Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
16 January 2014
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 9:07 a.m. (The starting time of the meeting was published as 9:00 a.m., one hour earlier than usual, due to the anticipated length of the agenda.)
A. Approval of the minutes of the 21 November meeting. Mr. Luebke reported that the minutes of the November meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. The Commission approved the minutes upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Plater–Zyberk.
B. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings: 20 February, 20 March, and 17 April 2014.
C. Confirmation of the approval of the recommendations for the December 2013 Old Georgetown Act submissions. Mr. Luebke asked the Commission to take a formal vote to confirm the Old Georgetown Board recommendations that were circulated and endorsed in December, when no Commission meeting was held. Chairman Powell noted the consensus of the Commission to ratify its approval of these recommendations. (See agenda item II.A, Appendix III, for the January 2014 Old Georgetown Act submissions.)
D. Report on the Secretary's site inspections. Mr. Luebke reported two site inspections that he has made on behalf of the Commission since the prior meeting. On 5 December, he visited a testing facility in York, Pennsylvania, for an exterior mockup for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The mockup included the museum's corona and building enclosure with a demonstration of the exterior lighting. He noted the Commission's extensive previous discussions of the museum's facade, with the Smithsonian's response to be presented as part of agenda item II.C. On 13 January, he visited a foundry in Chester, Pennsylvania, to inspect mockup prototypes for the sculpture of the Memorial to the Victims of the Ukrainian Famine–Genocide of 1932–1933. The sculpture is a 25–foot–long bronze panel depicting wheat, shifting from high relief to a reverse image along the length of the panel. He said that technical issues remain to be resolved, as often happens with sculpture casting; the issues include improving the amount of detail and the legibility of the reverse image. He said that the sculpture would be refined in the coming months, and the memorial's dedication is scheduled for October 2014.
II. Submissions and Reviews
Mr. Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting.
Appendix I – Direct Submission Consent Calendar: Mr. Lindstrom said that the only change to the draft appendix is the addition of one project for the Phoebe Hearst Elementary School, which the Commission had approved as a concept in September 2012; the current proposal is the final submission for the first phase of construction, and staff has determined that it responds to the Commission's recommendations. He noted that the appendix also includes the report of a delegated approval. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Plater–Zyberk, the Commission approved the revised Direct Submission Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead–Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported two substantial updates to the draft appendix, in addition to minor notations of dates for receipt of supplemental information. The renovation proposal for 2224 F Street, NW, was removed to allow more time for developing the submission (case number SL 14–035); it will likely be placed on the February appendix. The unfavorable recommendation for a retail sign at 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, was changed to be favorable based on a revised submission (SL 14–038). She noted that the favorable recommendation for a restaurant entrance and canopy at 1299 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, is listed as subject to the receipt of further information, and she requested authorization for the staff to finalize this action (SL 14–041). She also noted that the proposed access ramp at the Folger Shakespeare Library has a favorable recommendation with the understanding that it will be temporary for approximately five years or perhaps less, and would not be satisfactory as a permanent installation; she said that the accessibility issues for the building will be addressed more thoroughly in an overall master plan that is currently being prepared. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission approved the revised appendix.
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martínez said that changes to the draft appendix were limited to minor corrections of typographical errors and dates. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Plater–Zyberk, the Commission approved the revised appendix. (See agenda item I.C for the December 2013 submissions of Old Georgetown Act cases.)
B. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
CFA 16/JAN/14–1, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW. Expansion project. Concept. (Previous: CFA 18/JUL/13–10, Information.) Mr. Luebke introduced the concept submission for the southward expansion of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He noted that the Commission had seen an information presentation on the proposal in July 2013; the Commission had supported the initiative with recommendations to study its connections with the city and the extended landscape of the Mall. He said that the concept has not changed greatly since the information presentation. He asked Claudette Donlon, the executive vice president of the Kennedy Center, to begin the presentation. Chairman Powell recused himself from the review of this project, noting that he is an ex officio trustee of the Kennedy Center; Mr. Luebke confirmed that he could remain in the room to view the presentation, while not taking part in the Commission's vote.
Ms. Donlon said that this project grew out of the Kennedy Center's pressing need for larger rehearsal rooms and new classrooms. The expansion is intended to complement the design of the existing building by Edward Durrell Stone, and it would unite the architecture with the surrounding landscape including the riverfront. She introduced Chris McVoy of Steven Holl Architects to present the design.
Mr. McVoy described the site extending from the south face of the Kennedy Center to the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway on the west and the highway approach to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge on the south; the site encompasses the Kennedy Center's recently constructed parking garage extension, a nondescript plaza, and a surface parking area for buses. He described the goals of the design: creating three pavilions in the landscape, each with its own program and character; uniting architecture and landscape; and creating a model of sustainable construction.
Mr. McVoy said that the three proposed pavilions–the entry pavilion, the "glissando" pavilion, and the river pavilion–would be situated to form relationships in space. The entry pavilion would face east toward the city while the glissando pavilion would turn toward the bridge, and they would frame a view from the south side of the Kennedy Center to the Lincoln Memorial. The river pavilion would be oriented to the river panoramas. The relatively small–scale pavilions are intended to mitigate the Kennedy Center's large mass and appear more inviting. Underground spaces beneath the pavilions and landscape would include rehearsal rooms, classrooms, offices, and a lecture hall. The surrounding landscape would extend the geometry of the pavilions, and in certain areas would be lifted up to create openings that would bring daylight to the underground spaces. The project would also create many new connections with existing bike and pedestrian trails; a proposed pedestrian bridge would connect the Kennedy Center grounds to the river pavilion and the existing recreational walk along the riverfront.
Mr. McVoy presented the three pavilions in more detail. Ms. Meyer noted inconsistencies between the drawing and model; Mr. McVoy clarified that the drawing is the most recent depiction of the design. Access to the entry pavilion would be from a vehicle drop–off area or from an upper–level terrace entrance. Projected images, such as screenings of live performances, could be displayed on the matte glass of the glissando pavilion; an aperture cut into the south facade of the Kennedy Center would accommodate the projection equipment, and audio equipment would be placed on the structures and a lawn area.
Mr. McVoy said that the landscape would step down gradually from the upper terrace to the river pavilion. He noted that a long access ramp to the river pavilion, seen in the previous presentation, has been removed from the design; instead, an elevator would be located in the pavilion and two shorter, lighter ramps would connect from the shoreline. He said that the river pavilion's large open deck would be used for passive recreation by visitors as well as for performances, and it would remain open during Kennedy Center hours, approximately 10 a.m. to midnight; a public bar or café would be located on top of the pavilion. He added that quotations from President Kennedy related to the sea would be etching into a translucent glass wall at the pavilion, extending the role of the Kennedy Center as a memorial. He said that the river pavilion's construction has been carefully studied to meet the concerns of agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service; the project team is working with a company that makes concrete–encased floating Styrofoam modules, strengthened with cables, that can be strung together to create a floating platform for a building. Methods of anchoring the platform are being studied that would accommodate changes in the river level.
Mr. McVoy said that the idea of a musical glissando–a sweeping series of notes–was used to shape the curving geometries of the pavilions and to join buildings with landscape. The pavilions would rise to a maximum height of 33 feet above the plaza level of the Kennedy Center; their exterior and interior surfaces would be washed by light in varying ways. He presented a rendering of the interior of the glissando pavilion, where a slot–shaped skylight at the juncture between wall and ceiling would allow a line of light to move through the space, changing with the time of day and the season. A combination of clear and translucent glass would modulate light and views into the building; the translucent glass would let the pavilions glow at night and generate reflections in the river. He said that night lighting may wash the exterior of the pavilions in a slightly cooler shade than used inside.
Mr. McVoy presented samples of the proposed palette of materials, which include marble, translucent glass, clear glass, landscape materials, and the water of the reflecting pools. The pavilions would be covered with slabs of gray–veined white Carrera marble, the stone used for the panels of the Kennedy Center; the slabs would have a honed finish and would be cut with modern digital techniques to achieve the complex curves meant to embody the idea of the glissando. Translucent "Ocalux" glass would be used in places, including on the glissando pavilion as the outdoor screen; he said that the glass would have the same color and matte finish as the marble, and would also resemble Japanese shoji screens.
Mr. McVoy noted that the landscape design, still in its early stages, would include a variety of intimate gardens that extend the idea of the Kennedy Center as a living memorial to President Kennedy. References to Kennedy's life would be incorporated into the gardens: a grove of 35 gingko trees, growing from a crushed gravel base, would allude to his serving as the 35th president; a grove would contain 46 rows of lavender or some similar plant, one for each year of his life; a mahogany deck would recall Kennedy's wartime service on the PT–109 boat in its size, shape, and material. The plants would mark changes in the seasons; for example, the gingko leaves would turn an intense yellow in the autumn, a counterpoint to Washington's pink spring cherry blossoms. The site would include two reflecting pools, one wilder and the other more naturalistic. He concluded by indicating the two groundwater geothermal wells that are proposed for heating and cooling.
Ms. Meyer commented that the connections between the riverfront and river pavilion appear more successful in the model than in the drawing. She asked about the size of the landscape; Ms. Donlon responded that the entire site is four acres, of which the garden would occupy approximately 2.5 acres; this area would be accessible to the public at all times. Mr. Freelon asked about the topography of the lawn in front of the projection screen wall; Mr. McVoy said that it would combine a flat lawn with a slope.
Ms. Meyer asked if consideration was given to the potential effect of planned improvements to the Roosevelt Bridge. Ms. Donlon responded that any proposals would be taken into consideration; but since the site ends at the abutment of the bridge approach road, any changes to the bridge would not affect this project. She added that the bosque of gingko trees would act as a buffer to the road. Ms. Meyer asked if the bridge might be widened; Ms. Donlon said she is unaware of any plans by the D.C. Department of Transportation for widening. Mr. Luebke asked if the project still includes a new bicycle connection; Ms. Donlon said that the existing bicycle and pedestrian walk connecting to the bridge would be maintained, and it may be possible to provide an additional connection.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented that the project had been thoroughly and beautifully presented. She asked why the roofs of the three pavilions would be flat. Mr. McVoy responded that the flat roofs would provide a calm horizon line, like the strong horizontals of the existing building, and in conjunction with the level landscape line would create a datum for the sculpted shapes of the pavilions.
Mr. Krieger said that the project promises to be spectacular, and the program seems impressive and well–resolved. He asked the current stage of developing the design; Mr. McVoy responded that schematic design has just been completed. Mr. Krieger commented that the architecture appears to be developed beyond the schematic stage, but the landscape has not yet reached this level. He observed that the presentation had been specific in the descriptions of buildings, materials, and their resultant qualities, but had used the general term "landscape" as if it were one thing as opposed to many. He said that the landscape needs to be more convincing and detailed. He asked Secretary Luebke whether the Commission members would be approving the landscape if they approved the concept; Mr. Luebke replied that approving a concept would typically mean approving the general scope of the entire design and its constituent parts, including their size, scale, and character.
Ms. Meyer said that the great promise of the project had been clear at the information presentation, but the Commission is currently seeing a number of projects that are receiving intermittent, ad hoc conceptual approvals–approving, for example, sculpture first and landscape later–and she questioned why this project is being submitted now. She said that while the pavilions are convincingly disposed and designed–citing the detailed analogy that was made between Carrera marble and a particular kind of glass–the landscape is only presented as a big chunk of material with no differentiation; she concluded that the submission contains inequity in the resolution of the architecture with the larger site. She expressed frustration as a matter of principle that the Commission is repeatedly asked to approve a concept submission on faith that the landscape design will be developed later. Mr. Krieger added that this issue is especially problematic with this submission because the project is primarily about the landscape.
Mr. McVoy responded that the landscape design is already precise: the proposal includes consideration of specific plants such as lavender, which they had discovered was not a good choice for this climate. Ms. Meyer said that this response proves her point. Mr. McVoy cited additional examples such as specific proposals for the grove of trees, the two reflecting pools, and the differentiation of spaces; he compared the design to a painting of plants, although specific choices and numbers might change. He said that the presentation of the landscape may have been too sketchy, but the sense of disparity may also result from the architecture being developed beyond the concept level. Mr. Krieger asked if the project team includes a technical landscape architect; Mr. McVoy responded that a landscape architect is involved, and added that Mr. Holl had worked for landscape architect Lawrence Halprin for many years.
Mr. Krieger offered some additional responses to the proposal. He commented that the concept for the architecture is related as much to the specific stone as to the forms of the pavilions, but the landscape concept involves naming categories of trees and grasses. He said there are far more components in the landscape than in the buildings, and the Commission needs more information. He emphasized the disparity between the care with which Mr. McVoy described the buildings and the prosaic way he described the landscape in which they would sit.
Ms. Meyer said one reason to emphasize this point is that this particular site is remarkable for its unique river vistas, and it will also be seen in a unique way from the bridge: the site will have an effect on its context beyond what happens on this parcel. She recommended more development of the edges of the site, such as the space between the parkway boundary and this project's proposed retaining wall. Noting that the project would in a sense be appropriating a large public landscape of river and parkway, she requested more information on what the project would contribute to the public landscape; as an additional example, she asked if discussions are underway with the National Park Service about supplementing the planting along the recreational walk or replacing trees missing from the parkway.
Ms. Meyer also requested further information about additional elements such as gates or fences that would be inserted into the landscape to close the river pavilion from midnight to 10 a.m.; she emphasized that these elements would affect the public perception of the project. Mr. McVoy responded that gates are not proposed, and the project's contribution to the public realm would be an incredible floating space on the river. Ms. Meyer asked what would be contributed to the area between the edge of the parcel and the river; Mr. McVoy said that the project would not alter the National Park Service landscape. Ms. Meyer observed that the Commission does not know the condition of this landscape because it was not shown in the presentation. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the project presents the opportunity for collaboration with the Park Service. Mr. McVoy emphasized that the waterfront land belongs to the Park Service; the Kennedy Center would only bridge over it, connect with it, and provide a new adjoining public space. Ms. Meyer said that the Commission is emphasizing the opportunity to make an additional contribution.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk observed that the project has an inherent degree of uncertainty, as confirmed by the acknowledged discrepancies between the model and drawings. She asked why the glissando pavilion establishes the opportunity for dramatic views to the river through large windows but the interior layout prevents actual viewing through them; Mr. McVoy clarified that the views would be provided through smaller window strips that are not depicted in the model. Ms. Plater–Zyberk also expressed concern about constraining the underground bus parking and accommodating the necessary mechanical and utility work for the parking area; this issue was not addressed in the presentation. She said that some utilities will need to be exposed, such as a large, noisy exhaust system, and she asked how this would affect outdoor performances. This relates to her earlier question about flat roofs: she commented that routine equipment would have to protrude from the roofs, and the outdoor venue and plaza would also have speakers and other elements, so the design would not be as pure as envisioned. Even at the conceptual stage, she said that the designers need some idea about how these needs would be accommodated. Mr. McVoy agreed; he indicated the proposed location of ducts and other features in the embankment on the west side of the site, where they could merge with the landscape. Ms. Meyer pointed out that this space would be perceived as part of the parkway; Mr. McVoy said this position would be less obtrusive to the public landscape because there are no pedestrians along this inland side of the road.
Mr. Freelon agreed that the landscape design needs more development and observed that the limited soil depth may narrow the range of design options. He said that the site design should be developed with careful consideration of how people would typically approach this area and how they would be drawn to the special area that would have the framed view between two of the pavilions toward the Lincoln Memorial.
Secretary Luebke noted the apparent consensus to strongly support the architecture but not the landscape; normally, he said that the Commission members should feel comfortable with the entire proposal. Mr. Krieger asked how a concept approval would affect the next submission; Mr. Luebke responded that concept approval generally means that all of the pieces are understood in scope, character, scale, and interrelationship, while the full approval action comes at the final design stage. He said that in a larger project such as this one, the Commission routinely reviews a series of submissions. Mr. Krieger asked what the impact would be of not approving the current concept submission; Mr. Luebke responded that the project is a direct submission from a government agency, and a delay would not make much difference. He emphasized that if the Commission members conclude that the landscape is not ready to be approved in concept, then they should not approve the project as a whole. He added that the members have also given comments in strong support of what has been proposed.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk expressed frustration that the design team has made decisions about many things that have not been illustrated. She advised that the next presentation should spend less time on abstract ideas like "glissando" and instead provide more specific information about how the concept would be realized.
Ms. Meyer suggested that the Commission defer action and request another presentation in which the landscape concept is developed commensurate with the architecture. She added that the importance of the landscape has been highlighted in the presentation by the statement–without being illustrated–that the concept is based on the fusion between architecture and site. She commented that the proposal has extraordinary promise but it appears to be an example of an unfortunate trend in Commission presentations: asking for conceptual approval when the architectural issues are much more clearly developed than the site and landscape issues.
Mr. Krieger offered a motion to approve the concept with the strong recommendation that the landscape be developed in accordance with the Commission's comments, and with the request for a further submission as a revised concept. Upon a second by Mr. Freelon, the Commission adopted this action, with Ms. Meyer voting against the motion.
C. Smithsonian Institution
CFA 16/JAN/14–2, National Museum of African American History and Culture, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. Spandrel panels, bollards, and south water feature. Final. (Previous: CFA 19/SEP/13–2.) Mr. Luebke introduced a submission from the Smithsonian Institution that included elements of the final design for three components of the National Museum of African American History and Culture: the security barrier in the north perimeter wall, the inscriptions and surface texture of the south water feature, and the proposed combination of panels of the walls behind the corona's open metalwork. Mr. Luebke said that the museum project had last been reviewed in September 2013, when the Commission encouraged the project team to reconsider the use of bollards in favor of a design solution that would support the idea of a threshold. He noted that Mr. Freelon had recused himself due to his involvement in the project. Mr. Luebke asked Ann Trowbridge, the associate director for planning at the Smithsonian, to begin the presentation.
Ms. Trowbridge told the Commission that the Smithsonian would likely return in February with the proposed finish for the corona's openwork metal panels; project architect David Adjaye will attend that presentation. She introduced landscape architect Rodrigo Abela of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol to present the security barrier and changes to the south water feature, and lighting consultant Charles Stone of Fisher Marantz Stone and architect Hal Davis of SmithGroup to discuss the night lighting and corona panels.
Mr. Abela said the Commission members had previously approved the design of the north perimeter wall, commenting that it possessed the dignity and presence to serve as a metaphorical threshold into the museum grounds, but objecting to the proposed use of the ubiquitous bollard. He said the Commission had encouraged a barrier design that would reinforce the threshold concept based on the design of the wall itself. He noted that the team has developed a range of studies illustrating three approaches to this idea: the first is a single four–foot–wide opening through the wall; the second option places a stone block in the center of a wider opening, with two oblique passages on either side; and the preferred third option would also insert a barrier of two smaller stone blocks shaped to be extensions of the wall's geometry, with two main passages at the necessary four–foot security width, but quickly opening up into more generous spaces. The top of the wall would be polished.
Using renderings and a small model, Mr. Abela described the wall's complex geometry. Like the retaining wall, the center barrier blocks would have a curving wall with a canted front, and angled sides along the oblique passages would be straight vertical cuts. The barrier blocks would match the stone of the wall to be seen from a distance as one continuous mass.
Mr. Krieger called the barrier a fascinating solution. Mr. Powell agreed, and asked if the wall could extend into the sidewalk; Mr. Abela said it would extend slightly as a way to articulate that the barrier wall is slightly separate from the retaining wall beyond.
Mr. Abela then presented the elements of the south water feature, beginning with the layout of the inscriptions. The Commission had suggested that two inscriptions might be better than three and had asked to review the actual quotations; the museum staff has proposed two, to be inscribed in the stone surface highlighted in bronze. In the fountain's lower right–hand corner nearest to the museum would be a quotation from Frederick Douglass: "Liberty exists in the very idea of men's creation. It was his even before he comprehended it. He was created in it, endowed with it, and it can never be taken away." Along the fountain's upper perimeter on the south would be a passage from James Baldwin: "I think that the past is all that makes the present coherent and further that the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly." The Baldwin quotation would extend more than half the length of the pool and would be in a larger size to be seen from across the fountain.
For the stone surfaces of the fountain, Mr. Abela said that the water feature would be composed of a still, reflective pool on the north, while on the angled panel to the south, the water would flow over a rougher texture, with both planes of water meeting at a drain in the center. He said the Commission had supported the overall concept but had raised questions about the coded meaning of the previously proposed texture, and had asked for simplification. The bars are intended to create texture and to dramatize the contrast between moving and still water, and they were revised as a composition of stone projections based on the fluid movement of birds in flight. The bars would project from the surface of the stone about ¼ inch, and are angled so that when the fountain is dry they would appear to blend into the stone surface.
Mr. Krieger commented that the change in texture was an improvement. Ms. Plater–Zyberk supported the proposed design but said the photograph of the mockup did not convince her that all the lettering would be large enough to read from a distance, particularly the longer quotation at the south. Mr. Abela said the photograph had been accurately taken from the standpoint of a person reading it from the north side; the museum staff believes it would be legible. Mr. Luebke asked whether the Commission members were comfortable with the typography and the spacing of the attribution. Mr. Abela said the actual typography in the layout is represented in the booklet; Ms. Meyer observed that the attribution of the Baldwin text appeared to have a different size, font, and spacing than the Douglass text. Ms. Plater–Zyberk added that the attribution of the upper quotation appeared small compared with the quotation itself, and asked if it could be made the same size as the text. Mr. Abela responded that capital letters in a sans serif font are used for the quotations and capitalized lower–case letters with serifs in a slightly smaller font for the attributions in both. Ms. Plater–Zyberk recommended a typographic design that is proportionally consistent.
Ms. Meyer commented that the proposed barrier wall was a simple solution that did not detract from the experience of approaching the museum. She added that the design of both the fountain and wall reinforce the relationship of details to conceptual ideas. She said the effects created in this design support the experience and mission of the museum, and she was very happy with these improvements.
Mr. Davis then presented the changes to the disposition of spandrel and glass panels on the wall behind the openwork panels of the corona. The design intent is to convey a sense of enclosure on the east and south sides in areas corresponding to the windowless spaces of the galleries. Metal spandrel panels would be used only on the upper two levels, in front of the galleries and service cores, except where the small articulated windows, or lenses, break the pattern of the openwork panels. Clear glass is proposed for areas where people can come close to the glass to look out, such as in the third story of the west and south elevations, to permit viewing of the Mall and the Lincoln Memorial. The lowest level would be all glass, both fritted and clear, and most of the north side would be covered in fritted glass panels with no spandrel panels. A series of nighttime renderings illustrated how the building would look with the interior lights on.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked Mr. Davis to explain again the purpose of the spandrel panels. Mr. Davis responded that the spandrel panels would be used where glazing was not needed, covering much of the east and south elevations; they would also be used to increase energy efficiency and to offset blast loads. A gap of about five feet would remain between openwork panels and curtainwall. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked about maintenance; Mr. Davis said both interior and exterior panels would be easy to clean and replace.
Mr. Stone then presented the lighting design, noting that renderings could not capture the visceral feeling of light on the building. He explained that he had worked with the Olin Partnership on the lighting for the Washington Monument, and since then has studied the night lighting of the Mall. Because of its prominent location, he said this museum needs to have exterior lighting that will be appropriate in context to all its neighbors. People looking downhill from the Washington Monument to this museum should be able to see the interesting visual texture of the intricate corona screen, inspiring close study in daylight and creating a unique presence at night.
Mr. Stone said that the mockup had represented only 1/72nd of the entire building's corona and should be understood as a small piece of a very large building. He said that the mockup had exceeded his expectations in its variegated effect and sense of texture, finding it was appropriately bright and at the same time subtle. Showing a series of time–lapse photographs, he noted that visitors would be aware of the corona's outer texture until sunset, when the effect of the lighting would become more prominent. As people move, he said, they will visually integrate the different light sources and appreciate the variegated effect. He described the five–foot gap between the openwork screen and the glass wall as a "light–mixing chamber," a background of light that creates the openwork silhouette effect. Downward lights would be placed within the gap at the top of each tier to illuminate evenly the surface of the glass panels without light pollution to the sky.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked what specific material would be behind the openwork panels on the mockup; Mr. Stone said it was a mix of spandrel and fritted panels of matching reflectivity. Mr. Krieger asked what caused a striped effect on the photograph of the mockup; Mr. Stone responded that it was reflection of the lamps off the rear panels, which would not be noticeable as a person moves around the building but rather perceived as an animated silhouette effect.
Ms. Meyer commented that she found it difficult to understand the proposed lighting design, which included a confusing variety of alternatives. While she appreciated the enthusiasm for the variety presented, she said she was also concerned because the corona design was so complicated, and the presenters had described every element without presenting the big picture. Mr. Stone responded that the design for the lighting had not changed; the nighttime lighting was still a simple solution, using lines of electric lights at each level to knit the appearance together. He emphasized that the team was very concerned about getting the lighting right because of the incredible openwork screen.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that she was concerned how the interior light in the first–floor lobby would relate to the lighting of the screen. She asked if there would be any exterior floodlighting; Mr. Stone said there would not. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the glass–enclosed attic appeared very prominent, noting that the Commission had commented on how the square components on the roof would appear from above, but had not focused on how the attic itself would appear from below. She suggested that, while the design of the top story might already be established in its massing and materials, there may still be time to control its appearance at night. She raised concerns that they had not yet dealt with the appearance of the interior lighting.
Mr. Stone responded that it was not a matter of not addressing this issue; the interior lighting will always be the brightest thing. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked if there were interior lighting controls that would make sense with this exterior–for example, pulling down the blinds in the attic–in a composition that is conceived as a whole. She said that what had been presented about the modulated surface behind the corona and how it would appear to moving pedestrians made sense, and they seemed to have avoided large areas of light. However, she emphasized that the work to highlight the corona should not be subverted by the interior light from the ground floor and the attic. She noted that people leave lights on, and cleaning crews turn them on, and receptions and fundraisers are held at night in museums: to think the building will be dark and only the corona will glow at night is unrealistic. She repeated that there needs to be a holistic approach.
Mr. Stone agreed that people often do not close their blinds, and this was the reality. He said that was why he was happy with the mockup–because he had decided the variability is a good thing and will show the building is alive. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said they still might want to influence it by requiring, for example, that the light fixtures on the ground floor need to be of a certain type and color, and that no fixtures will be visible to pedestrians. Mr. Stone said that no fluorescent tubes will be visible. Mr. Luebke said the issue of controlling how light is monitored has come up in previous projects, such as the U.S. Institute of Peace, and it is reasonable to ask for a plan to control the lighting. Ms. Plater–Zyberk emphasized that the Commission would like to see such a plan because of the importance of this issue for an exceptionally prominent building.
Mr. Krieger said unpredictable lighting was common to all buildings. He commented that what he found exciting about this project was the idea that there is a regular base and crown, and between them the corona with an amazing, unprecedented effect. He said the more irregular the central portion was between the constant datum of base and crown, the better. Ms. Plater–Zyberk disagreed, observing that the lighting of the base and crown would not be constant. Mr. Krieger said that nonetheless there will be moments when it looks like some of the images in the presentation. Mr. Stone agreed that this is what he came to understand at the mockup, adding that the simple lines of lights at three levels would pull it all together.
Instead of seeing the continuous white line of the windows in the third floor, Mr. Krieger commented that he would have preferred if all three floors had been treated less regularly and more like Piet Mondrian's painting, Broadway Boogie–Woogie. Ms. Plater–Zyberk noted that the band of windows would be as irregularly lit at night as everything else.
Ms. Meyer asked what were the changes in the presentation that did not appear in the booklet; Mr. Davis responded that the adjustments included the relationship of fritted to clear glass, and the amount of gloss and color necessary for the spandrel panels to create a similar effect to the glass panels. Ms. Meyer asked why the changes were necessary; Mr. Luebke responded that he has been following an assumption that the curtainwall system behind the screens should be as uniform as possible. He said they have been made comfortable with the idea that the spandrel panels will be calibrated to have a reasonably similar reflective quality if the glass panels have a frit to create that effect. However, he said they learned that clear glass without the frit had been introduced, which would reflect differently still. He believed the extent of clear glass panels had been reduced and overall there would be more fritted panels, but he was not certain that rigorous uniformity is necessary.
Ms. Meyer said she found this as muddled as the other part of the presentation, and she wanted a clear understanding of why the project team now thinks it has the right solution. Mr. Davis said the design intent had always been to have a mixture of fritted and clear glass, with clear glass used in areas where people inside the museum could get close enough to the glass to see through it. He said the design intent had not changed, but the design to emphasize a more dispersed pattern of spandrel panels was made to address the Commission's concern. They had made some minor adjustments, on the south and east elevations in particular; they did not change any of the spandrel panels or lenses, which have remained consistent in expressing the east and south sides of the gallery areas. Ms. Meyer said that, in summary, the surface was changed and the materials were simplified to reduce the complexity.
Mr. Krieger commented that the attempt to regularize the corona, moving from darker to lighter in big sections, actually worked less well than having many differences behind the openwork corona. He urged the team to always aim for that more mottled condition behind the corona. Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented that this was what the Commission had request at the last review.
Secretary Luebke said that this submission is a three–part proposal for the design of bollard, fountain, and the patterning and lighting of panels behind the corona openwork. He said the Commission was being asked for final approval for the design of these elements, but conditions could be made as part of that action. Ms. Plater–Zyberk moved to approve the bollards as presented. On a second by Mr. Krieger, the motion was passed. Ms. Plater–Zyberk moved to approve the water feature as presented, conditional upon final staff review of the graphics relating to comments about the visibility and consistency of relationships. On a second by Mr. Krieger, the motion was passed. Finally, Ms. Plater–Zyberk moved approval of the corona, including the lighting behind the openwork metal panels but not their finish, with the strong recommendation that as the design moves forward, it avoids large areas of uniform tone or intensity, with a variegated surface always the goal. On a second by Mr. Krieger, the motion was passed.
Mr. Luebke said the Smithsonian would be back to present the corona finish, the site lighting, and the signage as part of its final approval for the design of the museum. Ms. Trowbridge said that these items would likely be submitted for review separately.
D. General Services Administration
CFA 16/JAN/14–3, Old Post Office Building and Annex, 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Building renovations, rehabilitation, modernization, and alterations for redevelopment into hotel and conference center. Final. (Previous: CFA 18/JUL/13–3.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the proposed final design for rehabilitation and renovation of the Old Post Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, as a Trump International Hotel. She said that the Commission had approved a concept design in July 2013 with recommendations for its development, particularly concerning the south entrance; the current submission also includes proposals for signage and exterior lighting. She noted that the proposed construction documents have not yet been provided for review. She asked Mina Wright from the General Services Administration (GSA) to begin the presentation.
Ms. Wright said that this project is unusually challenging because it is a public–private partnership for a landmark building on Pennsylvania Avenue. She added that its successful resolution demonstrates the success of design review through the historic preservation consultation process, and she acknowledged Secretary Luebke's leadership throughout the consultation. She introduced architect Hany Hassan of Beyer Blinder Belle to present the project.
Mr. Hassan said that the presentation would focus on three areas: signage and lighting; the 11th Street entrances to the hotel and annex; and the C Street entrance to the hotel. He described the three types of proposed signage. Branding and identification of the hotel would include: three identification signs on each side of building–Pennsylvania Avenue, 12th Street, and 11th Street; monument signs on C Street and Pennsylvania Avenue; and signage for the ballroom. Retail signage would include flags at the second–floor level and signs on window awnings. The third type would be National Park Service signage announcing access to the observation tower.
Mr. Hassan described the proposed palette for new identification and retail signs, noting that signage would follow Shipstead–Luce Act requirements for size and quality. The dark bronze anodized signs would have 12–inch–high projecting brass lettering that would be lit from the side; a single font would be used for all lettering. The two monument signs would be approximately 3.5 feet high and 12 feet long. Signage for the observation tower would include a National Park Service pylon, positioned on C Street to guide pedestrians coming from the direction of both the Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue. He added that the existing green awnings would be replaced with black awnings with white lettering.
Mr. Hassan illustrated the existing cluttered conditions of the C Street entrance, which includes numerous flagpoles, lightpoles, and other elements; some of these would be removed to define a single line of lightpoles and bollards that would separate service access from the pedestrian plaza. Rehabilitation of the loading dock shed would include adding granite bases to the two remaining original columns, extending them to ground level.
Mr. Hassan described the changes proposed for the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance. He noted that the existing lettering above the middle entrance arch of the porch, reading "Old Post Office," was not original and would be removed. A beam would be placed within this arch, and the name of the hotel would be mounted on this beam; the "Old Post Office" name would be located behind the arch, on the lintel above the central door within the entrance porch. He added that the existing lanterns within the porch, which date from the 1980s, would also be replaced. The line of five American flags on the parapet over the arched entrance would be retained, and the six retail flags at the corners of the second story would be replaced. Along the 12th Street facade, the existing awnings would be replaced; signage would be added to the central arch, similar to the proposed signage at the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked how the position of the beam within the central arched opening had been determined. Mr. Hassan responded that the proposal is to place each end of the beam within existing small recessed panels on the underside of the arch. Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested that the beam might instead rest on the cornice carried by the short columns that support the arch; Mr. Hassan said that this position would make the lintel appear too low, adding that the selected height coincidentally also aligns with the lintel over the entrance doors.
Mr. Hassan described the treatment of the vehicular driveway that would be built on the 11th Street side, providing access to entrances for the hotel and the ballroom. A monument sign would be added to draw pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Ms. Meyer asked for clarification of the sign's proposed location; Mr. Hassan responded that it would be located inside the Pennsylvania Avenue property line. He said that the proposed canopy above the vehicular drop–off would not touch the historic fabric of the building; its glass roof would be cantilevered on two columns to provide protection for vehicle loading. At the entrance to the ballroom in the annex, a sign announcing "Presidential Ballroom" would be pin–mounted on the building.
Mr. Hassan described the ballroom entrance from 10th Street through the arcade of the Internal Revenue Service building; this entrance would provide access for special events, while the main entrance to the ballroom would remain on 11th Street. The lettering above the central doorway of the arcade would be changed to "Trump Presidential Ballroom." Existing glazing that admits natural light in front of the doorway would be retained.
Mr. Hassan described the proposal for exterior lighting. Selected architectural elements would be highlighted, including the building's tower, recessed panels on some tiers, recesses within the podium on the C Street side, and panels within the podiums on the Pennsylvania Avenue, 11th Street, and 12th Street facades. A few features such as the tower and the Pennsylvania Avenue arcade would be lit more brightly to highlight the architecture, in contrast to the relatively soft lighting of the majority of the elevations.
Mr. Hassan described the laminated onyx panels that would be used on the annex at 11th Street. The thin panels would have LED lights along the edges, and the texture of the panels would project the light uniformly across the surface, creating a consistent glow. The largest of the panels would be nearly three feet wide, within a four–foot limit to ensure the even distribution of light. He added that the temperature of the lighting could be controlled for color and brightness, and the light could therefore be evaluated through an on–site mockup before a final setting is chosen for the lighting; he noted that the project's lighting consultant has used this technique previously.
Mr. Hassan described additional exterior materials. Clear glass would be used for the ballroom entrance and connecting structure. The plaza paving on C Street would be a charcoal black granite with a thermal finish, and polished black granite would be used on the walls between the panels of the C Street entry doors to differentiate this area from the building's historic granite. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked about the existing material at this location; Mr. Luebke responded that this entrance is currently enclosed in a brick structure, and the proposal would improve its quality commensurate with its status as a public entrance. Mr. Hassan said the 11th Street driveway would have the standard granite city curb, and the sidewalk and driveway would be paved in a herringbone pattern.
Chairman Powell and Ms. Plater–Zyberk expressed appreciation for the thorough presentation. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the design has become quieter and more respectful of the existing building. However, she commented that the small retail flags at the corners of the Pennsylvania Avenue facade would be unnecessary in addition to the awnings and American flags. Mr. Luebke said that these signs are now being presented for the first time, and the staff does not support them as retail signage. Ms. Meyer and Mr. Powell agreed that these flags appear dated; they suggested their removal, as proposed for other dated design features.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented on the beauty of the proposed lighting concept. She noted that the lighting scheme was presented as fitting within the overall lighting of Pennsylvania Avenue; she cautioned that the surrounding buildings have a civic nature, and this private–sector hotel should not appear brighter than the other buildings on the street. Mr. Powell added that the existing lighting along Pennsylvania Avenue is not uniform. Ms. Wright said that GSA will be doing a mockup of proposed lighting for the Federal Triangle. Mr. Luebke clarified that Pennsylvania Avenue's buildings are mostly public–sector on the south side and private–sector on the north; this property would be moving from public to private use. He said that the north side exhibits varied lighting conditions among its hotels and restaurants; the buildings on the south side, administered by GSA, also present a variety of lighting conditions. He said that the Commission staff has encouraged GSA to submit a proposal for architectural lighting of the Federal Triangle; he added that the Old Post Office building would always stand out because of its scale and style, and lighting alone would not cause it to be prominent. Mr. Hassan reiterated the intention to use lighting to create a soft glow on the building. Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented that light would also come from the windows in irregular patterns, and she recommended that the most important parts of the structure should be the most brightly illuminated.
Mr. Krieger commented that the proposed canopy above the vehicular drop–off still lacks the finesse of the glass curtainwalls, and the canopy's transparent glass surface would quickly become unsightly. Mr. Hassan said the goal has been to introduce an element with a very simple, recessive character. Mr. Krieger reiterated that the canopy would inevitably look dirty, commenting that no maintenance program is ever perfect. He said that this large building would be beautifully lit and visible from many vantage points, and the brief view of the facade through the clear canopy when someone is entering a vehicle would not be significant. He commented that the proposal uses interesting translucent materials elsewhere, and he recommended translucence for the glass of the canopy ceiling. Ivanka Trump of the Trump Organization, the developer of the hotel, responded that the canopy would receive frequent maintenance. She emphasized the importance of visitors being able to see the building as they step out of a car, particularly because the drop–off cannot be located on Pennsylvania Avenue. She agreed that the canopy would have to be carefully maintained or the design would lose its effectiveness.
Ms. Meyer asked about the treatment of the paving field on the Pennsylvania Avenue plaza, which is a public art project. Mr. Hassan responded that it would remain in place, with the sculptor's name recorded on a plaque set into the paving. He added that a separate non–historic structure, located between this artwork and the building, would be replaced with granite pavers–a change that would draw more attention to the artwork.
Mr. Freelon offered a motion to approve the project with the comments provided. Mr. Luebke offered the staff's participation in the lighting mockup; he added that complete documentation of the proposal would normally be required for final approval, and he asked for clarification of the Commission's decision on whether the secondary flags should contain retail signage as proposed, or serve only as decorative banners, or be eliminated entirely. Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested amending the motion to include staff approval of the lighting mockup, the complete removal of the secondary flags, and the submission of complete construction documents; the Commission adopted the motion with these amendments.
(Chairman Powell departed during the presentation of the next agenda item; Vice Chairman Plater–Zyberk presided through agenda item II.G.2.)
E. U.S. Department of Agriculture
CFA 16/JAN/14–4, Jamie L. Whitten Federal Building and South Building (USDA headquarters complex), 14th Street and Independence Avenue, SW. People's Garden site improvements and perimeter security plan. Concept. (Previous: CFA 18/APR/13–4.) Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposal for landscape improvements around the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) headquarters complex, which includes the Whitten Building on the Mall and the South Building across Independence Avenue. Components of the project include a "People's Garden," perimeter security, and interpretive elements; the project would make the site a model for sustainability and would convey the USDA's programs to the visiting public. He noted that the Commission took no action in its previous review of the concept proposal in April 2013, requesting a further submission of a more developed design. He asked landscape architect Bob Snieckus of the USDA to begin the presentation.
Mr. Snieckus provided historical background, noting that a USDA museum was located on the site of the Whitten Building in the early 20th century adjacent to the USDA's gardens on the Mall, providing an educational experience about agriculture for U.S. and international visitors. The current proposal is intended as a modern reintroduction of this historic purpose, using the site to inform on agricultural topics and healthy eating. Beginning in the past decade, the USDA has sponsored community food gardens around the world, and nearly 2,000 of these People's Gardens are now operating. The goals for the garden include community benefits, collaborative effort, and sustainable practices. Additional considerations at this site include perimeter security for the headquarters, enhancing the historic landscape that was designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm in the 1930s, and telling the story of the USDA. He introduced architect Scott Paden of OLBN to present the design.
Mr. Paden acknowledged the assistance of the staff in developing the proposal following the previous presentation. He summarized the Commission's comments from the April 2013 review, including overall support for the project goals, criticism of the design's lack of coherence within the context of the Mall, and the request for a more ambitious program such as a bold, multi–use design for the market structure along 12th Street. The Commission had also encouraged eliminating more of the on–site parking, creating entry thresholds, developing a comprehensive signage proposal, and coordinating the project with other sustainability initiatives in the vicinity. He said that the presentation would describe the design response to these comments.
Mr. Paden presented the site proposals around the South Building, which he described as relatively modest in scope. He said that C Street is heavily used but has an unwelcoming streetscape that lacks vegetation. The proposal would move the curb out to its previous location and provide an improved streetscape for pedestrians. Street trees would be planted, and signs would provide an interpretive timeline of the USDA history that would connect to the Heritage Trail for the Southwest neighborhood. He presented additional details of the timeline display, which would extend from the 18th century to modern organic agriculture. The streetscape would provide bioretention zones around the trees along the curb, providing relief from the current expanse of concrete that is excessively hot in the summer; step–out zones would accommodate access from vehicles. New guardbooths would be installed at the two vehicular entrances to the South Building's courtyards, replacing the insufficient existing booths; the proposed design is based on the historic details of the South Building, including railings and spandrel panels.
Mr. Paden said that the more prominent frontage on heavily travelled Independence Avenue does not have room for widening the sidewalks along either the South Building or Whitten Building; he also noted the large number of tourists who walk along Independence Avenue between the Metro station to the east and the visitor attractions to the west. Within the limited space, the proposal is to plant street trees and establish a green verge on both sides; on the north side of the street, substantial landscaped areas demonstrating agriculture–the "banquet court" and "exhibit court" [typically used for parking]–would be placed within the open courtyards of the Whitten Building.
Mr. Paden presented the multiple nodes of design focus that are proposed around the Whitten Building: the ceremonial entry court to the north, the organic teaching garden to the northeast, the market commons to the east, the banquet and exhibit [parking] courts to the south, the heirloom garden to the west, and the shade garden to the northwest. The nodes would be integrated by constructing many of the unrealized features of the historic landscape design by the Olmsted Brothers firm. The historic design of the entry court, which was implemented and is largely intact, would remain in place for the Whitten Building's ceremonial north entrance. The previously proposed vehicular gate arms and site stair alterations have been eliminated from the design. The existing low balustrade on the central axis would be hardened to provide perimeter security, and a single bollard would be added within each of the two flanking sets of site stairs; the perimeter security line would be continued along the sidewalk edge by new balustrade walls that would be based on the historic design. The existing organic teaching garden at 12th Street and Jefferson Drive was the first of the many gardens that USDA has now established worldwide; the proposal would reconfigure this garden to extend to the corner of the site, following the general site layout of the Olmsted Brothers plan.
Ms. Meyer observed the importance of the Olmsted Brothers planning in the presentation and asked for an illustration of this historic design. Mr. Paden cited the drawings in the appendix of materials provided to the Commission members; Ms. Meyer said that this includes fragmentary sketches but not an overall plan, which relates to her concern that the proposal is comprised of seven separate small gardens that lack coherence as an entirety. Mr. Paden clarified that the unrealized portions of the Olmsted Brothers plan are known only through sketch overlays, which were discovered through research by the project team's historic preservation consultant. Most of the implemented work was on the north side of the Whitten Building; a connecting east–west walk paralleling the sidewalk was unrealized and would be implemented in the current proposal. The historic sketches show that this walk would have connected to the northwest and northeast corners of the site using a relaxed geometry. Ms. Meyer and Mr. Krieger objected that these features are not apparent in the historic sketches that have been reproduced for the Commission, resulting in a proposal whose historic framework is not being presented. Landscape architect Shelley Rentsch of OLBN responded that a dozen or more sketches have been found that illustrate this east–west walk, in addition to many detailed overlay sketches that depict transplanting of trees from the Mall to the north side of the Whitten Building; a total of approximately 200 drawings were located, and the most relevant have been provided to the Commission.
Mr. Paden continued with the proposal for the market commons along 12th Street, immediately south of the organic garden; the transition between these two areas would be marked by an arbor of stainless steel columns and cables covered by vines. A small storage area within the arbor would accommodate tools for the organic garden; he emphasized that the proposed location would be relatively unobtrusive. The market structure would include three curved undulating roofs supported by tree–like diagonal supports of Cor–Ten steel; the structure would shelter up to 36 market stands, and benches would be provided at the base of the supports. He said that the semicircular plan of the market structure is derived from the semicircular drive depicted for this area on an Olmsted Brothers sketch. Various edges of the roofs are aligned with the Whitten Building's belt course and the top of the proposed arbor, and the height is also designed to accommodate clearance for trucks that would service the market stands. The market commons configuration could also support outdoor concerts, exhibits, and lectures, which responds to the Commission's previous request for multiple uses of the landscape; the Whitten Building's east facade would be a backdrop to these events. He presented a perspective rendering of the view from the Mall to the organic garden, arbor, and market commons.
Mr. Paden presented the proposal for the banquet court and exhibit court to replace existing parking lots between the Whitten Building and Independence Avenue. The cobbled surface of the courts could accommodate a variety of exhibits and festivals and would support vehicular access; the surface would be permeable, and the area beneath would provide stormwater retention. The landscape around the courts would include trees and agricultural planting beds. Two small historic buildings within the courts would remain and would have green roofs.
Mr. Paden presented the proposed heirloom garden along 14th Street, which would replace the site's largest existing parking lot. The garden would be anchored by a colonnaded pergola, acknowledging this frontage as an important public face along a major traffic route. The curved plan of the pergola is based partly on the Olmsted Brothers layout for this portion of the site, and it would serve as the garden's organizing element connecting to the southwest corner of the site and to the Whitten Building's west entrance that may be used for public access to a future museum within the building. The walk beneath the pergola would extend along beds of heirloom plants. The pergola structure would include a stone base symbolizing an anvil; a splayed vertical support symbolizing a plow; and articulated arms symbolizing the human strength of working these traditional agriculture–related tools. The 29 bays of the pergola symbolize the days in the traditional lunar cycle for planting. The northwest corner of the site would be designed as a shade garden, the quietest of the site's proposed features; the shade garden would provide a casual threshold to draw people into the site from the corner of 14th Street and Jefferson Drive. He noted that this corner is already popular with tourists as a location for unobstructed photographs of the Washington Monument.
Mr. Paden presented a summary diagram of the perimeter security line, emphasizing that the barrier would be provided primarily by new or existing balustrade walls reinforced with cables, or by cables placed behind hedges. Bollards would be used only where necessary, and additional elements such as fountains would be reinforced as part of the barrier; he emphasized that the perimeter security is intended not to be readily apparent within the overall context. He also presented a comparison of the current proposal with the April 2013 submission, noting that the current design has more pedestrian access points around the perimeter of the Whitten Building site as well as improved treatment of the four corners, drawing people to the system of walks that was sketched in the Olmsted Brothers design. He summarized the proposal's sustainability features, indicating the significant reduction of impervious surfaces on the site; the site plantings would also support an annual harvest of 8,000 pounds of food, increased from the current annual production of 1,500 pounds. He presented the summary diagram of proposed reductions to site parking around the Whitten Building: the existing west parking lot, modified in the 2013 submission, would now be removed entirely; the extent of parking at the entry court would be reduced from 16 to 8 spaces; and the parking lots along Independence Avenue and at 12th Street would gradually become primarily pedestrian spaces with programmed events in the long term, while accommodating service access as well as occasional parking needs. Mr. Luebke requested clarification whether these paved areas on the south and east would routinely be used for daily parking. Mr. Paden responded that they would be designed to receive vehicles such as truck access for the farmers market and service access for the building; he further clarified that routine parking would occur in these areas in the near term and would gradually be phased out as programming increases for these spaces. He added that USDA is working on a long–term plan for parking management, which would eventually allow for reducing the parking needs and allowing the courts to serve the purposes that have been presented.
Ms. Meyer emphasized her overall support for the project's program and for increasing the USDA's presence on the Mall; she observed that the Whitten Building is now an anomaly as an office building among the Mall's museums, commenting that the improvement of this site would enhance this area of the Mall. Nonetheless, she cited increasing concerns with the design since the previous review. She acknowledged the stated intention of using the Olmsted Brothers planning as the framework for providing coherence to the new program, but she said that the fragmentary historic drawings have not been sufficiently combined and analyzed to gain an understanding of whether they provide an overall spatial framework as a composite design; the proposed design instead jumps from historic fragments to a new site plan. She observed that the proposal includes half a dozen curvilinear elements that seem to be competing with each other, while a more careful analysis of the framework could provide a stronger basis for their combination. She cited the differing design vocabularies of the proposed arbor, market structure, and pergola; she commented that the proposal appears to be the work of multiple designers, lacking a consistency and spatial concept to pull the project together. She supported the prevailing design approach of using a contemporary style, which would distinguish the new landscape from the historic building, but this is contradicted by the historicist approach to designing some of the proposed small structures, such as the guardbooths along C Street and the fountains along Jefferson Drive. She described the resulting design as inconsistent, confusing, overly busy, and lacking coherence. She emphasized the challenge of creating a garden–scaled design that achieves the necessary dignity to succeed within the scale of the Mall, observing that many of the Mall's museums place unobtrusive gardens behind hedges or locate public sculpture gardens behind walls and fences; the USDA proposal is to treat its gardens as open public areas, which she supported, but emphasized the need for achieving dignity through careful analysis and development of a consistent vocabulary of materials and architecture.
Mr. Freelon agreed that the project appears to have too many ideas and design gestures, notwithstanding the relatively expansive site. He suggested paring down the proposal to a smaller number of major design gestures.
Mr. Krieger said that a more clear articulation of the design intentions would be helpful in responding to the project. For instance, if the intention is to evoke agriculture, then too many design elements are proposed in too small a site; if the intention is a series of independent demonstration gardens, then the separate areas could be made more distinct. He described the current proposal as falling between these design approaches. He observed that the photograph of the grounds in the early 20th century suggested the appearance of farmland; the currently proposed spaces do not have this agricultural appearance, while they also appear too simple to be well–developed gardens. He also joined in criticizing the proposed architectural elements in the project as "kitschy." He suggested that a concept of distinct gardens could be developed further to encourage visitors to tour through a series of separate landscapes. He summarized his support for the project's ambition but dissatisfaction with the specific design. Mr. Paden offered to clarify the design strategies, noting that the entire north side of the Whitten Building is based on the historic Olmsted landscape design; existing features would be retained and missing elements would be restored. Mr. Krieger said that this strategy introduces an additional vocabulary to the design: the Olmsted landscape design has nothing to do with evoking American agriculture. He reiterated that the proposal has too many ideas, resulting from a confusion of the overall intention; he added that even the intention to implement the Olmsted landscape may be confused by the fragmentary evidence of the Olmsted Brothers design.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk offered further discussion of the comments of the other Commission members. She suggested that the intended concept may involve using the site to bring together many design types that would not usually be together, resulting in a strategy of episodic experiences across the site. The north frontage toward the Mall would primarily be a historic landscape design, with the addition of the teaching garden at the site's northeast corner, appropriately located to serve as an entrance to the varied gardens around the Whitten Building. She suggested that the teaching garden be developed further to make full use of its corner site, with the adjacent farmers market developed as a separate rather than overlapping area; each of the other gardens could similarly be developed as a coherent independent piece. She recalled the tradition of botanic gardens with this design approach, creating a variety of experiences through separate outdoor "rooms." She observed that the proposed program suggests this design approach, but the more detailed geometry and structure of the proposal do not develop it. She acknowledged the desirability of a structure for the farmers market but agreed with the other Commission members that its design could be improved. She said that the proposed structure at the heirloom garden seems superfluous and could be eliminated, since it does not provide rain protection or shade; the design for this garden could instead be developed entirely through plantings. She summarized the goal of design simplification and a more rigorously defined strategy.
Mr. Krieger commented that the site treatment as an agricultural landscape, as depicted in the early–20th–century photograph, was better than anything shown in the current proposal. He noted that the named garden areas suggest the current design intent, which could be developed further by identifying a precedent for each garden type; he said that the proposal seems to merely apply labels to the garden areas rather than develop them faithfully in accordance with precedents. He reiterated his concern that the proposal emphasizes neither distinctly separate garden spaces, nor a coherent continuity to the design.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented that the Whitten Building itself is an additional component of the design, serving as a background for the proposed garden areas but not well integrated with the design. She observed that the market structure is shown with a regular geometry that appears to miss the building's organizing axis. Mr. Paden clarified that the market structure would be centered on a recess of the Whitten Building's massing. Mr. Krieger commented that the market's proposed paving pattern and plaza geometry do not appear related to the Whitten Building, even if the market structure is aligned. He observed that the plaza's geometry seems to be cut off arbitrarily toward Independence Avenue on the south, while extending toward the teaching garden on the north in a convergence of curved geometries; he suggested more regularity, such as terminating the north side of the plaza to form a symmetrical space centered on a feature of the Whitten Building, and then developing a threshold between the market plaza and the teaching garden. Ms. Meyer added that this is the strategy apparent in the Olmsted Brothers sketches: a set of abutting spaces rather than a continuous flow. She reiterated her concern with the project's confusion, recommending that the first step should be to clarify an attitude toward history, which she said would remove an obstacle to improving the project's coherence. She described the current proposal as partly a preservation project involving reconstruction and restoration, and partly a demonstration of how contemporary landscape design can be compatible with a historic building; she said that combining these approaches in a single project is excessive and harms the design clarity. She emphasized the need for an analytical drawing that relates the various design intentions and existing architectural lines influencing the site. She also agreed with Ms. Plater–Zyberk that the structure could be omitted from the proposed heirloom garden along 14th Street.
Mr. Luebke asked for comments on the South Building site proposal. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the proposed historical narrative is an interesting idea but its implementation in the streetscape is unclear. Mr. Paden clarified that the timeline could be conveyed using a combination of benches and sidewalk elements; the key concept proposal is to move the curb line outward and to install green areas and shade trees, along with the educational component that would extend the Southwest Heritage Trail. Mr. Krieger supported these design intentions. Ms. Meyer suggested that the design leave space for accommodating ongoing history, such as by not filling the entire C Street frontage of the block; Mr. Paden responded that future interpretive signage is anticipated continuing around the corner along 12th Street and, if needed, along 14th Street.
Vice Chairman Plater–Zyberk summarized the consensus to request a more developed concept submission that responds to the Commission's comments; she emphasized the large extent of the project, encompassing multiple block frontages. Mr. Paden noted that the project would be constructed in phases, and the pieces could be submitted separately for final design approval with more developed details such as lighting and signage. Ms. Meyer nonetheless recommended further review at the concept level in order to resolve the design intent and avoid potential problems in obtaining the final design approvals. Mr. Luebke observed that the Commission's response is similar to the previous review: support for the program and overall intention of the project, but dissatisfaction with the conceptual design proposal. He described the proposal as effectively a master plan or site framework with multiple components that would be reviewed in more detail. Mr. Krieger summarized the Commission's advice to clarify and edit the design. Mr. Paden offered that the Commission's guidance is to support a permanent substantial structure for the farmers market along 12th Street, while questioning the need for a structure along 14th Street. Ms. Meyer added that the larger question is how the site structure contribute to the coherence of the scheme; in the current proposal, the structures appear to be unrelated objects that do not give a sense of continuity to the site. Ms. Plater–Zyberk reiterated the advice to study the history of botanic gardens in order to clarify the design intent. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
F. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
CFA 16/JAN/14–5, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau headquarters building, 1700 G Street, NW. Building renovation and additions. Concept. (Previous: CFA 20/JUN/13–4.) Ms. Batcheler summarized the Commission's previous review of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CPFB) headquarters in June 2013, with concerns stated about the extent of alterations to the building and site; no action was taken by the Commission. She introduced architect Rod Garrett of SOM and landscape architect Thomas Balsley of Thomas Balsley Associates to present the new concept submission.
Mr. Garrett provided an overview of the context and site, including the L–shaped building and its public plaza. He said that the proposal has been simplified in response to the previous review: the additions at the upper floors of the building and the alterations to solid facade panels have been removed from the design due to programming changes by the CPFB, and the proposal for basement office space and child care has also been changed through interior reprogramming. He described the current architectural proposal as having a more "delicate touch." He indicated the most substantial exterior modifications, which would occur at the roof: much of the roof surface would be landscaped in order to promote sustainability, and the outdoor playing space for the building's daycare center would be placed in a new walled enclosure on the roof. He noted that the play area is fairly large and could not easily be sited at the grade–level courtyard, which is intended as a public space. The building's existing windows would be replaced with high–performance windows, using a material palette and details that are close to the building's original design; he said that the original frames were relatively thick, easing the challenge of retaining the proportions of the details. The glass facade of the building lobby at 17th and G Streets would be more significantly altered to meet modern energy–efficiency and blast–resistance goals. He indicated the relatively small alterations that are proposed for the alignment of glass planes and for reducing the dimension of the building's brick base to allow for improved ground–floor transparency; he noted that the brick base has a stepped profile in the original design, responding to the slope of the site. He indicated a curved glass profile that he said would be retained, using new glass that meets the modern technical requirements. He summarized the interior configuration, indicating the expanded lobby to accommodate security screening; the lobby would also connect to the conference center, which is now proposed at the basement level.
Mr. Garrett said that the current building, designed by Max O. Urbahn Associates in the 1970s, was unusual in Urbahn's work and was built as part of the General Services Administration's Living Buildings Program; the building's features include extensive pedestrian access at the ground level and open office planning on the building's upper levels. He indicated the adjacent Winder Building that frames the other side of the CFPB's courtyard; he described the Winder Building as the city's oldest speculative office building, dating from the 1840s.
Mr. Garrett described the rooftop play space in greater detail. He said that a wall or fence was considered for its enclosure, and the decision is that an eight–foot–high wall is necessary. The wall surface would be limestone, finished to match the existing limestone panels on the building. He presented elevations and perspectives of the building, indicating the proposed wall of the play space as the most significant change from the existing elevations. Mr. Krieger asked why the fence option was rejected. Mr. Garrett responded that the play equipment would be visually distracting if seen through a fence, and the appearance would be difficult to control over time; in addition, while adults may sometimes enjoy views from a rooftop, the view may be unwanted from a children's play area.
Mr. Balsley presented the concept for the site design, including renovation of the public plaza. He summarized the Commission's previous comments and the project goal of continuing the original design idea of the site's public space. He said that the plaza would remain accessible to the public, and the renovation is intended to make it better and more vibrant. He emphasized that the public space also includes the breezeways that connect the plaza to the sidewalk and the wider city beyond. He acknowledged the advice from many reviewers that the ground plane should remain brick, which serves as an important unifying element for the site; the proposal has therefore been modified to emphasize the use of brick paving. He indicated the broad access to the plaza from 17th Street, which is currently somewhat uninviting due to the high parapet walls around a sunken courtyard; this feature would be eliminated, allowing for lowering of many elements and improved sightlines between the 17th Street sidewalk and the plaza. A water feature would follow the thirty–inch grade change between the sidewalk and plaza; the water would continue as a thin flat sheet across the plaza, then cascade down to another sunken courtyard toward the west end of the plaza. He said that the use of water would improve the quality of the space, retain the spirit of the original design, and provide an interesting background sound from the cascade. He indicated several existing plaza elements that would be removed to improve the flexibility and circulation of the space. The long facade of the Winder Building would be embellished with a shaded porch elevated thirty inches above the plaza, allowing for informal gathering; the porch and enclosure would add a major three–dimensional element to the plaza and would also tie to the multiple circulation patterns among the buildings and open spaces. The proposal includes groves of trees to create a filtered canopy within the courtyard, adding interest along the modest rear facade of the Winder Building, and moveable tables and chairs. He said that some of the proposed site materials have been revised from the prior submission in order to improve the color palette and relate better to the architectural materials. A small concessions kiosk is proposed, with a dark bronze facade to match the building's window mullions; he said that the kiosk would improve the activity as well as the safety of the plaza. Elevated gardens, seating walls, and benches would provide further amenities in the plaza, accommodating a wide range of users across the seasons; he said that many people would visit the plaza multiple times, and the design offers a variety of experiences. He presented a diagram of the relationship between the plaza details and the surrounding architectural elements.
Several Commission members asked for clarification of the water feature proposal. Mr. Balsley said that visitors would be able to dip their feet into the thin sheet of water along the plaza; the water would cascade alongside a monolithic stone that would serve as a safety barrier along the sunken courtyard. He added that an alternative to the monolith could be a series of closely spaced glass rods, providing the necessary safety barrier while avoiding the need for a standard parapet wall. Mr. Krieger asked for clarification of a green structure in the perspective views; Mr. Balsley responded that this is a green wall surrounding an exhaust structure, serving as a visual backdrop for the concessions kiosk. Vines would also grow along the supports of the roof structure sheltering the porch along the Winder Building. He clarified that the modest elevation of the porch above the plaza would not require a railing; the edge would serve as seating.
Mr. Balsley and Mr. Garrett presented the perimeter security elements. Mr. Balsley emphasized the small number of proposed bollards, indicating that the bollards along 17th Street would be positioned behind the prevailing pedestrian path along the sidewalk. Mr. Garrett said that vehicular barriers would be needed only at the breezeways and plaza access, not around the entire building. He said that the proposal is simple modern bollards that would be less obtrusive than the existing large concrete barriers. He added that the F Street entrance to the loading dock and underground parking would have a guardbooth and additional security elements.
Mr. Garrett said that the existing building replaced an earlier Riggs Bank building, and some of the architectural medallions and column capitals from the Riggs building have been preserved in one of the site's sunken courtyards although they are difficult to see. Based on consultation with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, the proposal includes moving these artifacts to a new display along one of the breezeway walls; he presented two tentative options for where this display could be sited. He emphasized that the display would be better protected and more visible to the public than the current installation. The proposal also includes an interpretive panel describing the history of the Riggs building. He said that these displays would be relatively small elements within the overall scale of the project's public space.
Mr. Krieger expressed support for the revised program and resulting simplification of the proposed building alterations; he emphasized that the project has improved since the previous review. Mr. Freelon agreed, while commenting that the glass railings proposed in the plaza could become scratched and dirty while also obscuring the water that is intended as part of the plaza experience; he suggested consideration of a different design for the railing.
Ms. Meyer commented that the design of the plaza has improved substantially; she particularly supported the effort to reinterpret the original design goals for the plaza, which we now appreciate as an early example of making a public building more truly public. She summarized the key elements of the plaza's original design as a long seating wall and a unifying brick ground plane. She noted her observation from visiting the plaza that the brick surface is highly varied, including running bond and herringbone patterns; the brick also unifies the building base with the ground plane. She acknowledged that such details may not yet have been resolved for the current proposal, but suggested that this geometric complexity be conveyed in the plaza's new paving. She supported the proposal to provide a roof shelter above the seating porch, accommodating visitors even during rain. However, she questioned the proposal for a row of trees along the front of the porch, commenting that they would block views and would not create shade at this location along the north side of the Winder Building. She suggested simplifying the design by removing these trees, which would also allow the nearby bosque toward the center of the plaza to read more strongly as a floating object within the space; she noted that the bosque location was originally designed for an ice skating rink, which would have had a floating appearance within wood decking. She suggested that the bosque be treated as the one element that interrupts the plaza's overall spatial geometry. Mr. Krieger agreed that the line of trees along the porch should be removed from the design.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk offered overall support for the proposal. She commented that the Riggs Bank artifacts might be more effective if they are grouped at one location due to their relatively small size within the overall scale of the project. She also agreed with Mr. Freelon's criticism of the proposed glass railings, commenting that they appear more appropriate for residential balconies than for this civic space; she suggested instead a railing design that conveys strength. She also suggested coordinating the bollard alignments with the building's column lines, rather than placing some bollards within public space; along 17th Street, she suggested that the bollards be located along the bottom stair of the flight leading up to the plaza. Mr. Garrett offered to study this further.
Mr. Krieger acknowledged the explanation of why the rooftop play area would be enclosed by walls, but he commented that the proposal still seems problematic; he said that a children's area surrounded by an eight–foot–high wall seems like an unpleasant and prison–like space. He suggested a lower wall with an additional open barrier above, improving the quality of the space for the children and the adult staff of the childcare center. Mr. Garrett emphasized the concern that play equipment may be visible above a lower wall and added that the inside face of the wall has not yet been designed; Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that it could be a green wall. Mr. Luebke noted that the proposed wall height seems excessively tall for typical building codes; Mr. Garrett responded that the regulations for childcare spaces are especially complicated. Mr. Luebke added that penthouse structures are subject to additional regulations, particularly if this area is construed as an occupiable space. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the proposal is acceptable aesthetically, subject to development of the inside face of the wall; she noted that the Commission does not need to address zoning or other regulatory issues. Mr. Krieger urged further study of this design feature, acknowledging that his concern might be resolved through the treatment of the wall's inside face.
Upon a motion by Mr. Freelon with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the concept submission with the comments provided.
G. District of Columbia Department of General Services
1. CFA 16/JAN/14–6, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, 1680 35th Street, NW. Building modernization and additions. Concept. Ms. Batcheler introduced the proposed modifications to the historic Western High School building that dates from the 1890s; it has served since the 1970s as the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, the city's magnet high school for the arts. The building is located just outside the boundary of the Commission's Georgetown jurisdiction. She noted that the Commission members have copies of letters from neighborhood groups concerning the proposal. She asked Peter Davidson of the D.C. Department of General Services to begin the presentation.
Mr. Davidson said that the Duke Ellington School has been a highly successful program within the D.C. public school system since becoming established in this building in the 1970s, achieving national status as a leading high school for the performing arts. He said that this success has been achieved despite insufficient programmatic space, and the current proposal is intended to modernize the school. He introduced Chris Graae of Cox Graae + Spack Architects to present the design.
Mr. Graae said that the proposal is a refinement of the competition–winning design that went through an extensive two–stage selection process; a video is available that illustrates the competition design. The project has been further coordinated with the Commission staff, the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, the school's project team, the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, and the community; the current proposal has evolved in recent months in response to this coordination.
Mr. Graae provided an overview of the school's context and history. The school occupies the block bounded by 35th, 36th, and R Streets and Reservoir Road; an additional playing field is located several blocks to the west, which was considered as a potential site in conjunction with the school modernization, but the proposal would continue to accommodate the entire school on its existing block. He presented photographs of the school's original 1890s building; its expansion in 1915, which added substantial wings and enlarged the entrance portico on the east facade; and further expansion and alterations following a fire in 1923, resulting in cornice alterations and removal of the roof balustrade. He described the resulting composition of the entrance facade as a very refined Classical Revival design. Ramps were added in the 1980s to improve access to the building; these would be replaced. The lost balustrade would be reconstructed if the budget allows, and if deemed appropriate after further study of the historic preservation issues.
Mr. Graae summarized the existing configuration of the school: a front bar on the east containing the main entrance portico, facing 35th Street across a broad entrance lawn; a back bar on the west along 36th Street, with a utilitarian but handsome facade; an east–west hyphen connecting these bars, containing the school's auditorium; and lower–height volumes containing gymnasiums for boys and girls, located north and south of the auditorium. He also indicated the smokestack along 36th Street, which would be retained as a character–defining element; he recalled that the planned removal of a smokestack had been contentious in his firm's recent renovation of Wilson High School. He said that the facade has historically been painted brick, notwithstanding a modern effort to remove the paint. He presented photographs and indicated the relatively few existing street trees, noting that paved parking is provided along some edges of the site in place of the historic landscaping; the proposal would relocate the parking to a new interior garage, allowing for improved landscaping of the site. He said that the historic entrance is not currently used, and students squeeze in through a small entrance adjacent to the loading dock along 36th Street; the proposal would return the main entrance to the east facade. He indicated the row houses to the north and south, across R Street and Reservoir Road, and the Washington International School to the west across 36th Street; he also emphasized the tight urban condition of the school's side and rear facades along the street edges, relieved by the open space of the large front lawn.
Mr. Graae provided an overview of the proposed alterations to the building. The auditorium would be demolished and replaced by a world–class theater facility that meets the needs of the school's performing arts programs. The gymnasiums are no longer needed for the modern curriculum and would be demolished; a fitness center and dance facility would provide opportunities for exercise. The one–story street facades of the gymnasiums would be retained, and the cleared middle portion of the site would be excavated to accommodate a lower–level 100–space parking garage. On the gymnasium sites to the north and south, new construction would contain many of the arts–related rooms, such as rehearsal spaces for choral and instrumental groups; these large, tall spaces would be difficult to accommodate within the standard classroom configuration of the historic architecture. On the auditorium site at the center of the school, a large new atrium would be created, and the new theater would be placed within the atrium. The iconic theater form, supported on a large tripod, would be the symbolic heart of the school within the atrium space above a commons and cafeteria area. The existing front bar would be renovated to continue to provide classrooms for the standard academic component of the school's curriculum. The back bar would be much more extensively renovated, resulting in a combination of existing and new facade elements as well as increased height. He summarized the increase in the school's size from the current 170,000–square–foot–building to approximately 270,000 to 280,000 square feet.
For the design of the site, Mr. Graae said that the front lawn and curved walk would remain with minor changes and improved landscaping; many existing trees are in poor condition and would be removed, and the new landscape would restore the historic allees of trees along the curved walk. A large entrance plaza would be created at the foot of the portico, providing primary access one story lower than the existing main floor; he noted that a similar design strategy was used for the Wilson High School renovation. The plaza could be used as an outdoor performance area. He clarified that the historic entrance stairs would remain, although this is shown incorrectly on some drawings. The more steeply sloped area along the site's east side would be planted with groundcover. A small parking area for visitor and handicapped use would be provided along R Street at the northeast corner of the building. The garage entrance is currently proposed along Reservoir Road on the south, where the street grade is favorable for the driveway, but he said that shifting the entrance to 36th or R Street is also being considered due to community concerns and the relaxing of constraints previously imposed by the D.C. Department of Transportation. He cited examples of the project's emphasis on sustainability, with the goal of an environmental rating of LEED gold: geothermal wells beneath the front lawn, which would not be visible at the surface; landscaping and photovoltaics on much of the roof surface; permeable paving on the site; and cisterns for stormwater management. Landscaping buffers would be placed in the narrow areas between the street edges and the building's north, south, and west facades. The loading dock would remain along 36th Street, with its visual impact somewhat reduced by a new cantilevered volume above.
Ms. Meyer asked whether the submitted drawings depict the competition design or the current proposal; Mr. Graae clarified that some earlier designs are depicted. He described several recent design modifications in response to community concerns: the hardscape area of the proposed entrance plaza has been reduced; the visitor parking area has been reduced and reconfigured to use a single curb cut on R Street; and the drop–off lane has been shifted off the site and onto R Street.
Mr. Graae presented the proposal for ramped access to the building: the prominent pair of 1980s ramps would be removed, and a less obtrusive single ramp would be provided. The proposal includes reconfiguration of existing basement lightwells near the entrance terrace, and he said that the result would be more respectful of the building's historic character. Proposed alterations to the grading at the building edges would allow improved light for the interior spaces, which would support the proposed program in the former basement level.
Mr. Graae described the major programmatic spaces that would relate to the building's exterior. Two smaller performance halls on the south side would have direct public access from the Reservoir Road sidewalk; the recording studio, fitness center, and health suite would also have exterior access. The historic entrance and an enlarged lobby gallery would provide public access to the new theater across a bridge above the atrium commons, and would not require the security screening equipment used at the student entrance on the lower level. Above the historic entrance lobby, a terrace within the portico–not currently accessible to students–would be rehabilitated for student use, with a new glazed "lantern" space extending into the terrace as a reading room. This addition is intended to contrast with the historic structure, and it would be kept behind the column line of the portico; doors on this lantern space would provide access to the remaining outdoor space of the terrace. Ms. Meyer observed that the plan of the lantern is different in the projected image than in the submission booklets; Mr. Graae confirmed that the projected image is more current, illustrating a more regularized and symmetrical form in response to comments from the staff and others that the earlier design would be too jarring.
Mr. Graae described the "skyview terrace," a rooftop performance space that has been a controversial element of the design. He emphasized that the D.C. government and school representatives consider this terrace to be an important asset in the design. It would be located above the theater at the center of the building, expressing the continuation of the theater's presence and framed by remnants of the theater's shell form rising through the roof. The terrace would also be set within the skylights above the atrium space extending through the building; he clarified that the skyview terrace would in effect be the roof deck on top of the main theater. He emphasized that the terrace's central position within the school complex would place it approximately 100 feet from any building edges, making it relatively unobtrusive. He indicated the theater's large fly loft to the west; its height has been reduced as much as possible while still meeting the theater's advanced technical requirements. He also indicated the rooftop mechanical equipment, noting that its extent and noise would be reduced by the partial reliance on geothermal wells; he said that the prevailing appearance of the roof would be plantings, photovoltaic arrays, and skylights. He confirmed that the rendering depicts chairs being arranged for an audience to gather on the skyview terrace, emphasizing that the school administration would need to work with the community to establish appropriate uses and restrictions for the terrace.
Mr. Freelon asked the height of the shell walls framing the skyview terrace; Mr. Graae responded that they would be 22 to 25 feet high. Mr. Freelon observed that the views from the terrace would therefore be upward rather than horizontally across the cityscape. Mr. Graae clarified that the opacity of these walls would vary, and a range of views would therefore be available; he presented a nighttime rendering of the terrace, noting that the extraordinary views would extend to the Mall monuments and the Kennedy Center, which is institutionally affiliated with the Duke Ellington School. He referred to the important section drawings shown on the presentation boards; Mr. Luebke noted that these sections were not included in the submission booklets that were provided to the Commission members in advance of the meeting. Mr. Freelon noted the importance of providing adequate drawings for the Commission members to study in advance of the meeting, observing that the submission booklets for this project contain far fewer images than the projected presentation.
Mr. Graae presented the proposed elevations along with sightline studies from the nearby streets and homes. He indicated the sightlines showing that neither the theater fly loft nor the shell walls of the skyview terrace would be readily visible from the ground, nor from the second–story windows of the homes. Mr. Krieger questioned the consistency of the fly loft's height as depicted in the various drawings; Mr. Graae responded that the apparent variation may result from the different drawing technique of the perspective and elevation views, but he offered to verify the accuracy and consistency of the drawings.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk observed that the design approach uses symmetry in some portions of the building where existing facades are being retained, and she asked why this approach is not evident in the proposal for the rear facade along 36th Street. Mr. Freelon and Mr. Krieger raised the same question for the side facades, particularly to the north along R Street. Ms. Plater–Zyberk added that the building's historic form is strongly symmetrical, and the symmetrical treatment of the proposed theater contributes to the strength of its design. Mr. Graae responded that the design approach includes preserving the integrity of the existing facades while creating contemporary additions with a contrasting character; the goal is an exuberant and creative building that supports the core concept of creativity in the school's curriculum. More specifically, he said that the 36th Street rear elevation is not intended to have the powerful rigid symmetry of the front elevation, and is instead designed as a more utilitarian facade. He added that the existing smokestack provides an asymmetrical element, and the asymmetrically curved cantilevered volume is necessary to accommodate the building's program. He indicated the resulting west elevation, with much of the historic facade preserved to the south in contrast to a glazed new character to the north; he also noted the portions of the historic facade that would be visible beside the glazing along the north end of this elevation. He added that the extent of facade glazing on the new construction is still being studied to address the privacy concerns of residents of the facing homes; he said that the amount of glazing has already been reduced substantially from the initial design.
Mr. Graae concluded with several additional renderings of the school's interior and exterior during day and night lighting, as well as comparisons of the competition entry to the current proposal showing revisions that have already been made during the design process. He said that the exterior material selections are still being studied; metal panels are proposed for portions of the new construction, and the renderings illustrate a tentative color selection that would give a patinated metallic character. He said that this color would enliven the facade, but community members have suggested a more restrained palette; an alternative rendering illustrates a monochramatic zinc finish, which provides much less contrast with the existing facades.
Vice Chairman Plater–Zyberk suggested continuing to public comments, noting the potential loss of the Commission's quorum. She recognized Ron Lewis, chairman of the locally elected Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) for the Georgetown and Burleith neighborhoods. Vice Chairman Plater–Zyberk confirmed that the Commission members have received the letter submitted by the ANC; Mr. Lewis summarized several concerns. He emphasized that the community supports the school, wants it to remain in its current location, and encourages the intention to renovate it. But he said that some aspects of the concept submission are disappointing. He said that the proposal is not adequately respectful of its surroundings, particularly the nearby row houses; the distance between these houses and the planned additions is inadequate. He also said that the proposal is not respectful of the front lawn, which is part of the school's character and charm. For the building itself, he said that the rooftop performance space is inappropriate for the building, visually and functionally, and should not be part of the design. He said that such a facility would be more appropriate at the Kennedy Center, surrounded by ample open space, but the likely use of nighttime lighting and amplified sound would be problematic at this school site; he added that the sightline studies do not address these concerns, and the rooftop audiences could number many hundreds of people. He opposed the proposal to insert a parking lot within the front lawn area, commenting that it would be unnecessary as well as uncharacteristic of other schools in the neighborhood. He suggested that this small parking requirement be accommodated on the street or within the building's proposed garage. He also criticized the proposed treatment of the portico, which he described as a strong and defining element of the classical front facade. He said that the portico has not previously been lit, while the proposed lantern addition would introduce extensive lighting; he cited a nighttime rendering by the architect that suggested excessive brightness that would be inappropriate for the neighborhood. He suggested that the portico should instead remain as a void, serving to break up the plane of the front facade rather than becoming a new visual distraction. He supported the possibility of moving the garage entrance to 36th Street, commenting that it would be visually and functionally problematic along Reservoir Road. For the exterior panels on the additions, he supported the gray color rather than the orange that was shown on earlier renderings; he added that the texture of the school's existing materials is an important feature in providing a small scale to the massive building, and the texture of the new materials should be considered carefully.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk recognized Ray Phillips, a neighborhood resident and parent of past and current Duke Ellington students. He said that he attended the two neighborhood meetings on the project, and the criticisms offered by Mr. Lewis were not raised by community members. He said that the community did not oppose the rooftop terrace, but instead had focused on establishing limitations on nighttime lighting and noise in deference to the nearby residents. He said that the letter submitted by the ANC was drafted prior to the public meeting and does not adequately represent the discussion that occurred, particularly the positive comments of many residents.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk recognized Rory Pullens, the head of school at the Duke Ellington School. Mr. Pullens noted the longstanding positive relationship between the school and the community. He said that the facilities presented by Mr. Graae are needed by the school in support of the academic program, but he emphasized the commitment to working with the neighbors and the ANC in establishing appropriate limits for the school's facilities. He expressed confidence that the issues with the neighborhood would be resolved in order to continue the school's positive community relationship.
Vice Chairman Plater–Zyberk recognized Robert vom Eigen, vice president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown (CAG). Mr. Vom Eigen said that CAG's comments are conveyed in a letter that has been distributed to the Commission members, and CAG would be working through a mediator in further discussions on the school design. He said that the changes already made to the design are an encouraging response to neighborhood concerns, and further revisions should be discussed.
Vice–Chairman Plater–Zyberk acknowledged the public comments and expressed confidence that the operational and functional issues could be worked out between the school and the community, in accordance with Mr. Pullens' commitment; she said that such issues often arise with institutions located in community settings. She invited design comments from the Commission members.
Mr. Freelon commended the design team for establishing a strong vision in its competition entry and maintaining that vision through the current development of the design. He agreed with Ms. Plater–Zyberk that the 36th Street facade might be improved by relating more strongly to the building's central east–west axis. He cited the issue of proximity to homes on the north and south, and he cautioned that the proposed alteration of the west facade appears to have the inappropriate character of a suburban office building; he suggested that this facade–like the historic east facade–should have a strong formal character, while the north and south facades could more appropriately be treated asymmetrically.
Mr. Krieger disagreed with the comments on the west facade, citing the long architectural tradition of a formal front and informal back facade. He said that redesign of this facade is also unnecessary because it faces another school rather than houses, and because the proposed design appears to accommodate the building's functional needs. However, he said that the north and south facades are more of a concern because they face smaller–scale houses, and he suggested that these facades have a less aggressive character; he supported the presented option of a more muted color selection. He expressed overall support for approving the concept, citing many thoughtful design moves in the proposal to accommodate the substantially larger program within approximately the existing building footprint. He particularly supported the creative approach to being faithful to the historic classical building while also expressing modern aesthetics and values. He encouraged the effort to resolve issues such as noise and lighting, which he said should be considered as design issues as well as operational issues. He said that the small proposed parking area would not have a significant effect on the school's large front lawn. He supported the proposal to return the functional entrance to the east facade; while shifting the entrance to a lower level than the historic entrance is a significant change, he said that the proposal responds creatively to this change by using the new entrance level as the base of the atrium. He summarized his strong support for the project including the informal composition of the rear facade.
Ms. Meyer offered several comments on the proposed architectural and site treatment at the east side of the school, including the walks, ramp, stairs, plaza, and grading; she expressed regret at the inconsistency among the drawings depicting this area, resulting in difficulty understanding the currently proposed design. She observed that the portico is itself a major additive element within the facade's classical composition, and the proposal to add a new piece within the portico could be difficult; she said that the relationship among the masses and surfaces must be very carefully resolved, and she noted the prevalence of open porticoes in Washington without any need for filling them in. She emphasized that the open space of the portico can be an important part of the building, although perhaps some type of addition within it could be accommodated; she suggested that the test for the addition be whether it makes the portico more remarkable than it already is. She said that the relationship of the portico to the plaza, and particularly to its amphitheater form, is not yet coherent; she recommended a careful three–dimensional physical model to study the exact topography of the site, ramp, and stair, and cited the lack of a complete grading plan as problematic. She emphasized that the standard of design for this project is especially high because of the school's focus on performing and visual arts; the students should be able to appreciate and admire the design of the school. She encouraged the process of simplification that appears to be demonstrated in the sequence of drawings. She suggested continuing study of details such as railing locations, which she said would have a major impact on the experience of the site. She disagreed with Mr. Krieger on the impact of the proposed parking area, commenting that it is entirely inappropriate at the proposed location; she said that it would have a significant negative impact on the site's green verges and on the allee of trees, which is not consistently illustrated on the drawings. She said that the proposed parking lot suggests a collision of design intentions, and she noted that other D.C. schools have accommodated all of their parking in underground garages. Ms. Plater–Zyberk agreed that the extensive proposed garage should be adequate for all of the building's needs. Ms. Meyer recommended not detracting from the strong gesture of the front lawn by jamming in other functional elements at its edges.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk agreed with Mr. Krieger that the overall planning of the building is very thoughtful, including the shift of the entrance to a lower level than historically intended, but commented that this thoughtfulness has not extended to the portico treatment. She said that this shift would effectively add a new third level to the base of the portico, which requires careful study of how to adapt this classical form in accordance with traditional design principles; she added that most architects trained in modern times are not knowledgeable about these issues, and she suggested that the design team be expanded to include an architect skilled in classical design who could develop the proposal for the east side of the building. She suggested possible solutions of placing the new entrance in a landscape setting, or else reproportioning the facade elements which could be achieved in a manner that is respectful of the portico and its architectural language. She emphasized that this is a difficult design task that requires someone well trained in this specialty.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the approach to the project seemed surprising initially, with removal and reconstruction of the building's center while retaining both the west and east facades; a simpler solution might have been to demolish the entire western portion of the building. She expressed appreciation that the proposed solution responds to people's respect for the historic character of the western portion of the building; this forms the basis for her earlier comments on retaining a sense of symmetry as the organizing principle of the west facade as part of the effort to respect its historic character. She clarified that asymmetry is not inherently problematic as a design approach, but nonetheless it might not be the most respectful choice for this particular facade. She emphasized that the more important concern is a more refined treatment of the portico on the east facade, which could result in an exemplary project. Mr. Krieger agreed.
Mr. Krieger offered a motion to approve the concept subject to the comments and concerns that have been discussed; he emphasized the issues involving resolution of the school's east side, as well as the comments on the roof use, sightlines, and treating the side facades less aggressively. Vice Chairman Plater–Zyberk commented that these issues are extensive. Mr. Luebke noted that the issues effectively involve all pieces of the proposal and their interrelationship, adding that resolution of the issues at the concept level is particularly important for submissions from the D.C. government. Mr. Krieger clarified that he sees the concept's project as quite strong and not in need of significant change; he said that the issues involve adjustments to several parts of the project.
Mr. Freelon agreed that the consensus is favorable toward the concept; he said that if the limited range of concerns could be articulated adequately, then the action could be an approval so that the project could move forward. He asked if the project should be reviewed again at the concept level. Mr. Luebke said that the Commission has sometimes offered a "general conceptual approval" in such situations, requesting a further concept–level submission. He added that D.C. government projects will typically proceed directly to the final submission stage upon receiving a concept approval, while the Commission seems reluctant to have the next review of this project occur at the final submission stage; Ms. Meyer agreed that the project is not yet ready for development as a final design.
Vice Chairman Plater–Zyberk summarized the consensus for an action that would support moving the project forward while providing for an additional concept–level review. She suggested that the Commission request a revised concept submission; Mr. Luebke said that this request could be combined with a general conceptual approval. Vice Chairman Plater–Zyberk suggested this action as a clarification of Mr. Krieger's motion. Mr. Krieger questioned the meaning of requesting a revised concept; he said that the Commission wants to see a clarified submission rather than a new conceptual approach for the project. Vice Chairman Plater–Zyberk agreed with this consensus. Mr. Freelon suggested requesting a refined rather than revised concept; Vice Chairman Plater–Zyberk said that the request is for a response to the issues that were raised by the Commission. Mr. Krieger noted that the Commission could consider such refinements at the final review stage, and if necessary could request resubmissions to address unresolved issues. Vice Chairman Plater–Zyberk said that the final review stage typically follows substantial investment in design development, and this stage may be too late for addressing some of the issues that have been identified. She reiterated the suggestion for further Commission review to address the issues at the concept stage of the process.
Mr. Luebke suggested that the request for an additional concept–level submission could be treated as an amendment to Mr. Krieger's motion, in conjunction with approval of the submission as a general concept. Mr. Krieger accepted this amendment; upon a second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission adopted this action.
2. CFA 16/JAN/14–7, River Terrace Special Education Center (former River Terrace Elementary School), 34th and Dix Streets and Anacostia Avenue, NE. Building renovation and additions. Concept. Mr. Simon introduced the proposal to adapt a 1950s neighborhood elementary school to serve as a special–education campus. He noted that the location is along the Anacostia River and on the edge of a residential neighborhood. He asked Eubert Braithwaite of the D.C. Department of General Services to begin the presentation.
Mr. Braithwaite emphasized the unique program for the school, which will serve the city's most physically challenged student population within the D.C. public school system. These students are currently accommodated at two locations–one for elementary school students, and one for middle– and high–school students up to age 23–which would be consolidated into this single facility. The single–story configuration of the River Terrace building is advantageous for the program, and the building's vista toward the Anacostia River will also be a benefit for the school. He introduced architect Ed Schmidt of Fanning Howey, working as a team with Bryant Mitchell Architects, to present the design.
Mr. Schmidt reiterated the suitability of the site and existing building for adaptation to serve the city's special–education students. He described the original building and its addition as typical of the 1950s and 1960s; it was designed to face the neighborhood to the east, and has not previously taken advantage of the vista westward to the Anacostia River. The building is also prominently visible from the elevated Benning Road on the north, which will become a more important approach for the school's proposed citywide program; access to the school will shift to Anacostia Avenue on the west side of the site, where the large number of small buses for these students can be accommodated without intruding on the residential neighborhood. This functional reorientation provides the opportunity to take advantage of the riverfront vista.
Mr. Schmidt described the design intention for the school's layout. The goal is a transition from the louder and more distracting space of the school's entrance area into the quieter and more supportive space of the classrooms. The entrance sequence is therefore designed to lead students gradually into the building, transitioning in scale and light. The proposal includes an addition to the existing U–shaped building, resulting in enclosure of the school's courtyard. The school's glass walls and gardens are intended to support the transition to a protected, focused space for the students. The existing building would serve as the academic core of the school, while entry, office, and support facilities including a therapeutic pool would be located in the proposed addition toward the river; the program includes an extensive health suite to support the students. The classrooms for younger and older students would generally be in different parts of the building, while all would share the main entrance and special facilities. He noted the special design constraints related to the interior: each of the standard–sized classrooms would be used for a very small number of students, and the perception of space can be different due to the physical limitations of the students.
Mr. Schmidt described the proposed entrance in greater detail, emphasizing the intention to make a design statement about arrival at the building. The extensive student drop–off area would have a long canopy to provide shelter for as many as 23 small buses; the canopy would be fabric held by a tensile structure. He added that renewable energy is an additional goal of the project, and the roof of the proposed addition would have photovoltaic cells. The overall shape of the existing unused smokestack would remain; its upper portion would be replaced by two helical turbines, and it would therefore continue to serve in its original role of generating electricity while no longer being associated with coal combustion.
Mr. Luebke noted the imminent loss of a quorum; Mr. Schmidt concluded by presenting a rendering that provides an overview of the school's proposed exterior.
Ms. Meyer asked for clarification of the enclosed or open–air portions of the courtyard, noting the references on the drawings to a winter garden and skylights. Mr. Schmidt responded that a small portion of currently exterior space would become enclosed as the winter garden and sensory zone; the courtyard itself would be exterior, although some areas would be protected by canopies.
Mr. Freelon questioned the combination of curved forms near the proposed entrance, including the canopy structure along the drop–off area and the prominent curved roof above the entrance lobby. He suggested further refinement of these elements, adding that the entrance lobby seem unexpectedly tall and narrow. He observed that the horizontally proportioned canopy and vertically proportioned lobby serve a similar purpose but have opposing formal treatments. Mr. Schmidt responded that the opposition of forms is intentional, and relates to the very different structural systems of these features; the tensile canopy structure reaches out, while the "sound wave" form of the lobby roof reaches up. He added that these forms were discussed extensively by the project team. Mr. Freelon commented that the design seems unusually complicated for a relatively small building, observing the many unusual angles in the plan.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk offered several comments related to the site's vista toward the Anacostia River, which she said was not immediately apparent in the somewhat minimal submission booklet. She said that the conceptual circulation diagram has perhaps been applied too literally in developing the site plan, with the result that the parking lot is proposed between the school and the river. She suggested shifting the parking lot to the side of the building, such as on the north, so that the school could have an unobstructed eastern exposure to the river; she added that this would also allow simplification of the building's geometry and clarification of its design orientation. Mr. Schmidt responded that the site planning challenges include the large number of buses and the topography; he added that the rear facades of Benning Road buildings are toward the school site on the north. Ms. Plater–Zyberk emphasized that this adjacency may be more suitable for the parking, so that the building–rather than the parking lot–can face the river. Ms. Meyer agreed, observing that the current design would provide a view from the entrance to the river that is seen through a messy vehicular area; she said that the site plan is not helping to connect the building to the river, and she supported the suggestion to consolidate the parking to the side of the site. Ms. Plater–Zyberk added that the curved layout of the proposed parking lot is inefficient, while an orthogonal configuration to the north could be an improvement. Mr. Schmidt clarified that the prominent classroom spaces facing the parking lot would actually have relatively few students at any time; he said that the office areas would be more densely occupied, and these spaces are located to have the better view toward the river. He offered to study the configuration further.
Mr. Freelon commented that this project is less developed than the previous proposal for the Duke Ellington School; the River Terrace proposal lacks a clear, strong concept, and he suggested not approving the submission; he suggested that the staff work further with the design team.
Mr. Krieger asked if the distance from the school to the river would limit the view; Mr. Schmidt responded that a playing field is between the school and river. Mr. Krieger asked further if the design has a goal of giving the students a visual relationship to the river, such as a view from a controlled indoor space; Mr. Schmidt said that the school is much more inwardly focused, and the site planning is more a response to the broader context such as views from Benning Bridge. Ms. Plater–Zyberk observed that the design goals therefore include the building's image, which she said is an additional reason not to place the parking lot in front of the school's river frontage. Mr. Krieger clarified his concern that ground–level views may not be significant, whether from a classroom or the principal's office; he suggested that the second–floor space could be used to provide better views. Mr. Schmidt responded that the only two–story volume is a double–height atrium to bring additional light to some of the first–floor spaces. Mr. Krieger questioned whether these taller spaces with unoccupied upper volumes are worthwhile as part of the building's image; he suggested instead that a second–floor porch, classroom, or conference room would provide a better opportunity to relate the building to the river and bridge. He added that this issue concerns him more than the parking lots, which are an unavoidable if unwanted part of site planning.
Mr. Krieger and Ms. Meyer agreed that the concept proposal should be resubmitted for further review. Ms. Meyer emphasized that schools are important public buildings, for the staff and the community as well as for the students. She said that the proposed site plan is not of the quality she would expect for a school; she contrasted the previous review of the Duke Ellington School, with concern over the siting of a small number of parking spaces, with the River Terrace proposal for a substandard parking layout that occupies an entire corner of the site. She emphasized greater focus on the river context, including the citywide effort to improve the health of the Anacostia River. She suggested conceiving of the landscape as multi–functional; rather than separate retention ponds and lawns that look unusable, she suggested that bioswales be integrated with the parking lot to improve the design character. She said that an improved parking layout might include more trees, creating the appearance of a bosque when seen from a slight distance, and which only becomes apparent as a parking lot when approached more closely. She discouraged the design approach of reducing the landscape to a set of separate programmatic components, and instead recommended seeing the site as a spatial whole that establishes the character and public face of the building. She emphasized the importance of the site near the riverfront park and Benning Bridge, and said that the banal treatment of the site's northwest and southwest corners is unacceptable in this context.
Mr. Luebke offered to work further with the project team in developing a new submission. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
(At this point, Vice Chairman Plater–Zyberk and Mr. Freelon departed the meeting, resulting in the loss of a quorum.)
3. CFA 16/JAN/14–8, Chuck Brown Memorial Park (Langdon Park), 20th and Franklin Streets, NE. New memorial to musician Chuck Brown. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposed memorial to Chuck Brown, a musician who grew up in Washington, D.C., and was known for developing the Go–go style. He said that the site in the western portion of Langdon Park is immediately south of the Woodridge branch library, recently reviewed by the Commission. He asked Avon Wilson of the D.C. Department of General Services to begin the presentation. Mr. Wilson said that the project was originally conceived as an amphitheater; based on subsequent community meetings, the program has been adjusted to a less active park that would have elements related to Chuck Brown's music. He said that the project would also include a sculptural work that would be submitted separately by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He introduced architect Michael Marshall of Marshall/Moya Design to present the proposal.
Mr. Marshall said that the proposal is centered on a plaza that would be flanked symmetrically by bermed lawn panels and cherry trees, providing a sense of place at the center of the memorial. Along the outer edge of the central landscape, tiles printed with photographic images illustrating the history of Chuck Brown's career would be mounted on a sloped concrete retaining wall. He provided samples of the porcelain tiles, emphasizing their suitability for exterior use. He indicated the adjacent existing tot lot and playground, across from the tile display, that would be incorporated into the overall memorial precinct. He described other features of the context, including 20th Street that splits the park; the nearby recreation center; an open–air pavilion used for picnics; tennis courts; a walk leading uphill to the Woodridge branch library; and nearby houses. He noted the topography of the area and said that the site is essentially in a valley within the park. The memorial is designed to be entered from 20th Street, and low site walls along the street would provide seating and display the name of the memorial. He presented perspective views of the plaza which would serve as a gathering space and potentially a setting for informal concerts, with people sitting on the bermed lawns. He said that lighting at the upper end of the retaining wall would illuminate the tiles below and provide uplighting of the cherry trees along the top of the berm. Additional site lighting would be provided by proposed bollard LED fixtures as well as existing pole fixtures, some of which would be relocated. He also described an area near the playground that would provide children with fixed musical toys for exploring the syncopated and percussive character of Go–go music.
Mr. Marshall described the proposed materials for the project: pervious pavers for the plaza; synthetic grass for the lawn seating area; stabilized bark mulch for some of the walks; and the porcelain tiles. He introduced landscape architect Sharon Bradley of Bradley Site Design to present the landscape design in greater detail.
Ms. Bradley described the primary purpose of the proposed site plantings as architectural elements, framing the edges of the central space and providing a colonnade to focus views. The plantings would also provide year–round visual interest to the park, and would serve to process stormwater; she emphasized the importance of capturing stormwater due to the site's low elevation, and indicated the bioretention areas that would be heavily planted. She said that the proposed palette of plants is primarily native, low–maintenance species. The landscape design would maintain sightlines across the park to improve safety. She noted that the nearby landscape of the Woodridge branch library is being designed by Oehme van Sweden & Associates, and her proposed palette and style are similar to the planned library landscape.
Ms. Bradley described several of the specific planting proposals. A grove of river birch trees would be located at the eastern front of the memorial, near 20th Street, in order to provide a visual edge to the plaza while allowing open sightlines. The planting beds would include grasses and colorful plantings that would give texture and relate to the colorful treatment of the concrete retaining wall. The plants in the bioretention areas would have a strong year–round presence, providing visual interest and serving to guide pedestrians to walk around the memorial space rather than through these planted areas. Additional river birches would be located near the toy instruments to give shade; she said that the texture of the trees would add to the sensory experience of the instruments. She also indicated the hybrid magnolia trees framing the larger space and the cherry trees that would define the berm and walks.
Ms. Meyer acknowledged the programmatic shift from an amphitheater to a memorial park, apparently the result of a complicated project history; she observed that the design nonetheless appears to have the form of an amphitheater, although this term is no longer being used to describe it. Mr. Wilson responded that the project will end up under the jurisdiction of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, which has asked to have a flexible space that can be used for park–related programming such as markets, festivals, and community events. The proposed circular plaza is therefore a passive recreational space; the previous amphitheater design had a more clearly defined use with features such as a stage and additional lighting. The current proposal is also intended to be quieter, in response to community concerns. Mr. Marshall noted that the memorial would replace an existing small bandshell.
Mr. Krieger commented that the project is interesting and unusual. He observed that people looking at the photographic tiles would not be aware of the extensive bermed lawn behind the display wall; similarly, people on the lawn would not be aware of the nearby tiles. He commented that this is a strange approach to designing a memorial, creating some uncertainty of whether the actual memorial is the display wall or the central plaza and berm, although he concluded that the concept–while unusual–is not necessarily problematic. Mr. Marshall responded that the presentation does not depict the future sculpture that is being developed by another D.C. government agency; this may be a figural sculpture of Chuck Brown or some other representation of his work. He said that another concern was that the community residents requested that images of Chuck Brown not be visible from the principal public spaces, resulting in the placement of the tiles along the back of the site; this location also has the advantage of placing the memorial's educational content adjacent to the playground.
Mr. Krieger acknowledged these various programming decisions resulting to the flat plaza space at the center of the design, and he offered several suggestions for improving the details of the design. He recommended that the lighting for the tiles be placed at the bottom of the retaining wall rather than at the top, in order to reduce the public's view directly into the fixtures. He supported the proposal to under–light the cherry trees. He said that children may want to climb along the sloped retaining wall, which should be considered both as a safety issue and for the potential damage to the photographic tiles; Ms. Meyer added that skateboarding along this surface may also be a concern. Mr. Wilson responded that the design for the lower portion of the retaining wall will be developed further to discourage climbing and skateboarding. Mr. Krieger summarized the project as interesting and in need of further development.
Ms. Meyer commented that the component parts are well conceived, but the overall composition is not satsifactory. She cited the confusion of understanding what is the center of the design due to the placement of the display wall away from the plaza. The placement of this beautiful display wall next to a playground is also confusing, since it creates an attractive nuisance that invites children to use the tile surface for playing. Ms. Meyer cited the unclear basis for choosing these forms, as well as the lingering sense of the design's earlier amphitheater configuration. She emphasized that several elements would be very strong–the representation of Chuck Brown's life through photographic tiles, and perhaps the creation of a gathering space although its proposed shape is too similar to the nearby playground space. She reiterated that the several major elements do not have a clear relationship, instead forming a confusing mix of circular and semicircular spaces. She concluded that the design as proposed is odd and insufficiently developed. She added that one of the challenges of designing a public space is that it does not have defined edges, as a building does. She suggested exploration of several design revisions, such as establishing a more consistent edge and relating more carefully to the park.
Mr. Marshall responded that the proposed design meets the contemporary needs that were identified by the D.C. Department of General Services as well as the constraints of the given site; he offered to study modifications to the current design. Ms. Meyer, citing her familiarity with Chuck Brown's music, questioned the use of a symmetrical design approach for memorializing his work. She said that proposing toy drums in one portion of the site is insufficient, and the design should be a spatial representation of the music's syncopation and rhythm. For example, she said that the double–rows of trees could follow a syncopated pattern rather than be configured as traditional classical rows; the placement of the photographic tiles could also have a more complex spatial rhythm.
Mr. Luebke noted the apparent consensus of the two Commission members present that no action should be recommended for the Commission's adoption; he offered to prepare a letter conveying the comments provided, subject to confirmation by a quorum at the next meeting. He said that the staff could work with the project team to address the compatibility of design revisions with the community process that has shaped this proposal.
Mr. Wilson reiterated that the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities would soon be submitting a proposal for the memorial's sculpture. Mr. Krieger and Ms. Meyer encouraged a combined review of the memorial's site and sculpture proposals; Mr. Wilson and Mr. Marshall offered to coordinate the submissions to receive a holistic review. Mr. Wilson said that one artistic approach being considered for the sculpture is an abstract piece that would artistically convey the syncopation of the Go–go beat; this element would complement the currently submitted memorial design, which is intended to convey this history of Chuck Brown's life. He said that the site's paving pattern would offer a further opportunity to represent the syncopation of the music; such opportunities will be studied further as the design is developed. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 5:20 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Last Modified: February 21, 2014