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Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts

16 May 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 10:05 a.m.

Members present:
Hon. Earl A. Powell, Chairman
Hon. Elizabeth Plater–Zyberk, Vice Chairman
Hon. Teresita Fernández
Hon. Philip Freelon
Hon. Alex Krieger
Hon. Elizabeth Meyer
Hon. Edwin Schlossberg

Staff present:
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Frederick J. Lindstrom, Assistant Secretary
Eve Barsoum
Sarah Batcheler
Kay Fanning
Jose Martínez
Susan Raposa
Tony Simon

I. Administration

A. Approval of the minutes of the 18 April meeting. Mr. Luebke reported that the draft minutes of the April meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. He noted that a sentence fragment on page 7 of the draft would be deleted. Upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg with second by Mr. Freelon, the Commission approved the minutes with the correction noted. Mr. Luebke said that the minutes will be made available on the Commission's website.

B. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings: 20 June, 18 July, and 19 September 2013; he noted that no meeting is scheduled during August.

Mr. Luebke described two conflicts with upcoming meeting dates and submission deadlines. As previously adopted, the July meeting of the Old Georgetown Board is scheduled for 3 July, due to the federal holiday on 4 July; the submission deadline for the Commission's July agenda is also shifted to 3 July. The adopted 5 September meeting date of the Old Georgetown Board conflicts with the Rosh Hashanah holiday, and he asked the Commission to revise this meeting date to 4 September; upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg, the Commission adopted this revision to the September schedule.

C. Anniversary of the establishment of the Commission of Fine Arts, 17 May 1910, and the Shipstead–Luce Act, 16 May 1930. Mr. Luebke reported on the Commission's two historical anniversaries falling in May: the 103rd anniversary of the Commission's establishment in 1910, and the 83rd anniversary of the Shipstead–Luce Act of 1930.

D. Report on the Charles Atherton Memorial Lecture of 15 May 2013. Mr. Luebke reported on his public presentation of the Charles Atherton Memorial Lecture the previous evening at the National Building Museum. The presentation covered the Commission's history and summarized the recently published book, Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. He noted that the publication and lecture mark the conclusion of the special projects undertaken for the Commission's centennial. Chairman Powell expressed the Commission's appreciation for Mr. Luebke's work on the book, describing it as an extraordinary effort; Ms. Plater–Zyberk added that the book is beautiful. Mr. Luebke noted the contributions of the staff over a four–year period in completing the project.

E. Report on the 2013 National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs Program. Mr. Luebke reported on the federal grants program administered by the Commission; it began in the 1980s and supports Washington arts organizations. This year's applicants include 22 organizations; all are previous grant recipients, and therefore the program's special review panel will likely not be needed to evaluate their eligibility. He noted that a few organizations have left the program in recent years. He said that the appropriated budget is under $2 million, resulting in a median grant of approximately $70,000; he compared this to funding in past years which had peaked near $10 million. Chairman Powell asked if next year's federal budget proposes to maintain the current funding level. Mr. Luebke responded that the proposed budget shows no funding, consistent with budget proposals in recent years; the funding has typically been restored during the legislative process, although the amount has varied widely.

F. Report on the approval last month of two objects for acquisition by the Freer Gallery of Art. Mr. Luebke reported the Chairman's previous approval of two artworks that the Smithsonian Institution was considering for purchase at auction for the permanent collection of the Freer Gallery of Art, in accordance with the requirements of Charles Freer's will. The artworks, both Iranian, included a 16th–century tinted drawing and a 19th–century painting. He said that the Smithsonian subsequently decided not to pursue the purchases due to questions of provenance.

II. Submissions and Reviews

A. Appendices

Mr. Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting.

Appendix I – Direct Submission Consent Calendar: Mr. Lindstrom said that there were no changes to the draft appendix. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Plater–Zyberk, the Commission approved the Direct Submission Consent Calendar.

Appendix II – Shipstead–Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported that the changes to the draft appendix were limited to minor wording adjustments and notations of dates for receipt of supplemental materials. Upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg with second by Ms. Plater–Zyberk, the Commission approved the revised appendix.

Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martínez reported several changes to the draft appendix. The recommendations for two projects (case numbers OG 13–112 and 13–160) were changed to favorable based on the receipt of supplemental materials. The wording for another recommendation (OG 13–144) has been revised. One case was removed at the request of the applicant and will be revised for further review by the Old Georgetown Board. One project has been added that was recently submitted for review in June; it is not visible from public space, and therefore does not require review by the Commission. Other recommendations have been updated to note the receipt of supplemental drawings. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell, the Commission approved the revised appendix.

Chairman Powell noted that this month's Shipstead–Luce Act appendix has fewer cases than usual. Mr. Luebke said that the number of Old Georgetown Act cases has nonetheless been high, with the most recent meeting of the Old Georgetown Board extending past 7 p.m.; he cited the hard work of the Old Georgetown Board members and the staff in handling this caseload.

B. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

CFA 16/MAY/13–1, Union Station Metro Station, First Street, NE. Enlarged entranceway with new ramp, stair, and canopy. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposed concept for alterations to the north entrance of the Union Station Metro station along First Street, NE. He described the current north entrance as a small portal in the historic "Burnham wall" that extends along the west side of Union Station along First Street. The proposal includes reconfiguration of the portal and the interior layout of the station entrance to improve the passenger circulation pattern; he noted that the location is currently very congested. He asked Ivo Karadimov, managing architect at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), to begin the presentation; Mr. Karadimov introduced architect William Gallagher of KGP Design Studio to present the proposal.

Mr. Gallagher described the multiple jurisdictions affected by the WMATA proposal. The street and sidewalk are controlled by the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT); the exterior stone wall is controlled by the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation; and the space above is controlled by Amtrak. He indicated the context of the historic Union Station building, which has a primary entrance on the south and multiple secondary entrances; the Metro entrance on First Street, in addition to providing access to Metro, also provides one of the few pedestrian connections between Union Station and areas to the north and west. With extensive development of this neighborhood in recent years, the First Street entrance has become increasingly congested. He also noted the bicycle trail that extends along First Street and reaches the bicycle station structure at the west portico of Union Station, the termination of a route that extends to Silver Spring. He noted that DDOT plans to change First Street to one–way traffic adjacent to the entrance, with a narrower cartway that will allow for a wider sidewalk to accommodate pedestrians.

Mr. Gallagher indicated the existing entrance, a relatively modest opening in the Burnham wall with minimal signage; inside the Metro station, a ramp connects the opening to the station's mezzanine level. Various other openings in the Burnham Wall accommodate functions such as louvers. A modern enclosed bridge across First Street connects Union Station to the former City Post Office; the bridge is now used only for storage and utilities. He added that this bridge replaced an earlier bridge that matched the architectural style of Union Station, and many of the features in this area were rebuilt during construction of the Metro station and the parking structure above. The Burnham wall is now configured as a stone veneer at this location; the WMATA–owned concrete wall behind supports the structures above. He noted that the details of the wall were altered when it was rebuilt, such as the introduction of quarter–circular jambs.

Mr. Gallagher presented the proposed modifications to the entrance. Two new openings would be cut into the wall, repeating the eight–foot width of the existing opening; the resulting group of three openings would be partially infilled with glass panels, resulting in increased light and air for the interior mezzanine. A wider opening would be introduced further north to serve as the pedestrian entrance to the Metro station and Union Station; a ramp and stairs would be introduced within the sidewalk space, eliminating the need for the ramp inside the Metro station. A canopy along the Burnham wall is proposed to provide rain protection to the ramp and stairs, also providing a more prominent visual marker of the entrance. He said that the canopy design has been studied carefully, and a curved form is proposed that would relate to the arches at other entrances to Union Station.

Mr. Gallagher presented the plan of the proposed modifications, indicating the proposed improvement to the circulation pattern for pedestrians within the constricted mezzanine area. By removing the ramp inside the station, space would be available for additional fare gates. The fare vending machines would be shifted slightly into an existing mechanical space adjacent to their current location, providing some additional queuing space to reduce congestion at the foot of the escalators leading up to Union Station. He added that other future improvements may be implemented as part of Amtrak's master plan for its Union Station operations. The planned sidewalk width is fifteen feet; the ramp and stairs would occupy approximately eight feet of this width, and he noted that most pedestrians along this sidewalk are using the Metro station entrance. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked about the existing width; Mr. Gallagher responded that it is slightly under fourteen feet and would be widened by approximately 1.5 feet.

Mr. Gallagher presented several precedents for the proposed canopy design: recently constructed outdoor Metro stations, which use plate steel fins to support the canopies; the nearby bicycle station at Union Station, with a curved form; and the entrance canopies for office buildings in central Washington. He described the design goal of having a dynamic character while relating to Union Station and its many design features. The canopy structure would be steel fins connected by tension rods that would reduce the necessary structural size of the steel. He indicated the low point within the curve above the proposed entrance, where water would drain through a downspout located within the jamb. The canopy panels would be fritted glass to provide moderate shade and mask the buildup of dirt. He described the proposed signage and the details of glass railings and granite walls. He described the numerous alternatives that were studied, emphasizing the constraints of handling drainage, minimizing maintenance, and avoiding alterations to the Burnham wall. Two options for lighting are being considered: uplighting along the Burnham wall, which is typical for Metro stations but may not be satisfactory in this historic context; and LED fixtures along the canopy which would cause the fritted glass to glow at night.

Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked about the concrete wall above the Metro station entrance. Mr. Gallagher responded that it is part of the parapet for the vehicular ramp of the parking garage; it is not affected by the current project but may eventually change as part of Amtrak's master plan. Mr. Freelon commented that people would probably not discern the intended relationship of the canopy's curved form to other curved architectural features of Union Station. He also observed that the canopy's shape would channel water to a location directly above the station's entrance point, creating a potential problem for pedestrians if the water drainage becomes obstructed. He added that the proposed gap between the canopy and the existing Burnham wall would allow for water to drip down the face of the wall, which may be an additional problem for pedestrians at the entrance. Mr. Gallagher responded that the detailing above the entrance may be able to address the problem of water moving through the gap; Mr. Freelon recommended further study of this issue. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the water could be collected as part of the design for the lintel above the proposed entrance opening; Mr. Freelon said that this is not shown in the current proposal. Mr. Gallagher added that a second drain could be provided to improve the reliability of the system.

Mr. Schlossberg asked if the wind conditions have been studied; Mr. Gallagher responded that wind was studied as part of the structural analysis. Mr. Schlossberg said that areas around Union Station tend to be windy, and the proposed canopy design may exacerbate the problem of downdrafts; he suggested consideration of reversing the proposed direction of curvature. He also observed that the canopy dimensions may not be sufficient to provide protection for the ramp and stairs. He raised the aesthetic concern of the lack of relationship between the canopy design and the existing Burnham wall; he described the proposal as aesthetically unsuccessful and suggested consideration of a simpler canopy extending from the wall as typically seen on train platforms. He observed that strong angled canopies with straight edges are often used in the vicinity of massive stone walls.

Mr. Schlossberg acknowledged the design intent to improve the public awareness of this entrance but said that the proposed graphics would not be sufficient; he suggested a sign perpendicular to the Burnham wall so that the entrance would be readily visible to people moving along the sidewalk. Mr. Gallagher responded that the signage for Metro station entrances is typically minimal, and the recent system of escalator canopies is now the strongest visual symbol; the proposed canopy, while not identical to others in the Metro system, is intended to convey a similar character. He added that a straight canopy configuration was considered but resulted in problems with drainage and attaching the canopy to the Burnham wall.

Ms. Fernández disagreed with the design logic that a curved canopy is appropriate because other curves exist at Union Station; she said that the design connection must be stronger. She observed that other curves at Union Station are symmetrical, while the proposed canopy would have a strange tapered curve that clashes with the curved features in the context. She noted that the presentation had cited the curves at the main entrance facade of Union Station, which has symmetrical arches; and the bicycle station, which she characterized as an independent structure rather than a part of the building. She emphasized that the canopy should be understood as part of the building, and described the proposed form as a gratuitous design gesture that has a currently trendy appearance rather than a timeless character. She summarized that the mixture of design vocabularies is confusing.

Mr. Gallagher responded that the proposed shape results from the goal of placing the deepest part of the canopy above the entrance, which is not symmetrically located within the overall configuration of the stairs and ramp. Ms. Fernández asked about the protection at the southernmost opening in the Burnham wall; Mr. Gallagher clarified that this existing entrance would no longer be used by pedestrians. Mr. Karadimov acknowledged that a traditional canopy design would be symmetrical, but he emphasized the unusual configuration of this entrance: pedestrians would approach the entrance only from the sides, using the ramp or stairs, rather than frontally, and a symmetrical shape would not be appropriate for this asymmetrical entrance configuration. He added that the proposed shape is dynamic and would invite customers to flow into the station from both directions along the sidewalk.

Mr. Krieger offered support for the proposal, commenting that it would be a dramatic improvement on the poor existing condition. He agreed with Mr. Gallagher that the purpose of the canopy, aside from providing weather protection, is to project outward to provide an interesting marker for the entrance when seen by people approaching along the sidewalk. He also agreed with the other Commission members that the canopy does not relate to other curved shapes of Union Station, and said that the presentation should not have included this claim; but he emphasized that the canopy is nonetheless an interesting shape that relates to the entrance and the associated stairs and ramp. He observed that canopies are not necessarily symmetrical, and this design responds to the asymmetrical configuration of the stairs and ramp. He added that the most awkward issue with the canopy is its relationship to the adjacent bridge over First Street. Mr. Gallagher acknowledged this concern and said that changes to the bridge are beyond the project scope, adding that it may eventually be removed. Mr. Krieger emphasized that some improved design relationship should be pursued to address this awkwardness. He added that one of his initial concerns had been the adequacy of the sidewalk width remaining for pedestrians adjacent to the stairs and ramp, but this was addressed by the explanation in the presentation that the major flow of pedestrians is to and from the entrance rather than continuous movement along First Street. He said that the proposed tapering of the canopy may result in insufficient protection of pedestrians at the far ends of the stairs and ramp, but this issue could be addressed through adjustment of the proportions rather than reinventing the overall shape.

Ms. Plater–Zyberk recommended considering the canopy design issues in relation to the larger context. She acknowledged the range of different design vocabularies in the nearby existing openings and supported the design strategy of introducing a new form rather than choosing one of the existing forms as a precedent. She suggested extending the canopy to continue beneath the existing bridge, which would help to draw together these elements while also improving the extent of weather protection; Mr. Krieger agreed. Ms. Plater–Zyberk also recommended that the canopy address the nearby trabeated openings of smooth granite, serving to make more sense of the complicated context. She said that the design of the stairs should be more graceful and garden–like, perhaps including a landing, rather than giving it the character of emergency egress stairs; she acknowledged the problem of the narrow remaining sidewalk width but said that an attractive configuration of stairs and ramp could invite pedestrians to use this route even if they are not using the Metro station entrance. She suggested expanding the area depicted in the renderings to provide a better sense of how the proposal would relate to the context. Mr. Gallagher responded that a closer relationship to the context was considered: rusticated stone was initially designed for the retaining wall along the ramp, but this repetition of the Burnham wall was discouraged in early historic preservation consultations, and the proposal is therefore to use granite that is finished to match other granite nearby.

Ms. Meyer said that these localized design gestures fail to address the larger issue of responding to the overall scale of the street and the length of the elevation along the side of Union Station; she said that the design decisions are being made on the basis of a contextual analysis that is too small. She said that the problem is apparent in the intention to relate the canopy to the bicycle station, which is a much larger structure; the disparity of scale makes the gesture confusing. She agreed with Ms. Plater–Zyberk that the stairs are too steep and should be spread out, and said that the overall relationship of the stairs and ramp to the canopy above has not been addressed, a problem that is apparent on the elevation drawing. She recommended lengthening both the canopy and the stairs, with the goal of a more generous and elegant entrance composition that succeeds as an urban gesture. She added that the existing condition is problematic; the proposed solution, as depicted in plan, makes sense and would improve the situation greatly.

Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested that the ramp could be lengthened. Mr. Gallagher responded that the nearby loading dock for Union Station is a constraint; Mr. Luebke noted that ample room is nonetheless available for lengthening the ramp. Mr. Krieger observed that the grade is rising to the south, and lengthening the ramp may allow it to be flat; Ms. Plater–Zyberk agreed that the ramp could instead be treated as a continuation of the sidewalk.

Chairman Powell summarized the range of comments provided by the Commission members, describing the project as an interesting proposal. He encouraged the direction of the design and said that the Commission looks forward to seeing its further development. The discussion concluded without a formal action.

(Mr. Freelon recused himself from the discussion of the following agenda item and left the room after the presentation.)

C. District of Columbia Public Library

CFA 16/MAY/13–2, Woodridge Neighborhood Library, 1801 Hamlin Street, NE (at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue and 18th Street). New replacement building. Final. (Previous: CFA 15/NOV/12–3.) Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposed final design for a new Woodridge Neighborhood Library building, noting that the Commission had approved the concept proposal with several recommendations in November 2012. He asked Ginnie Cooper, chief librarian of the D.C. Public Library (DCPL), to begin the presentation.

Ms. Cooper expressed her appreciation for the Commission's past comments on DCPL proposals and for Mr. Luebke's supportive remarks in the previous evening's Atherton lecture on the quality of the new public library designs developed under the sponsorship of DCPL. She noted that the rebuilt Woodridge Library would occupy the same site as the existing library, located adjacent to a major thoroughfare in a residential and commercial neighborhood near the D.C. border with Maryland. She added that the large park south of the library site, Langdon Park, may soon be renamed for Chuck Brown, the late hip–hop musician. She said that the proposed final design responds to the Commission's previous comments and to suggestions given in four community meetings. She introduced architects Ling Meng and Brian Ackerman of Bing Thom Architects to present the design.

Mr. Meng discussed the project team's exploration of how the library could relate to its neighborhood. He indicated the major arterial roads defining the site, including Rhode Island Avenue and 18th Street which intersect in front of the library, along with bus stops and community facilities. The many angled roads were seen as representing lines of energy, providing inspiration for activating the square box of the proposed library. He said that the building would be highly visible due to the site's elevation. He described the design goals: the library should be iconic, contemporary, inviting to the neighborhood, and flexible in layout to accommodate the needs of different groups of patrons.

Mr. Ackerman presented the proposed organization of the building. The site slopes down approximately ten feet from the front to the alley in the rear; all mechanical service areas would be located in a partial lower level along the alley. The main entrance would be placed at the northwest corner of the first floor, as it is in the existing building. He described the intention of creating a dynamic interior space that would give visitors the sense of entering "a different special world" when they arrive and that would draw them to the large south–facing glazed wall with expansive views of the park. The adjustments to the concept design include the addition or relocation of program spaces, and the reorganization of the first–floor meeting room area in response to community concerns. He noted the programmatic requirement for after–hours access to the meeting room; the secondary entrance has been shifted further north along the east side of the library to be closer to the street. He indicated the revised children's area on the first floor and the teen and adult areas on the second floor. Narrow slot windows have been introduced to some of the staff and public spaces, allowing more views into and out of the building in response to community concerns. Computer stations on the second floor would be placed around the large opening to the main level. The partial third floor has been revised significantly: the reading lounge was previously designed to float above the second floor, but is now reconfigured around an oculus that opens to the levels below. The adjacent gathering space would accommodate a variety of seating arrangements. The roof at the third floor would include an exterior terrace with additional seating and a green roof. Light from the oculus would filter down into all the spaces; additional natural light would be provided by skylights set against the walls of the second–floor stacks.

Mr. Ackerman said that although the original intention was to build the library of poured–in–place concrete, for reasons of cost and construction, the current proposal is for a steel–framed building with precast concrete panels. Mr. Meng presented the exterior design in greater detail. The walls would be battered; the precast panels would be eight feet wide, with shallow twelve–inch–wide sandblasted recesses at certain joints to accommodate the slot windows and to give the paneling a more random appearance. He emphasized that the slot windows would break up the solid exterior walls while supplementing the interior daylight provided by the larger window openings. Color would be introduced in the recesses adjacent to window openings, and would be reflected on the soffits of these recesses and on the sidewalks; he said that the community has expressed a preference for an orange color. All exterior doors would be grouped into recesses; there would not be any doors in the battered walls. The corners of the building would be rounded to make the library appear more inviting, and a cafe and community bulletin board would be located just inside the entrance. He said that the canopy above the third floor, which previously had covered the entire building, has been reduced to a relatively narrow band above the perimeter of the roof in order to reduce cost and create a greater feeling of lightness. At night, the canopy would reflect light so that the building will serve as a beacon within the community.

Ms. Meyer asked for clarification of the site design at the east side of the building where the after–hours entrance has been moved closer to Hamlin Street; she noted the steps and terracing in the plan but said that their relationship to the property line of the adjacent house is unclear. Mr. Ackerman responded that the recessed area at the north end of the east facade would contain a grouping of doors for the staff service entrance, the egress stair, and the public meeting room. A fence would prevent people from entering the side yard of the adjacent house. Ms. Meyer observed that the site plan in the presentation differs from the plan in the submission booklet; Mr. Ackerman responded that the plan only shows some trees along the side of the building, but the design will also include a garden with small stepped terrace walls. Ms. Meyer asked if the site treatment would be sloped or stepped; Mr. Ackerman said that a planted area would be located in the north, with a small retaining wall that would step down with the grade. Ms. Meyer asked about the heights of the planned terraces relative to the grade of the house's back yard. Mr. Ackerman responded that the entrance area near Hamlin Street would be flat, and then the ten–foot drop to the south would be accommodated with terracing and the rear retaining wall.

Mr. Krieger said that he had not seen the initial presentation of this project and is "slightly shocked" by the proposal. The stated intention is to create an inviting library, but the design references are to fortifications: battered walls and slot windows, elements that are associated with east Asian castles or Mayan temples. He commented that the use of 12–inch–wide slot windows in staff areas does not seem humane nor inviting, and the library's appearance would evoke defensiveness instead of openness. He acknowledged the formal appeal of combining blank walls and large openings but said that the resulting library is extremely forbidding.

Mr. Ackerman responded that Mr. Thom's original conception was the image of a fort on a hill: a solid, massive, permanent building anchoring this corner of the park and surmounted by a light canopy. The challenge was how to open the building and make it inviting, and the design therefore includes color and large openings. He said that Mr. Thom's design style includes a preference not to reveal the entire design immediately but to develop a gradual sequence of approach. On entering this library, a visitor would see the expanse of space, the large glass wall to the south, and the third–floor reading lounge—features designed to draw people deeper into the building.

Mr. Krieger questioned why the design does not emphasize the image of a beacon on the hill, or of a garden or terrace for a public library instead of a blank–walled fortress. He recommended further consideration of the impression that the library's image would make on the thousands of drivers and pedestrians who will pass it every day, emphasizing that a building in a very public setting needs to be about more than its interior sequence—it has a responsibility to the wider public that may never enter the building. He said that a library connotes openness, education, and freedom of movement, while a fortress implies very different associations; he suggested abandoning the fortress image entirely.

Mr. Schlossberg agreed with Mr. Krieger's concerns. He recalled being impressed in the previous presentation by the way Mr. Thom employed the fortress form but lifted up its roof to evoke openness; in the current design, the canopy structure has been greatly lightened and the concept has begun to unravel. In the previous design, the continuous curved window wall on the third floor made the roof appear to float: the lighter roof composition now calls attention to the fortress–like aspect of the building rather than creating a glowing lantern. He said that the previous design gave the sense that light would penetrate the building's surface in several different ways, through small openings as well as large, uniting interior and exterior and making the building appear more like a lantern than a solid object. Mr. Ackerman responded that the design now has more openings than before; Mr. Schlossberg said that more may not be better, and breaking up the walls with additional small openings may be preferable.

Ms. Fernández expressed concerned about the proportions of the proposed slot windows: in trying to picture how a head would relate to the twelve–inch width, she realized that the openings would suggest the image of a prison. Mr. Schlossberg agreed. Ms. Fernández said that enlarging such elements to the scale of a building would increase their resemblance to prison bars because of the verticality. She added that she would not want to look out of those windows, which from the outside would appear as such small, meager gestures that they would not even read as openings. Mr. Ackerman responded that the design team has struggled with how to use the precast panels appropriately to avoid a monotonous appearance. Mr. Powell agreed that the building's appearance should be lightened; he added that the tiny windows in the staff rooms would be difficult to see out of, and the question of adequate natural light is important.

Ms. Meyer commented that the issues of light and views in this proposal are problematic, and the solutions are not convincing. She recalled her concern in the previous review with the problem of south light and glare in the children's reading room, which she said has not been addressed. She emphasized that the large south window does not seem to have been designed for any reason other than to provide a magnificent view; it is not being considered in relation to the quality of the children's reading experience. She acknowledged that this problem might be addressed through the type of glass used, but said that a well–designed building would include careful consideration of the angle of the sun as it changes with the seasons; the presentation for this library shows the sun entering from only one angle, and she is not convinced about the relationship between daylight and the sculpting of the apertures on the south facade.

Ms. Meyer said that she also has no confidence in the site plan, reiterating the lack of correspondence among the drawings: the proposed grades and tree locations are unclear. She concluded that the design team does not seem to have a strong idea about how the ten–foot–grade would be accommodated. She recommended that the context be shown at a smaller scale to depict the impact of the project on its neighbors. She acknowledged being relatively new to the Commission and expressed discomfort with this proposal as a final submission. Mr. Luebke responded that the project team has not consulted with the staff since the previous presentation, and the submission lacks a coordinated set of drawings and material samples; although the proposal has been submitted as a final design, the staff would consider it to be a concept–level submission.

Ms. Plater–Zyberk expressed support for the remarks of the other Commission members. She said that even if the fortress concept is retained, more openings could be provided along the two street facades because so much of the building—particularly its tall, highly visible base—would sustain the fortress image. She noted that historic fortresses worldwide have been modified for new uses while retaining their character, and the design team could pursue this analogy further.

Chairman Powell concluded that the Commission members are not ready to approve the proposal and want to see a revised final design following consultation with staff about the numerous issues raised. He noted the consensus that the original concept was strong but has evolved into something more forbidding than expected. Mr. Luebke said that the staff would meet with the project team as soon as possible. The discussion concluded without a formal action.

(At this point, Mr. Freelon returned for the remainder of the meeting.)

D. D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development

CFA 16/MAY/13–3, Square 50 (Fire and Engine Company No. 1), 23rd and M Streets, NW. New mixed–use building with commercial space, residential units, and fire station. Final. (Previous: CFA 17 MAY/12– 5.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the proposed final design for a new ten–story mixed–use building on a site owned by the D.C. government at 23rd and M Streets, NW. She noted that the Commission had reviewed the initial concept proposal in October 2011 and approved a concept design in May 2012. She asked Benjamin Sonnet of EastBanc, the developer of the project, to begin the presentation. Mr. Sonnet said that the design has undergone only minor changes since the previous review, primarily changes in materials that are consistent with the Commission's recommendations. He introduced architect Chris Glass of TEN Arquitectos to present the design.

Mr. Glass summarized the program, which includes replacing an existing fire station on the site. He presented a massing diagram of the proposed building, illustrating a series of stacked boxes each containing a different use: the replacement fire station on the first and second floors, then a two–story commercial space that is intended to accommodate a squash and recreation club, and above this six levels of apartments with two penthouses. He said that the greatest change since the previous review has been in the entry to the firehouse. The roof plans have also been altered: the roof on top of the fourth floor, serving the squash club, had previously been articulated with a patterned surface of paving and landscaping, but is now proposed as primarily a green roof with a small wooden deck. A smaller green roof would be located on top of the firehouse volume, and a third roof space, tiled with high–albedo pavers, would be located above the residential volume. He indicated the relation of the multiple ground–floor entrances and lobbies, along with identification signage and potential locations for commercial signage.

Mr. Glass described the proposed materials; some changes have been made to limit the number of materials and to emphasize the different volumes. As previously presented, the residential volume would be wrapped in white fiber–cement panels. The ground level and the fourth floor would have aluminum curtainwalls. Aluminum louvers instead of perforated aluminum panels would screen mechanical equipment on the upper penthouse. The previous material suggested for the squash volume and the lower penthouse was perforated aluminum panels; this was changed to corrugated perforated panels because they can be applied with invisible seams, ensuring that these volumes will read as single elements. He said that the corrugation in combination with the perforation would also provide texture and depth. The panels on the squash and residential volumes would wrap beneath them and extend into the lobbies.

Mr. Glass presented the materials and facades of the fire station. The equipment bay doors along M Street would be faced with red perforated aluminum panels, and the perforations would be gradated to control the amount of visibility. Along 23rd Street, the primary facade of the fire station would be polished dark concrete blocks; the volume would project approximately one foot to emphasize its identity. This elevation had previously been proposed as primarily glass; however, the fire department wants to limit the visibility of interior activities from the street—a problem with the current building—and has therefore rejected the use of glass. The project team considered using back–painted or frosted glass, but concluded that these materials would have a deadening effect on the streetscape. He said that the CMU would give weight and identity to the fire station while providing textural interest along the street. Narrow frosted–glass windows would be used for some spaces such as conference rooms, offices, and the gymnasium. He added that the revision was also made in response to previous comments by Commission members concerning a sense of imbalance between the building's relatively solid top and open bottom.

Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked for further information on the proposal to use perforated panels. Mr. Glass responded that the perforations would provide a sense of depth; corrugation alone provides some depth, but perforation increases this effect because of the light reflection. He clarified that nothing would be visible behind the panels; they would serve to create visual interest as people walk by.

Mr. Glass presented the changes to the sidewalk landscaping design. The revisions are primarily in response to a request from the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) to meet the DDOT sidewalk standards and to add as much green space as possible; this has resulted in some additional planting areas and a straight rather than curved edge for the planting panel along the 23rd Street facade. A proposed street tree has also been moved to avoid blocking the sight lines from the fire equipment bays; he noted that the resulting planter configuration would help to define the entrances to the fire station and the commercial lobby.

Mr. Freelon congratulated the project team for skillfully blending the different programs and for improving an already successful design; Mr. Schlossberg agreed.

Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that a problem identified in the previous review remains unaddressed: the lowest level of apartments would be recessed beneath the upper volume and would therefore be in shade. She emphasized that a greater concern is the development of the 23rd Street elevation—it is now designed with so much blank wall space that it has become a hostile facade. She said that allowing views in and out does not necessarily require an entirely glass wall; ordinary windows can serve this purpose. She asked about the two rectangular areas depicted near the 23rd Street sidewalk; Mr. Glass responded that they are electrical vault covers that would be flush with the sidewalk and surrounded by planting to keep pedestrians away. Ms. Plater–Zyberk observed that the location of these vaults and associated landscaping would keep pedestrians at some distance from the fire station's facade, and therefore windows could be included to allow natural light into the work spaces without significant loss of privacy. She added that window blinds are available that allow light in and views out while blocking views to the interior. She said that an ability to see the street would be helpful for a fire station, and commented that this project and the preceding Woodridge Library proposal do not reflect contemporary understanding about the importance of being able to monitor public space from adjacent buildings: people's awareness that public space can be observed from inside is an important aspect of making the public realm seem comfortable and safe.

Ms. Plater–Zyberk also noted the lack of openings on the second floor of the fire station, commenting that the program for this level could be configured to allow fenestration and make this building more street–friendly; she observed that the apparent intention is instead to express the architectural volume. She recommended that at least the 23rd Street elevation at the lower levels be made more hospitable toward the street.

Mr. Glass responded that the D.C. fire department had specifically requested that this building have as much privacy as possible because the existing fire station's walls are frosted glass and the blinds are always kept closed. Ms. Plater–Zyberk emphasized that she has provided specific ideas on how privacy might be achieved; she reiterated that blinds are now made that allow people to see out while preventing people from seeing in, and the walls should include clear glass windows. She added that a building taking advantage of other modern technologies should take advantage of this feature.

Mr. Krieger agreed with Ms. Plater–Zyberk's comments. He noted that he had not seen the previous presentations of this project and expressed support for the design and the "ingenious program," commenting that the building would be a great asset to the neighborhood. However, he said that the formal intentions on the 23rd Street facade have superseded the goal of creating a pleasant urban experience. He acknowledged that some reduction in the extent of glass presented previously would be reasonable, although not reduced as severely as in the current proposal. He said that the selection of the black color may be more problematic for the comfort of pedestrians, especially with an unattractive facade material such as concrete block.

Mr. Glass provided a sample of the proposed concrete block and described its color as closer to gray than black. Mr. Krieger agreed that it is less black than he expected but said that the result would still be a tall, dark wall. Mr. Glass said that the proposed windows could be made of clear rather than frosted glass. He added that in the previous design the walls were not significantly more transparent than now proposed, and the previous proposal for back–painted glass would have been comparably solid and deadening; he acknowledged that pedestrians might assume that glass would allow for visibility from the interior.

Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested reassuring the fire department that the planted area against the 23rd Street facade would keep pedestrians at a distance from windows. Mr. Glass responded that the fire department's concern is more about visibility; the current design responds to the programmatic desire for a primarily opaque wall by proposing a material with texture and visual interest, rather than just back–painted glass. Mr. Krieger commented that the choice should not be limited to dark concrete block or back–painted glass, and he recommended consideration of other colors and textures; for a wall that is twenty feet high and a hundred feet long, concrete block may not appear animating but just dull and monotonous. He said that the design team has been ingenious with the other material selections and could find a better solution for this elevation.

Ms. Meyer expressed sympathy with the design team for having to comply with DDOT's requirements for the landscape design, characterizing the changes as inappropriate and anti–urban. She emphasized for the record her view that the site plan had become worse because of DDOT's guidelines; the original design had presented a stronger concept for how the ground plane, through the use of curved lines on the planting panels, could reinforce the entrances to the building. Chairman Powell agreed that the previous landscape design was better, offering the Commission's assistance in working further with DDOT. Leila Batties of the law firm Holland & Knight responded that the project team has discussed the public space improvements with DDOT at length, to no avail.

Chairman Powell summarized the consensus of the Commission members to support the proposal except the streetscape and fire station facade along 23rd Street. Mr. Luebke noted that an approval of the final design may need to be subject to further review of the exterior materials. Chairman Powell suggested delegating further review to the staff. Mr. Luebke advised the project team that a delegated approval would require revisions that are responsive to the Commission's comments; if the staff determines that the revisions are not sufficient, the project would need to come back to the Commission for further review.

Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Freelon, the Commission approved the proposal subject to the final resolution of the 23rd Street facade and landscape which is delegated to the staff. Mr. Luebke clarified that this would be a delegated action, not a conditional approval.

E. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

CFA 16/MAY/13–4, 1709 New York Avenue, NW, Office building. Installation of an outdoor sculpture by Emilie Brzezinski. Final. Ms. Fanning introduced the proposal for a bronze sculpture by artist Emilie Brzezinski, titled Arch in Flight, to be installed in front of a Federal Reserve Board office building at 1709 New York Avenue, NW. She asked David Furchgott of International Arts and Artists to present the project.

Mr. Furchgott said that the Federal Reserve Board's art program coordinator had consulted with him about possible artworks for this site, and he had recommended Ms. Brzezinski. He summarized her artistic background: Ms. Brzezinski has been a practicing sculptor for 40 years, with numerous exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad, and her pieces are included in many museum collections. She has worked in resin, latex, and wood, most recently executing monumental pieces in hewn wood which she then casts in permanent materials. He displayed a photomontage of Arch in Flight depicted in its intended location; it would be a single edition cast in bronze, approximately eleven feet high. He said that the proposed location is a site designated for an artwork within the building's streetscape design that had recently been approved by the Commission.

Ms. Meyer asked for more information about the building's location. Mr. Furchgott responded that it is on the north side of New York Avenue, on the same block as the American Institute of Architects headquarters and across from the north facade of the Corcoran Gallery of Art; he added that it is not readily identifiable as a Federal Reserve building. Ms. Meyer asked if the low wall depicted in front of the building is extant and if the sculpture would be placed behind it. Sonal Parikh of the Federal Reserve responded that the wall is an existing security feature of the approved streetscape project and surrounds a garden that is open to the public; the sculpture would be behind the wall but would be both visible and accessible.

Upon a motion by Ms. Plater–Zyberk with second by Ms. Fernández, the Commission approved the proposed sculpture.

F. D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities

CFA 16/MAY/13–5, Parkside, Grant, and Burnham Places, NE, newly constructed, unnamed park. Public art project for a water sculpture by Barton Rubenstein. Final. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposal for a sculpture in a public square at the center of the newly redeveloped Parkside neighborhood, located east of the Anacostia River and southwest of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. He described the neighborhood features including town houses, a senior center, and a school. He asked Keona Pearson, the public art coordinator at the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, to begin the presentation.

Ms. Pearson said that the proposed sculpture, titled Huddle Up, was recommended by an advisory panel in the grant process and has won community support; it will be a permanent feature of the one–acre park within the Parkside neighborhood. She emphasized the collaboration among the artist, landscape architect, developer, civil engineer, and community members. She described the project goal of creating a unique landmark that expresses the character, strength, vibrancy, and sustainability of the renewed neighborhood. She introduced sculptor Barton Rubenstein to present the proposal.

Mr. Rubenstein described the range of his past sculptures, with a focus on projects involving water and wind kinetics; he noted his earlier career as a scientist, with an engineering background that is important for designing water sculptures. He presented photographs of his outdoor works at the University of Connecticut, a California library, an Ohio sculpture park, and the D.C. Jewish Community Center. He summarized the exciting context of the Parkside neighborhood, with an entire small town being developed: multiple schools, medical clinics, retail space, residential buildings, and a bridge to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station, encompassing approximately one million square feet of development that replaces a previously distressed area. He said that the title Huddle Up is a reference to the Washington Redskins football team as well as the coming together of the community.

Mr. Rubenstein presented a plan of the park, noting that its design is still in progress and is subject to further fundraising. The sculpture would be set within a hardscape area with benches around. The sculpture would consist of three curved forms with heights of six, eight, and ten feet made of stainless steel with a brushed finish; water would flow over these elements. He emphasized his careful design to make the water operation self–cleaning and maintenance–free. The water would not be used during winter months, and he said that his water sculptures are intended to have aesthetic appeal even when the water is not present. He indicated the below–grade location of the water reservoir and pumps, and the ground surface paving of large stones.

Mr. Powell asked about the intended movement of the water; Mr. Rubenstein confirmed that it would sheet down along the stainless–steel surfaces, rather than splash and drip. Mr. Krieger asked about the water supply configuration. Mr. Rubenstein described the internal pipes that would bring water to upper basins, with a cap above each pipe to prevent a vertical water jet; the water would then flow over as a calm sheet. Mr. Freelon asked how the inwardly angled profile of the stainless steel forms would affect the water flow. Mr. Rubenstein responded that the physics would result in successful cohesion of the water to the steel, notwithstanding the angle; he noted that his past sculptures have included a steeper undercut. He clarified that dripping would occur occasionally, but generally the water would flow along the steel. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked about the numerous dots shown on the drawings along the steel surfaces; Mr. Rubenstein responded that they are geometric reference points for the computer drafting system, and confirmed that they are not water outlets.

Ms. Meyer noted that the overall design of the site remains unclear and asked how that would affect the Commission's review of the sculpture. Mr. Rubenstein responded that a site design has been established in the immediate vicinity of the sculpture, but the wider effort to create a sustainable park remains uncertain; he described the eventual goal of supplying the sculpture with rainwater collected within the park, eliminating the need to rely on the municipal water supply. Ms. Meyer observed that the presented site plan indicates a static, symmetrical plaza design, which may be inconsistent with the dynamic nature of the proposed sculpture; she said that the floral paving pattern appears to be competing with and unrelated to the sculpture's formal logic. Mr. Rubenstein agreed with this concern and clarified that the site details have not been completely resolved. Ms. Meyer reiterated her concern about the procedure for approving the sculpture but not the associated site plan. Mr. Luebke responded that the Commission could choose to approve only the sculpture and could offer recommendations about the adjacent paving pattern, such as a more dynamic design rather than the radially symmetric pattern that was illustrated. Mr. Rubenstein said that arcs rather than flower patterns may be desirable. Ms. Fernández asked if the illustrated paving design was established by other designers; Mr. Rubenstein said that it comes from a sketch provided by the landscape architect. Mr. Luebke asked for clarification of whether the paving pattern is intended as a placeholder or as an intended design; Mr. Rubenstein characterized it as a placeholder, emphasizing that fundraising is incomplete.

Chairman Powell expressed support for the proposed sculpture and summarized the consensus of the Commission to approve it, while noting that the site design is uncertain and recommending that Mr. Rubenstein and the landscape architect collaborate further in its development. Ms. Plater–Zyberk and Mr. Schlossberg clarified the goal of a more integrated design. Upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg with second by Mr. Powell, the Commission adopted this action.

There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 12:30 p.m.

Signed,

Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Secretary

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Last Modified: June 21, 2013