. Eckstut described the overall design character of the planned buildings; they would have a common vocabulary and the sense of being of a single family while also each having its own identity and purpose. The roof forms would be varied based on the internal needs of the buildings; the locations of building entrances have been carefully planned. The extensive ground–floor retail areas are designed for small businesses; the retail frontage along Maine Avenue would emphasize neighborhood–oriented stores, while the space toward the wharf would emphasize food, beverage, and entertainment. He acknowledged the typically frequent turnover of restaurant tenants but said that long–term placemaking and flexible buildings are the key components of the design; the public spaces would remain fixed even as the retail tenants change. He noted the historical importance of public spaces as the "bones" of city plans.
Mr. Eckstut provided further details of the wharf treatment, the first of the concept design presentations. He noted the Commission's previous concern with providing sufficient width for this open space; the proposed width is 60 feet, compared to the existing width of 40 to 45 feet, and would widen at many locations. He said that the proposed walkway width, even at its narrowest, would be more than sufficient; the design has been studied in comparison to other wharfs and major public places. He presented a section to illustrate the building edges and the adjacent zone for outdoor or enclosed cafes. The twenty–foot–wide shared zone would accommodate pedestrians and emergency vehicle access; an additional twenty–foot–wide promenade zone along the water would include planting areas. He indicated the below–grade cistern that would extend the length of the wharf. The bulkhead along the water would include wood fendering at locations where boats dock and at other highly visible locations; the edge of the promenade would be a wood bench for seating, extending more than 3,000 feet, and no railing would be used. He contrasted this treatment to the concrete bulkhead at Harborplace in Baltimore. He presented renderings of the Transit Pier, toward the northwest end of the wharf, which would be the docking location for commercial boats; the area is designed to include bleacher seating that could be used to view performances from barges.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk noted the wharf height of twelve feet above the water and asked how that compares to the existing wharf. Mr. Eckstut responded that the existing wharf has two levels; the lower level is approximately eight feet above the water, and the upper level matches the proposed wharf height. He added that the two–level configuration, although considered advantageous when it was built, is problematic for adapting to special events and does not encourage a sense of the bigger waterfront experience; the proposed single–level wharf would have a stronger sense of place. Mr. Rybczynski asked how the height compares to other cities. Mr. Eckstut responded that many wharfs have greater height, such as 20 to 25 feet along the Atlantic coast of France; inland cities tend to have lower heights, such as three to five feet. He added that lowering the wharf height would be problematic due to the below–grade parking and the increased risk of flooding in the retail spaces; flood insurance problems have impeded the leasing of ground–floor waterfront space in other cities.
Mr. Eckstut presented the concept design for the District Pier area, beginning with a water–court entry at Maine Avenue and extending to the Town Square, and then the pier itself which would be used for ships, exhibitions, and the dock master's building. A series of pylons, approximately fifty feet high, would provide lighting and sound, utility connections, and support for banners and canopies; this infrastructure capacity would support varied programming comparable to Bryant Park in New York. He also cited the precedent of Les Halles in Paris, where posts are used to frame a park–like setting. He described the proposed concept of stone bases with metal frames above, and presented a rendering of how the area might appear during the cherry blossom festival. He added that programming for the pier could also include musical performances, flea markets, and ice skating. The dock master's building is proposed as a two–story structure at the end of the pier, with the upper floor used as a public event space or cafe, and with a stepped seating edge to provide views of the waterfront and special events. He presented additional renderings of the water–court arrival area along Maine Avenue, including a high entrance canopy with bright lighting and large signage; the large–scale lettering is intended as a dynamic welcoming feature along Maine Avenue, and the height would allow open views toward the waterfront. Beneath the canopy would be a major water feature, the primary pedestrian access to the below–grade parking, and a small structure with a cafe and additional parking access. At the southwest end of the canopy, the Town Square would be located at the intersection of the District Pier with the wharf. He compared the size of the Town Square with similar event spaces at Covent Garden, Faneuil Hall, and Baltimore's waterfront.
Mr. Eckstut presented the concept design for Parcel 2 which would include 500 apartments, ground–floor retail space, and a music hall in the middle. The retail space would emphasize food and beverage service, with a prominent multi–level club on the corner adjacent to the theater entrance to activate the Town Square and District Pier; he indicated the prominent vertical emphasis at this corner, relating it to the tradition of iconic verticals in Washington, and said that this location would be a focal point and meeting place for the development. The music hall's capacity would be 1,500 seats or accommodate standing room for 6,000; the theater entrance is still being designed, and the multi–story glass lobby would provide views of the waterfront. The residential building above is designed to form a backdrop to the other elements. He emphasized that the area is intended to attract people of all ages, with more variety of appearance and use than the traditional federal areas of Washington; typical federal design features such as classical columns and fluting would be used in innovative ways, and the architecture would emphasize a clear top, middle, and base. He also indicated the small building proposed at the foot of the Transit Pier that would provide boat ticketing as well as a box office for the music hall.
Mr. Eckstut introduced architect Bahram Kamali of BBG/BBGM to present the proposed hotel for Parcel 3b. Mr. Kamali said that the proposal is based on the master plan's design guidance as well as the desire to create a unique building that will contain an urban resort hotel. He noted the special character of the adjacent areas—the water, the Town Square, and the District Pier—and said that the hotel would be a major visual element for people entering the development from the water. He indicated the ground–floor uses, including the hotel lobby, restaurant, lounge with outdoor seating, and retail space. The L–shaped plan takes advantage of the site, with most of the rooms having water views. He said that the concept is to break down the scale of the building by establishing separate elements through techniques such as different materials. The corner focal point is intended to anchor the building in relation to the Town Square and waterfront; the three–story base treatment provides a pedestrian scale. He indicated the different treatment of each facade in response to the different areas that the building faces. He said that the use of brick, metal, and two–story punched openings for windows is intended to suggest the distinctive design of a warehouse. The small balconies on alternating floors, as well as the recessed treatment of some windows, are intended to provide a residential character for the building; the materials have also been used to provide a human scale. He indicated the different expression of the second floor where the ballroom and meeting rooms would be located, noting that the ballroom would have a direct view of the water. On the top of the building, the twelfth floor would contain a "sky bar" and an additional meeting room; he indicated the separate ground–level entrance for access to the sky bar. The main entrance to the hotel would face the open space on the southeast, named the Piazza, and would be emphasized with a porte–cochere and a vertical treatment of the facade above. The lobby lounge would be at the south corner and would relate to the yacht club building set within the Piazza.
Mr. Kamali introduced architect Gary Handel of Handel Architects to present the residential buildings proposed for Parcel 4. Mr. Handel emphasized the diversity of design that results from the use of different architects for the parcels, with the common goal of creating an engaging urban experience. He described the edges of the parcel: Maine Avenue on the northeast; the wharf on the southwest; the Piazza on the northwest; and the narrow Jazz Alley on the southeast, extending from Maine Avenue to the wharf. The parcel would also be bisected by the Piazza Mews with the residential tower spanning above. The lower two floors would contain retail space; the upper floors would include 168 mixed–income apartments and 130 condominiums. The building would be set back from the west corner of the site to create the open space of the Piazza; the upper portion of the building would also be set back from the retail base, and the second–story roof would have a south–facing deck with a swimming pool, other recreational amenities, and landscaping. A second–floor bridge would connect the condominium lobby to the hotel on Parcel 3b. He described the design treatment of breaking the mass of the building into smaller pieces, with the base treated as individual retail pavilions. The upper floors would have a brick facade along Maine Avenue and a lighter expression toward the wharf using vertically organized industrial sashes; a major feature would be the vertical prow–like element extending toward the wharf, rising above the retail base.
Mr. Eckstut discussed further details of the mews concept and presented several renderings. He said that the spaces would receive sufficient daylight, and clear wayfinding would guide people through the complex. He acknowledged that one of the mews provides access to the hotel loading area but said that the loading dock would have very limited hours of use. Retail space and restrooms would be located along the mews. Mr. Handel added that landscaping is a critical element in the design of the mews; the treatment of Parcel 4 includes planters, window boxes, and hanging vines to give dappled light and a softer character to the mews. He indicated the additional bridges that would cross the mews, possibly part of a second–floor sports club, and noted the design details such as angled corners and possibly overhead light and sound elements. He said that the result could be a nighttime attraction that provides a sense of "magical procession" from Maine Avenue to the wharf. Mr. Eckstut said that the mews concept draws on Washington's traditional alleys; a further design goal is to extend this special character to the wharf itself, which is still being considered.
Mr. Eckstut presented the concept design for the Capital Yacht Club, which would be located on the waterfront adjacent to the Piazza. He described the intention of treating the clubhouse as a surprise element near the water, especially when seen from the mews between parcels 3a and 4; the clubhouse would provide a sense of enclosure and containment, in contrast to other areas along the wharf that are fully open to the water. He added that the building is necessary for the operations of the yacht club. He described the design as having a simplicity derived from the historical working wharf at this location, and a street–wall edge that relates to the District Pier; the water side of the building, in contrast, would be very open with expansive views. He emphasized the general importance of small buildings in creating a successful waterfront; although the clubhouse is only for members of the yacht club, he said that it contributes to the larger setting. In the rendered view toward the Yacht Club, he indicated a large beech tree that would be relocated to the Piazza from the grounds of an existing church that is being incorporated into the development.
Mr. Eckstut presented additional renderings of the wharf, indicating the small retail pavilions that would be included as part of the general active character. Guidelines would be established for the retail uses, which might be temporary such as for holidays and special events. He presented the design of the pavilions, with a metal envelope to accommodate a range of activities. He offered the example from New York of chefs working in very small venues, or rental of ice skates; overall, he emphasized that the development could accommodate small new businesses as well as more established retail tenants.
Mr. Eckstut introduced Michael Vergason of Michael Vergason Landscape Architects to present the design of the Seventh Street corridor, including the Seventh Street Park and Seventh Street Pier. Mr. Vergason described this corridor as an important connection between the community and the water. He described the park and pier as quieter in character than other parts of the development and presented early conceptual sketches to illustrate the intended soft character of the design. The forms include a gently rolling topography and curved pier dipping down to the water level, with terraced stairs, sloped seating, climbing surfaces, swings, interactive fountains, and floating docks. Kayak rentals would be available along the pier. He emphasized that bringing people directly to the water level is a key element of the design. The park would be treated as a residential green focused on a central oval lawn with trees and a gentle rise, providing a south–facing slope for sitting and sunning. Overall, the park would be a very urban space framed by residential and hotel buildings with continuous ground–floor restaurant space along the edges. He described design details such as the pavers, bollards for control of vehicles, and runnels to channel surface runoff into a rain garden on the south, adjacent to the outfall of an interceptor pipe located beneath the overlook area. Floating wetland areas could be located beneath the outfall to benefit from the available nutrients; he cited a comparable design feature in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
Mr. Vergason introduced Warren Byrd of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects to present the design for the Waterfront Park, located two blocks to the southeast, and the overall landscape strategy for the project. Mr. Byrd described the plant palette for the project, including plane trees along the wharf. Native plants would be emphasized in the three–acre Waterfront Park, which he noted is the largest landscaped space in the project. He said that the program and character of the park, and its inclusion in the project's first phase, result from coordination with the nearby community and particularly the locally elected Advisory Neighborhood Commission; the resulting design is widely supported by the community. He noted that the site is currently three–quarters pervious surface, including parking lots and wide roads; the proposed design reverses this proportion, with more than three–quarters green space. He described the Waterfront Park as the culmination of the sequence of open spaces to the northwest that have been presented, and it serves as a pivot point between the wharf and Maine Avenue. He indicated the existing pier for police and fire services that would remain toward the south end of the park, and which requires vehicular access and parking for twenty vehicles that would be provided on porous pavement; he said that the proposed access road is half the width of the current street, and the proposed surface is pedestrian–friendly. In the main area of the park, the existing mature willow oaks would be preserved if possible; he said that they provide a strong edge to the adjacent neighborhood, which includes modernist–era construction as well as historic houses from around 1800. He described the proposed character as comparable to the Seventh Street Park, but with additional emphasis on families and children. He noted the grade change across the site and the proposed leveling of the ground plane to provide a sense of separation between the higher inland portion of the park and the parking area and piers. Features in the park would include fixed and moveable seating, tables, a pergola, and an interactive fountain; he said that the pergola could include solar panels to power the fountain or the site lighting. A transitional area would include mounds for children's play as well as bocce courts. A small storage structure would be provided, and a cafe pavilion could be created as part of the adjacent development of Parcel 10. He indicated the promenade along the water's edge; rain gardens would be located between the promenade and the access road. He presented several rendered views to illustrate the character of the park and rain gardens.
Mr. Eckstut presented the concept design for the development's Maine Avenue frontage. He described the intended architectural character along the avenue as more reserved than the wharf side of the development, including a more even alignment of the buildings and a more conventional treatment of ground–floor retail space while still maintaining a unique identity for each building. Signage would be provided for identity and wayfinding. Existing trees would remain and would dominate the streetscape. The existing roadway would remain, and a bike lane and additional tree areas would be added between the avenue and the proposed development. He indicated how each of the buildings would relate to the avenue frontage and provide the appropriate degree of gateway into the development. The office building on Parcel 3a would have its lobby entrance along Maine Avenue; the building may contain speculative office space or classrooms for an adult–education tenant, and would have a more expressive design facing the water. The power plant would also be located along Maine Avenue, providing a statement of the development's energy use and providing a contrast to the other buildings in the development. He described the views from Banneker Overlook at Tenth Street; the buildings on Parcel 2 would be configured to allow the existing view corridor to extend southward, and another view corridor would be angled toward the water. He noted the extensive coordination with the staffs of the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission in determining the necessary widths and alignments of these view corridors, resulting in modifications to the previously presented master plan. He noted that the views would be further affected by potential future development at the Banneker Overlook site.
Mr. Eckstut introduced Abbott Miller of Pentagram to present the concept for the proposed graphics program, noting that the signage is intended to suggest a more commercial character than the typical federal areas of Washington as depicted in the McMillan Plan. Mr. Miller discussed the role of environmental graphics and typography for the site. He said that the project provides the interesting opportunity to use lettering as part of the cityscape. Applications in the project include identity, wayfinding, and interpretive elements. The proposed typography is based on traditional maritime and vernacular typography related to the history of the site while being modern rather than a literal historic evocation; the typography palette is evolving in response to the architectural approach of variety for the project. He said that the graphic treatment of the subspaces within the mews is particularly important, including their naming which has not yet been finalized. He presented several historic precedents of lettering linked to architecture through elements such as armatures and trellises, which he said is preferable to lettering that is merely applied to building fascias. He described the proposed range of materials for signage, including concrete that would show traces of its wood formwork. The proposed colors of yellow and black are intended to provide highlights within the broader material context of the development. Wayfinding signage would occur throughout the site; he suggested a hierarchy of identity, wayfinding, and interpretation that would result in a controlled expression rather than a sense of signs being everywhere, and noted that people would develop an understanding of how to look for certain types of signs.
Mr. Miller discussed the large sign for the District Pier entrance along Maine Avenue, as seen earlier in the presentation. He said that the extension of the sign to the avenue eliminates the need for other overused treatments such as an entrance arch. He expressed enthusiasm for the large scale of the typography which he said would result in dramatic vistas. He cited other examples of straightforward signage such as at New York's Staten Island Ferry. He emphasized that this large sign would be integrated into the architecture rather than having an added–on appearance.
Mr. Miller said that the overall graphics program would have a variety of scales and methods of attachment; the more massive structures would contrast with more ephemeral graphic elements such as the illuminated windsocks on the waterfront pylons. He said that the overall emphasis would be on graphics placed on other features of the project rather than a profusion of isolated elements. The project name would be included on detail elements such as manhole covers, runnel covers, and air grates. The long bench along the wharf edge could include markers to identify subareas along its length; he presented several images of how this treatment might be developed, such as with glass panels conveying historical information about the site in the manner of a book that has been left open. He added that plaques would be avoided in the graphic program.
Mr. Eckstut concluded the presentation by noting the interrelationship among master planning, architecture, and landscape architecture in the project, as well as the balance between built forms and public spaces.
(At the conclusion of the presentation, the Commission recessed for lunch; upon reconvening, the Commission members discussed each of the project components and took several actions addressing them.)
Mr. Schlossberg questioned whether the proposed parking would be adequate for the large amount of development that is proposed; he observed that the success of the development will depend on visitors to the retail space and special events. Mr. Seaman responded that the parking need is an important concern and has been analyzed on the basis of shared use between weekday office use and nighttime attractions. The planned two–level parking garage includes approximately one space per 1,000 square feet of overall development area, and a partial third level of parking is being considered. He added that the parking is a balance between commercial demand and the D.C. government's preference for limiting the amount of parking and instead encouraging other modes of access. He noted the bicycle and pedestrian access as well as the bus and future streetcar routes that will serve the site; commuter rail service and multiple Metro lines are also located nearby [at L'Enfant Plaza].
Ms. Fernández asked for further clarification of the flexibility of the three zones of use along the wharf and the need for management or access control for vehicles in the shared–use area. Mr. Seaman responded that the presented section of three twenty–foot–wide zones along the wharf was taken at a particular location and illustrates a baseline configuration; the treatment would vary in some areas, such as at the Capital Yacht Club building which is close to the water. The twenty–foot retail zone would be a fixed limit, with the exception of a small number of cafe tables that would be located in the promenade zone. The middle zone would be the only area for cars and would be treated as a single one–way lane; the zone would shift at special locations such as the Seventh Street Park and the yacht club, discouraging through–traffic, and vehicles would not be permitted to cross the Town Square. He noted that the music hall would extend slightly closer to the waterfront at this pedestrian–only location, with the nearby Transit Pier providing additional public space. He added that the on–site roads are designed to allow periodic closures for special events, or potentially routine closure at busy times such as Friday and Saturday nights. He said that the developer would manage the site for a five–year period, in accordance with a D.C. government requirement, and then the management would be transferred to the building owners; the result would be comparable to a typical business improvement district, including control of road closures and operations. He emphasized that the proposed public space along the wharf is more generous than the existing condition of two grade–separated twenty–foot–wide zones: the existing upper zone has restaurant tables in some locations, preventing its use as a continuous pedestrian route, and the lower zone includes planters and bicycle racks that limit the clear width to seven feet. He contrasted this with the proposed twenty–foot–wide pedestrian–only promenade which would have only limited commercial activity in kiosks. He clarified that the vehicular access along the wharf would be beneficial for passenger drop–off or a casual visit to the area, which would be an improvement on the current isolated character of the waterfront promenade with no vehicular access; he emphasized the importance of providing the very limited vehicular access as part of the development concept.
Ms. Fernández asked if the wharf could include bicycle lanes comparable to the proposal along Maine Avenue. Mr. Seaman responded that the intended paving would be Belgian blocks with a relatively smooth surface but not suitable for fast bicycling; he said that recreational or commuting bicyclists would choose the proposed lanes along Maine Avenue. He confirmed that the shared–use zone along the wharf would easily accommodate bicyclists as well as pedestrians and cars, but the design would encourage bicyclists to stop within the development.
Ms. Balmori expressed support for the proposed configuration of building parcels that would provide for ample access to the waterfront; she said that this was a major concern that has been addressed successfully. She acknowledged the inclusion of talented landscape architects on the project team which will result in appropriate care in the design of the public spaces. She also supported the inclusion of water access as part of the development concept. She noted that the view from Banneker Overlook would have a building in the foreground and questioned whether the water itself would be visible as part of the view, suggesting further study of this alignment. She also expressed concern that the existing wide design of Maine Avenue would be perceived as a barrier that isolates the development from the city; she acknowledged that the avenue width is not within the developer's control but suggested adding large trees and pedestrian islands to the median to reduce the perceived width and encourage pedestrian crossing.
Mr. Rybczynski supported the concept of mixing cars and bicycles and pedestrians along the wharf but emphasized the need for careful management, noting that this configuration is not traditional in American cities. He observed that the single–lane design implies that cars would not be permitted to stop, which requires enforcement; the management may be complicated but appears to have a worthwhile and attractive result. He also supported the mews concept with circulation through the blocks; he said that this proposal is handled well and shows promise. He expressed disappointment with the proposed outdoor structures, commenting on their overly heavy and industrial character and the inappropriateness of gantries and pylons as the model for this development. He said that the proposal for the Seventh Street Park and Pier initially seemed out of place, but on further consideration he supports it. He noted the statement in the presentation that this development is intended to be like a city; the specific proposals tend to lack the variety that is typical of cities, but this park design provides a good example of a different element. He encouraged further urban variety in the development, commenting that the relatively consistent architectural character of the proposals results in the sense of a single project that is reminiscent of Las Vegas rather than Washington. He said that exciting open spaces are appropriate in some areas such as at the music hall, but he suggested that the range of open spaces could be extended to include some less exciting places, such as the other end of the development.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk expressed appreciation for the effort devoted to place–making in the master plan, particularly the emphasis on organic rather than unified design. She noted the Commission's previous concerns with porosity and variety in the project and said that these have been addressed. She supported the configuration of view corridors and special places but said that they have then been filled with too many additional elements; she noted that budget constraints may resolve this issue. She observed that the extensive variety of architecture and public spaces should be sufficient without the multiplicity of additional elements to animate the project, an outdated aesthetic that was formed several decades ago when festival waterfronts were a new attraction in areas that people had previously avoided. She suggested deferring some detailed design work to emerge from the activities and tenants that will occupy the site over time, rather than over–programming the project with built elements.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented that the proposed bridge structures are appropriate in the mews but are sometimes proposed across view corridors which should instead be left unobstructed. Similarly, she objected that the siting of the Capital Yacht Club, as presented, would obstruct the end of a long vista; she expressed a preference for the siting to the side as depicted in the model, or perhaps turning the building sideways to reduce its intrusion into the view. She also joined in questioning the sufficiency of the view from Banneker Overlook, observing that the vantage point would be lower than the top of the music hall that forms the floor of the view; she noted the importance of this viewshed in wider planning for the area, affecting the master planning principles for the proposed development. She noted the intention of treating this development as an extension of the city rather than as a single project and therefore questioned the use of a single branding name—proposed as "The Wharf"—for the entire area. She also questioned the multiplicity of sign types proposed for the project; Mr. Luebke noted that the proposed sign system is not consistent with existing regulations on the scale and location of signs, an issue which will require further review and coordination.
Mr. Schlossberg noted that the presentation included multiple renderings of the piers being used in various ways; he suggested this as a model for flexible design to accommodate spontaneous uses rather than creating a completely planned environment. He emphasized the importance of change as an exciting part of life that should not be prescribed in advance. He acknowledged the extraordinary thoughtfulness and care in the master plan; nevertheless, he suggested a more relaxed design attitude that allows the area to evolve rather than achieve a perfectly finished state that has no option for change except to decay. He recommended strengthening the experience through an emphasis on variation and potential rather than planning for every possible activity. He noted that the long duration of the project—perhaps a century—will require many changes, and a fixed design would not be a good starting point.
Mr. Freelon supported the comments of the other Commission members, including the commendation of the project team. He noted that the presented view from Banneker Overlook was drawn from a height above the overlook, and he recommended that a normal grade–level view be provided to address the Commission's concern. Mr. Seaman responded that the recent public–sector planning studies for Banneker Overlook have envisioned a building on this site, terminating the Tenth Street axis rather than providing a continuous view; suggestions for the site have included a significant national museum. The view southward from such a building may be experienced from a higher level than the current grade of the Overlook, and the presented rendering was intended to convey such a view. He said that this response was the result of extensive coordination with government agencies to balance the unknown future treatment of the Overlook site with the functional height needs of the music hall. He noted that the theater is a cultural component that is required by the D.C. government, and the proposed location is the best feasible solution on the development site. He emphasized that the more significant connection of the Banneker Overlook site to the waterfront would occur at an angle, with a grand staircase leading to the existing fish market; this area would be part of the second phase of development and was therefore not depicted in detail in the current presentation.
Ms. Fernández commented that the presentation shows careful attention to establishing a sense of place and charm; however, charm typically arises spontaneously rather than resulting from a design intent. She said that the charm of other successful developments illustrated in the presentation has resulted from the cobbling together of various elements, such as signs; the effort to fabricate a cobbled effect would be unlikely to have the same success. She said that the problem is apparent in the intended industrial language of design elements such as the pylons and kiosks; the effect is of a decorative industrial style, which is the opposite of an actual industrial language. She suggested committing to a particular approach, either decorative or industrial, rather than trying to combine them. She said that the awkwardness of the pylons is particularly problematic due to their prominence in the design; she suggested developing an improved design that would provide all of the functions and flexibility that was proposed. She added that elements such as the pylons and kiosks are important in providing some degree of unification to the site, preferable to the unnecessary gesture of repeating the development's name in small design features such as manhole covers; she emphasized that people should actually feel that they are in the development rather than repeatedly read its name. She concluded by cautioning against the aesthetic language of a typical mediocre shopping mall and said that the wharf area should be free of the commercial character that dominates other parts of the development.
Ms. Balmori expressed support for the high percentage of open space in the project. She emphasized that the landscape, like the buildings, should have variety and should avoid an excessively busy character. She supported the pier design which she said achieves the goal of providing access to the water. She suggested additional trees to provide more summer shade, including shaded areas within the parks.
Chairman Powell summarized the consensus of the Commission to approve the master plan as a final submission subject to the comments provided and the need for further coordination with sign regulations. Mr. Luebke noted that the individual components of the master plan would be reviewed further as design submissions, either as direct submissions from the D.C. government or as Shipstead–Luce Act submissions; the design of such elements as the kiosks and pylons could be refined as part of this review process, notwithstanding the Commission's approval of the overall master plan. Mr. Seaman acknowledged that the separate components could be submitted for multiple reviews as needed, emphasizing the near–term importance of obtaining approval of the master plan that defines major elements such as the location of building parcels, streets, and mews. Chairman Powell confirmed that the Commission is satisfied with these elements; he restated the consensus as a motion, which the Commission approved upon a second by Ms. Plater–Zyberk.
Mr. Seaman noted that the remaining submissions are intended for concept approval, including the specific proposals for the buildings and public spaces. Mr. Eckstut said that many of the Commission's comments on the master plan would be addressed through the development of the designs for each component, relying on the Commission's approval of the broad elements identified in the master plan.
Chairman Powell noted the generally supportive response of the Commission members to the concept proposals for the public spaces. He asked for specific comments on the submissions for public spaces, beginning with the Waterfront Park.
Ms. Balmori commented that the access to the police and fire services pier is problematic for the Waterfront Park design, causing a critical portion of the site near the waterfront to be devoted to cars; she recommended further study and negotiation to find a better resolution of this issue. She also commented that the trees are simply providing a frame for the park but not creating spaces within it; she supported the framing of the semicircular space but said that other parts of the park appear to be unrelated leftover space, exacerbated by the location of the access road. She recommended treating the park as an integrated series of spaces. Mr. Byrd responded that the landscape design is intended to achieve this goal but acknowledged that the access road is a gap.
Mr. Schlossberg said that parking for emergency–services piers is often accommodated on the pier itself rather than on adjacent parkland; Ms. Balmori supported exploration of this approach. Mr. Schlossberg said that such a change would be a welcome improvement for the park, observing that it is not a large space despite being bigger than other parks in the development. He said that the Waterfront Park proposal lacks the sense of random movement through the space that was apparent in the other park proposals; he observed that the design includes relatively few routes and access points, missing the opportunity for additional entrances to the park. Mr. Byrd agreed with the concern but responded that the design was subject to many constraints, including the request of residents not to extend into the boundary lines of the neighboring properties; access points have therefore been provided at the feasible locations. Mr. Schlossberg acknowledged the constraints but said that small parks can feel bigger through the use of varied circulation patterns. Mr. Byrd responded that the paths through the park are intended to be plentiful, despite the limited access points. Chairman Powell suggested that the Commission's comments could be helpful in further negotiations, such as the relocation of the parking area; Mr. Schlossberg agreed.
Mr. Byrd said that the emergency–services pier does not have sufficient room for parking, although vehicular service access to the pier is accommodated. He added that this solution for the parking would nonetheless require the access road to remain, and it would be in daily use. Mr. Powell suggested several other directions for the vehicular access; Mr. Byrd said that these solutions may not be feasible but offered to explore them. Ms. Balmori emphasized that the current proposal for access results in the loss of a great opportunity for the park. Mr. Seaman noted that the pier is apparently used as a staging area for disaster relief; he indicated the helicopter landing area and buildings on the pier, not clearly depicted in the rendering, and said that parking on the pier would not be feasible. He offered to discuss the issue further with the government agencies using the pier.
Mr. Rybczynski observed that the drawings depict a second pier, labeled "Townhome Pier," adjacent to the Waterfront Park. Mr. Seaman said that this is an existing pier, currently used as docking for dinner–boat cruises, that would be developed with townhouses in the third phase of the development. He confirmed that vehicular access would be needed for this pier; enclosed parking for the townhouses would be located on the pier. He added that vehicular access from the south side of the park would be problematic: the rights–of–way to the south have been closed to vehicles, and residents are very sensitive to any proposal for reopening them for even limited use; further south is the Fort McNair military base. He summarized the community consensus to provide vehicular access from the north. Chairman Powell acknowledged the clarification and encouraged further effort to resolve this issue.
The Commission members then provided comments on the piers and associated public spaces toward the northwest end of the project as well as the wharf. Ms. Balmori observed that the continuous bench along the wharf is configured to provide seating that faces away from the water; she suggested consideration of a different design configuration that would provide seating with views toward the water. She commented that the 7th Street Park and Pier work well together, reiterating her support for the pier's design that brings people to the water and commending the simplicity of the park design. She said that the design elements of the wharf and District Pier are less successful. She supported the creation of the District Pier and Transit Pier but said that the design is overly busy and has not yet reached a satisfactory level of definition.
Mr. Schlossberg questioned the proposal to locate the music hall ticketing in the pavilion on the Transit Pier, citing his experience that such a configuration is not successful. He said that theater patrons would not easily find the ticketing location, resulting in chaos, and recommended that the ticketing be designed at the theater entrance where it would inevitably be relocated anyway. He noted that the pavilion on the Transit Pier could appropriately be used to sell tickets for a variety of water transportation options.
Ms. Balmori reiterated her concern with the design of Maine Avenue, recommending careful study to reduce the sense of isolating the proposed development from the rest of the city. Mr. Seaman responded that additional design details are planned that were not clearly illustrated in the presentation: the major corners at Seventh and Ninth Streets would have expanded pedestrian areas to narrow the crossing distance; transit stops would be located at these corners; planting would be provided in the median; and bicycle parking would be provided. Ms. Balmori emphasized that trees should be part of the median planting; Mr. Seaman responded that they could be included subject to the constraint of accommodating left–turn lanes. Landscape architect Ben Tauber of Lee & Associates, the design firm for the Maine Avenue treatment, further responded that the D.C. government is considering the planting treatment of the median, and the design team is also already considering trees as part of the proposal.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested that the width of Maine Avenue could be reduced, commenting that the traffic has been relatively modest when the Commission has visited the area. Mr. Seaman responded that the current street design includes two travel lanes in each direction and a parking lane on each side, although the parking is now typically unused except in the evenings; he said that the number of lanes would remain unchanged, with the expectation that the parking would become more heavily used due to the proposed development. Mr. Luebke noted that a streetcar line is being planned along Maine Avenue. Mr. Seaman confirmed that this is one of the routes being considered by the D.C. government to link the 11th Street Bridge with downtown Washington; he added that the street design would be adaptable to streetcar use, with no utilities located under the first travel lane. The proposed corner bulb–out areas could also serve as the streetcar stops.
Ms. Fernández commented that the Seventh Street Pier appears to be a simple shape in some renderings but is shown elsewhere as having numerous design features that would give a crowded appearance. She noted that the features include swings that would consume far more space when used than is apparent from the drawings. She said that the space may be perceived as difficult to navigate and people may be reluctant to enter the pier. Mr. Vergason responded that the intention is to provide sufficient attractions to draw people onto the pier and encourage them to linger, but he agreed to consider these concerns. He added that the design is at an early stage and would be more fully developed as part of the second phase of the development. Ms. Fernández commented that the presence of people serves to activate public spaces, even if their presence is not part of the design presentation; she emphasized the desirability of designing the pier as a minimal setting in which people can choose their own activities, rather than using an excess of design elements to tell people what to do.
Mr. Schlossberg offered a different response to the Seventh Street Pier proposal, describing the design as imaginative, inventive, and witty. He acknowledged the concern with excessive density of design elements but suggested retaining the positive qualities and special character of the design. Ms. Fernández agreed that some aspects of the renderings, such as the depiction of the sloped seating, have a sense of humor that should be retained. However, she said that this elegance is undermined by additional elements such as the swings that give the pier the character of a theme park. Mr. Vergason acknowledged the need to strike the right balance in the design and said that the process would include further editing and refinement, taking into account the Commission's comments. He said that the design goal is a pier that is fun but also neutral and flexible to accommodate a variety of activities that may not be anticipated by the designers.
Mr. Rybczynski commented that the District Pier's entrance structure, facing Maine Avenue, is an understandably desirable feature but he questioned the placement of the large sign at a right angle to the avenue. He noted the rejection of typical gateways during the presentation but said that this form is used successfully worldwide and should not necessarily be avoided. He described the proposed entrance structure as having the appearance of scaffolding that hasn't been removed, commenting that it lacks a sense of poetry or fun; he recommended further exploration of alternatives. He expressed support for the programming of the District Pier, including the structure at the end that would incorporate stepped seating and an attractive cafe. He also supported the concept of the pylons as permanent infrastructure to support embellishment for special events, as illustrated in the rendering of the cherry blossom festival; he said that the renderings make clear that the infrastructure itself should have a much calmer design, relying instead on the temporary activation of the embellishments such as banners. He agreed with the earlier comments that the excessive design of lighting and street furniture is reminiscent of earlier festival marketplaces, commenting that these elements were typically needed to embellish marketplaces created in unattractive areas but would be unnecessary in this development due to the active character of the architecture. He supported the proposed continuous bench along the water's edge, citing the simplicity of the simple block of wood as a good example of the appropriate design approach for the development.
Mr. Powell observed that the Transit Pier is set at an angle to the shoreline and asked if this configuration is based on nautical needs. Mr. Seaman responded that the Metro's Yellow Line runs beneath this location, and the angle of the pier is based on the train tunnel's alignment. Mr. Eckstut added that the angle is also very helpful for ship docking.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested a motion to provide the Commission's comments on the submissions for public spaces with encouragement to move the projects forward; Chairman Powell clarified that this action would be an approval of the concept submissions. Mr. Luebke asked if the Commission would prefer to request further concept submissions or allow the next submissions to be at the final design stage. Chairman Powell supported further concept submissions; Ms. Balmori agreed. In response to Mr. Seaman, Chairman Powell confirmed that this action differs from the final approval that was given to the master plan. He summarized the consensus of the Commission to approve the concept submissions for the open spaces with the request for revised concept submissions as the designs are developed; he noted the Commission's overall enthusiasm for the general ideas for the open spaces but skepticism at the proliferation of small details. He added that the project team should consider this action to be favorable and encouraging. Ms. Fernandez added a comment that outdoor exhibitions of large–scale public art should be considered in conjunction with the design of the public spaces.
Chairman Powell invited comments from the Commission members on the architectural proposals for each of the building parcels. Mr. Freelon asked an overall process question of whether the project team includes a lead architect to coordinate the work of the different architects for the various parcels. Mr. Seaman responded that Perkins Eastman, the master–planning firm, is also serving as the master architectural firm; the various architects have been meeting twice a week in recent months to collaborate on the design process. He noted that Parcels 2 through 4 share a common below–grade parking structure, requiring coordination of design and infrastructure with the multiple architects as well as the designers of the associated public spaces. He noted that his own firm, Hoffman–Madison, is the master developer for the overall project and also the developer for Parcels 2, 3a, and 4. Parcel 3b is being developed by Carr Hospitality, with a representative in the audience; and Parcel 5, not included in the current presentation, is being developed by The JBG Companies which had previously held the lease for the overall project site until negotiating the transfer to Hoffman–Madison. He clarified that Hoffman–Madison also serves as the developer for the public spaces in the project.
Chairman Powell requested comments on the proposal for Parcel 2. Mr. Luebke asked for clarification of the various building components proposed for the parcel. Mr. Eckstut responded that the music hall would be at the center of the site, with exterior exposure only at its lobby, minor secondary entrances, and potentially through skylights; the ground–level perimeter of the site would be retail food and beverage space; and residential space would occupy the upper floors, including single–loaded corridors along the upper part of the music hall and double–loaded corridors above its roof. He clarified that the residential space would be configured as two buildings that would share a single major lobby along Maine Avenue; apartments would face toward the perimeter of the site or toward the courtyard.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented that the design seems to include more architectural pieces than the number of functions being accommodated, making the proposal difficult to comprehend. Mr. Eckstut responded that his firm's guidance as master architect included such topics as corners, streetwalls, bases, middles, and tops, and also an avoidance of long continuous walls. He noted that this parcel is unusually long—totalling 400 feet—and the architecture is intended to break up this scale and add visual interest. He indicated the power plant along the parcel's Maine Avenue frontage that would have its own identity and function; variety in the more repetitive parts of the building has been achieved through the architectural treatment. Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested a more rational approach to providing this varied treatment, such as through a simpler division into horizontal or vertical parts. Mr. Eckstut responded that the design reflects the shared horizontal core along Maine Avenue as well as the vertical subdivisions that provide a more elegant proportion for the street. Ms. Plater–Zyberk observed that some of the vertical elements come down to the ground, others stop at the top of the podium, and others change at the corners; she reiterated that the design is a mixture of building elements that does not support a reading of a coherent building. Mr. Eckstut responded that the different facades are intended to respond to the different characters of the surrounding public spaces; he added that corners are important elements in Washington architecture and are sometimes treated rationally but sometimes not. He acknowledged that the design guidance may be asking too much of the building architect and said that the collaborative process has involved conflict between these principles and the architect's desire to establish the integrity of the building.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk examined each of the presented perspective views of Parcel 2, indicating the varying treatments of the vertical elements and the podium; she reiterated her recommendation that a coherent treatment be established within a single block. Mr. Eckstut acknowledged this advice but noted his firm's design guidance to express major elements such as the four–story treatment of the corner club venue, the dominance of the podium for the remainder of the frontage facing the District Pier, and the continuation of major vertical components to the ground. Ms. Plater–Zyberk noted that this design approach would necessarily result in a building that does not entirely express its interior configuration; she said that an alternative design approach could therefore be the suggestion of a series of facades for separate adjacent buildings, in the manner of traditional urban form, rather than expressing a single podium across the site. She added that the music hall entrance is also unconvincing and questioned the proposed columnar form.
Mr. Schlossberg commented that the design for Parcel 2 is reminiscent of a rural house that has grown over time and conveys some visual sense of its history. Although the comparison is not necessarily a criticism, the proposed design has the appearance of trying too hard to express a sense of variety and evolution. He acknowledged the thoughtful design effort conveyed in the proposal but said that the result is too many things happening in too small an area, even for such a relatively large building. He suggested clarifying the concept as a less bold and more harmonious building that serves as the setting for an extremely bold theater design.
Mr. Rybczynski agreed, commenting that an exuberant character is appropriate for the theater entrance and the corner facing the Town Square but this gesture is weakened by the exuberance of the rest of the building; a quieter overall design would serve to accentuate the special parts of the building. He said that the architects are perhaps being asked to do too much; he compared the design guidance to asking the Pentagon's designer to make each of its five sides different, which would not improve the appearance of the building. He suggested that this building be accepted as "big and lumpy" because it would be counterbalanced by other buildings in the development; its large scale could be understood as resulting from the special theater space contained within the block. He added that the other parcels do not have such a special programmatic element and therefore should not have the unusual character that would be acceptable on Parcel 2.
Chairman Powell invited comments on the Parcel 3 proposals, including the office building on Parcel 3a and hotel on Parcel 3b. Mr. Rybczynski said that a special architectural identity for the hotel is appropriate and could be another exception to the general criticism of too many unique building treatments in the development; in contrast, the office building as well as the Parcel 4 apartment building should be less architecturally assertive. He suggested that the hotel design should be stronger in establishing an identity but criticized the different treatment of each side as a confusing gesture, noting that a building typically has consistency. He added that the shifting facade treatments might be more acceptable on an apartment building, where an identity is not necessary. Mr. Kamali responded that the hotel design uses the same vocabulary on all facades but changes small pieces of the design; he indicated the repeated use of punched windows and special corners. Mr. Rybczynski commented that these gestures are pointless because the adjacent building uses the same gestures but does not have a special program; he clarified that the design problem with this building may be caused by the excessive architectural gestures of the project's other buildings. He recommended that Mr. Eckstut, as the master planner and architect for the project, work on achieving a better balance of prominent and background buildings.
Mr. Eckstut responded that the strong design gestures are appropriate for the District Pier; Mr. Rybczynski agreed. Mr. Eckstut noted the importance of the base of each building and acknowledged that some buildings could have a quieter architectural treatment to allow other buildings to stand out. Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested that one result of Mr. Rybczynski's advice could be to wrap the waterfront piano nobile treatment around the corner tower element to extend onto the side facade; Mr. Rybczynski agreed. Mr. Schlossberg cited the Trump buildings recently constructed along New York's Riverside Drive. Mr. Eckstut said that this project is intended not to resemble the Trump development; Mr. Schlossberg agreed but observed that the relentless character of the New York development is nevertheless present in this proposal. Mr. Eckstut responded that even an attractively varied urban neighborhood can have a relentless character with each building inventing a different design; the challenge in this project is that the buildings are being designed at one time. The design strategy is therefore to develop different identities for the buildings, although he acknowledged that this could be taken too far. Mr. Schlossberg offered support for the talent of the selected architects and the great potential of the site, suggesting a less energetic approach to the design challenge.
Mr. Luebke noted that some architectural features, such as the proposed clock tower on the hotel, would exceed the development's height limit of 130 feet; the feasibility of the design would depend on the interpretation of such elements as a part of the building or as architectural embellishments. A similar regulatory evaluation would be needed for the proposed signs. He noted that a decision on these issues is not necessary with the current submission; Mr. Eckstut responded that the Commission's support would nonetheless be helpful in obtaining any necessary regulatory waivers, and he emphasized the importance of the proposed graphics as a design element.
Ms. Fernández commented that the intended special character of the architecture, including particular elements such as the ground floor, would not be apparent to a visitor despite the sincerity of the design intention. She said that the designs seem admirably straightforward but could be criticized as innocuous, anonymous, and neutral. She described the resulting architecture as "not necessarily offensive, but also certainly not engaging." Mr. Eckstut responded that the special character should be provided by the tenants, particularly the retail establishments, and a neutral architectural character for the building is actually desired by retailers. Ms. Fernández questioned the sufficiency of commercial retail elements such as signs and outdoor table umbrellas, suggesting that the architecture itself must have a special character. She said that her comment concerns the integrity of the development at eye level beyond the commercial gestures of retailers.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented that the hotel's clock tower is another example of the excessive design gestures that begin to blur together across the development. She also questioned the scale of the tower and said that it simply seems big; Mr. Powell noted the boxiness of the proposal.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk questioned the treatment of the office building on Parcel 3a. She observed that the buildings along Maine Avenue would express their programs of apartments or office space using typical elements such as balconies or glass curtainwall. Nonetheless several of the buildings make use of the double–story grid to organize the facade, blurring the traditional distinction of the building types. She suggested this situation as an example where the cacophony of the development could be restrained by using certain design gestures on certain types of buildings but not on others. Mr. Schlossberg added that this repetition of elements undermines the intention of introducing complexity and distinct designs to the development. Mr. Eckstut responded that the design elements are used in different ways; Ms. Plater–Zyberk and Mr. Schlossberg said that these different uses have no particular meaning. Ms. Plater–Zyberk summarized the Commission's concern: when everything has a lot of variety, it all looks the same. She instead recommended that a hierarchy of architectural variety be used to establish different characters for the buildings.
Mr. Rybczynski commented that the roof of the office building has an unexpectedly playful treatment, suggesting a hotel although that use is located in the adjacent building. Mr. Eckstut responded that the intention wasn't to suggest a particular program but may be a response to the constraints of various views. He added that the overall design intent for Parcel 3a is to provide a special celebratory treatment facing the District Pier entrance while having a quieter appearance along Maine Avenue. He acknowledged the advice to treat the building more like an office building; Mr. Schlossberg clarified that the advice is not to repeat this building's special gestures on all of the other buildings, particularly without regard to having the same or different meaning. Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented that this development could provide an opportunity for coordinated architectural treatment of two buildings framing a street, which is a rare design opportunity because developments are usually located within a single block. She suggested consideration of such a treatment for the parcels in a later phase of the project.
Chairman Powell invited comments on the residential proposal for Parcel 4. Ms. Fernández said that this proposal is relatively successful at eye level because of the small foreground building that provides a welcome contrast to the development on the rest of the parcel. She said that the proposal has the appearance of a building that might have been on the site previously, giving a desirable, although fictional, sense of continuity to the site. Mr. Freelon commented that the design appears insufficiently developed, questioning the thin width of the floor plates. Mr. Handel responded that the plan of the upper floors is actually split, with the condominiums toward the water and the rental apartments facing Maine Avenue. He noted the different facade treatments of these two areas and the careful attention that has been given to the dimension of the floor plates. Mr. Powell expressed support for the design of this building.
Chairman Powell requested comments on the proposed yacht club, noting Ms. Plater–Zyberk's previous comment on its siting. Ms. Plater–Zyberk reiterated her previous concern about the obstructed view corridor, acknowledging that it is not a criticism of the building's architectural design. Mr. Seaman responded that the Capital Yacht Club has existing along the waterfront for 115 years; its facility was relocated to an unattractive building by the urban renewal of the area, and a prominent new location is important to the club members. He noted that the visibility of the clubhouse from Maine Avenue has been an important design criterion, and its location at the end of a view corridor contributes to the desired prominence of the facility. He acknowledged the Commission's concern with maintaining the view to the water but said that shifting the location of the building could place it in front of the hotel; obstruction of views from the buildings to the water is itself problematic. He nonetheless offered to study this issue further. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that people near the clubhouse would have views around it, while its proposed position at the end of a narrow view corridor would be more obtrusive. Mr. Schlossberg noted the project's admirable intention of not privatizing the waterfront, but he contrasted this intention with this private clubhouse that is proposed at the water's edge at the end of a major access road. He suggested reconsideration of the clubhouse proposal in comparison to the stated intention for the waterfront.
Chairman Powell noted that the concept design for Parcel 5, although listed on the agenda, was not included in the presentation. He also noted that comments on the proposed signage and graphics have already been provided during the Commission's discussion.
Ms. Balmori added the comment that the proposed retail kiosks are too numerous at both the mews and the waterfront; she suggested a very small number of pavilions rather than the profusion that was illustrated. Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested that the Commission's comments on the architecture be addressed through the collaborative process that is apparently already occurring among the architects, such as coordination of the palette of building elements. She suggested that the prevailing surface elements—perhaps eight or ten of them—be reallocated among the buildings to support individual characters; Mr. Schlossberg suggested that several additional types of elements could also be added to the palette.
Mr. Luebke asked for clarification of the Commission's intended action on the signage and graphics submission. Chairman Powell said that this proposal should be submitted for further concept review; Mr. Schlossberg agreed. Mr. Luebke confirmed that the Commission's extensive comments would be conveyed in a letter and do not need to be restated as part of a motion. Chairman Powell summarized the Commission's overall enthusiasm with the idea and direction of the project but concern that further work is needed on many design elements, as well as on coordination issues such as access to the emergency services pier.
Mr. Eckstut asked for clarification of whether large–scale lettering could be pursued for the entrance to the District Pier, noting that this would be an unusual feature for Washington but is proposed as appropriate for this special place. Mr. Schlossberg reiterated the comments of the Commission members that the emphasis should be on creating great places—a goal that has not yet been achieved—rather than branding the places with signage. Ms. Balmori questioned whether the District Pier needs to have any sort of sign, commenting that a visitor to the pier shouldn't need to be told that it is a pier. She supported the treatment of other signs as attachments to the buildings. Ms. Fernández reiterated her concern with turning industrial elements into decorative features; she said that the most successful wayfinding and graphics are those that are not noticed but are simply sensed. She said that the waterfront is an example of a destination that people should be able to find without the need to see signs. Mr. Schlossberg said that the project could be seen as overly reminiscent of New York's South Street Seaport, and he discouraged using graphics to create the experience of the place. Mr. Rybczynski said that the large music hall, a special place within the city, is one location where special signage would be appropriate; Mr. Schlossberg agreed. Ms. Balmori added that the retail tenants would also rely on signage.
Chairman Powell confirmed the consensus of the Commission to request further concept submissions for the building parcels and signs, without approving the current submissions; he noted that the overall approach has been approved as part of the master plan. Mr. Schlossberg noted the Commission's more favorable response to the Parcel 4 proposal; Mr. Luebke clarified that it would nonetheless be submitted for further review in the concept phase.
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.
E. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead–Luce Act
1. SL 12–040, 435 L'Enfant Plaza Center, SW. Replacement retail pavilion and alterations in courtyard. Revised concept. (Previous: SL 12–017, November 2011) Ms. Batcheler introduced the first of two Shipstead–Luce Act submissions for the L'Enfant Plaza complex: a revised concept design for landscape modifications and a retail entrance pavilion in the central courtyard of the L'Enfant Plaza complex. She asked Britt Snider of The JBG Companies, the owner of the property, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Snider said that the project is part of the second phase of renovations to the retail space below the courtyard, and the proposed entrance pavilion would be welcoming to pedestrians on Tenth Street as well as to people arriving from the Metro station. He described the design as an interactive experience that would open up L'Enfant Plaza and be consistent with the goals for this area outlined in the Monumental Core Framework Plan. He introduced architect Colden Florance of SmithGroup to present the design.
Mr. Florance illustrated the two previous concept submissions—first a rectangular building that incorporated large trusses, and then a design emphasizing a landscape with glass pavilions. He discussed the site context and access to it, which is primarily via Metro. He said the current submission is a further development of the project goals: to provide a skylit public space for the indoor retail level below, and to provide a park for people in the courtyard. The proposal includes two glass pavilions within an informal landscape oriented to the courtyard's north–south and east–west circulation pattern. He described the pavilions as transparent sculptural glass pieces that would be energetic, cheerful, and relaxed; they would be related like a pair of siblings and would be appropriate in scale for both the courtyard park and its visitors. The glass walls would be ornamented with a naturalistic silk–screened graphics to make these pavilions inviting as entrances to the retail level. He indicated the two locations of exhaust ducts in the courtyard; the ducts would be brightly colored and enclosed within glass screens that would have the same naturalistic graphics. He added that the elevator access at the east pavilion would use the L'Enfant Plaza logo as a decorative element.
Mr. Florance presented the landscape design for the courtyard, which he said would be an informal setting for the sculptural skylights. The grade would be raised at the perimeter where trees would be located, and would slope back down to a winding gravel path lined with benches; taller grasses would be planted around the edge. Between the pavilions would be a flat glass skylight which people could walk on, providing a sense of continuity through the courtyard that he said is an important goal of the design. He described the angles in the design as kinesthetic, calm, and inviting.
Mr. Schlossberg expressed regret that the design seems to be getting worse with each iteration. He said that the idea of the glass enclosure that the Commission had previously suggested would be better achieved by simply buying a greenhouse. He described the angles of the proposed pavilions as peculiar and unattractive, objecting particularly to the projection of the elevator shaft through the east pavilion. He concluded by reiterating his disappointment with the revised concept.
Mr. Freelon commented that the glass wall adjacent to the elevator at the east pavilion appears to invite entrance but is merely serving as a skylight rather than having a door and staircase. He said that the parti seems clear and reasonable but is compromised at some locations, most egregiously by having the elevator projecting through the east pavilion. He said that even if one accepts the ribbon of folded glass as a good design concept—a debatable point—pushing the elevator through it seems like the wrong move. He added that the treatment of the glass screens around the vent shafts seems to present a contradiction: if something needs to be screened, it is inappropriate to use a glass enclosure so that people can look in. He asked for clarification of the design intent for the screening; Mr. Florance responded that the goal was to treat these features as mechanical follies in the landscape by having a filtered view through the naturalistic pattern to the colored ducts.
Ms. Balmori expressed support for the proposal to raise the grade and plant trees at the top of the slope, but she agreed with Mr. Schlossberg that the pavilions would better be treated as a simple glass greenhouse. She suggested not limiting the tree locations to the perimeter of the courtyard; an unshaded glass pavilion in Washington would be very uncomfortable, and it would also be good for people at the retail level to see a canopy of trees above when looking up from below. Ms. Balmori summarized the advice to design a simple glass entrance surrounded by trees. Mr. Florance agreed to pursue this direction; he said that the raised grade around the perimeter was chosen to avoid introducing numerous clumsy tree boxes, but an additional opportunity may be to raise the grade in the parterres and plant trees there. Ms. Balmori said that this change would improve the design and also reduce energy consumption.
Mr. Rybczynski said he agreed with most of Mr. Schlossberg's comments. He observed that the design is symmetrical but would not function symmetrically: the proposed geometry has nothing to do with the space. He acknowledged that the plaza is currently not heavily used but said that the existing pyramidal skylight works well in the space, and the proposal is not more attractive than the pyramid. He commented that the proposed pavilions have an odd wavy shape; the glass walking surface between them is gimmicky; and one pavilion is an entrance while the other is essentially just a skylight, making the proposal confusing architecturally.
Ms. Fernández described the courtyard as uninviting and the pavilions as alienating; the pointed angles are not lively and the pavilions do not read as follies nor as one continuous form, but as two very aggressive shapes dropped into the middle of a space that people are supposed to walk through. She said the pavilions would not invite pedestrian traffic and questioned the reason for having them. She agreed with Mr. Freelon's criticism of the elevator shaft and said that the integrity of the eastern pavilion is completely compromised by having the shaft cut through it.
While acknowledging the difficult challenge of remaking this space, Vice–Chairman Plater–Zyberk noted the lack of support from the Commission members for the revised concept proposal. Mr. Luebke asked if the Commission could support any direction for the applicants, with consideration of the several different concepts that have been reviewed. Mr. Schlossberg noted that the project is meant to be a relatively temporary solution and suggested that the best approach may be to buy a well–designed greenhouse to use as the entrance to the retail space, with many trees planted around it; he said this would be less expensive and more aesthetically pleasing than the proposed solution.
Mr. Snider asked if the originally submitted concept of a box, which the Commission members had called too heavy, would be a direction they would recommend if it doesn't have the heavy concrete and steel elements. Ms. Balmori recalled that the initially proposed building had been huge. Mr. Schlossberg said it would not be acceptable; they had clearly been designing truss structures to support a larger building, and the Commission did not support that direction. He said that constructing something that would provide daylight for the retail area—an idea that he supports—needs to be done in a beautiful way, not like the current proposal. He supported the recommendation to plant many trees around a pavilion, and recommended moving in the direction of placing a classic form in the center of a classic rectilinear environment, which he said would be a better solution than attempting to be more expressive.
Mr. Florance summarized the guidance as suggesting a simple, beautiful greenhouse, possibly pre–manufactured; Mr. Schlossberg agreed. Ms. Balmori confirmed that the Commission also supports a park–like design for the courtyard. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
2. SL 12–029, 850 D Street, SW (L'Enfant Plaza). 14–story extended–stay hotel. Final. (Previous: SL 11–106, July 2011) Ms. Batcheler introduced the final design proposal for an extended–stay hotel at the L'Enfant Plaza complex, last seen by the Commission in July 2011, when it approved the concept with several recommendations for improvement of the building's massing and base. She asked Andrew McIntyre of The JBG Companies to begin the presentation.
Mr. McIntyre said the submission is intended to address the Commission's concerns; he emphasized that the project would open up the entrance to the Metro station and provide more visibility to the L'Enfant Plaza interior retail level. He introduced architect Andrew Rollman of SmithGroup to present the proposal.
Mr. Rollman briefly summarized the context, noting the significance of the L'Enfant Plaza complex in relation to Tenth Street, the Mall, and the Southwest waterfront. He indicated the different buildings framing the central courtyard of L'Enfant Plaza. He said that the hotel would be an infill building serving as a gateway between Tenth Street, the courtyard, and the retail area below; he added that the hotel function would help to achieve the Monumental Core Framework Plan goal of adding mixed–use development to L'Enfant Plaza.
Mr. Rollman summarized the Commission's recommendations from its July 2011 review as well as the subsequent refinements to the design. The hotel's masonry base would tie the new building into the existing structures of L'Enfant Plaza and support a glass building with a vertical reveal down the center of the north elevation; the corners of the base have now been revised to unify the design. He said the two–story–high base would be clad in composite cement panels resembling the concrete used in L'Enfant Plaza. Along D Street the hotel entrance would punctuate the west side of the base, and an arcade would open the east side of the base to the Metro entrance. Some of the hotel's public spaces would be at the level of the L'Enfant Plaza courtyard, providing access and visibility. He said the hotel would have a standard floor plan of double–loaded corridors, with windows at both ends of the corridors. The glass facades would include a combination of clear, green, and white panes. Mr. Freelon asked if the glass would be fritted; Mr. Rollman said the color of the white glass would be created by a frit. He discussed further details of materials and treatment of the slab edges, the vertical mullions, the rooftop guardrail on the west, and the design of the south elevation which would have smaller windows and a metal cladding in a darker color than the other facades. He discussed the detailing of the lobby windows to create a gauzy yet transparent effect.
Mr. Schlossberg asked about the distance between the southern elevation of the new hotel building and the existing L'Enfant Plaza office building to the south. Mr. Rollman responded that the distance would be thirty feet to the lower floors of the office building; at the projecting upper floors, which include recessed balconies, the distance would be seventeen feet to the balcony rail and twenty feet to the glass. Mr. Schlossberg observed that this was approximately the current distance separating himself from Mr. Rollman. Mr. Rollman emphasized that the contrasting design of the proposed south facade is intended as a response to this proximity, with a darker metal sheathing to create a recessive effect as well as smaller windows.
Mr. Freelon questioned the design of the base, acknowledging that he had not seen the previous presentations. He said that connecting the two levels of the base at the corners would help to ground the building; however, the northeast corner of the base appears to be floating, with the awkward result of the masonry base being elevated in a long, visually unsupported span. He asked if columns could be expressed at this part of the base. Mr. Rollman responded that a structural column would not be feasible at this corner because it is above the Metro entrance escalators, and the structure must align with the existing footings; a non–structural column was considered, but the preference was to propose the open corner due to its dynamic character.
Mr. Freelon asked whether the proposed hotel could respond further to its proximity to the L'Enfant Plaza office building, such as adjusting the massing to step back in recognition of the extremely close relationship between the two buildings, particularly at the projecting upper floors. Mr. Rollman emphasized the constraints of the site and said that program space had been lost in the lower floors because of the need to lift the building above the Metro entrance; the project's viability therefore depends on constructing all of the hotel rooms that are included in the proposal.
Mr. Schlossberg asked about the distance between the hotel and the headquarters building of the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the east; Mr. Rollman responded that the distance is 80 feet at the corner being indicated by Mr. Schlossberg. Mr. Luebke questioned this dimension and suggested that it is much less at its closest point. Mr. Rollman clarified that the lower floors are within 15 feet, with a greater distance at the upper floors which is 25 feet at some locations.
Mr. Luebke noted the unusual regulatory context of this site. The hotel is proposed as an addition to L'Enfant Plaza, and its allowable height would therefore be measured from the elevated ground plane of Tenth Street—significantly higher than the hotel's D Street frontage—with the result that this building may become the tallest private commercial structure in Washington as measured from street to parapet. Ms. Balmori agreed that this is an odd condition. Mr. Luebke added that Ninth Street tunnels beneath the L'Enfant Plaza complex in addition to the underground Metro station, so there are many issues affecting the site.
Ms. Balmori commented that the issues of the materials have been resolved effectively, but the problem remains of the proximity of the hotel to the office building. She recalled that the Commission had previously recommended consideration of making some gesture or inflection in the hotel's massing at this area; this has not been done, and the issue remains. Vice–Chairman Plater–Zyberk asked if the other Commission members find the proximity to be problematic. Mr. Schlossberg said he does; Mr. Rybczynski acknowledged the difficulty of the issue but said that if the clients believe their hotel guests would be happy looking at a wall, it is hard to argue. He noted that the two buildings are part of the same complex and therefore concluded that the proximity may not be so problematic.
Mr. McIntyre responded that his firm is the largest developer and operator of hotels in the Washington area and is concerned about the guests. He added that his firm also manages the building to the south, and emphasized that the guest experiences are important considerations; his firm does not want to build structures that don't have a valuable economic return. He said that his firm also has to consider what would be an appropriate building design in relation to the overall massing of L'Enfant Plaza. He described the risk of building a hotel at this location—specifically a Homewood Suites hotel that does not offer a large return on rooms. He noted his view that the proposal would improve a blighted area. Mr. McIntyre emphasized his firm's position that the project would not be feasible with a reduction of the building volume.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the proposed south elevation seems shocking, commenting that it looks like a prison, and she expressed concern for the tenants of the existing office building who would have this elevation as their view—essentially a blank, solid wall. Mr. McIntyre responded that this issue is an unfortunate part of building an infill structure but reiterated that it would not be viable to increase the separation from the office building on such a small site. He noted that many office buildings in Washington face blank walls and have no views, and said that the proposed hotel would improve the experience of all people using L'Enfant Plaza and increase the overall value of the complex.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk criticized the windows on the proposed south elevation as sliver–like; she asked if fire–safety regulations require their small size due to the facade's proximity to the existing office building, suggesting that a greater separation might allow for more window area. Mr. Rollman responded that the code requirement is a minimum separation of fifteen feet, which is exceeded in the proposal; he reiterated that the window design on this facade is intended to increase privacy for hotel guests.
Mr. Luebke noted the suggestion from the July 2011 meeting to step back the south facade at the top three stories, rather than reduce the footprint of the entire hotel; he added that this recommendation was included in the Commission's action letter following the July meeting. He said that this revision might remove six hotel rooms while making some gesture that responds to the proximity of the office building. He emphasized that the Commission is a design review body, not a zoning or planning agency, and does not need to address the building's use; the question for the Commission to decide is whether to support this proposal as a design for this urban context.
Ms. Balmori suggested that the Commission establish some sort of standard or statement about what does not work urbanistically, commenting on the importance of the Commission considering the ways to build a good city. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked if such a statement might mean not supporting a lower standard for infill construction; Ms. Balmori said that infill could be acceptable in certain situations, but having a blank wall only seventeen feet from an existing building does not set a good standard. Mr. Rollman noted that a typical Washington alley is only fifteen feet wide.
Ms. Fernández asked how many rooms would be lost if the top three floors were stepped back; Mr. Luebke confirmed that six rooms would be lost. Ms. Fernández asked if the design team has explored whether other spaces in the building could be redesigned or somehow reconfigured to compensate for the removal of these six rooms; Mr. Rollman responded that all development potential has been maximized within the significant constraints of the site. Ms. Fernández noted that additional value can be created without necessarily adding more space and reiterated the suggestion to explore this approach as a means of offsetting the loss of six rooms. Mr. McIntyre responded that the issue is not just the number of rooms, noting that the hotel brand has program requirements; Mr. Luebke emphasized the need to focus the discussion on design issues, with the Commission having to decide whether to accept the design as presented. He added that the Commission staff has repeatedly asked the project team to study such options.
Vice–Chairman Plater–Zyberk noted the Commission's clear dissatisfaction with the proposal, although Mr. Rybczynski reiterated that he does not object to the design as presented. Mr. Luebke suggested that the Commission could approve the concept with the provision that the problematic area near the office building would need to be redesigned to gain final approval. Ms. Balmori expressed reluctant support for this approach; Ms. Fernández said she could support it if there was some solution but emphasized that the problem is significant. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that a revision should result in a distance greater than twenty feet between the two buildings. Mr. Freelon asked for clarification of the number of rooms and floors that would be affected; Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the setback would involve the top three floors, and suggested that the Commission call for a setback rather than specify the number of rooms to be removed. Mr. Schlossberg suggested a ten–foot setback; Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the setback should align with the change in the facade treatment at approximately this location.
Vice–Chairman Plater–Zyberk summarized the consensus of the Commission to approve the final design subject to a modification to provide this setback; upon a second by Ms. Fernández, the Commission voted in favor of this action. Mr. Luebke said that the staff would coordinate with the Commission members to determine whether a modified design would need further Commission review.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 4:30 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Last Modified: February 17, 2012