Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
20 June 2013
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 9:37 a.m.
Hon. Earl A. Powell, Chairman
A. Approval of the minutes of the 16 May meeting. Mr. Luebke reported that the minutes of the May meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. The Commission approved the minutes upon a motion by Mr. Krieger.
B. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings: 18 July, 19 September, and 17 October 2013. He noted that no meeting is scheduled during August.
C. Report on the site inspection of the exterior materials for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Mr. Luebke reported the Commission's inspection the previous day of a mockup of corona screen panels at the site of the National Museum of African American History and Culture at 15th Street and Madison Drive, NW. He said that the mockup included two large cast–metal panels with differing finishes of the proposed Kynar paint, as well as four earlier small panels to illustrate alternative colors that had been considered by the project team. He noted that no formal submission is pending, and asked the Commission members to discuss their observations and guidance which can be conveyed to the Smithsonian Institution. He anticipated that a larger mockup would be prepared later in the summer for performance testing.
Ms. Meyer said that the site inspection was helpful in demonstrating the different possibilities for the finish of the panels. Based on the four small panels that were shown, she supported the project team's color choice as the best option for capturing the light as demonstrated by the use of this color on the two large panels. She said that the mockup panels were surprisingly small, resulting in difficulty envisioning the effect of a much larger expanse of these facade panels; she noted that even small buildings would typically make use of larger mockups. She also expressed disappointment at the quality of the material and urged the Smithsonian to recognize the importance of the corona on the perception of the museum; she said that the panels did not have the luster and reflectivity of metal, and instead convey a sense of dullness.
Ms. Fernández agreed with these comments, emphasizing the importance of the original intention of the corona as a shimmering surface; she said that this intention is critical to the success of the entire building. She said that some of the samples have a "putty–like" surface and do not convey the intended effect, which she reiterated is a major problem for the project. She discouraged cost–cutting measures for the corona facade, which is the single most important feature defining how the building will be understood in the landscape and under changing light conditions and seasons. She said that the entire project has been subjected to a process of attrition from the original intentions, and she cautioned against the erosion of the beautiful and poetic quality of the initial concept.
Mr. Krieger supported the comments of the other Commission members. He recalled the intended use of bronze and questioned why it is no longer proposed, expressing regret that it may have been eliminated due to cost considerations. He agreed with Ms. Meyer that the mockup was too small to convey a sufficient sense of the project. He noted that the corona assembly will include a glass curtainwall and structural supports, which would be necessary components of a mockup that facilitates evaluation of the overall corona design. He said that the presented mockup shimmered very slightly in the sunlight, and the south–facing panels may therefore be successful, but he questioned the adequacy of using the proposed material on the north facade, or even on the other sides. He emphasized the concern about cutting costs in the development of the design for this very important part of the building. He summarized his disappointment in the mockup that was presented, particularly in its lesser relation to the likely effect of the bronze that was originally intended. Ms. Fernández added that comparing secondary alternatives is difficult; if the goal is to achieve the effect of bronze, then a sample using actual bronze should be provided for comparison as part of the Commission's review. She expressed frustration that the Commission members are forced merely to imagine the intended bronze appearance; Mr. Krieger agreed.
Mr. Powell supported the comments provided. He recalled that the use of bronze was the most attractive feature of the originally approved design. He also supported the color that was previously selected from among the smaller panels that were shown at the site. He acknowledged the potential cost issues but supported the request for renewed consideration of using bronze, which he said would benefit the museum and the city enormously. Mr. Luebke suggested that other alternatives could also be explored. Mr. Powell agreed; he also noted that the Smithsonian intends to erect a larger mockup at a testing facility in York, Pennsylvania, and expressed interest in having the opportunity to inspect this mockup.
Ann Trowbridge of the Smithsonian Institution asked to address the Commission. She questioned whether solid bronze was ever actually intended as the building material, suggesting that the architect had offered bronze as an example of the intended effect of the design. Ms. Fernández said that solid bronze may not be realistic, but various processes are available for applying a thin layer of bronze to a substrate, resulting in an actual bronze finish; the metallic surface provides the desired effect and does not require the use of solid bronze. Mr. Luebke said that a finish of this type, called LuminOre, was presented to the staff late in 2012 as part of the design development; he said that this finish had a lustrous quality that seemed to reinforce the original design intent. Ms. Fernández said that she has worked with this product and knows it well, noting that other companies also provide a similar finish. She emphasized the advantage of the authentic layer of metal at the surface, causing the assembly to behave like metal such as achieving a patina over time; nonetheless the cost is less than for solid metal. She encouraged further exploration of such products, expressing regret that these alternatives were not included in the samples currently being shown to the Commission.
Jud McIntire, the project executive with the Smithsonian Institution, asked to address the Commission. He said that LuminOre was studied and is no longer being considered due to technical, warranty, and production issues. He discouraged the Commission's interest in treating this product as a viable option for this project. Ms. Meyer suggested that the project team discuss these issues further with the manufacturers and ask for their assistance in achieving a finish with more luster and shimmer, rather than a plastic, putty–like quality. She emphasized that the Commission is advocating for the quality of the finish rather than for a particular material, and the result should be "a magical experience" rather than appear cheap.
Chairman Powell summarized that reflectivity and durability are key issues, and noted the consensus of the Commission that the finish selection has not been resolved satisfactorily. He asked the Smithsonian to arrange an opportunity for the Commission to inspect the forthcoming larger mockup in Pennsylvania, which he said would be much more helpful than the small mockup that has been provided. He emphasized the importance of achieving a successful design for this important building and site, commenting that the refinement is progressing but the issues are not yet fully resolved. Ms. Meyer emphasized the importance of the corona in establishing the identity of the building, describing it as an unusual and radical surface; its aesthetic effect is of concern to the Commission. Mr. Krieger added that the finishes presented in the mockup do not look terrible, but the Commission believes that the quality can and should be much better.
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. Luebke noted that the Consent Calendar includes recommendations for the designs of seven Congressional gold medals honoring Native American code talkers, part of an ongoing series being developed by the U.S. Mint. He said that the number of medals and design alternatives would require a lengthy presentation to the Commission, resulting in the staff's proposal to address the submission through the Consent Calendar. Mr. Krieger supported this procedure; Chairman Powell agreed, noting that the Commission has previously reviewed numerous medals in this series. Mr. Lindstrom added that an additional set of medals is anticipated for the July agenda, and Mr. Luebke said that this forthcoming submission could be handled in a similar manner if acceptable to the Commission.
Mr. Lindstrom said that the changes to the draft appendix were limited to minor wording changes and notations of dates for receipt of supplemental drawings. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission approved the Direct Submission Consent Calendar, including the recommendations for the Congressional gold medals.
Appendix II – Shipstead–Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported that the changes to the draft appendix were mostly limited to minor notations of dates for receipt of supplemental information. She noted two more substantial updates. The recommendation on the concept submission for a sign at George Washington University (case number SL 13–090) has been updated in response to supplemental information and has been amplified to describe a remaining design issue that should be resolved prior to the final design submission. The recommendation for an apartment building project (SL 13–097) has similarly been updated and notes a requirement for further consultation on the proposed hinges; she said that satisfactory information for the hinges was received earlier in the day, too late to allow for updating of the revised appendix, but the issue is now resolved and the project can be reported with a favorable recommendation. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the revised appendix.
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martinez reported several changes to the draft appendix. Several recommendations have been updated to note the receipt of supplemental drawings. Several projects have been added that were recently submitted for review in July; they are not visible from public space, and therefore do not require review by the Commission. One project has been removed at the request of the applicant and will be revised for further review by the Old Georgetown Board. Removal of an additional case is anticipated, but it remains on the appendix pending receipt of a written request for withdrawal. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Fernández, the Commission approved the revised appendix.
At this point, the Commission departed from the order of the agenda to consider agenda items II.C and II.F.
C. General Services Administration
CFA 20/JUN/13– 3, Herbert C. Hoover Building, Department of Commerce, 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Perimeter security. Final. (Previous: CFA 21/FEB/13–2.)
F. D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development
CFA 20/JUN/13– 6, Square 37 (West End Neighborhood Library), 23rd and L Streets, NW. New mixed–use building with commercial and residential units, and public library. Final. (Previous: CFA 20/OCT/11–6.)
Mr. Luebke said that the Commission may choose to act on these submissions without a presentation, noting the length of the agenda and the anticipated loss of a quorum during the day. He said that these two projects have been previously reviewed by the Commission, and the proposed final designs are consistent with the previous guidance. He added that the staff has worked with the project teams to resolve the design issues, and the staff supports the resulting submissions. Chairman Powell confirmed that these projects have been reviewed extensively by the Commission and supported their approval; upon a second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved both submissions.
The Commission returned to the order of the agenda with item II.B.B. National Park Service
1. CFA 20/JUN/13– 1, Washington Monument Grounds, 15th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. Visitor screening facility. Concept. (Previous: CFA 18/OCT/12–1.) Mr. Luebke introduced the concept alternatives for a permanent visitor screening facility at the Washington Monument, to replace the temporary metal structure that was installed without review approximately a dozen years ago. He said that in October 2012, the Commission had reviewed six alternative siting configurations for a screening facility; the Commission had recommended Option E, which called for a pavilion at the location of the existing structure on the plaza at the monument's base. This option was recommended for several reasons: it would have the least visual impact, would maintain the historic point of entrance to the monument, would provide the most direct route for entry, and would avoid the large–scale landscape changes suggested by some of the other siting alternatives. He said that the current submission includes four alternative designs that are variations of a glass box. He asked Peter May, Associate Regional Director for Lands, Planning and Design at the National Capital Region of the National Park Service, to begin the presentation. Mr. May introduced architect Hany Hassan of Beyer Blinder Belle to present the concept alternatives.
Mr. Hassan noted that the presentation includes scale models and mounted drawings in addition to PowerPoint images. He provided a brief overview of the site, showing views from prominent vantage points including some views that encompass the composition of the entire Washington Monument Grounds. He emphasized the simple way in which the iconic monument meets the plaza, and he indicated the temporary screening structure which he described as "trailer–like."
Mr. Hassan summarized that the preferred siting concept, as previously recommended by the Commission, would place a simple glass cube or box on the east side of the plaza adjacent to the existing doorway of the monument. The existing temporary facility is rectangular, approximately 16 feet wide, 38 feet long, and 12 feet high. He said that the proposed pavilion would have a 27–foot–square footprint plus a 9–foot–wide hyphen connecting the pavilion to the monument doorway. He said that this size results from discussions of security screening requirements with the National Park Service; the size is intended to accommodate the visitor circulation route without being larger than necessary. He described the several spaces proposed within the pavilion: an area for a queue of visitors waiting to enter the monument; a security screening area controlled by the U.S. Park Police; and a passage for people exiting the monument. He said that the overall process of entering the monument would take approximately half an hour, including five to ten minutes to move people through the screening area.
Mr. Hassan described the project's security requirements in greater detail. He said that the existing temporary facility is not itself a secure structure; the new facility will have to be able to withstand both a ballistic impact from the exterior and a blast from the interior, an important goal for the protection of both the monument and the public. This would be achieved by fabricating the enclosure as a double layer of laminated glass bracketing the painted steel structure; the outer layer would be able to withstand a ballistic impact, and the inner layer would be able to withstand a blast. He said that the new facility will also need to allow security officers stationed inside to observe if any unusual activity is occurring around the monument, while limiting the ability of people outside to see what is happening within.
Mr. Hassan described the four design alternatives that have been developed for the current submission, which vary in height and detailing. Alternative 1 would be approximately the shape of a cube. The outer layer of the facade would be clear glass. A ceramic frit laminated within the inner layer of glass would fade toward the top and bottom of the walls; a frit would also be used on the roof glass. He provided a sample of the fritted glass material to the Commission members. He said that the opacity of the frit would be approximately eighty percent to control solar heat gain; nonetheless, due to the intense daylight outside the pavilion, people on the interior would be able to see the monument through the glass. Alternative 2 has a lower massing and is articulated in a directional manner to suggest an arch or portal, rather than suggesting the pure geometric form of a cube. The inner layer of the enclosure would have a metal mesh instead of the frit of Alternative 1; the outer layer would again be clear glass. He said that the metal mesh would diffuse visibility of the interior from outside the pavilion while allowing security officers inside to see the plaza. Alternative 3 combines the cube form of Alternative 1 with the metal mesh of Alternative 2. Alternative 4 would again use the portal form of Alternative 2 but with different detailing: the glass–and–steel structure would be sheathed with a rainscreen of hollow terra cotta tubes, or "baguettes." The terra cotta could be manufactured in a wide variety of possible colors; he provided samples to the Commission members. He said that the spacing of the baguettes would be closer on the roof and the upper part of the pavilion walls, and then become wider toward the lower part of the pavilion. Like the frit and the mesh, the terra cotta would reduce glare and heat gain while allowing visibility from within; it would also introduce an earthy texture, relating to the stone of the monument.
Mr. Hassan then presented the models for the Commission's inspection. He noted that the large model includes only the base of the monument in order to allow the pavilion alternatives to be represented accurately at a sufficiently large scale. He said that the models are intended to illustrate the appearance of the graduated frit pattern as well as the metal mesh on the inner layer. He activated the model's internal lamp to illustrate how light would shine through the different alternatives; he noted that the outer layer of glass would give the pavilion a reflective appearance. He emphasized that Alternatives 1 and 3 would treat the pavilion as a cubic form that is separate from the monument, while the portal–style concept of Alternatives 2 and 4 would be detailed to suggest an inner volume sliding through an outer enclosure. Ms. Meyer asked about the color of the terra cotta, perhaps matching the color of the monument or the plaza paving. Mr. Hassan responded that the general intention is not to duplicate or copy any aspect of the monument's appearance, and instead let the pavilion design stand on its own; the possibility is also being explored of attempting to harmonize with the color of the monument.
Mr. Hassan described some details being considered for the hyphen, noting that detailing will be important for this project. He said that the glass hyphen would appear as a contrasting material in some of the alternatives. It may be possible to detail the hyphen with structural glazing instead of a metal frame due to its small size, resulting in a lighter appearance and possibly a narrower overall dimension that would improve the sense of separation between the pavilion and the monument. Some of the mullions may also be eliminated. He noted that Alternatives 2 and 4 would allow visitors to exit at the hyphen, eliminating the need for an exit door on the south side of the pavilion which would distract from the directional portal concept. The cube form of the pavilion in Alternatives 1 and 3 would be more amenable to having a door in the south facade. He clarified that that the difference in exiting circulation paths would be subtle, and in any design would require a sallyport configuration to prevent an intrusion through the exit route. He confirmed that the interior layout of Alternatives 2 and 4 would therefore be slightly different than in Alternatives 1 and 3. Mr. Luebke added that the basic footprint of the pavilion would remain approximately the same, but the position of the pavilion in relation to the monument would be different. Mr. Hassan clarified that the pavilion height in Alternatives 1 and 3 would be approximately 20 feet high; with the portal concept of Alternatives 2 and 4, the height would be approximately 17.5 feet. He said that the 20–foot height is not required programatically but is proposed to approximate more closely the proportions of a cube. He noted that Alternatives 2 and 4 would provide a small protected area at the front of the pavilion to define the entry and offer some shelter from the elements.
Mr. Hassan concluded with photomontages illustrating the alternative pavilion sizes as seen in distant views of the area, as well as comparisons to the existing conditions. He noted that the roof of the security pavilion would be visible from the upper part of the planned National Museum of African American History and Culture, which will be located to the northeast of the Washington Monument; however, the museum would block the visibility of the pavilion from the Old Post Office tower.
Ms. Fernández expressed appreciation for the presentation, commenting that the four alternatives were presented clearly. She commented that giving importance to the pavilion as a cube–like form would be wrong next to the Washington Monument; the pavilion would serve as a passageway and is not important enough to have a cube form. She said that Alternatives 1 and 3 are problematic because the emphasis on the cube form results in the pavilion becoming too big, giving too much importance to this object. Based on this reasoning, the shape of Alternatives 2 and 4 is more appropriate. She also discouraged the use of fritted glass, commenting that this material seems both dated and trendy, rather than timeless. She supported the metal mesh screen material of Alternative 2, observing that its effect of changing in the light would make the pavilion appear slightly more ephemeral and even disappear somewhat. She recommended against the terra cotta in Alternative 4 because it would be too much like the stone of the monument. She summarized her support for Alternative 2, emphasizing that the metal and mesh would present a welcome contrast to the aesthetic properties of the monument and would be perceived more as a passage into the monument than as a separate structure with its own important form.
Mr. Krieger commented that the major conceptual decision is whether the pavilion should be a form that is as abstract and pure as the monument, working from the tradition of a rationalist geometry, or whether the pavilion should be a portal. He observed that whenever the design confuses these two forms, the result is not as good as either concept alone. He said that Alternative 1 is appealing because it comes out of the tradition of early 19th–century rationalist architecture, but it should therefore be an actual cube that is 27 feet tall to match its depth and width. He observed that one of the beauties of the Washington Monument is that you cannot actually perceive what it is: it is abstract, with a formal purity. He commented that the trouble with the alternatives having an expressed structural frame is that the pavilion begins to look like a tiny building, whereas the monument itself does not look like a building but looks instead like the mysterious object in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey—the monument is not even recognizable as a building until the viewer comes close to it. He noted the reference in the presentation to the possible use of structural glazing instead of the steel frame, which would push the pavilion into a more abstract realm as a cube in front of an obelisk. He said that all four options could be exemplary if they were pushed more toward the extreme of what their concepts suggest: Alternatives 1 and 3 should become more cube–like, and Alternatives 2 and 4 should become less like a cube and more like a portal.
Mr. Krieger commented that the additional height of Alternatives 1 and 3 is a good feature, and the images that were presented of the existing temporary facility show that it seems too low. He said that a more careful separation from the monument would be useful and recommended making the hyphen as minimal as possible. He cited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where the recent addition by architect Renzo Piano is joined to the original building by only a very thin connection; he described the solution as relatively successful, and a visitor moving through this connection is very aware of passing from one thing to another.
Mr. Krieger reiterated the importance of deciding whether the pavilion should be an abstract form in the spirit of the monument, or a portal for entry; this decision would then clarify which of the alternatives would be preferable. He also agreed that the terra cotta of Alternative 4 is not a desirable feature: it makes the pavilion look fussy, while the Washington Monument is not at all fussy or decorative, and a pavilion featuring terra cotta would therefore not be appropriate in front of the monument.
Ms. Fernández acknowledged Mr. Krieger's analysis but reiterated her view that a cube–like pavilion would be a mistake. She observed that security measures change constantly, and this is indeed the reason that the pavilion is being proposed. She added that if this pavilion had been built here twenty years ago it would no longer be effective and would be undergoing change once again. She therefore emphasized her opposition to seeing a security structure, with its ever–changing needs, designed to be in the spirit of the Washington Monument as both a monumental and permanent form. Instead, she recommended that the pavilion resemble a temporary structure designed for no other reason than to screen people going in—not like the Louvre's entrance pyramid, for example, which is itself a piece of architecture. She expressed reluctance to look at this pavilion as an addition or a renovation, or in any of the ways that people are used to looking at old architecture joining with new architecture—on the contrary, it is a security screening facility.
Mr. Krieger responded that this design approach would suggest just leaving the current pavilion in place; it resembles a mobile home, making clear that it is only a temporary structure. Ms. Fernández clarified that her guidance is to design a very elegant passage that is understood to be a passage, rather than to imitate the spirit of the Washington Monument for a structure that may change again in ten years; the goal should be a design that reads as elegant and temporary, not trying to create a baby monument next to a big monument. She acknowledged that the result would inevitably be a sort of a polyp stuck on the side of the Washington Monument, distorting the monument's form.
Mr. Krieger commented that the portal solutions, particularly Alternative 4, would most have the effect of distorting the monument's form by trying to compete with it. He said that the programmatic uncertainty of a screening facility is not an important factor—any of the four alternative structures could be demolished easily in the unlikely event that security ever stops being an issue. He said that Alternative 4 seems especially foreign to the environment of the monument, while an abstract and pure form seems more appropriate, whether for screening or another activity,. He concluded that Mr. Hassan should consider the issues further in deciding on a design direction, and return to the Commission with a clarified approach; Ms. Fernández agreed with this advice.
Ms. Meyer joined in expressing appreciation for the presentation, emphasizing the quality of the design team's thought and work. Mr. Krieger added that the presentation has reinforced the desirability of pursuing a plaza–level pavilion as the solution for the entrance screening, rather than some of the other siting alternatives that were considered at the last presentation. Ms. Meyer said that she could imagine any of the four alternatives being built, expressing a preference for Alternative 2. She observed that the alternatives do not include a pure cube form, perhaps due to concern about the pavilion's height, and the cube concept has therefore already been modified. She anticipated that the pavilion would never be as abstract as the Commission would like; she therefore supported the concept of a portal, and with the metal mesh instead of the glass frit, so that the pavilion would seem like a quiet, almost transparent shadow at the Monument's base. She said that she had expected to support the design that was the purest cube; but she observed that through the process of design development, Mr. Hassan has apparently come to recognize that a form expressing the portal function would better allow for treating the threshold in a way that works with security and visitor needs. While acknowledging the logic of all four alternatives, she said that she is most impressed with Alternative 2. She added that if the building were not attached to the Washington Monument, she would support Alternative 4 as an exemplary design; but at this location it would be an extraneous additional element, and she reiterated her support for Alternative 2 subject to providing the necessary climate protection and building performance.
Mr. Hassan described an additional subtle detail concerning the connection of the hyphen to the monument: because the walls of the Monument are slightly inclined, the westernmost mullions of the hyphen would be canted. He clarified that the hyphen would only abut the monument without any structural connection; the gap between them would have a soft joint, and the pavilion would its own structure and foundation.
Chairman Powell acknowledged the objections to Alternative 4 and supported Alternative 2 due to its transparency. He said that the cube–shaped alternatives, while surfaced in glass and not directly competing with the monument, would nonetheless suggest the appearance of solid masonry due to their reflectivity. He supported the lighting characteristics and metal mesh material of Alternative 2, and he encouraged further simplification so that the pavilion would compete less with the monument.
Mr. Krieger acknowledged the consensus of the other Commission members and agreed to support Alternative 2, adding his agreement that the mesh is preferable to the frit. He recommended that Alternative 2 be made more like a portal and even less like a cube. As an example, he said that the continuation of the mullions from the sides onto the front facade makes this design appear more like a cage than a portal; he said that the solution may involve the detailing of the mullions or the door, and he recommended careful study of such issues.
Ms. Fernández said that she, like Ms. Meyer, had expected to prefer the cube until Mr. Hassan's presentation convinced her otherwise. She cited this as an example of the strength of the presentation: she learned things that she had not previously appreciated. Chairman Powell joined in expressing appreciation for the presentation, citing it as a model for other presentations.
Mr. Luebke noted that this concept submission has a very clearly articulated scope, scale, and materials, and he suggested that the Commission consider an action. Mr. Krieger asked if an approval would result in not having the opportunity for further review; Mr. Luebke clarified that the project would return to the Commission for further review as a final design unless it is delegated to the staff, and he added that the project team could also choose to submit a revision to the concept design for an intermediate review. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Fernández, the Commission approved the concept of Alternative 2 subject to the comments provided.
2. CFA 20/JUN/13– 2, Jefferson Memorial, East Basin Drive, SW. Perimeter vehicular security barrier. Concept. (Previous: CFA 16/SEP/10–4.) Mr. Luebke introduced the concept proposal for a vehicular barrier around the Jefferson Memorial. He said that the presentation in April 2010 included three alternatives for the location and configuration of a barrier; the Commission had taken no action, concluding that the question of alignment could not be separated from issues of character, material, and relationship to the site's topography. In September 2010, when the National Park Service (NPS) returned with three more fully developed concept alternatives, the Commission had recommended developing the alignment associated with the roadway along the edge of the site, instead of the other two alternatives which located the barrier further within the site. The Commission had advised careful study of the spacing and detailing of the proposed wall sections and piers to avoid relentless repetition, and expressed a preference for simple forms and detailing. He said that the current review would involve choosing between two different structural systems—cable and rod—for a barrier along the East Basin Drive sidewalk; both structural systems have been designed to accommodate the many atypical conditions along this alignment. He asked Peter May of the National Park Service to begin the presentation.
Mr. May said that designing the barrier to accommodate all the necessary functions and conditions has been a more difficult task than anticipated, resulting in the lengthy time period since the previous presentation to the Commission; he said that the NPS now has two viable alternatives. He introduced landscape architect Ignacio Bunster of Wallace Roberts & Todd to present the proposal.
Mr. Bunster said that the design process had been guided by the goals of transparency and simplicity. The barrier would extend approximately 2,500 feet between the Tidal Basin's Inlet Bridge to the west and Outlet Bridge to the east. The security standard is a K–12 rating, the highest level of impact resistance; the basic criteria include a location at least 500 feet from the memorial structure, and he presented a diagram showing areas of greater or lesser potential impact on a barrier depending on the direction of vehicular travel. He noted that the road comes closest to the memorial at the south lawn, where a more solid barrier is proposed than along the rest of the alignment. He said that the consensus from the Commission's previous guidance was to use anchor blocks or larger wall segments interspersed with thinner piers, with horizontal security members forming the top line of the barrier. The barrier must be at least three feet high; architectural material can be added above this height for design purposes, which generally results in walls that are 3.5 feet above grade. He provided further details of the barrier's performance requirements, noting that the current design differs from the previous submissions in using a one–foot–high base wall, which has been determined to be necessary to stop a smaller vehicle.
Mr. Bunster presented the alternative using a cable barrier system, which requires that each segment of the cable is anchored at its ends by structures encased in substantial concrete piers. The concrete elements would be faced with stone, and the cables would be enclosed in decorative steel sleeves. He presented renderings of sleeves in different dimensions and colors, asking for guidance on whether the sleeves should be light, medium, or dark gray. He said the intermediate vertical elements between the piers would be simple supports providing no additional security to the barrier. The length between the larger piers can be no more than 32 feet; any wider interval would compromise the cable's ability to resist vehicular impact. He illustrated technical aspects of attaching a cable within a wall to a vertical member that extends down to a foundation. Two variations of the cable system were proposed, one supported by vertical pipes and the other supported by vertical plates. If viewed perpendicular to the line of the barrier, the flat plates would appear as very thin supports, which he said might increase the barrier's transparency as people view the memorial from the perimeter of the grounds.
Mr. Bunster presented the alternative barrier system using a rod instead of a cable as the horizontal member. If a three–inch–diameter steel rod were used, a sleeve would not be needed and the horizontal barrier could therefore have a smaller diameter than the sleeved cable. However, rods would require more frequent support by hardened vertical elements. He said that the proposed segments of wall would be merely decorative, giving a rhythm to the barrier at any spacing desired; the vertical elements, whether expressed as piers or embedded within the walls, would provide the structural support to the rods. He described several different methods of attaching rods to vertical elements.
Mr. Bunster presented rendered views of the barrier alternatives in context from different vantage points, including a cable barrier with four eight–foot segments between piers, and a total of 32 feet between walls; the wall segments would be six feet long. Mr. Krieger asked if the six–foot dimension is an aesthetic choice; Mr. Bunster responded that it would be a necessary minimum for the cable barrier, which uses the walls to conceal the substantial size of the cable's anchor system at periodic intervals. With the rod system, the wall segments do not have a required length; he illustrated the proposal for four–foot–long segments with this system.
Mr. Bunster said that the proposal along the south lawn is for a solid wall, which will require breaks in the barrier to allow access during events and for maintenance. Different options for such access include removable bollards; hydraulic bollards; or bollards placed on small turntables that could be turned by hand—a device that has been successfully used elsewhere, notably in the financial district of New York City.
Mr. Bunster said that the small kiosk located southwest of the memorial would be relocated; he indicated the proposed location and the adjacent convergence of a bicycle path and pedestrian route. To accommodate the activity in this area, the barrier would be set back to allow a larger space next to the sidewalk. He indicated locations for seating at the walls in this area, noting that this feature will require further development.
Ms. Fernández asked if there would be a continuous wall only at the south lawn. Mr. Bunster confirmed the special treatment in this area, which he said is consistent with the original landscape design by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. that created expansive areas in the cardinal directions around the memorial; the south lawn is the only formal element within the landscape, resulting in the proposal for edging it with a continuous wall. He clarified that one alternative proposes a larger opening, and he asked for the Commission's guidance.
Mr. Bunster discussed other special conditions along the perimeter barrier. He said that buses park along the curb toward the west where the barrier comes close to the Tidal Basin and the Inlet Bridge, and the adjacent sidewalk often has a great deal of activity; additional entry points through the barrier would be provided in this area. Nearby is a low area that often floods; the existing path at this location would be abandoned, and pedestrians would be encouraged to take a new route. He said that the wall in this area would be designed to include a modest seating element that is less substantial then a bench, allowing people to sit but not encouraging them to linger. Nearby, the sloping area near the Inlet Bridge is traversed by a large underground sewer line; to avoid damaging it with the construction of deep supports for the barrier system, the proposal in this area is bollards supported by a shallow horizontal slab. He illustrated the treatment of this area within both the cable and rod alternatives for the adjacent barriers, and he indicated the guard rail that would be added to prevent people from walking down the slope adjacent to the Inlet Bridge. On the eastern end of the site, near the Outlet Bridge, bollards would be used instead of the continuous barrier to allow a more open view of the Tidal Basin; the proposal includes a gateway with integral seating in this area, similar to the design at the south lawn. The width of the pedestrian and bicyclist path in this area, currently ten feet, would be increased to fourteen feet to meet the current landscape architecture standard for a multipurpose trail.
Mr. Bunster concluded by providing a sample of the proposed granite. He said that different types of articulation are being considered for the wall elements, perhaps with horizontals to break up the masses and add shadow lines. He noted that the points where rods connect with the vertical elements would require substantial caps for strength.
Ms. Meyer asked for further background on the earlier decisions made concerning the barrier, prior to her appointment to the Commission; she recalled a presentation of this project two years ago at a professional conference, with discussion of the alternative alignments, and asked why the alternative was rejected for a simple circular wall 500 feet from the memorial instead of an alignment along the sidewalk edge. Mr. Bunster responded that the circular wall alignment had been presented to the Commission and was supported by a minority of the members; he added that a third option had been a barrier wall running through the landscape. Mr. Luebke confirmed the Commission's close vote between the perimeter alignment and the circular barrier, and said that the deciding point was resource protection. He noted that the preferred alignment along the sidewalk will ironically be twice as long as a circular barrier and will require the removal of more trees; but the Commission had decided that a barrier at this location might be easier to articulate, and its greater distance from the memorial might lessen its visual impact. Mr. May added that the choice had been between a landscape and an architectural solution, confirming that the rejected circular alignment would have related to the memorial's geometry.
Ms. Meyer asked about the significance of the alignments of East Basin Drive and Ohio Drive in the vicinity of the memorial, and whether the intention is to retain these road alignments in perpetuity regardless of how the perimeter security is addressed. Mr. May responded that the current road alignments differ from the original, and the highway—Interstate 395—was added later. Steve Lorenzetti, Deputy Superintendent of National Mall & Memorial Parks for the National Park Service, added that the original road in this area dated to about 1909 but its location has changed over the years: in the 1920s, and then in the 1940s when the memorial was built, and in the 1950s when the highway was constructed. He said that, if desired, the roads could be changed without compromising the memorial landscape. Mr. Luebke added that the 2009 Framework Plan envisioned the removal or relocation of some infrastructure in this area, such as relocating the major bridges to the southeast to create an event area associated with the Jefferson Memorial's southern axis.
Ms. Meyer offered several observations based on these answers. She described the rail and wall as a "fussy" solution because of all the different circumstances along the barrier alignment. She acknowledged that the proposal accommodates these different conditions in a responsible manner, and that the designers are following previous guidance; but she cited proposals such as the sudden shift to bollards because of a sewer line below, and said that the resulting barrier design is not a minor element in the landscape. She observed that the rod system seems less heavy than the cable; but a better solution may be to design something even simpler and less obtrusive, getting rid of the piers altogether and having just a rod–and–bollard or a simple wall system. She acknowledged the Commission's previous advice and the potential complications that can result from changes in a board's membership. She added that the design would be simplified by giving the base wall a single height, not a combination of a standard twelve–inch height that then rises to eighteen inches for seats; she recommended selecting a single height that would provide a simple horizontal line. She summarized her lack of enthusiasm for either scheme, encouraging further consideration of ways to simplify the barrier so it appears like a thin line that is either solid, or else repetitive and made up of the same elements; she added that the idea of inserting quasi–classical piers does not help. She added that the presented samples of large sleeves are particularly problematic, and such elements are not what would be expected at a national memorial.
Mr. Krieger observed that the design proposal is the victim of a strange moment in time, caught between two extremes: the beautiful, almost invisible landscape solution for the Washington Monument grounds and the proliferation of bollards in such numbers that they always seem like the wrong solution. He acknowledged that a solution like the Washington Monument barrier wall would not be feasible at this location, even though the Jefferson Memorial has an extensive landscape; however, this might be an ideal place to use bollards. He commented that the walls, rods, and piers look crude and are too numerous, but the proposed example of bollards in an isolated location above the sewer line seems a much simpler solution. He observed that the presented design is not the most beautiful wall in Washington; the rod and the cable alternatives both look like a more elegant version of a jersey barrier, built to prevent cars from plunging into a ditch, rather than a beautiful fence around a memorial.
Ms. Fernández agreed with the comments of the other Commission members, and said that the proposed barriers looked both unfinished and too busy. She added that it is easy but unrealistic to present the designs as a series of separate images that suggest framed, disconnected views; in practice, people walking or bicycling through the area would have a seamless experience, moving through the landscape and seeing a sequence of barriers and bollards. She reluctantly described the design alternatives as ugly and said that she could not support them. She acknowledged that the designers had been given certain parameters for this project and said that this is part of the problem. She expressed regret that the appearance of monuments, and federal architecture generally, is slowly being undermined by the imposition of security measures that they were never meant to include. She said that a design approach like that used for the Washington Monument security pavilion in the previous agenda item—a solution that reads as the most straightforward security measure instead of an ugly agglomeration of materials—would be more effective and less obtrusive.
Ms. Meyer supported Mr. Krieger's suggestion: the Jefferson Memorial grounds may be the exception to the rule that Washington has too many bollards, and may actually be an appropriate place for a sinuous line of very beautiful and elegant bollards. She observed that the barrier would likely not be permanent because the road and other conditions would change in time—another reason that this might be an exception to the general rule of avoiding the extensive use of bollards.
Mr. Luebke said that he has raised such issues often in staff consultation meetings for this project: although the proposed alignment would seemingly have the least impact, it has proved repeatedly to be intractably difficult to design in a way that would not destroy the visual environment. He summarized the apparent consensus of the Commission members that a wall composed of various barrier types on an alignment near the sidewalk would not be acceptable, and he anticipated that a barrier composed entirely of bollards along this alignment might also be found unacceptable. He asked if the Commission would prefer to reconsider another alignment that might have less impact on the memorial landscape than this 2,500–foot–long barrier.
Ms. Fernández expressed interest in seeing how other solutions, such as bollards, could be used at various alignments on the site. Ms. Meyer said that if the alignment near the sidewalk continues to be pursued, a simple wall or a line of bollards would be preferable to the alternatives that were presented. Mr. Powell agreed that this location may be the place to consider using bollards. Mr. Krieger added that people are tired of seeing bollards on urban sidewalks, where they expect to see other features such as lights and benches, but a bollard in a landscape is a different situation. He said that a distinctive treatment along the south lawn would be appropriate, such as a wall and seating; however, he reiterated that bollards would be by far the least intrusive solution throughout the rest of the site.
Ms. Meyer agreed, expressing reluctance to request revisiting barrier alignments that had been rejected over the many years the project has been under consideration, and acknowledging that alternative alignments were likely rejected for good reasons. She observed that the approach of designing the barrier as part of the landscape would likely require regrading the entire site: unlike the Washington Monument grounds, the Jefferson Memorial grounds do not encompass a hill. She also noted that such extensive regrading would involve flooding issues. She said that the alignment near the sidewalk could be made to work but it would need to have a single, simple gesture—not something like a beautiful classical wall, pier, and railing that have become supersized to address security needs. She said that the current proposal is designed as well as possible within its logic, but once the pieces get so large they cannot be aesthetically satisfactory; she emphasized that the resulting proposal is ugly.
Chairman Powell offered thanks to the project team and summarized the consensus that the Commission does not want to take an action on the proposal, and instead recommends consideration of a line of bollards or simplification of the designs presented. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
C. General Services Administration
CFA 20/JUN/13– 3, Herbert C. Hoover Building, Department of Commerce, 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Perimeter security. Final. (Previous: CFA 21/FEB/13–2.) The submission was approved earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
Chairman Powell departed the meeting during the discussion of the following agenda item, resulting in the loss of a quorum. In the absence of the Chairman and Vice Chairman, Ms. Meyer presided for the remainder of the meeting.
D. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
CFA 20/JUN/13– 4, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Headquarters Building, 1700 G Street, NW. Building renovation and additions. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposed renovation and additions to the federal office building at 1700 G Street, NW, which he described as one of Washington's better examples of the modernist style. He noted the building's ground–floor retail space and public access through the site, unusual features for a federal building. He asked Suzanne Tosini of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to begin the presentation.
Ms. Tosini described the creation of the CFPB in 2010 and the subsequent growth in the staff; the building at 1700 G Street will serve as CFPB's headquarters with approximately 1,200 to 1,250 employees. She said that the building dates from the mid–1970s and has not been substantially improved since then; the goal is to both restore it and adapt it to the needs of the CFPB. She introduced architect Bill Powers of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and landscape architect Thomas Balsley of Thomas Balsley Associates to present the design.
Mr. Powers described the site context, indicating the historic Eisenhower Executive Office Building across 17th Street to the east and the Winder Building immediately south of the site. He presented the existing site plan, indicating the corner building entrance, the public plaza or courtyard, and the extensive paving of red brick. Ms. Meyer and Mr. Krieger asked for clarification of the original designers; Mr. Luebke and Mr. Balsley responded that Max O. Urbahn Associates was the architect, and Sasaki Associates was the landscape architect. Mr. Powers described the stepped massing of the G Street elevation, with a lower height at 17th Street. He said that the main walkway from 17th Street to the plaza has a forbidding character with heavy walls; additional walkways are provided from F and G Streets. He indicated the plaza's large existing fountain, which would be altered and greatly reduced in size; he said that the large planters act as barriers and would also be replaced. The sidewalk–level skylights along the edge of the building are an important feature for the basement space and would be restored.
Mr. Powers said that the building was one of the first, and perhaps most successful, of the General Services Administration's "Living Buildings Program" from the 1970s. He presented an analysis of its architectural features: a visible external structural system; infill that is mostly glass; infill louvers at some upper–floor locations; vertical planes of solid stone defining separations between the several masses of the building; and red brick along the ground plane and extending upward to form the base of the building. He presented the existing floor plans: two levels of below–grade parking; a basement level with mechanical space, a daycare center, offices, and unused computer rooms beneath the sidewalk–level skylights; the ground floor interrupted by walkways to the plaza, with two entrance lobbies, extensive retail space, parking ramps, and a loading dock along F Street; and upper floors of office space. He indicated the auditorium on the 2nd floor along 17th Street, and two atriums that rise from the second through sixth floors; he said that the atriums have concrete walls and provide little light to the building's interior. The sixth floor is stepped back in several areas, and the 7th floor is a mechanical space and fitness center.
Mr. Powers described the proposed floor plans, intended to accommodate 1,200 to 1,350 people. Portions of the basement level, including the areas with skylights, would be used for office space; the daycare center would be relocated to a different part of this level. Changes to the ground floor would be minimal, with reconfiguration and enlargement of the main entrance lobby at 17th and G Streets to include educational displays and a relocated staircase to the second floor; the adjacent exterior walkway between 17th Street and the plaza includes stairs and ramps, which would be reconfigured to accommodate the lobby alterations. The upper floors would be redesigned as primarily open–plan office areas, as originally intended for the building; he said that the gradual transition to enclosed offices over the past thirty years has resulted in a dark interior. The second–floor auditorium would be converted into a group of conference rooms with direct access from the main lobby. Interior connecting stairs are proposed adjacent to the atriums to link work groups that would be split among multiple floors; lounge and informal conference spaces would also be placed alongside the atrium at each of the office floors. The sixth–floor terrace along 17th Street would be retained, but at other setbacks the sixth floor would be expanded to provide additional office space; he indicated the smaller setbacks that would remain. The seventh floor would be converted from mechanical to office space, and an expanded mechanical penthouse would be placed above this level. He noted that the occupied floors would remain within the allowable ninety–foot height limit, while the height increase of the mechanical penthouse would be approximately eight feet. Aside from the terrace, green roofs are proposed throughout the building
Mr. Powers presented the existing and proposed elevations. All of the exterior glazing, currently tinted and covered with films, would be replaced with a more energy–efficient high–performance glass to improve the interior lighting; the ground–floor glass would be clear. The mullions would be replaced to match the existing color and pattern. The solid wall panels facing the plaza would be replaced with glass to provide light at the proposed internal connecting stairs. The similar panels facing G Street would be pierced with vertical slit windows, angled in plan, to provide additional light while maintaining the general exterior appearance of solidity.
Mr. Balsley presented the proposed landscape design, emphasizing the original design intent of a permeable site within the urban streetscape. He indicated the public pedestrian circulation between F and G Streets and to 17th Street; the proposed design would emphasize these lines of movement through the paving and walkway system. Consistent with the original design, the center of the plaza would be a space for socializing, with a grove of trees and a simple setting for tables and chairs; the sunken portion of the plaza would be eliminated, and the existing fountain would be replaced by a smaller water feature. The glass arcade along the Winder Building would be removed. The walkway from 17th Street would be regraded with shallower steps to improve the sight lines between the street and the plaza. The existing red brick paving has failed at some locations; the proposed paving would include red granite at the edges, retaining the existing color uniformity and relationship to the building base. He presented the proposed palette of landscape materials.
Mr. Powers concluded with several rendered views of the proposed design in comparison to photographs of existing conditions. He indicated the alterations to the main lobby, with the glass plane shifted closer to the sidewalk while retaining the exposed exterior column. He noted the proposed perimeter security elements at several locations and said that this design component needs further development.
Mr. Powell supported the description of the existing building as a significant design, commenting that the proposal is a sensitive treatment. Mr. Krieger offered general agreement, including support for the additions at the upper floors to accommodate increased office space. He noted his visit to the courtyard earlier in the day and described it as "not a very pleasant space," commenting that the proposal would improve it. He questioned the varying proposed treatments of the solid facade panels—inserting slot windows on the north elevation along G Street, and replacing them with extensive glass on the south elevation along the plaza. He said that the relationship of solids and voids seems to be a very intentional component of the original building design, and this effect would be somewhat retained along G Street but not along the plaza. He suggested alternative approaches such as leaving the solid panels as designed, acknowledging that this would not address the concern with interior lighting; or changing all of the solid panels in a coordinated manner, such as by using a distinct type of glass or special modular configuration in these areas. He discouraged the proposed approach of different alterations to the panels on the north and south facades, and of designing the new glass on the south to be indistinguishable from the rest of the facade. He emphasized the need to respect the rigorous aesthetics of the building's original design.
Ms. Fernández agreed and expressed a deeper concern with the proposed alterations to the solid panels, noting that similar design proposals have frequently been presented to the Commission. She said that the apparent result is to make the significant existing building appear more like the typical large all–glass form of contemporary buildings. She emphasized that such alterations result in a significant change to the building's character, and this change is not justified merely because more internal office space is desired. She observed that the facade's solid planes are critical to the building's aesthetic of positive and negative forms; the solids are not arbitrary and can't simply be filled in with something else, and she described the proposed treatment as obliterating the original design intention. She said that merely coordinating the change to glass on the north and south facades would not be sufficient; any alteration to the building's overall pattern of solids and glazing would be problematic. She added that the proposed expansion of the upper floors is less problematic and could be approved.
Mr. Krieger said he finds that changes to the solid panels may not necessarily be problematic, but the new design should retain the rigor of the original aesthetic. He observed that many historic buildings have undergone alterations that have changed the design intention, but we accept this change as a natural process. He said that the goal for this project is reuse rather than preservation; his objection is to the particular alterations that are proposed, rather than to the issue of allowing any change. He reiterated that the differing alterations to the north and south facades appear irrational in comparison to the consistency of the original design. He suggested that a more creative alteration might be appropriate, instead of simply extending the glass across the entire south facade to resemble typical new buildings in Washington.
Mr. Luebke noted the impending loss of a quorum and summarized the initial comments; he said that the Commission may prefer to offer comments rather than take an action on the current submission. Mr. Powell offered support for the concept of adding to the building, with the details needing further work; Ms. Meyer said that the treatment of the facade is a conceptual issue, not merely a detail. Mr. Luebke said that the apparent consensus is to support the general idea of the building's expansion but to request a new concept submission to address the issues discussed, as well as any landscape design issues that may arise in further discussion; this response would not require a formal vote. Chairman Powell agreed with this approach and departed the meeting, resulting in the loss of a quorum; Ms. Meyer presided for the remainder of the meeting.
Ms. Meyer supported the comments of the other Commission members concerning the facade alterations, adding that the concern was strengthened by the inclusion in the presentation of a diagram and analysis of the building's design logic; the proposed design was then presented without a similar conceptual logic. She suggested that the design team have a strong idea for any new materials that are introduced, as requested by Mr. Krieger, rather than simply state a practical desire for more views or light. She also said that locating office space or a daycare center in the basement is problematic, although not necessarily within the Commission's purview; the proposed programming is not respectful of the employees nor the children, and gives insufficient consideration to issues of productivity and health that arise from using basement space that will inevitably be damp and poorly lit. She noted that some countries prohibit office space without an exterior window. She instead suggested using the basement space for conference rooms, which a person would use for only a couple of hours rather than for the entire workweek.
Ms. Meyer recalled that the building's plaza was celebrated as an important design when it was initially completed, but agreed that it does not currently have the feeling of a great space. She noted the greater understanding in recent decades of how people use space and how the edges should be designed to create connections to the street, and she supported the intention to make improvements to the plaza. She nonetheless questioned several issues in the proposal. She said that the architectural and landscape designs do not have a clear attitude toward the adjacent Winder Building, which she cited as a an important building in Washington's history. The site plan seems to be ignoring the Winder Building by placing a green–wall edge along it, denying the building's role in wrapping the space of the plaza; the apparent intention is to define the plaza as part of the 1700 G Street building rather than as a space shared by both buildings. She asked for clarification of the conceptual approach before commenting on the details.
Mr. Balsley responded that the intention is not to turn the plaza's back to the Winder Building, but instead to improve its relationship to the open space by removing the high glass arcade and extending the plaza directly to the Winder Building facades. He added that these facades on the interior of the block are not of special design interest, and the intention is to see them through the filter of tree branches rather than fully screened by evergreens or fully exposed to the plaza. He indicated the proposed public seating that would extend close to the Winder Building, while acknowledging that the rendered landscape plan may not convey a satisfactory image of the design. Mr. Krieger agreed that the relationship may be understood as more successful when seen in section, but the plan depiction is unconvincing and suggests that the plaza is disengaged from the Winder Building. Mr. Balsley clarified that only a minor doorway connects the Winder Building to the plaza, resulting in relatively little pedestrian circulation to use as a generator of the landscape design; the proposal at this edge is therefore limited to an occupiable surface of stone dust under trees.
Ms. Meyer encouraged a greater appreciation for the Winder Building's facades, emphasizing that it is an important historic building regardless of the architectural aesthetics. She said that the juxtaposition of this older building and the modern design of 1700 G Street provides a special design opportunity and an important plaza space. She supported the proposed removal of the glass arcade and discouraged any effort to screen the Winder Building facades; she said that the plaza should be designed as a space defined by building facades, rather than by a combination of facades and a tree bosque.
Ms. Meyer commented on the importance in the original design of using red brick for site paving and extending upward to form a building plinth. She said that the proposed shift to granite is unconvincing, and she recommended retaining the brick paving for the walkways connecting the plaza and streets. She said that a shift in materials may imply a change to private space, such as from brick sidewalks to granite walkways within the site; the goal instead should be a conceptual continuity and an invitation for public access. She said that some variety of paving materials within the plaza may be acceptable, but the transition should not occur near the street edges. Ms. Fernández recommended retaining the consistency of paving material to uphold the design legacy. Mr. Balsley clarified that the design would continue to include extensive brick paving, which may not have been stated clearly in the presentation. Ms. Meyer indicated the different materials noted on the proposed site plan, including portions of the walkways through the building. Mr. Balsley responded that the base of the building would continue to be a red color, using granite similar to the existing brick; the lighter paving shown in the center of the walkways is intended to overcome the darkness and low ceilings of the passages through the building, improving the welcoming character for public pedestrian access to the plaza.
Ms. Fernández commented that the proposed granite may replicate the brick's color but not its character. Granite is not an inviting material, and it has a harder feeling from being carved out of the earth; brick is a warmer and more inviting material that is shaped by humans. She added that darkness is not necessarily problematic, despite its popular stigma; not everything needs to be flooded with light, and lightness makes sense only in contrast to adjacent darkness. She said that this concern extends to the facades as well as the walkways: the solid portions of the facade, like the dark portions of the walkways, are not necessarily bad. She said that the proposed design appears to be imposing a 2013 aesthetic onto a 1970s building that was designed using a different set of values that accepted heaviness and darkness as compelling elements. She discouraged the design goal of making everything "inviting," suggesting that some spaces could have the sense of being intimate, quiet, and serene; she emphasized that darkness is not necessarily foreboding.
Ms. Meyer commented that the grading of the site is an important concern, noting the lower elevation along 17th Street. Mr. Balsley clarified that the site plan includes a ramp alongside the stairs between 17th Street and the plaza; he said that the proposed stairs would be an approximately the same alignment as the existing stairs, with wider spacing and a reduction to four–inch risers. Ms. Meyer supported the proposed design in this area. She emphasized that the plaza is an "amazing" space and should be appreciated by as many people as possible, particularly as a shady destination in the summer; she questioned the proposal for an extensive area of groundcover planting that would not be occupiable, as identified on the landscape plan. Mr. Balsley clarified that the intention in these areas is not traditional groundcover with an institutional character but would be gardens with some seasonal color, adding to the sound of water and the shade.
Mr. Krieger said that the comments of the other Commission members may be overly critical, illustrating the potential conflict between conceptual clarity and experiential delight. He said that the walkways through the building do not appear inviting, regardless of their consistent brick paving; the proposed design may be somewhat fussier than he would prefer, but is still a great improvement over the existing condition. He encouraged further refinement of the design and supported the goal of creating attractive spaces for visitors and employees, rather than focusing on issues of continuous brick or of darkness and light. Ms. Fernández said that this approach does not require that the building's character become the same as many other new designs that are brought to the Commission. She reiterated that this concern includes both the facade and site proposals; Ms. Meyer agreed. Ms. Fernández said that the proposed concept results in a building that appears common rather than special—not necessarily bad, but similar to many other new designs. Ms. Meyer said that this concern can be extended to the concept for the plaza, which is situated between two interesting buildings of very different characters; she encouraged taking advantage of this opportunity to create a unique character for the plaza. Mr. Balsley responded that many alternatives were considered for the plaza landscape, some of them much more assertive in establishing a new character to contrast with the two different languages of the surrounding buildings. He said that the decision was to pursue a more timeless, classic, quiet character for the landscape that will stand the test of time.
Ms. Meyer asked for a summary of the next steps. Mr. Luebke noted the consensus not to take an action on the proposal, and to offer general support for the proposed rehabilitation and expansion of the building while recommending further study of the facade and landscape treatments. He clarified that a further concept proposal should be submitted for the Commission's review. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
E. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
CFA 20/JUN/13– 5, Flood protection project, various locations in Federal Triangle and the National Mall. Modifications to vent shafts for flood protection. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the concept proposal from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to provide flood protection for the Metro subway system's service shafts on the National Mall and in Federal Triangle. He asked Jim Ashe of WMATA to begin the presentation.
Mr. Ashe said that WMATA has identified scenarios in which the Metro system would be vulnerable to 100–year flooding, such as a hurricane moving up the Chesapeake Bay or the rapid melting of snow from the Appalachian Mountains. He acknowledged that the levee system on the National Mall is currently being improved, but emphasized that the Metro system will nevertheless be vulnerable to damage. He said that the area including Federal Triangle has a low elevation, which could result in damage similar to the flood of June 2006 that closed the National Archives and Federal Triangle Metro stations. He introduced engineer Suzanna Sterling–Dyer of WMATA to continue the presentation.
Ms. Sterling–Dyer indicated the locations of the twelve shafts proposed for protection: along 12th Street in Federal Triangle; on the Mall at 12th Street and at Independence Avenue, near the Department of Agriculture building and the Smithsonian Metro station; and flanking 7th Street on the Mall. Ms. Meyer noted that the presented map shows the project boundary drawn at 9th Street; Ms. Sterling–Dyer clarified that the mapped boundary is in error and the project extends to the shafts located along 7th Street.
Ms. Sterling–Dyer described the conditions at Federal Triangle along 12th Street. The top grating of a deep shaft is located within a large sidewalk area; WMATA has piled sandbags around it, and it is also surrounded by temporary planters installed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the General Services Administration (GSA) as part of the perimeter security system for the adjacent building. The proposal for this shaft includes options for walls of four different heights. The first proposal would raise the shaft by 18 inches, to a level above the 100–year floodplain, by building walls faced in Mount Airy granite—a granite frequently used in the monumental core—with a cap around the top. The 18–inch–high wall would not provide the K–4 antiterrorism rating sought by GSA and EPA, and the planters would therefore remain. Alternatively, a 38–inch–high wall would meet the K–4 rating.
Ms. Sterling–Dyer indicated the location of two other shafts on 12th Street which also have planters defining the adjacent security perimeter. For the first shaft, WMATA proposes only one option, a 40–inch–high wall. The top of this shaft is one of the lowest locations in the Metro system; a total height of 5.66 feet above the sidewalk would be needed to raise the shaft above the 100–year floodplain, and a height of 10.26 feet would protect it from the 500–year flood. This shaft also includes emergency egress for Metro passengers; the horizontal egress hatch is currently flush with the grate. After this shaft is raised, egress would be accommodated through a combination of new vertical and horizontal doors on the top and side of the enclosure. Both doors would be flood–rated to withstand the pressure of water. The proposal is to build an enclosure with a K–4 rating, using reinforcement within the shaft walls; this would allow for removal of the surrounding planters. She also described a vent shaft located within the hemicycle at the Federal Triangle Metro station; because of its location, this shaft needs to be raised to 39 inches above grade to prevent flooding. The security planters in the vicinity of this shaft would remain because the proposed change would not give the enclosure a K–4 rating.
Ms. Sterling–Dyer described the four shafts located on the National Mall between 12th Street and the Washington Monument Grounds. Although they are not located within the 100–year floodplain, they are subject to localized flooding and also become clogged with gravel washing off the Mall walks; the gravel causes water to pond and requires frequent cleaning of the shafts. The first option would remove the gravel from the adjacent walks and pave them with aggregate concrete for a distance of thirty feet; the concrete would match the color of the existing gravel, and the height of the grate would not change. She illustrated an example where GSA paved a smaller though similar area around a WMATA shaft. The second option would raise the grate by four inches, masked by an eight–foot–wide surrounding apron of scored aggregate concrete with a two–percent slope; she said that the staffs of the reviewing agencies had recommended this option to WMATA. By using a shallow slope instead of a vertical edge, the movement of maintenance vehicles through this area would be unimpeded. She noted that the proposed work would coincide with the currently planned rehabilitation of the adjacent lawn panels on the National Mall.
Ms. Sterling–Dyer described the shafts located adjacent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture building at 12th Street and Independence Avenue, including an escalator shaft extending down to the Smithsonian Metro station; she said that water tends to flow down 12th Street and into this shaft. WMATA is proposing 12–inch walls of Mount Airy granite.
Ms. Sterling–Dyer described the two shafts located on the east and west sides of 7th Street, a heavily traveled area along the National Mall. The shafts are currently surrounded by sandbags, which often break. Both shafts have emergency egress hatches at the top. She said that these shafts are also affected by the accumulation of gravel and by runoff flowing from walks and lawn panels; she noted the recently completed rehabilitation of the lawn panels on the east side of 7th Street. The proposal is to raise these shafts with granite walls to keep them dry and improve their appearance; the granite would match the materials of the lawn panel rehabilitation. Ms. Meyer asked the source of the water that drains into these grates; Ms. Sterling–Dyer responded that it flows off the lawn panels or is splashed by cars driving through puddles after storms. She confirmed that 7th Street is a low point along the Mall, adding that three 15–year storm drains are located beneath the roadbed and their carrying capacity is often exceeded.
Ms. Sterling–Dyer concluded by providing samples of the proposed materials, including the proposed aggregate concrete. She described the cap that is proposed for the shafts on the Mall and along Independence Avenue, and said that these could be used elsewhere if approved by the Commission. She noted that an existing shaft in the vicinity, at 7th Street and Constitution Avenue, is already surrounded by a 32–inch–high wall.
Ms. Meyer asked for comments; Mr. Luebke emphasized that the proposal encompasses a range of conditions for six types of vent shafts at six different locations. Mr. Krieger expressed uncertainty about how to respond to the project; he acknowledged the need to improve the shafts but said that none of the proposals would be an asset to the public environment. He asked whether any other alternatives had been considered, or if any solution would even be possible other than these very intrusive structures. He added that the combination of these vent structures and the security barriers seems overwhelming.
Ms. Meyer commented that the proposed vent structures would have an awful impact on the public realm, and she raised several questions about the design process. She observed that none of the anticipated flooding is so localized that it would affect only WMATA and not other infrastructure and buildings. She asked if other government agencies are considering ways of diverting water off the street, such as cisterns, curb cuts, or rain gardens. She emphasized that this is a city–wide watershed planning issue about flooding in the public realm; the cost and responsibility of addressing this issue should be shared by multiple agencies that deal with stormwater. She said that the Commission is being asked to comment on a "Band–Aid" that is being applied to a huge problem; the solution from a design perspective is not whether the coping is beveled on a vertical wall, but how the larger system can be made to function. She concluded that the Commission's comments on the height of these walls would not help in the development of a permanent solution to watershed flooding, and emphasized that the problem is being addressed at the wrong scale.
Mr. Krieger observed that WMATA encounters flooding problems that are more immediate than those dealt with by other institutions, and therefore WMATA cannot wait for a global solution; he reiterated his frustration at how to respond to the proposal. Mr. Luebke asked if the Commission would prefer a design with a more temporary character than the proposed stone structures; he also emphasized the potential to combine elements of this project with the separate need for perimeter security infrastructure. Mr. Krieger noted that the planters themselves are considered to be temporary.
Ms. Fernández agreed with the comments provided. She challenged the tendency to describe problems in absolute terms, as is commonly done with security issues; in practice, the numbers and standards are artificially created and constantly shifting, based on information that will likely change in a few years. She emphasized the disparity between these constantly changing needs and the construction of heavy, permanent structures; she therefore agreed with the other Commission members on the difficulty of formulating advice for this project.
Mr. Luebke noted that various proposals have been put forward in response to the recent updating of official flood maps, such as a suggestion to build much larger stormwater retention basins underneath the Mall. He added that the D.C. government is constructing a large system of cisterns to accommodate runoff. He emphasized WMATA's legitimate purpose in addressing its needs and asked if the Commission could provide any guidance. Mr. Krieger acknowledged the potential approach of developing a temporary solution, but noted that it might be in place for twenty years. Mr. Luebke asked if the Commission would prefer that WMATA build something using less monumental materials with the understanding that the greater problem still needs to be considered. He added that the Commission could provide general guidance, recognizing that many other agencies—the National Capital Planning Commission, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, and D.C. operating agencies such as the Departments of Transportation and the Environment—have roles to play.
Ms. Meyer supported this approach as being consistent with her comments. She said that from the perspective of landscape architecture, solutions are developed from considering the larger system; the issues are bigger than any individual client or parcel, and flooding requires a citywide solution. If something has to be done to provide protection in the short term, she said that it should be the simplest, cheapest, and ugliest possible surround for a grate, and should make clear to all that the flooding problem needs to be solved; she recommended against a beautiful, 39–inch–high granite edge in a location where a grate should not obtrude above ground level. She emphasized that the Commission would be making a significant mistake to base its recommendations solely on material selection and profile. The Commission instead needs to describe this urban watershed problem, and the long–term solution is to avoid having to build these huge structures throughout the city. Mr. Ashe asked if she would rather see concrete walls than stone facing; Ms. Meyer confirmed that concrete would be preferable, with the understanding that WMATA would contact the other agencies involved and make a strong case for constructing water–storage facilities. She emphasized the need to recognize that a widespread solution is needed.
Ms. Fernández commented that if the Commission approves an uglier and cheaper concrete solution, it would have no way of enforcing the directive to work toward a broader solution for urban flooding. Mr. Krieger agreed and recommended caution in approving any design, suggesting that the best near–term solution may be the continued use of sandbags while a more general solution is developed; Ms. Fernández agreed. He emphasized that he would not support the walls in concrete instead of granite, which he said would be a self–defeating resolution.
Ivo Karadimov, the chief architect for WMATA, responded that concrete does not have to look ugly. Ms. Meyer clarified that the Commission is saying that the materials are not the issue; Mr. Krieger agreed and said that the proposed forms themselves would be obstructions and would create problems for the public realm. He asked whether declining to approve the proposal would simply pass the problem on to others. Ms. Meyer noted the lack of a quorum, and any formal recommendation would therefore have to be considered by the full Commission at the next meeting. Mr. Luebke said that the direction of the discussion may not go differently with a quorum; he summarized that the Commission members are trying to articulate a fundamental philosophical principle, and WMATA's short–term options would be another question. He said that WMATA could return with another proposal, perhaps for something lighter and less obtrusive in appearance. Mr. Krieger commented that constructing these enclosures would be a big and expensive project, and once they are built they will not be temporary.
Ms. Meyer acknowledged that the Commission's purview does not extend to requiring WMATA to talk to other agencies, even though that is the best approach to solving this problem. She reiterated that she is not willing to support this project. She expressed hope that the Commission's lack of support would encourage other groups to solve the problem, emphasizing that it must be solved beyond the jurisdiction of the individual blocks where shafts are located. Mr. Ashe assured the Commission that WMATA is working with other groups to address these concerns. He said that he had suggested simply raising the concrete walls while leaving the grates at the sidewalk level, but the WMATA maintenance staff had been concerned that the walled grates would then become traps for trash; the conclusion was that the grates themselves need to be raised.
Ms. Fernández acknowledged that the Commission is not offering much guidance in response to the presentation; she noted that the Commission has only been given one type of solution, and part of helping an applicant make choices is to have more options available. She asked if the problem has been thoroughly explored to develop some better type of solution—perhaps more durable than sandbags but less permanent than concrete—rather than the proposal for raised grates and overbuilt walls. Mr. Ashe responded that other solutions were explored, including placement of an engineered structure within the throat of the shafts, or more substantially changing the appearance of the setting for each shaft. Ms. Fernández asked if the sandbags are working; Mr. Ashe replied that they are effective during small storms but could not handle another storm like that of June 2006. Ms. Fernández asked if there is any solution that the Commission should consider between sandbags and the presented proposal; Mr. Ashe responded that no alternative has yet been found satisfactory, but he welcomed any suggestions.
Ms. Meyer commented that Washington is both blessed and cursed with very wide street rights–of–way; she asked how comparable shafts are accommodated in cities with narrower rights–of–way, where a 39–inch–high shaft enclosure could not be built in a sidewalk. She said that talking to other cities about alternative solutions could be useful; Ms. Fernández added that New York City is dealing with the same flooding issues and has narrow streets. Mr. Ashe said that WMATA has discussed these issues with officials from other cities but offered to talk with them again; he reiterated that the submitted designs are the most effective solution that has been found. Mr. Krieger offered to continue thinking about other approaches that WMATA might take to address the problem. He emphasized the need for WMATA officials to understand that, from the standpoint of the values that the Commission upholds, constructing big boxes in the sidewalks is not a good solution.
Mr. Luebke asked if the Commission members want to offer any further comments about differentiating the shafts in the more urban context of Federal Triangle versus the shafts on the Mall. Ms. Meyer said that the issues with the Mall shafts may be different from those concerning 12th Street; she also emphasized the distinct issues for the shafts near the centerline of the Mall at 7th Street, commenting that WMATA is moving in the right direction on these shafts. She requested further demonstration that the proposal has been integrated into the next phase of the Mall lawn panel renovation, and she asked to see the proposal drawn in relation to the larger cross–section of the Mall and its walks. She asked if the proposed two–percent slope is typical for the Mall walks; Ms. Sterling–Dyer responded that the walks typically slope toward the drains at the lawn panels, and said that the WMATA proposal has been integrated into the plans of the National Park Service (NPS).
Mr. Luebke noted that the problem being addressed is more complex than elevation and the overtopping of water; it also involves control of the gravel. Ms. Meyer commented that WMATA's proposed solution to the pavement on the Mall is unconvincing; again, she said that this is not WMATA's fault but requires interagency coordination for a close look at Mall walks in general. She observed that the broader solution for the Mall is neither all paved walks nor all gravel walks; she noted that the NPS practice from the 1970s is that all walks are gravel, but little by little that stance is eroded to solve various problems, such as handicapped access or WMATA drainage, with small paved patches. She recommended that WMATA work with the NPS to develop a more realistic and varied solution for the Mall pavement that will accommodate all needs.
Ms. Meyer acknowledged that the gravel can be a big problem—it jams the grates and is problematic for curbs and gutters. She said that the next set of Mall lawn panels to be rehabilitated needs a different sensibility than at the first section, and she reiterated that WMATA should collaborate with the NPS so that the shaft issues are part of the solution for the larger Mall instead of only a site–specific solution. Ms. Sterling–Dyer responded that WMATA has been working with the NPS, including consideration of the problems with the gravel. She noted that the only Metro station on the Mall is the Smithsonian station, a relatively small feature; the shafts are accommodated through a variety of permanent easements, which constrains WMATA's authority to alter paving beyond the shaft locations. Ms. Meyer emphasized that the solution is not simply obtaining permission for WMATA to pave one small area, but instead to have a plan for the entire Mall that accommodates the combination of gravel and pavement for the walks; she observed that the gravel does not have the capacity to accept all of the Mall's necessary program, including hydrological functions. She acknowledged that the solution once again lies beyond WMATA's responsibility. Mr. Krieger said that these comments are addressing a much broader problem than this specific proposal; Ms. Meyer agreed and said that the concerns also relate to the issues with the shafts in Federal Triangle. She also emphasized that the Commission cannot support one small project after another that compromises the gravel pavement of the Mall; she said that the Commission has to think about the larger landscape and how pavement and gravel work as a palette on the Mall. Mr. Luebke noted that these issues could be addressed through the Commission's ongoing consultation with the NPS on Mall issues.
Mr. Krieger commented that the proposal to surround the Mall shafts with one–foot–high curbs is better than the 39 inches proposed elsewhere, but raised grates still do not belong on the Mall. Ms. Meyer said that the treatment of the shaft on the west side of 7th Street could likely still be integrated into the recently approved NPS plan for rehabilitating the remaining lawn panels, and could be designed so that it does not appear raised. She said that the east side of 7th Street presents a different situation, and expressed regret that this condition had not been resolved when this area was redesigned recently. She requested context photos to assist in understanding the impact of the proposal on the centerline of the Mall before making a recommendation. Mr. Ashe offered to provide such a photo, noting that the height of the grate would be well below the height of cars that park along 7th Street. Mr. Luebke said the design has to work visually without the presence of cars, and the Commission needs to see a photo showing the grate with people walking by. Ms. Meyer added that knowing the relative dimensions of the longitudinal section would be helpful.
Mr. Krieger observed that the grate on the east side of 7th Street would be raised not much more than a normal curb height, and a solution might therefore involve a slightly larger gesture of designing a curb that runs along this edge of the Mall rather than creating a one–foot–high box in one particular place. Mr. Luebke noted the precedent in Washington for a high, curved concrete curb within parks; this detail was introduced by the NPS in the early 20th century and widely installed in smaller reservations in the 1930s. He said that this type of solution could be pursued instead of hard–edged walls around the shafts. He added that WMATA and the NPS have been using the stone–clad box around vent shafts for many years, and this solution is probably a remnant of Metro's own design legacy from the 1960s and 1970s.
Ms. Meyer suggested that other alternatives might include curb cuts on 7th Street and greater reliance on the large underground cistern being developed in the area; she emphasized the desire to see more potential solutions. She added that curb cuts could be designed to allow water to drain into rain gardens as well as cisterns; she reiterated her expectation that a landscape solution could be developed in conjunction with the NPS lawn panel project. Mr. Ashe offered to continue pursuing this approach.
Mr. Luebke summarized the guidance for the 7th Street shafts: on the west side, the shaft should be incorporated into the NPS design currently underway for the lawn panels and paving; and on the east side, the Commission would like to analyze the impact of a one–foot–high structure by studying more distant contextual views, and would encourage consideration of a different design of the edge or other landscape solutions such as curb cuts, cisterns, or rain gardens that might solve the problem by accommodating the water elsewhere. He noted that the project raises difficult questions and acknowledged the problem that WMATA is facing. Ms. Meyer commented that the Commission has a different jurisdiction from WMATA and other agencies; the Commission is emphasizing that the solution needs to be the best possible, perhaps one that requires more creative partnerships with other agencies.
Mr. Luebke noted the apparent consensus not to take an action on the proposal; he said that WMATA could consider the comments provided and return with a future submission. Mr. Ashe assured the Commission that WMATA is looking for a solution that will satisfy everyone. Mr. Luebke offered to provide copies of the Commission's response letter to other agencies, including the D.C. Department of Transportation and Department of the Environment. Ms. Meyer added a further comment concerning the Mall: in addition to being an important symbolic space, it should also be a model for sustainability, which is a goal of the NPS master plan for the Mall. She asked the Commission staff to work with the NPS in thinking more creatively about the Mall walks having multiple pavement types that will allow the WMATA shafts to fit into a larger pattern instead of being small interventions. She reiterated that WMATA should not bear the brunt of the Commission's dissatisfaction with a problem that is not of WMATA's making. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
F. D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development
CFA 20/JUN/13– 6, Square 37 (West End Neighborhood Library), 23rd and L Streets, NW. New mixed–use building with commercial and residential units, and public library. Final. (Previous: CFA 20/OCT/11–6.) The submission was approved earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
G. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs— Shipstead–Luce Act:
SL 13–085, Watergate Hotel, 2650 Virginia Avenue, NW. Building modifications and additions. Final. (Previous: SL 11–118, July 2011.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the proposed final design for modifications to the Watergate Hotel, part of the historically significant Watergate complex. The hotel has been vacant since 2007; the Commission approved the concept proposal by another architecture firm, with recommendations for further development of the site and building design. She summarized the exterior changes in the proposal: raising the grade in the courtyard by seven feet; modifications to the landscape design; adding a raised dining terrace; modifying the building entrances; repairing and modifying the facades of the upper floors of guest rooms; and adding rooftop structures for mechanical and service facilities. She said that some elements are still being designed, including exterior railings, signs, and some of the material selections, and further modifications may be needed in response to the National Park Service's review for tax credits. She asked architectural historian Emily Eig of EHT Traceries to begin the presentation.
Ms. Eig emphasized the importance of addressing historic preservation issues in obtaining tax credits for the project, resulting in close coordination with the National Park Service. She noted the challenge of working with such an unusual building, designed by Luigi Moretti and atypical of Washington architecture. She said that the proposed final design includes numerous minor modifications to the approved concept, resulting from new issues that have arisen. She cited the extensive coordination of the project with many interested parties, including formal approval of the proposal by the boards of the Watergate's residential buildings as well as the historic preservation review process. She introduced the building's owner, Jacques Cohen of Euro Capital Properties, and architects David Delcher and Bahram Kamali of BBG–BBGM.
Mr. Delcher described the context of the Watergate complex, adjacent to the Kennedy Center to the south and Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway to the west; the complex includes six buildings constructed in the 1960s. He offered to go directly to a description of the changes from the concept submission. Ms. Meyer asked for further discussion of the historic and architectural character of the Watergate complex and what features would be retained; Mr. Luebke clarified that the Commission members present had not yet been appointed to the Commission at the time of the concept presentation.
Ms. Eig responded that the complex, although less than fifty years old, is listed as a National Historic Landmark due to its exceptional significance—resulting from its association with the Watergate political crisis, from its design, and from its innovation as Washington's first planned–unit development and first project developed using computer–aided drawing techniques. The complex was originally under single ownership but has subsequently been divided into six separate ownership entities with separate lots. The complex includes three residential buildings of cooperative apartments, two office buildings, and the hotel; retail space is also included, originally with a grocery store and luxury stores, and the hotel building has always included a restaurant. The buildings were designed to be interconnected through the underground parking garage. She noted that the complex was built in an era of difficult social conditions in Washington; the intention was to provide an exciting place to live in the city as an alternative to the suburbs, which was a controversial goal at the time. She said that the hotel interior was altered soon after construction and numerous times subsequently; the modernist finishes were removed, and classically styled details were installed including crown moldings and traditional murals. She described the design goal of returning the building to its original appearance while adapting it to the modern hotel market; she noted that the large hotel rooms of the original design resulted in an insufficient guest capacity to support the hotel's operation, leading to its economic failure. She said that the building's vacancy is undesirable for the nearby residents, and rehabilitating the hotel would return liveliness and a world–class destination to the site; she described the intention to operate it as a large boutique hotel with a unique character. The interior design of the hotel is intended to honor Mr. Moretti's design approach, without replicating the original features that have largely been removed and may not serve modern needs. She described the proposed exterior modifications as relatively minor, intended to correct some problems of the original design and improve the hotel's efficiency.
Ms. Meyer expressed appreciation for this overview. Mr. Luebke requested an additional overview of the changes that were proposed in the concept submission; Ms. Eig responded that the submission booklet identifies the proposals that were in the previous submission, and a small number of new proposals have been added. Ms. Fernández noted that correspondence has been distributed that disputes the approval of the residential cooperative boards. Mr. Kamali and Ms. Eig confirmed that the design was presented to those boards numerous times in 2011; Mr. Luebke added that this issue is part of the citizen comments that may be considered after the design presentation.
Ms. Eig said that the most prominent issue in the 2011 submission to the Commission was the design of the proposed rooftop structures for mechanical systems. An important operational improvement, although less obtrusive visually, was the proposed vertical expansion of the below–grade ballroom that was originally designed as a restaurant. The 2011 submission also included new locations for balcony privacy screens in response to the revised internal configuration of guest rooms; due to corrosion, all of these screens would be replaced and would replicate the original appearance. Other features in the 2011 proposal included a fence for improved privacy of the adjacent residential building; a small addition to improve connectivity to lower–level service areas; slight changes to the non–original entrance door; and removal of later alterations to the porte–cochere. Mr. Luebke noted the staff's understanding that the fence is excluded from the current submission; Mr. Delcher confirmed this deletion, noting that the presentation includes the 2011 proposals as well as the current proposal for each element.
Mr. Delcher presented the final design proposal, noting that the images in the slide presentation are sometimes consolidated from the pages included in the submission booklet. He presented the rooftop enclosures as proposed in 2011 and currently, indicating the reduced size and curved shape in response to comments from the Commission staff, the National Park Service, and the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board. He noted that four rooftop structures are existing; the proposal is to add a service block and elevator lobby, providing new elevator access to the roof. In addition to the reduced height and plan area, the current proposal increases the separation between new and existing rooftop elements as requested by the reviewing agencies. He presented a photographic simulation from Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, indicating that the new rooftop elements would be only barely visible. He presented the proposed ground–level restaurant terrace, replacing a dead–end driveway. The terrace is now proposed to extend several bays further than was presented in 2011 to provide additional seating space; a planter is now proposed along its edge, and the end of the terrace would have simple glass panels to serve as a railing while allowing views from the terrace to the Potomac River. He presented the proposed landscape plan in the vicinity of the terrace, including additional plantings to provide a visual barrier between the hotel and the adjacent residential building in response to resident requests; the landscape proposal supersedes the fence that was presented in 2011. He indicated the existing crape myrtles that would remain, supplemented by low plantings and a new row of larger shrubs. Mr. Krieger asked if the terrace would be at a higher elevation than the existing driveway. Mr. Delcher responded that the driveway is sloping, and its lower end is approximately five feet below the proposed terrace level; he confirmed that the terrace would effectively flatten out the elevation from the higher end of the driveway.
Mr. Delcher presented additional site ground–level proposals. A canopy would be added to the entrance on the north side of the building, primarily used for the restaurant and ballroom; the 2011 canopy proposal was two bays wide, and the current proposal is three bays wide to respond more sympathetically to the architectural character of the entrance. On the south side of the building, the below–grade ballroom would be increased in height; he presented the plan and section of the existing conditions, the 2011 proposal, and the current design. Mr. Krieger asked about the building space below the ballroom; Mr. Delcher responded that the level immediately below includes office and garage space, and further below is entirely garage space. He emphasized the significant structural requirements for the ballroom proposal, and the intention to cover it with a landscaped surface; the proposed topography has been revised in response to the structural requirements. The top of the roof would be a relatively flat lawn; he confirmed that people would be able to walk on its entire surface and use it for recreation, consistent with the existing use of the Watergate's open space for exercise. The landscape design of the steep sides is intended to mimic the existing landscape and provide seasonal variation, giving year–round coverage of the slope. He noted that some of the existing exposed roof surface would be converted to landscaped space. Ms. Meyer asked about the steepness of the sloped sides, observing that the grade would affect the ease of access to the lawn for pedestrians. Mr. Delcher responded that the slope varies in different locations; Ms. Meyer requested the vertical and horizontal dimensions and calculated a slope of approximately twenty to forty percent, which she noted is quite steep. Mr. Delcher noted that other parts of the topography would have much less slope, providing more convenient access across the site.
Mr. Delcher presented the proposed alterations to the nearby main entrance, indicating the non–original existing porte–cochere and the 2011 proposal. The current proposal is to place frameless glass onto the existing structure; the curved entrance facade would be retained. He also indicated a proposed small addition near the ballroom, replacing a 1970s addition that filled in a restaurant terrace and access stair from the original design; he said that the proposal would continue the facade rhythm.
Mr. Delcher presented the proposed privacy screens within the elongated balconies of the upper floors, describing the color–coded depiction of existing and altered locations in response to the reconfigured guest rooms. He noted that the original design included a varied pattern of balconies with no particular rhythm. He added that all of the building's windows, like the privacy screens, would be replaced. The sliding doors providing access to the balconies would generally be reinstalled at their existing locations, except where changes are needed in response to the new configuration of guest rooms; some sliding doors would be replaced by swing doors where necessitated by the room layouts.
Mr. Delcher presented the proposed signage, the final component of the submission; he said that the current proposal includes locations and general design of the signage. He noted that the hotel does not front directly onto Virginia Avenue but is reached through two driveway entrances—the southern driveway leading to the hotel's main entrance, and the northern driveway leading to the restaurant and ballroom entrance. He presented photographs of the original hotel signage at the southern driveway and a photomontage of the proposed spiral–shaped sign, which would replace an existing canopy. A directional sign at the northern driveway would describe access to the ballroom and hotel registration. He said that the material, not conveyed well in the rendering, would mimic the dark bronze color used throughout the Watergate complex including the hotel interior. Mr. Luebke noted that the Commission's 2011 concept approval excluded the signs, and the concept drawings are therefore incorrectly labeled as having been approved. Mr. Delcher clarified that the current signage submission could be treated as a concept proposal; Mr. Luebke said that the combination of concept and final design components in the submission may require an exception to the Commission's action, perhaps with the final design of the signs to be considered under delegated authority or on a future Shipstead–Luce Act appendix.
Ms. Meyer and Ms. Fernández expressed appreciation for the background on the Watergate's history and design, supplementing the familiar political history associated with the complex. Mr. Luebke noted that some letters from members of the public have been circulated to the Commission members; many of the issues cited are unrelated to the Commission's review, such as alcohol licensing. He also noted that a member of the audience may want to address the Commission.
Ms. Meyer recognized Cynthia Walker, a resident of one of the Watergate's apartment buildings. Ms. Walker noted that the hotel project has been underway for several years but the current submission document was only made available to her the previous day; although the changes have been discussed, the currently presented images are new to her. She addressed the initial question from the Commission concerning the character of the complex, describing it as a quiet residential area; the curved form of the buildings tends to protect the courtyard area from noise generated along the surrounding streets, and the building uses are generally far enough apart to maintain this quiet character. She said that the proposed terraces and associated grade changes would bring hotel activities much closer to the apartments, allowing people at the hotel to look into apartments and the swimming pool; she clarified that the pool is for residents only. She said that many of her building's residents are very elderly; 42 of the residents had objected to some aspects of the design, and 32 residents continue to support an official objection to aspects of the proposal unrelated to the Commission's review. She emphasized that the proposed major construction would be difficult to undo, exacerbating the problem of proposals such as new terraces; she said that these were not properly presented to the D.C. Zoning Commission, which has approved only interior modifications. She said that the proposals would change the appearance of its complex as well as its quiet courtyard character. Views to and from apartments would be affected, and the loss of privacy may raise security issues. She said that the construction noise would disturb her and the building's elderly residents, citing the construction already underway that begins at 7:00 a.m.
(Ms. Fernandez departed the meeting during Ms. Walker's remarks.)
Ms. Meyer said that she has not previously been asked to respond to the issue of a proposal to the Commission being inconsistent with local zoning. Mr. Luebke responded that this is not a concern for the Commission; Ms. Meyer said that the situation is nonetheless odd. Mr. Luebke added that the building's owner would likely have a different explanation of the zoning status, and the Commission is not in a position to evaluate conflicting views on this issue; he urged the Commission to focus on design issues and the development of the concept design that was reviewed in 2011. He summarized the proposed changes, most of which were part of the previous review. He clarified that the terrace on the north side of the hotel, which Ms. Walker has objected to, was part of the approved 2011 submission but is now proposed at a larger size, a substantial change to the design. He also noted that the signage had not been approved in 2011, and the Commission can treat it as a new proposal. Other new proposals involve relatively small additions and retaining walls, and the change from fencing to landscaping to provide privacy.
Mr. Krieger asked for clarification of the change to the north terrace design; Mr. Delcher indicated the expansion by three additional bays in the plan. Mr. Krieger asked about the relationship of this area to the nearby residential building; Mr. Delcher confirmed that the expansion of the terrace is as far as possible from the residential building while remaining within the hotel site. Mr. Cohen added that the terrace is 130 feet, at its closest, from the residential building, and he emphasized the extensive work with the neighbors over the past two years; he said that some residents are opposed to any sort of change, but the boards of the residential buildings have voted to approve this project multiple times. He noted that the recent negotiations with the neighbors have involved an agreement for a liquor license, allowing use of the restaurant terrace. Mr. Luebke reiterated that this issue is not the Commission's concern; Mr. Cohen clarified his comment as confirming that the terrace proposal, including its scale, is well known to the boards of the residential buildings.
Mr. Krieger commented that construction work is typically unpleasant for people living nearby, and he empathized with the concern of the residents and the difficulty of accepting change. He acknowledged the Commission's previous concept approval and addressed each of the proposed refinements and new design proposals. He said that the current design of the rooftop additions is clearly an improvement over the 2011 proposal; similarly, the north entrance canopy has been improved, aesthetically and functionally, by extending it across three bays instead of two. The proposals associated with the ballroom have also been improved, although he noted the relatively large impact of this proposal on the existing conditions; he said that the resulting landscape seems reasonably compatible with the current use of the courtyard as an outdoor gathering space, subject to clarifying the ease of access to the landscaped roof. He described the small proposed addition near the ballroom as minimal and acceptable, although its purpose is unclear. He also accepted the proposal for the privacy screens on the balconies. He questioned the unusual form of the large sign proposed along Virginia Avenue and suggested further discussion of this element. He confirmed his support for the north terrace addition, emphasizing its significant distance from the nearest residential building and its usefulness as part of the restaurant. He summarized his conclusion that the design has improved since the 2011 concept presentation. He acknowledged the concerns of the residents but said that impacts routinely occur as a result of change, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better. As a matter of design, he said that none of the proposed changes would be a substantial disruption to the original aesthetic character, and some improvement may result; he added that returning the hotel building to viable use would be an overall benefit to the Watergate complex.
Ms. Meyer agreed with Mr. Krieger's comments. She noted that the complex was a mixed–use project from its inception, and urban living includes accepting the proximity of other activities. She said that one component of the design should be developed further as the project moves to construction drawings: the landscape above the ballroom roof is not yet a strong design. She commented that the proposed planting plan does not work with the grading plan. She observed that the beauty of the Watergate complex is in its compelling biomorphic forms, while the proposed topography above the ballroom would be awkward and lumpy rather than elegant. She encouraged greater care in shaping the ground in this area, and with coordinating an appropriate planting plan, so that this feature is as good as the rest of the Watergate's site design. She acknowledged the careful work to develop the section of the ballroom, but emphasized the need for careful attention to create a special landscape. Mr. Krieger supported these concerns, suggesting further study of this area.
Mr. Luebke asked for further discussion of the signage proposal, noting the Commission's previous guidance to improve the character of the hotel entry routes. Ms. Meyer supported the proposed removal of the entrance canopy at Virginia Avenue. She said that the proposed sign at the southern driveway is difficult to evaluate from a photomontage alone, and should be compared to the scale of Virginia Avenue; the proposed design may be too small and too clever, apparently mimicking the shape of the Watergate buildings, and she suggested that the design be simpler. Mr. Krieger added that this proposed sign is not as elegant as the original sign, nor would it be a simple identification sign; he suggested further study, while not offering a specific design direction. Mr. Luebke asked if the signage should be presented after further revision or should be delegated to the staff for final approval; Ms. Meyer and Mr. Krieger supported delegating the approval to the staff.
Mr. Cohen asked for clarification of the comments on the proposed signage, including the general concept of using a metal frame with a patinated bronze finish as seen elsewhere in the Watergate complex. Mr. Krieger supported the proposed materials, clarifying that only the shape is problematic. Ms. Meyer added that the Watergate complex is a familiar location, and the swirls in the sign's shape would be an unnecessary feature; the purpose of the sign should simply be to direct people to the hotel's entrance. Mr. Krieger agreed. Mr. Cohen said that the intention is a more sculptural or iconic sign; Ms. Meyer said that this is not necessary, and the sign could be distinctive due to its materials rather than by emulating the unusual shape of the Watergate buildings. Mr. Krieger added that a sign may be perceived by some people as an icon, and by other people as a nuisance; the goal should instead be a sign that is clear to everyone.
Mr. Luebke summarized the concerns with the ballroom roof landscape and the signage, and support for the final design of the other submitted components of the project. He noted the lack of a quorum, requiring confirmation of any action at the next Commission meeting; he requested that the applicant coordinate with the D.C. government to allow time for the Commission's formal response in July. He also noted that the many components of the project would require careful staff review of the submitted drawings to assure conformance with the Commission's action. He confirmed a consensus for the Commission to delegate the approval of the final design to the staff, based on the guidance provided. He said that the staff confirmation of the design details, and perhaps review of the items requiring further revision, might occur before the Commission's July meeting and could be reported at that time; he confirmed that no further presentation of the project would be anticipated in July, unless requested by a Commission member or the staff. Mr. Krieger emphasized that the project team should be courteous to nearby residents and considerate in the scheduling of construction work, expressing confidence that this would be done.
H. National Capital Planning Commission
CFA 20/JUN/13– 7, Southwest Ecodistrict Initiative (Sustainable urban development plan for a 15–block precinct south of the National Mall between 12 and 4th Streets, SW). Concept designs for the 10th Street, SW Streetscape and Banneker Connection. Information presentation. (Previous: CFA 19/JUL/12–1, Information presentation on the development plan.) Mr. Simon said that the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) has been developing proposals for the blocks south of the Mall and the Smithsonian Castle, an area that is dominated by federal office buildings; this work builds on several studies conducted over the last twenty years. He noted that the current study, the Southwest Ecodistrict Initiative, was presented to the Commission a year ago; today's information presentation involves more detailed planning for 10th Street and Banneker Park. He introduced Diane Sullivan of NCPC and Otto Condon of ZGF Architects. Mr. Luebke noted that the comments would be provided by the remaining two Commission members.
Ms. Sullivan said that the Southwest Ecodistrict Plan was accepted by the NCPC in January. The current presentation includes important pieces of this project: preliminary concepts for the streetscape along 10th Street, also called the L'Enfant Promenade; and an interim connection from Banneker Park to Maine Avenue. The issues for 10th Street include determining the appropriate width for the right–of–way and developing initial design concepts for the streetscape. She noted the extensive planning and development activity underway in Southwest, including a project of the General Services Administration (GSA) to revitalize the area known as Federal Triangle South, encompassing 10th Street. NCPC is also coordinating with other parties involved in the area: JBG Companies, which has projects proposed at L'Enfant Plaza; the Smithsonian Institution; and the National Park Service (NPS), which manages Banneker Park. She said that the NPS is producing a cultural landscape report on Banneker Park that will have implications for writing a Determination of Eligibility for listing the site on the National Register of Historic Places. She said that 10th Street is being considered as an extension of the National Mall and as a corridor that would provide a park–like setting, rather than emphasizing its function as a typical street although it will still carry cars.
Ms. Sullivan noted that NCPC had already done extensive planning work concerning this area—the Extending the Legacy study, the National Capital Framework Plan, and the Ecodistrict project all discuss 10th Street, and the current study looks at the street in more detail. She added that partners on this project include the National Park Service and the D.C. Department of Transportation, and the project team has also worked closely with key stakeholders and with the Commission of Fine Arts. She said that the purpose is to define both constraints and an overall vision, and the result will be to develop a concept that will be brought to NCPC, the Southwest Ecodistrict Task Force, and to the Commission in the fall.
Ms. Sullivan described the three major objectives for this project: to establish the cross–section for 10th Street; to establish phases for the concept design; and to create an interim connection between Banneker Park and the waterfront, a project that has already been funded by P.N. Hoffman, the company redeveloping the waterfront, in conjunction with the D.C. zoning approval for this redevelopment. She said that NCPC would carry the 10th Street design through an initial phase, and then would work with the D.C. Department of Transportation to pursue funding for its implementation. She added that the project is being coordinated with GSA's Federal Triangle South project.
Mr. Condon said that a major factor in the design work has been considering the management of stormwater to improve the environment of 10th Street. He said that the Ecodistrict Plan already includes an analysis of the stormwater infrastructure and outlines a plan to retain 95 percent of rainfall. The water–related goals include reducing potable water use by 70 percent as well as reusing most stormwater. He anticipated that stormwater fees administered by the D.C. government could be used to help finance the planned improvements.
Mr. Condon presented concepts for the designing the street; the intention is to develop it as a continuous curbless environment that would be used for various types of programming as well as for managing stormwater, and it would be more green than it is now. He described the varying characteristics of the street: to the north, at the Department of Energy's Forrestal Building, it is at ground level; it then rises onto three bridges spanning Maryland Avenue and the Southwest Freeway; and it returns to a built–up earthen mound to the south at Banneker Park. He said that the D.C. Department of Transportation is studying how L'Enfant Plaza improvements can contribute to the development of the streetscape in this area.
Mr. Condon emphasized that the Ecodistrict Plan envisions 10th Street as a unifying connection between the Mall and the waterfront. With a length of approximately 2,000 feet, the street could be reinforced with episodic features. The varying grade could also be used to reinforce the design; the datum heights are approximately 52 feet at L'Enfant Plaza, 38 feet at Independence Avenue, and 48 feet at Banneker Park, then dropping down to 12 feet at Maine Avenue. He said that a "magnet" would be needed at Independence Avenue to draw people up 10th Street; the Maryland Avenue intersection could be developed as an important cultural node; the highest point of the street at L'Enfant Plaza may be a place for an urban plaza; and Banneker Park would provide a view over the Potomac River.
Mr. Condon said that this plan has a long time horizon of ten to twenty years. He emphasized the importance of creating excitement in this area, perhaps drawing from programming on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, for activities such as street festivals. He said that close consideration of how to incorporate programming might give inspiration for the final design. He described the studies of laying out actual events, such as the Solar Decathlon, within the 10th Street corridor. He added that parts of the bridge and some pavements and lights are currently being rehabilitated.
Mr. Condon discussed the issue of the street's width, which is currently 150 feet between property lines; the median is 39 feet wide, the roads are 25.5 feet wide, and the sidewalks 29 feet. A range of widths has been studied, beginning at 110 feet. He said that the intention is to retain the 150–foot width while potentially expanding the median to 52 feet wide, which has proven to be a useful dimension for programming. The resulting narrower cartway widths would still accommodate a travel lane and parking lane in each direction, and the sidewalks could accommodate a bicycle track as well as a 24–foot–wide pedestrian sidewalk. He said that the edges could be detailed to create a curbless ground plane.
Mr. Condon said that the landscaping options have been studied in conjunction with the structure of the bridge over Maryland Avenue and the freeway, investigating whether sufficient soil depth can be obtained to support a tree canopy that would create a rhythm down the street. He presented three strategies being considered for planting on the bridges: linear tree planters approximately five feet in width, limited to smaller trees; the horizontal plane of the street could be built up to support larger trees; or wells for large street trees could be built, requiring pits at least ten by ten feet and cutting out the middle part of the bridge to create a sufficiently deep soil well. He noted that this option could be combined with constructing a cistern below the street, and would probably be the best way to get larger trees at the middle of the street. He said that the treatment of stormwater is also being studied in relation to the tree wells and the effect on tree planting.
Mr. Condon outlined the three broad attitudes developed by the project team for conceptualizing the roadway: emphasizing hardscape, softscape, or water. The emphasis on hardscape would create a flush horizontal pavement across the corridor and would probably be the most flexible concept for programming; this approach could also include a tree canopy arranged as an allee of four trees across the median.
Mr. Condon said that the second approach, emphasizing softscape, would reinforce the corridor's continuity with the Mall and create more opportunities for passive recreation, with linear green spaces along the central median. He indicated the three areas that could be used for larger programmed events; one of the two roadways would be closed, and the other could occasionally be closed for programmed events.
Mr. Condon presented the third option emphasizing water as a feature, which would have some similarities to the second approach. The design would include various kinds of water features—passive, sculptured with landscape, and features with vertical elements. The openings among the trees would be opportunities to program different kinds of experiences. Architecture could help reinforce the continuity of the street and water features could identify special areas.
Mr. Condon said that Banneker Park would be used to create a connection with Maine Avenue located within a 100–foot–wide corridor of space between the overlook and the Southwest Waterfront development area. A temporary stair would be designed to encourage pedestrian access to the waterfront, would suggest other future improvements in the Ecodistrict. He said that the Wharf development approval includes $1.5 million to fund construction of this interim stair. He noted that the distance from the upper portion of the park to Maine Avenue is approximately 80 feet horizontally and 36 feet vertically. The corridor for the connection is aligned with Buckeye Drive in East Potomac Park across the Washington Channel. He described the current difficult pedestrian route in this area, and the various studies of how to fit stairs and a pedestrian ramp in this 100–foot–wide corridor; much of the space would be needed to accommodate the change in grade. The options include switchback stairs, which could be designed to create a series of experiences to reinforce views down to the waterfront while providing stopping points. Questions being considered are whether the stairs should be monumental in character, or be more naturalistic, and whether they could incorporate some image indicative of Washington. Other opportunities include integrating greenwalls and stormwater management into the connection, designing it for low maintenance, and incorporating historical signage and lighting demonstration projects using wind, LED, and solar, as a demonstration project underscoring the Ecodistrict goals.
Mr. Krieger opened the discussion by commenting that the project team has done very good work on a challenging project. Acknowledging a traditionalist viewpoint, he expressed regret that the alternatives for 10th Street had not been presented on the basis of what would make a good urban street, a goal that depends on the defining the street edge through architectural features such as doorways and storefronts. He suggested that the project team should be considering the basic issue of the nature of this street—should it be conceived of as a promenade, a boulevard, or an avenue? He said that a boulevard or avenue would suggest a wonderful, generally continuous tree canopy. A promenade, such as Las Ramblas in Barcelona, is defined less by trees and programmed activities, and more with continual and spontaneous activities. Alternatively, this corridor could be like New York's High Line, which is built on a viaduct. He said that addressing this typological definition would be an easier approach to the design work than the three concepts that were presented.
Mr. Krieger commented that the length of 10th Street, SW, is a long distance to walk in a city that already has plenty of long walks. He questioned whether a tourist family walking down the Mall from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial would want to turn left and walk another 2,000 feet. He suggested that this corridor might need canopies for shade, or a great arbor structure instead of trees; he acknowledged the many questions concerning the growth and viability of trees here, and the solution may therefore be another type of device to give shelter. He emphasized that other images of an urban corridor would be worth exploring. Mr. Condon responded that the design team had been considering 10th Street as a boulevard, and had even referred to Las Ramblas and the High Line. Mr. Krieger observed that this cannot be purely like either of those streets but should nonetheless move in a certain direction. Mr. Condon acknowledged that a sense of poetry for the street is not yet apparent, and that is why the three design approaches were not called "alternatives"—they instead provided more of a technical understanding of what could be done on the street, and the next step is to develop the concept for the street. Mr. Krieger emphasized that the street should have an identity as a special place.
Ms. Meyer supported Mr. Krieger's suggestions. She said that the project team's analysis can help in pushing the scenarios in different directions; she observed that the three approaches are now very similar, where changes such as pulling out a lawn or putting in water would not create any dramatic variation in the character of the project. She acknowledged the quirky situation with so much of the roadway on bridge structures. She said that the street is now defined by its relentlessness, and she advised them to study further its characteristics and the logic of its spatial modulation. If trees are to be used, she suggested not jamming them into a tightly spaced allee or bosque. She recommended considering a more inventive tree palette, working instead with clumps or groups which could be pushed in a more interesting direction; she discouraged basing the design on repetitive units in which the composition would be damaged if a tree dies.
Ms. Meyer said that another approach to the project is how to get the best microclimate, perhaps building a self–misting arbor and drawing people to the corridor as the shadiest space in the city—a "techno–nature" version. She emphasized the great potential of this street and recommended pushing the alternatives much further. Rather than imitating another space like the Mall or Las Ramblas, she recommended using the conditions of this street as a basis for the design—its spatial volume, or quirks in the structural system of the different bridges—that could influence the form of the plantings above. She acknowledged that this corridor would never have the continuous edge of buildings that typically makes a great urban street, and the landscape will therefore have to provide the identity for the street.
Mr. Krieger said that the project team should study these more conventional notions, understand what it would take to realize them, and then understand why they can never be achieved here and instead move in a different direction. Ms. Meyer agreed. Mr. Krieger observed that few streets anywhere are successful without having well–defined edges. He asked if this project could include consideration of edges which might be built in the future, emphasizing that in the long run, doors and entrances need to occur frequently along the edge of any great urban street. Ms. Meyer anticipated that new buildings would be most likely at the north end.
Mr. Condon responded that the Ecodistrict plans assumed that all of the edges will be built up to the 150–foot right–of–way, which may result in a more human scale for the street. He said that one– or two–story structures with civic and retail functions could start to frame the street; currently many buildings are set far back, which destroys the street environment. Mr. Krieger and Ms. Meyer agreed, and Mr. Krieger added that the recommendations for building frontages have to be just as firm as those concerning the actual streetscape.
Ms. Sullivan commented that the Federal Triangle South project is now underway, and it may determine whether the Forrestal Building will be razed; she anticipated the likelihood of new building frontages from Independence Avenue to Maryland Avenue. Ms. Meyer added that buildings may someday bracket Banneker Park. Ms. Sullivan noted the additional opportunity to build over the Southwest Freeway, which could also result in bracketing 10th Street.
Mr. Luebke asked the Commission members for any guidance on the potentially important role of this corridor in connecting the Mall to the Southwest Waterfront, where large–scale development is planned. Ms. Sullivan said that the waterfront development would include 3.2 million square feet of building area; Mr. Luebke added that the development would include several thousand housing units, and the waterfront is expected to become a destination within the city. He asked how the Commission would advise designing this corridor without making it relentless, such as by softening the geometry into something more biomorphic; alternatively, the street's centerline could be emphasized to support the view north to the Smithsonian Castle.
Ms. Meyer said that the situation is changed by the likelihood of a new building being constructed within the open space of L'Enfant Plaza. She said that if this plaza were to remain as open space, she could imagine creating a series of very different outdoor rooms along the 10th Street corridor. But with the planned building within L'Enfant Plaza, 10th Street would essentially be a linear space. She suggested the potential for an interesting way of treating the grade: not as something that remains the same along the length of the corridor, or a corridor that is composed of several different compartments, but making subtle changes along this gradual slope; the overall streetscape could be a field of objects and elements, with different ones more dominant at each end. The features could include trees and arbors or a series of light and dark elements. She recalled her first visit to Philadelphia's Race Street Pier—she did not know how to get there, but at a certain point she found the bridge which had a distinct gradient, as well as wonderful supergraphics text about the city, to help orient people to the transition between the city and the riverfront.
Mr. Krieger observed that the relentlessness of the existing corridor is a result of too much concrete and not enough shade or activity along the way. He advised turning this relentless quality into something positive—a continuity, whether of canopies, arbors, or something else that the designers would need to invent that reinforces and enlivens the street's length. He expressed doubt about the importance of a canopy of trees, questioning whether people walk the length of the Mall because of its trees, or whether one is more aware of the trees or facades along Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. He said that if trees on this street end up being unattractive—if they are not well–maintained or become diseased or die—the result may not be as interesting as from designing the street to be a compelling path. The question is therefore what that path could be; having considered traditional categories and dispensed with them because they aren't achievable here, the task is to invent something. He acknowledged that this advice might sound more poetic than useful, but such a design process might be transformative. He emphasized that all of the options presented rely too much on a canopy of trees to suggest continuity.
Ms. Meyer questioned the logic of developing two of the design approaches as hardscape and softscape, observing that plants do not seem "soft" to someone who runs into a tree. She also emphasized that other logics can be used for planting besides regular spacing and a single species, and some of the most interesting work in contemporary landscape design uses clumps of trees. She encouraged further study of the inventive work on ways to provide shade in the city, and on how to achieve regularity, without resorting to a composition that looks dated or needs replanting when plants inevitably die. She encouraged consideration of alternative ways to think about trees to get intense shade in some places, and lighter shade in others; to consider a repetition of irregular elements; or to consider developing a totally artificial type of arbor structure. She reiterated that 10th Street presents an amazing opportunity, both for its inherent qualities and because it could shake things up in the rest of the city by showing new paradigms.
Mr. Krieger observed another difficulty of the streetscape design: whether three routes to the waterfront— two sidewalks and a median—could realistically be supported by the pedestrian activity on 10th Street. He said that this could succeed in a large city like Shanghai, but Washington is not nearly as dense. While acknowledging the axial imperative in Washington, he suggested consideration of making one side more prominent than the other, instead of developing a symmetrical condition across a 150–foot–wide space; an asymmetrical street would be easier to fill with people than three parallel pedestrian routes of equal size. Ms. Meyer supported further study of this idea. Mr. Condon responded that the project team had considered an asymmetrical alignment and the creation of a grand open space; Mr. Krieger suggested revisiting that approach. Mr. Luebke noted the difficulty of deviating from the normal emphasis on axiality. Mr. Krieger observed the difference between geometric axiality and visual axiality, commenting that Washington tends to follow too simplified a version of axiality; he said that the axis of 10th Street will always be apparent, unless the entire street is shifted.
Ms. Meyer emphasized that the Commission members are trying to open possibilities for the project team. Mr. Condon welcomed these comments, describing the work to this point as laying a framework that now needs to be augmented by making the street into a place. Ms. Meyer commented that an understanding of the logic of the ground plane is necessary before moving toward further conceptual ideas.
Mr. Luebke asked the Commission members for comments about Banneker Park, noting that its future use is an open question—it may become a premier site for a cultural institution or memorial, or it may become a protected landscape although currently in poor condition. Regardless, he said that some connection should be made with the waterfront. Mr. Krieger questioned whether the solution would actually be temporary. Mr. Condon said that the illustrated scheme is currently a placeholder; the 100–foot width of the site is still being studied, and the possibility of a straighter staircase is also being considered. Mr. Krieger suggested staying with a simpler design if it is to be temporary; he suggested that the staircase could be designed to have places where a pedestrian is on axis momentarily, moves off to the side, and then returns to the axis, rather than just being linear. Ms. Sullivan acknowledged that "temporary" in this case may be a long time. Mr. Krieger asked about a barrier–free route; Mr. Condon responded that the intention is to enhance the existing asphalt path as an accessible route. Mr. Krieger asked if the goal is for the ramp and stair to be together; Mr. Condon said this is the current concept, although another possibility being considered is whether they can go somewhat outside the defined corridor rather than jamming it all in to the defined width. Mr. Luebke said that most of the proposed elements would fit within this defined area, using a switchback configuration in some places. Mr. Condon clarified that the existing ramp shown on the drawings is an eight–foot–wide connection to the bridge over the Washington Channel and is primarily designed for bicyclists. He noted that the proposed connection would need to be carefully aligned with existing pedestrian connections and crosswalks.
Ms. Meyer anticipated that this staircase and ramp could become a popular leisure destination. She suggested not placing it in the long–term spatial corridor linking the park and waterfront, but instead placing it slightly further north where it would be seen sooner by someone walking south on 10th Street. This would also allow a little more space to design these features in an attractive manner rather than trying to jam them features into the defined corridor that is close to the busy road.
Ms. Meyer said that the Commission looks forward to seeing a future submission of this project. Mr. Luebke said that the staff would prepare a letter conveying the comments.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 4:17 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Last Modified: July 19, 2013