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29 February 2008

Dear Ms. Cooper:

In its meeting of 21 February, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the concept designs for four new neighborhood libraries in the District of Columbia. The Commission appreciated the opportunity to meet you and learn about the District of Columbia Public Library's initiative for the District's library system. The Commission commended the DCPL on the quality of the designs, including the careful analysis of the program, sites, and community needs, as well as the extensive presentation materials and detailed models. All four concept designs were enthusiastically approved with the following comments:

Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library
The Commission members commented that the overall concept is strong but advised that the architectural elements at the entrance be clarified and strengthened. They noted that the library should serve as a civic beacon, rather than reflecting the retail character of the immediate context; they requested an alternative to the proposed vertical signage. The Commission also advised additional screening for the children's area from the sidewalk through refinements to the facade or landscape design. In general, the Commission recommended that the exterior cladding systems be studied with care, including a thorough and realistic consideration of regular maintenance requirements.

Anacostia Neighborhood Library
The Commission expressed appreciation for the sophistication of the design, commenting that the project's success will depend on high-quality detailing; cost constraints should therefore be considered carefully as the design is developed. The Commission members commented that the integrated design of the landscape and site is critical, and any necessary coordination with the D.C. Department of Transportation or other agencies with jurisdiction in the site area should be resolved so that the entire site design may be implemented.

Benning Neighborhood Library
The Commission members expressed enthusiasm for the design featuring a prominent clerestory over the library's main room. They acknowledged the difficulty of addressing both Benning Road along the north and the shopping area to the south; they concluded that the proposed two-story concept is an appropriate solution and in the tradition of libraries with an iconic staircase to the principal level. However, they raised concerns about the lack of information regarding the anticipated redevelopment of the adjacent shopping area and its potential impact on the context; they recommended close coordination between these projects as the library design is developed to ensure its success.

Watha T. Daniel / Shaw Neighborhood Library
The Commission discussed the neighborhood context, traffic circulation patterns, and the pedestrian approaches to the site, concluding that the entrance is located appropriately on the distinctive triangular block. However, the Commission members expressed concern about the architectural treatment of the entrance and its relationship to the primary street frontages. They recommended pulling back the south facade screen from the entrance area to reveal the glassy skin of the library behind; they also suggested that the column and roof configuration at the entrance be restudied to create more openness and a stronger presence along the street. Regarding the overall design of the site, the Commission advised a reevaluation of the landscape design in order to present an urban rather than suburban character.

The Commission praised the DCPL for what could be a model program for civic library architecture. However, the Commission members cautioned in general that the construction and long-term maintenance budgets will need to remain commensurate with the sophistication of these proposals; any design changes necessitated by financial constraints should be presented as part of future reviews. Please note that the staff is always available to assist you and the design teams with future submissions.

Sincerely,

/s/Thomas E. Luebke, AIA
Secretary

Ginny Cooper, Chief Librarian
District of Columbia Public Library
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library
901 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001

cc: Phil Freelon, The Freelon Group
Peter Cook, Davis Brody Bond Aedas

Last Modified: March 5, 2008