21 November 2012
Dear Mr. Cinkala:
In its meeting of 15 November, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept submission for a new eleven–story building within the central space of the L'Enfant Plaza complex (case number SL 13–014 at 900 L'Enfant Plaza, SW). The Commission expressed support for the addition of a building in this location but did not take an action, offering the following comments.
The Commission noted its past support for the development of a building, particularly of institutional use, in this prominent location at the high point of the 10th Street corridor connecting the National Mall to the Washington Channel. Noting the existing condition of an active below–grade retail level and a relatively featureless street–level plaza, the Commission members emphasized the design opportunity provided by the site's unusual section and character. However, they noted the proposal's great impact as an object inserted into the plaza which may compromise excessively the context of monumental corridors, adjacent architectural setting, and open public space.
The Commission members commented that the proposed building must address, as part of its context, the larger urban design and planning effort to improve the 10th Street corridor. They noted that, as a commercial structure among other commercial structures, the building does not have a strong rationale for projecting in plan beyond the established building line along 10th Street, particularly as it is already proposed to contrast with the surrounding buildings in material, color, and character. They affirmed the necessity of keeping the 10th Street alignment centered on the Smithsonian Castle and observed that a change to the existing pattern of setbacks would affect the articulation of this monumental corridor. However, they acknowledged that some projection may be possible; they recommended further study of the existing conditions along 10th Street and further coordination with the planning agencies involved in the Southwest Ecodistrict Initiative for this area. They also observed that the proposed design of two new projecting office blocks situated between the existing North and South Buildings would create a sequence of four commercial buildings set perpendicular to 10th Street; the configuration of buildings should be considered as one composition that maintains a strong spatial focus within the public realm of the corridor.
For the design of the public spaces, the Commission members observed that much of what is now the open plaza would be reduced to remnants of questionable quality as experienced by pedestrians and other visitors. They suggested that the public spaces be designed to invite people into the site, rather than relying on grand architectural gestures. Such public spaces–including the two small plazas and the sidewalks beneath the cantilevered upper floors–should be designed to be integrated and complete, rather than as residual areas around the building. They expressed concern that the sidewalks as proposed may be too narrow and obstructed by the building structure, and they recommended that the applicant explore providing more space for the internal road and allowing more sidewalk space around the proposed building. Likewise, they recommended that the designers be respectful of the existing adjacent buildings–some as close as 24 feet to the proposed building volume–to allow for a reasonable amount of light, setback, and public space between the old and new structures.
Regarding the design of the new mixed–use building, the Commission members were generally supportive of the proposed architectural treatment in glass as a counterpoint to the warm–toned masonry of the existing L'Enfant Plaza complex. As the design is developed, they recommended study of solar shading devices and the degree to which glass curtainwall would reflect into the surrounding buildings, noting that the design should anticipate the effect on the occupants of these buildings. They supported the height of the building, proposed at 130 feet like the adjacent East Building, as appropriate for what would become the central building of the L'Enfant Plaza complex; however, they raised concerns that the massing of the building–with two volumes flanking an enclosed private space–may be excessive in its scale as it affects the existing setting and streetscape.
The Commission looks forward to review of a new concept submission that responds to these comments. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
cc: Ivan Harbour, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Last Modified: November 26, 2012