Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts
19 April 2012
The meeting was convened in the Commission of Fine Arts offices in the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, at 10:08 a.m.
A. Approval of the minutes of the 15 March meeting. Mr. Luebke reported that the minutes of the March meeting had been circulated to the Commission members in advance for their review. The Commission approved the minutes upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg. Mr. Luebke said that the minutes will be made available on the Commission's website.
B. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings: 17 May, 21 June, and 19 July 2012.
C. Report on recent and upcoming public presentations. Mr. Luebke announced several recent and upcoming presentations by members of the Commission and staff. He noted Ms. Balmori's lecture at the National Building Museum on 4 April–part of the museum's Spotlight On Design series–and his own presentation at the American Planning Association annual meeting in Los Angeles the previous weekend, discussing the Southwest Ecodistrict that is being planned in coordination with the National Capital Planning Commission. His forthcoming presentations and panel discussions include a program on the Eisenhower Memorial at the Cosmos Club on 26 April; a commemoration of George Washington at the D.C. Center of the University of California on 12 May; and a presentation on the Commission's history at the American Institute of Architects convention in Washington on 17 May, coinciding with the next Commission meeting. He also noted the 2012 Charles Atherton Memorial Lecture, titled "Whose Space: Public Land in the Nation's Capital," to be presented on 9 May by Lance Brown, a professor at the City College of New York, at the National Building Museum.
Mr. Luebke reported the Commission's site inspection earlier in the morning for the proposed athletic training facility at Georgetown University (agenda item II.D.1), along with brief visits to 1045 Wisconsin Avenue, NW (case number OG 12–172 on Appendix III) and the federal power plant at Rock Creek anticipated for future submission.
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 there were no changes to the draft consent calendar. One project previously delegated to the staff has been added as an attachment: approval of the final design for proposed retail bays at the General Services Administration headquarters (case number CFA 19/APR/12–p). He noted that Mr. Freelon's firm is involved with one project on the consent calendar–the final design for the foundation and vertical cores of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)–and this project would therefore require Mr. Freelon's recusal. Chairman Powell noted that excavation has already begun for this museum. Upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg with second by Ms. Balmori, the Commission approved the recommendation for the NMAAHC (case number CFA 19/APR/12–a), with Mr. Freelon not voting. Upon a further motion by Ms. Balmori, the Commission approved the remainder of the Direct Submission Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead–Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported the changes to the draft appendix. Several recommendations have been revised to provide more specific design guidance and to note the receipt of supplemental materials, with two recommendations changed from unfavorable to favorable (case numbers SL 12–059 and SL 12–060). Two projects were removed to allow additional time for resolution of outstanding issues (case numbers SL 12–068 and SL 12–071). Upon a motion by Ms. Plater–Zyberk, the Commission approved the revised appendix. (See agenda item II.D.2 for an additional Shipstead–Luce Act submission.)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martínez reported the changes to the draft appendix. The recommendations for four projects–all involving replacement windows on a row of four houses on Volta Place–have been changed from unfavorable to favorable based on the receipt of supplemental materials. For several other projects, the necessary supplemental materials remain outstanding; he requested authorization to finalize these recommendations after verifying compliance with the Old Georgetown Board's recommendations. Two projects have been added that were recently submitted for review in May but would not be visible from public space and do not require further action by the Commission. He also noted the Commission's visit earlier in the day to the site of a proposed building at 1045 Wisconsin Avenue, NW; the project is included on the appendix (case number OG 12–172). Upon a motion by Ms. Balmori, the Commission approved the revised appendix. (See agenda item II.D.1 for an additional Old Georgetown Act submission.)
B. General Services Administration
CFA 19/APR/12–1, Herbert C. Hoover Building, Department of Commerce, 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Perimeter security. Concept. (Previous: CFA 16/SEP/10–6.) Mr. Luebke introduced the proposed design for a permanent system of perimeter security at the headquarters of the Department of Commerce. The system would replace the existing temporary barriers and is intended to complement the building's monumental Beaux–Arts architecture. The General Services Administration also intends this project to serve as a model for the design approach to perimeter security at other buildings in the Federal Triangle. He noted that early studies for this project had placed the barrier at the curb or even in the adjacent street; the submitted proposal instead places the barrier within the building yard using the typology of a garden wall. He asked Antonio Alonso, the regional chief architect in the General Services Administration, to begin the presentation. Mr. Alonso confirmed the project's role in the larger Federal Triangle project and also in the city–wide design of perimeter security for federal buildings. He introduced landscape architect Brian Cornell of RTKL Associates to present the design.
Mr. Cornell described the context of the Hoover Building, located between 14th and 15th Streets and Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues, NW. The building is at the west end of the Federal Triangle and has the largest footprint of the Triangle's buildings; the east and west facades are nearly a quarter–mile long. He described the existing streetscape as having a very urban character; the building serves as a transition between Federal Triangle extending eastward and the Ellipse immediately to the west, as well as the White House to the northwest and the Mall area to the south. He noted that the design has been coordinated with the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk. The White House Visitor Center is located within the Hoover Building along Pennsylvania Avenue; another visitor attraction, the National Aquarium, is also located within the building and will soon be moved to the south end of the building along Constitution Avenue. The existing perimeter security is provided by long lines of concrete planters that created a jumbled pedestrian environment. He presented several precedents of perimeter security and fences at other Washington buildings, including the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the National Gallery of Art, and the World Bank headquarters.
Mr. Cornell presented the proposed barrier system for the Hoover Building. Much of the barrier would be a concealed cable–rail system, which uses large terminal piers and widely spaced bollards to support two parallel horizontal cables. The security criteria determine some of the required dimensions of this system, resulting in the alignment of the cables at 22 and 30 inches above the finished grade. The submission includes an alternate option that would provide only these two cables, as well as a preferred option that includes an additional lower horizontal railing with a curving rail for the purpose of aesthetics rather than security. He said that the sine–wave curve would add a whimsical element to the lengthy barriers, and the shape is abstracted from the Vitruvian scroll that is used on the stone accent band of the Hoover Building facades. He described the proposed surface materials of the system: the piers and bollards supporting the cables would be clad in stone; bollards within pedestrian circulation zones would have a metal cladding; and the cable cladding and additional railings would be metal tubes. The cable–rail system would be placed on a six–inch–high stone base that he said would reduce the visual impact of the elements; further reductions in height will be achieved where possible as the design is developed. The metal would be brushed stainless steel, and the stone would be gray granite to match the existing paving at the building's main entrance along 14th Street. Granite cobbles, also based on existing site paving, would be used at some transitional locations. The fasteners of the cable system would be concealed within the piers and bollards; he presented a photograph of the complex metal bollard cladding at the World Bank's perimeter fence and said that a similar system would be used for the metal and stone intersections of the proposed cable barrier.
Mr. Rybczynski asked about the spacing of the bollards in the cable system. Mr. Cornell responded that a maximum of twelve feet is feasible; the actual spacing proposed is based on the bay width of the existing building, and closer spacing may be used in some locations to accommodate walkways or other design features. He noted that the presentation graphics include composite diagrams with a closer spacing to illustrate the range of design elements. Ms. Balmori asked about the proportions of the steel tubes; Mr. Cornell confirmed that the top tube would be rectangular with its horizontal dimension longer, similar to a handrail, and the lower tubes would be square. He added that the design team had considered a painted finish or other metals such as aluminum or bronze; these were not pursued due to concerns with maintenance or inappropriately repeating materials from the historic building in the modern barrier system.
Mr. Cornell presented elevations of the proposed cable system in comparison to the historic facades on 14th and 15th Streets, indicating the typical three–bay module between stone piers. In order to relieve the great length of these frontages, the design includes seating niches at 45–foot intervals; the project would therefore also serve to provide an amenity to improve the pedestrian environment. He presented additional options for closer spacing of the intermediate bollards in order to correspond more closely with the facade bays, resulting in a reduced width for the niches. He noted that potential conflicts with underground utilities have not yet been studied, and the more distant spacing of bollards in the cable system is advantageous compared to the continuous grade beam that is typically used with a conventional barrier of bollards. He indicated the additional barrier conditions at the vehicular drives extending between 14th and 15th Streets.
Mr. Cornell presented the proposed barrier along Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues. The Pennsylvania Avenue perimeter would make use of the existing building yard curb, which would be raised to the necessary barrier height; toward the corners, the east and west landscape panels would be extended northward and a short segment of the cable–rail system would be used. Corner walls would connect to the end of the cable–rail system along the north–south streets, and metal–clad bollards and hardened light poles would be placed across pedestrian entrances. The removal of the existing concrete planters would restore the character of the simple streetscape design that was created by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, including light poles, double–backed benches, and water fountains. He noted that the project would not affect the use of the sidewalk space as a viewing area for the inaugural parade, and the raised landscaping curbs could serve as informal seating near the entrance to the White House Visitor Center. Along Constitution Avenue, the planned aquarium entrance includes a low wall that would provide much of the perimeter security; the remainder of the barrier is proposed as raised planter walls and bollards based on the existing building yard configuration, and corner walls would be included similar to those proposed along Pennsylvania Avenue. The cable system would not be used along Constitution Avenue in order to reduce the number of design elements in this area. Mr. Freelon asked about the existing bus shelter on the plan of the Constitution Avenue streetscape. Mr. Cornell responded that the design anticipates the bus shelter remaining in place; Mr. Freelon noted that the bus shelter is not depicted in the elevations.
Ms. Balmori asked for clarification of the sidewalk widths alongside the building. Mr. Cornell indicated the dimensions: along 15th Street, a 27–foot building yard, 8–foot sidewalk, and 11–foot landscaped zone along the curb; along 14th Street, a 24–foot building yard, 11–foot sidewalk, and 9–foot landscaped zone along the curb; and along Constitution Avenue, a sidewalk width ranging from approximately 27 to 11 feet. Ms. Balmori said that 15th Street may need to accommodate a large amount of pedestrian traffic due to the proximity of the Mall and Washington Monument; she questioned whether the 8–foot sidewalk width would be sufficient. Mr. Cornell clarified that the proposed barrier is located at the site's property line along 14th and 15th Streets, and the existing sidewalks and curbside landscaping are beyond the scope of the project. Ms. Balmori nonetheless suggested adjusting the tree placement and landscaping width to allow for a wider sidewalk; Mr. Cornell agreed that this could be included in the project.
Mr. Rybczynski asked if the corner walls along Pennsylvania Avenue would include benches. Mr. Cornell responded that simple walls are proposed; benches were considered but would be problematic for pedestrian circulation, as highlighted by the Commission's concern with the sidewalk widths. He added that attaching a bench to a wall could affect the security performance of the structure, resulting in an increased height requirement for the wall.
Mr. Cornell presented the proposed barrier at the building's main entrance plaza at the center of the 14th Street facade. A row of metal–clad bollards would be used, providing the most porosity for pedestrian circulation; in addition, based on historic drawings of the entrance, four flagpoles would be reintroduced at the plaza. He presented two alternative configurations: reinforced flagpoles spaced evenly within the row of bollards, and paired flagpoles at each side of the plaza. He indicated the relationship of the alternative flagpole positions to the triple entrance portals and the historic stone blocks framing the plaza.
Mr. Cornell presented an axonometric view of the building corner to illustrate how the various components of the barrier system would intersect. He concluded by presenting the proposed vehicular barriers at the numerous driveway entrances leading to the building's courtyards. Simple U–shaped bar barriers are proposed, in contrast to the bulkiness of typical delta–type vehicular barriers. He noted that a similar barrier has been installed at the National Gallery of Art. Mr. Rybczynski asked if the color of these barriers could be neutral or if a bright striping would be required. Mr. Cornell responded that a neutral color could be used but typically this color gets changed to ensure visibility to drivers; the longer–term result might be a brighter color or striping.
Ms. Balmori expressed appreciation for the clarity and thoroughness of the presentation. She noted her concern with the sidewalk widths, commenting that the eight–foot width along 15th Street is comparable to a garden path and may be too narrow for the volume of pedestrian traffic in this area. For the cable system, she offered support for the alternate design with only the two horizontal cables. She said that the simplicity of this design would reduce its apparent visibility, commenting that the overall complexity of the perimeter elements suggests the need for simplicity and transparency where possible; the wave pattern would instead attract attention to the barrier system. She recommended changing the proposed corner walls to benches, which she said would be more friendly and public–oriented. Mr. Cornell acknowledged the benefit of benches at the corners and said that this issue could be studied further. He reiterated the concern that seating, while desirable as an amenity, could serve as a jumping point for a vehicular threat and would therefore require an increase in the height of the barrier. He said that the best option may be to provide additional seating among the trees on the Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk, which could be coordinated with the National Park Service. Ms. Balmori supported further exploration of this option. She also questioned the use of brick edging for the landscaped areas, commenting that brick is not used elsewhere in the building or streetscape. Mr. Cornell clarified that the brick edging is existing, and most of it would remain; the brick banding on the inside edge of the sidewalk would be removed to accommodate the proposed barrier system.
Ms. Fernández agreed that the proposed corner walls are problematic, commenting that they have a "fortress–like" appearance. She supported the inclusion of seating if possible, or else redesigning the ends of the walls to eliminate the gaps and provide greater continuity with the other parts of the perimeter barrier system. She said that the proposed freestanding walls have the character of game pieces set into the streetscape, with a disjointed appearance that is not integrated into the overall design. She also preferred the alternate cable configuration with only the two horizontal elements, commenting that the curved element would detract from the design as an obviously decorative element that serves no purpose. She supported the evenly spaced alternative for the flagpoles at the 14th Street entrance, commenting that this configuration would suggest a screen–like character with continuity and rhythm that contribute to the sense of an entrance; she added that the paired flagpole configuration results in a strange transition to the unrelieved row of bollards with an overly dense appearance.
Mr. Freelon agreed that the evenly spaced configuration of flagpoles is preferable; he noted that the flagpoles would merely be replacing bollards along the entrance plaza rather than introducing additional elements into the streetscape, and the even spacing is more sympathetic to the cadence of the entrance facade. Mr. Powell agreed with the support for evenly spaced flagpoles.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked if the repetition of four U.S. flags might weaken the importance of the flag as a symbol, instead treating it as a decorative element. Mr. Cornell responded that this issue has been discussed among the government agencies; an important factor is that the historic drawings for the building included four flagpoles at this entrance; he clarified that the U.S. flag was historically intended for all four flagpoles. He noted that flying a combination of the U.S. and other flags–such as the D.C. flag–might require differing heights for the flagpoles. Tim Hutcheson of RTKL Associates responded that multiple U.S. flags are already flown at various locations around the building: four along 15th Street, and three along Constitution Avenue; the proposal for a grouping that is all U.S. flags is therefore consistent with the existing practice at the building.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk noted that the proposed niches would include benches while the inclusion of benches at the corner walls is apparently a security concern. Mr. Cornell responded that the niche design includes an eighteen–inch distance between the rear of the bench and the wall behind, which is intended to mitigate the possibility of a vehicle using the bench as a jumping point; he added that the details of the design are still being coordinated with a security consultant. Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested that this bench configuration could be repeated at the corner walls. She offered the general suggestion that the perimeter security elements should have the appearance of being part of the original building design rather than later additions. As noted previously with the National Aquarium project, she observed that the building already has many low elements that protrude from its base, and these historic details could be adapted to provide perimeter security.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk supported the alternative of more closely spaced bollards along the cable system in order to align more closely with the rhythm of the building base; she acknowledged that the result would be more bollards but said that this configuration is what the original architect would likely have done. She said that the seating niches are unnecessary design elements that respond to the modern attitude that unrelieved repetition is boring; however, repetition is inherent to the design of this building. She suggested placing benches at the most useful locations, such as at the corners of the site or at building entrances, rather than treating the benches as repeated decorative elements. She questioned the proposed pair of reveals near the top of the steel–clad bollards, commenting that these indentations give the bollards a slightly dated appearance while having no relationship to the historic building details. She observed that the base of the building is solid granite; the bollards should be similarly straightforward in their design character rather than being clearly modern additions. She acknowledged that bollards are objectionable because they are a reminder of unpleasant present–day security concerns that we hope will not be problematic in the future; designing them with a contemporary character worsens this problematic perception.
Ms. Fernández asked about proposed lighting, particularly at the seating niches. Mr. Cornell responded that existing street lighting would be retained near the curb, without the need for additional lighting; he confirmed that this existing lighting around the entire perimeter should be adequate for pedestrians.
Mr. Schlossberg questioned the proposed selection of granite to match the existing paving at the 14th Street entrance. He suggested that the granite should instead match the base of the building, providing a consistency of materials that would be more readily apparent; Ms. Plater–Zyberk and Mr. Rybczynski agreed. Mr. Rybczynski also supported the simpler configuration of the cable barrier and agreed that the two reveals on the bollards are a styling element that could be eliminated. He offered overall support for the cable system due to the increased distance between support elements in comparison to typical bollards. Mr. Cornell added that the more widely spaced alternate for the cable–supporting bollards of the cable system would result in two elements covering the same perimeter length as four or five typical bollards. Mr. Schlossberg reiterated the Commission's support for this solution while calling for elimination of extraneous decorative elements. Chairman Powell noted this position as the consensus of the Commission; he offered his overall support for the project and expressed appreciation for a proposal that does not include "a forest of bollards." He said that the Commission's specific comments would be provided to the design team and suggested that further review be delegated to the staff.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked how this project would relate to the treatment of other buildings in the Federal Triangle. Mr. Luebke said that the general principles of this project would be applied to the other buildings, including the character of openness and the placement of the perimeter barrier in the building yard. Mr. Powell supported the extension of these principles and welcomed the current proposal as a prototype for the Federal Triangle. Mr. Luebke noted that the General Services Administration may submit concept perimeter security proposals for three additional buildings within the next five months. Ms. Plater–Zyberk expressed hope that the prototype would work for the other buildings; Mr. Luebke said that adjustments would be made for individual sites, drawing on the Commission's support for the prototype concept and advice on its further refinement.
Chairman Powell reiterated the consensus of the Commission to approve the concept subject to the specific comments provided, with further review delegated to the staff. Upon a second by Mr. Schlossberg, the Commission adopted this action.
C. U.S. Department of Agriculture / U.S. National Arboretum
CFA 19/APR/12–2, Administration Building, 3501 New York Avenue, NE. New "Introduction Garden" and renovation of pool, terraces, entrance bridges, and a portion of Meadow Road. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposal for rehabilitation of the exterior spaces around the Administration Building at the U.S. National Arboretum. He noted that the proposal follows the renewal of the building itself, which was previously reviewed by the Commission and is now nearing completion. He asked Dr. Ramon Jordan, associate director of the arboretum, to begin the presentation. Dr. Jordan introduced landscape architect Faye Harwell of Rhodeside & Harwell to present the design.
Ms. Harwell described the location of the project adjacent to the administration building, which dates from 1964; the proposal encompasses the building's north terrace and lawn, the east terrace, and a portion of Meadow Road to the south. She indicated the main vehicular entrance to the arboretum from R Street, NE, leading to a turnaround and Meadow Road. She noted that the proposal is consistent with the master plan for the arboretum, including the removal of traffic from this segment of Meadow Road. She discussed current problems with the site that will be addressed in the proposal: the exposed–aggregate concrete paving has deteriorated in many places; the circulation does not meet modern standards for barrier–free access; the busy focal point for pedestrian routes to nearby attractions lacks sufficient seating and shade; and the pool–part of the original design for the administration building–requires repair. An additional purpose of the project is to provide improved areas for the "Introduction Gardens" where the arboretum's new plant species can be displayed. She indicated the existing large trees that would be preserved.
Ms. Harwell provided further details of the proposals for the north terrace area. The lawn and terrace would be used for special events. The grade of the terrace would be raised by six inches to provide level access to the administration building; new paving would match the existing. A proposed fourteen–foot–high pergola on the terrace would have a retractable canopy, providing further support for special events; the architect for the pergola is Beyer Blinder Belle. The palette of steel and wood is intended to provide a simple form alongside the complex surface patterning of the administration building. Existing walkways adjacent to the terrace would be widened and regraded to meet accessibility standards. A small area at the northwest would be designated for delivery access from the parking lot to accommodate food and equipment for special events; additional delivery and service access would be provided at the southwest. The lawn would be rebuilt as a supported grass system that can accommodate events more easily, including tents; a zone around the perimeter would have irrigation and a power supply. The Introduction Gardens would primarily be toward the west side; an additional area for these gardens would be available to the east of the lawn, and further east would be an area of native plantings and rain gardens adjacent to an existing retaining wall. A small staircase at the northeast corner, descending to the lower garden areas, would be rebuilt to meet modern building code requirements, and the adjacent retaining wall would be altered to accommodate this change. Simple, contemporary benches along the north side of the terrace would provide additional seating while not interfering with views from the administration building to the forested area beyond; moveable tables and chairs would also be provided.
Ms. Harwell presented the proposed changes to the east terrace area. An initial phase would include replacement of the pool liner and water equipment to ensure the pool's proper functioning. The alignment of the existing bridges across the pool would be maintained, while the grade of the bridges would be altered to provide barrier–free access by eliminating a six–inch step. Bog gardens would be created adjacent to the pool and bridges to aid in biofiltration of the water; the design of these gardens is intended to relate to the form of the bridges, introduce color and texture to the area, and support the modernist setting of the administration building. She noted that the pool would also include lily plantings and a series of jets. On the terrace, the existing planting areas would remain and would be used as part of the Introduction Gardens. The existing benches would also remain on the east side, and a railing would be added to improve safety along the eight–foot dropoff from the eastern edge of the terrace; the design of the railing would be based on the existing bridge railing.
Ms. Harwell described the proposed changes to Meadow Road. The straight road relates poorly to the near–elliptical form of the adjacent meadow; the proposed pedestrian path would follow a curved alignment in the vicinity of the road bed, with pedestrian connections to several adjacent areas. The grades and path widths would be designed to meet modern accessibility standards, and the paving would be a porous material with a simple pattern. A widened pedestrian area with seating would be provided where two of the paths converge, establishing a strong relationship to the meadow; she noted that the geometry of this area requires further study. The road alignment would continue to be used as an emergency vehicle route with supported turf and groundcover that can accommodate occasional trucks. Mr. Rybczynski asked for clarification of the vehicular access. Ms. Harwell responded that the road is currently open to limited general Arboretum traffic, but would be restricted to emergency vehicles and small maintenance vehicles; the area would appear to be part of the public garden area rather than a roadway. She added that the needed marking of the emergency route is still being considered; a likely solution would be small yellow tiles rather than a profusion of yellow striping.
Ms. Balmori noted that the benches on the east terrace would be adjacent to shade structures and trees, but expressed concern that the benches on the north terrace would not have shade available. Ms. Harwell offered to study this issue further for the north terrace, noting that the trees immediately to the north may have sufficiently large canopies to provide shade for the benches. She also confirmed that the shading provided by the pergola would be a cloth awning that could be extended across the pergola structure. Ms. Balmori asked for clarification of the proposed porous paving. Ms. Harwell responded that porous paving would be used for the path that would replace Meadow Road, including porous asphalt and unit pavers; the terraces, constructed of poured–in–place concrete, would not be porous.
Chairman Powell expressed support for the proposal, commenting on the beautiful location and the quality of the presentation. He asked about the project schedule; Dr. Jordan responded that funds are available to begin work immediately on the bridges, pool, and bog gardens, while other components of the project would be implemented in the following years. Mr. Luebke noted that more intensive development along Meadow Road had been proposed in early versions of the master plan, while the current proposal provides a softer approach to the design of this area. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Schlossberg, the Commission approved the proposed concept.
D. District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
1. Old Georgetown Act
OG 11–282, Georgetown University, 3700 O Street, NW. New athletic training facility. Concept. Ms. Barsoum introduced the proposed athletic training facility, which she characterized as a preliminary proposal rather than a full concept submission. She noted that an initial version of the project was presented to the Old Georgetown Board more than five years ago, and the recent series of submissions began in late 2011. She said that the Board has not been focusing on the facade treatment of the building, instead addressing primarily issues of campus planning, siting, massing, and the relationship of the proposed building to the existing McDonough Gymnasium. She noted the Commission's site inspection earlier in the day and introduced William Gridley of Bowie Gridley Architects to present the proposal.
Mr. Gridley described the context of the project at the southwestern area of the Georgetown University campus. The proposed site is currently occupied by eight tennis courts and extensive asphalt paving. McDonough Gymnasium, to the northwest of the site, was designed in 1951 by Chatelain Architects, a distinguished local firm. A utility plant for heating and cooling is located north of the site; a playing field is to the northeast; and residential buildings, some of them designed by Robert Stern, are located to the east and southeast. He said that pedestrian access would be primarily from North Road, which leads from the center of the campus to the east side of the site, and from Library Walk which leads to the southeast corner of the site. He also indicated vehicular circulation from Canal Road to the large underground parking structure on the southeast.
Mr. Gridley summarized the concept that was presented to the Old Georgetown Board in October 2011; the Board had commented that the building would intrude excessively on the front of McDonough Gymnasium. After further consultation with the Board and the staff, the proposed massing has been shifted away from the front of McDonough Gymnasium; a planned plaza to the north, adjacent to the utility plant, has been eliminated and the massing has been condensed into a smaller footprint. The proposed configuration includes one below–grade and four above–grade levels containing weight and locker rooms and athletic offices, with two stacked tall gymnasium spaces on the north side of the site for the men's and women's basketball teams. A principal central corridor would extend east–west through the building, connecting the main entrance on the east to the secondary entrance facing McDonough Gymnasium on the west. The area to the west would become a landscaped plaza in front of the main facade of McDonough Gymnasium, with parking pushed further to the west.
Mr. Freelon asked about the scale of the central lobby or corridor; Mr. Gridley responded that it would be twenty feet wide, and may be further modulated and developed as a "hall of fame" with historical displays on Georgetown University's athletics. Ms. Balmori asked about the scale of the proposed basketball gymnasium spaces; Mr. Gridley responded that each would have a full and half court, resulting in a size of approximately 100 by 100 feet or slightly less.
Mr. Gridley presented the intended architectural vocabulary for the building but noted that the current submission is intended primarily for approval of the proposed massing. The vocabulary would include Collegiate Gothic details that would match the nearby residential buildings in the southwestern part of the campus, with red brick facades and limestone or cast–stone details. Bay windows would be included at several locations, including two on the east facade–one to mark the terminus of North Road, and another placed on a tower at the main entrance to the building; a sculpture might also be included at the terminus. He noted that the north facade, toward the utility plant, would have only limited visibility. The arched ground–floor windows of the south facade would refer to the main entrance openings of McDonough Gymnasium.
Chairman Powell asked for clarification of the current status of the submission. Mr. Luebke responded that the Old Georgetown Board has not yet approved the concept, but is satisfied that the massing and organization of the building is supportable; the Commission may choose to comment on the facade treatments as well as the general massing and siting. Mr. Gridley added that the project will soon be presented for D.C. zoning review, and the Commission's approval of the massing and siting would be helpful in that review process; the project would then be developed for more detailed design review by the Old Georgetown Board.
Ms. Balmori agreed with the Board's conclusion that the proposed siting is successful. She noted the two large expanses of flat roofs in the proposal and suggested that they be treated as an opportunity for useable space or green roofs. Alternatively, she suggested that the roof form over the upper gymnasium be treated more expressively to rise above the secondary spaces around it; she cited McDonough Gymnasium as an example of such a design approach. Mr. Gridley responded that a green roof or rainwater collection system has been considered throughout the design process and would likely be developed further; he added that access from the interior to the lower roof could also be explored.
Mr. Freelon commented that the corner of the building adjacent to McDonough Gymnasium appears to be unresolved, with the related problem of a large pier intruding into the interior lobby space that should instead encourage free–flowing movement; he recommended further study of this area. Mr. Gridley agreed and emphasized the importance of this corner of the building. Ms. Plater–Zyberk generally suggested further study of the facades; for example, she said that the projecting bay and porch on the east facade could instead be incorporated into a single architectural gesture. She added that the windowless north facade is more successful because it relates well to the utility plant. Mr. Gridley responded that the design of the east facade has been difficult due to the desire to mark both the termination of the North Road axis and the building's main entrance, which cannot be shifted to align with North Road.
Ms. Fernández supported Ms. Plater–Zyberk's comments, observing that the proposed entrance porch does not appear to have a precedent on the campus; the prevailing form of the campus is flat facades, and the proposed architectural language therefore looks out of place. Ms. Fernández also questioned the potential placement of an outdoor sculpture to mark the North Road axis, commenting that sculpture should not be used to compensate for a poor architectural condition. While she supported the general concept of outdoor art, she suggested a more neutral setting for a significant artwork. Mr. Gridley responded that the possibility of sculpture is only tentative at this stage of the process; Ms. Fernández emphasized that this issue may recur throughout the design process and should be addressed at an early stage. Mr. Gridley acknowledged the overall problem of emphasizing two parts of the east facade in a unified manner that creates a sense of place.
Ms. Fernández supported the suggestion to make better use of the flat roofs. She noted the beautiful setting of the site within the larger landscape and suggested more careful consideration of views and natural light for the interior spaces, in addition to the concerns with the exterior design. She said that the rooms in the proposed design are reminiscent of hotel rooms that have a bad view of the back of a roof. Mr. Gridley emphasized the intention to address such issues later in the design process.
Mr. Schlossberg observed that the form of McDonough Gymnasium and of the utility plant clearly conveys the use of these buildings, without needing adornment nor signage. He acknowledged the successful solution of the program massing and recommended that the exterior be developed to express this massing rather than use an overall faceted treatment that is derived from the residence hall and other nearby buildings. He suggested that the smaller–scale spaces of the program could receive the more faceted treatment, while the large–scale basketball court volumes should be expressed more clearly on the exterior. Mr. Gridley offered to study the mansard roof form further; Mr. Schlossberg emphasized that the goal is for the athletic space to be legible as a vigorous form in relation to the smaller support spaces around it. He observed that the interior flow of spaces has been carefully studied and resolved, and he suggested that this resolution be expressed on the exterior.
Mr. Rybczynski said that an earlier design shown in the presentation–the south facade from October 2011–appeared successful in achieving a robust, simple architectural language despite the problematic relationship of this earlier massing to McDonough Gymnasium; he criticized the current proposal as a "made–up language covering a big shoebox." Ms. Balmori agreed. Mr. Rybczynski questioned the design approach of establishing a desired massing and then embellishing it with architecture; he emphasized that architecture and massing should be inseparable in the design process. He therefore expressed reluctance to approve the proposed massing with the intention to develop the architecture later, commenting that this sequence would not result in a good design solution. He offered the example of the North Road terminus: the desire to mark this location is correct, but the solution should be to place the main entrance there rather than a bay window. Approval of the proposed massing, however, could prevent exploration of an overall architectural solution. He noted that an athletic building is a familiar building form on a college campus, and its large windowless volume should be accepted rather than covered with gables and bay windows that serve no purpose.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk noted that the requested approval involves the site plan of the building in relation to its context. Mr. Luebke confirmed that the Commission may wish to support the general location, footprint, and height, an action which would be relevant to the separate zoning review process; the Commission's comments would also be useful in developing the exterior design.
Mr. Rybczynski raised an additional concern with the proposed footprint, observing that the east side of the building would be close to the adjacent road, while on the south an extensive lawn area is shown between the building and road; he questioned whether the building should extend further to the south. Mr. Gridley confirmed that the below–grade level extends under this lawn space; Mr. Schlossberg suggested that the above–grade portion of the building could also extend into this area. Mr. Gridley said that one option is to develop this space as a defined plaza elevated three to four feet above the adjacent road. Mr. Rybczynski said that this site treatment should be considered in the context of how buildings on the campus relate to the street; the design of this area could also contribute to the strength of the proposed plaza to the west in front of McDonough Gymnasium. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the intention may be to display the activity in the weight room, which is located behind the large ground–floor windows on the south facade. Mr. Rybczynski emphasized that the issue is the proposed massing, with the south portion of the building providing insufficient definition to the adjacent open spaces. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the setback on the south may serve to provide greater exposure for the nearby residential buildings. Mr. Rybczynski said that the intended treatment of the space is unclear, with only an amorphous brown area shown on the drawings. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that an elevated plaza may be a useful amenity if access is provided from within the building; Mr. Gridley confirmed that access would be possible. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked about the feasibility of extending the above–grade portion of the building to the south; Mr. Gridley responded that the program does not require additional space in this area. The challenge is to provide the desired access between the athletic spaces, locker rooms, and coach offices; the ground floor is split by the large lobby and would not be a functional location for more of the program spaces.
Mr. Gridley emphasized that the current proposal was developed quickly after recent consultation with the Old Georgetown Board; he acknowledged the need for extensive further development of the design, and said that approval of an interim step is being requested. Chairman Powell noted that the Commission members are instead responding to the proposal as a finished design; he suggested a limited action as outlined by Mr. Luebke to support the siting, height, and general location of the building elements. Mr. Rybczynski said he would not support such an action. Ms. Balmori offered support for the siting but not the massing. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked if the height is an issue. Mr. Gridley responded that there is no zoning problem with the height, proposed as 86 feet within the 90–foot limit; the concern is to obtain support for the Old Georgetown Board's advice to accept this substantial height in exchange for a reduced footprint.
Mr. Rybczynski noted that the dimensional requirements for the basketball court spaces result in limited design options, and he supported the proposal to stack these two spaces. However, he said that the massing of the smaller spaces is much more flexible and does not need to result in the overall form of the building as a large box; he requested the submission of more massing options that explore this flexibility.
Ms. Balmori emphasized that the problem with the massing is the apparent attachment of residential buildings onto the sides of the major volume of the basketball courts. She said that these less–important residentially scaled pieces dominate the design; she suggested reversing the perceived organization of the building, instead emphasizing the large–scale volume as the dominant form. Mr. Gridley responded that the basketball courts would be located at the rear of the building, and the spaces expressed on the more prominent facades are typically offices. He acknowledged the similar design vocabulary of the nearby residential buildings but emphasized that other non–residential buildings on the campus, such as the business school and Healy Hall, also have a similar facade vocabulary.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested a consensus to support the overall siting of the building, subject to some reworking of the south end and the architectural expression. Chairman Powell noted that the Commission would have the opportunity to review the project further as the design is developed. He supported Ms. Balmori's comments; he also supported Mr. Rybczynski's comments but said that concept approval of the massing would be appropriate in conjunction with the Commission's guidance for further development. Mr. Luebke noted that the size of the basketball courts volume is relatively fixed, and the refinement to the massing would come from changes to the smaller support spaces; the solution is not readily apparent but could be developed with further study. Chairman Powell reiterated his overall support for the general concept but said that the proposed design is too deferential to the nearby residential buildings, describing its appearance as "a dormitory wrapped around a gym."
Ms. Balmori suggested further consideration of the October 2011 design as a model for the massing as well as the facade vocabulary. Mr. Luebke noted that the two basketball court spaces in this earlier design were side–by–side rather than stacked. Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested that the design vocabulary for the south facade in 2011 could continue to serve as a model for treating the exterior of the basketball courts volume. Mr. Gridley responded that the proposed north facade has some of this character, using piers, arches, and blind windows, and he offered to develop it further. Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested that the lower part of the building could then express the smaller program elements; Mr. Powell supported this approach. Mr. Rybczynski commented that the tall long–span space of the courts nonetheless is not clearly legible in the design, and he emphasized the importance of allowing this space to be expressed.
Chairman Powell summarized the range of comments that includes some concern with the massing; Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that it is the architectural expression that is most problematic. Mr. Schlossberg said that the placement of the building is acceptable, but the Commission is not willing to support approval of the massing. Ms. Plater–Zyberk suggested approving the disposition of the program on the site; Mr. Luebke said that the action could then request further development of the actual massing as well as the architectural language. Upon a motion by Ms. Plater–Zyberk, the Commission adopted this action.
2. Shipstead–Luce Act
SL 12–070, Southwest Waterfront Development. Parcel 11, Maine Avenue and 6th Street, SW. New residential building and church. Concept. (Previous: CFA 15/MAR/12–2.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the submission of an adjacent apartment building and church on Parcel 11 of the Southwest waterfront development. She said that the revised proposal responds to the Commission's comments from the previous month. She asked Gaby Lega of PN Hoffman & Associates to begin the presentation.
Ms. Lega acknowledged the previous comments from the Commission and the subsequent discussion with the staff, resulting in improvements to the design of each building and their relationship to each other. She noted the Commission's concern with the straight–line division of the parcel into the two building sites; she said that this dividing line was previously established by contract and cannot now be modified, and she emphasized that the site configuration works well for the organization of the church's program. The current proposal responds to other comments, including an improved palette of materials for both buildings, an improved relationship to the context, and further focus on the area where the two buildings abut. She indicated the location of the project toward the southeast end of the redevelopment area; other parcels toward the northwest were previously reviewed and will be resubmitted in the near future. Parcel 11 is directly north of the Waterfront Park which was also previously reviewed, and south of the recently renovated Arena Stage building. An existing apartment complex is to the east, and an additional planned plaza and development parcels are to the west. She noted that Parcel 11 is being developed as a private–sector project, although it is grouped into a planned unit development that includes other sites being developed in coordination with the D.C. government. She introduced Michael Foster of MTFA Architecture to present the design for the church.
Mr. Foster said that the design revisions are based on further consideration of early planning studies dating back several years, as well as the Commission's comments on the recent submission. One important factor has been the significance of the site's configuration in reinforcing the mission and identity of the church. The current church building is at the center of the block, set among trees, resulting in a suburban character that sets the church apart from the community. The church leadership wants to change this character and orient the future building toward the community. The community itself will change significantly as a result of the planned waterfront development; the proposed church site mediates between the existing townhouse scale to the east and the planned taller development to the west and northwest. The site also has a strong relationship to Maine Avenue which has a slightly curving alignment.
Mr. Foster described the basis for the proposed design in the church's history and mission. The design includes references to traditional church elements, such as stained glass and a labyrinth, as well as the baptismal font which predates the current church building and would be a central element of the proposed design. The church is affiliated with the National Cathedral, and the design is intended to maintain elements of the Episcopalian heritage while also being a modern building that fits into the context of the redeveloping waterfront area. The use of colored glass–further developed since the previous submission–would introduce liturgical colors to the interior based on the movement of the sun around the building.
Mr. Foster presented photographs of the view corridors that are important features of the site. The upper part of the Washington Monument would be visible from the church entrance, rising above Banneker Overlook; he acknowledged that the reciprocal view toward the relatively small church is more constrained, and the church would not be prominently visible from beyond two or three blocks. The church would also have a view corridor along M Street, relating the building to the existing community on the east; the church would relate to the scale of the M Street townhouses. The intention is both visibility of the church from the community, and visibility of the community from within the church for worship and fellowship. He emphasized that the site configuration supports the goal of a church that does not turn its back on the community.
Mr. Foster described the features of the proposed church, noting the effort to simplify and calm the design in response to the Commission's previous comments. The proposed curves are a response to the shape of Maine Avenue, the architecture of the Arena Stage, and the nautical context of sails on vessels at the adjacent marina. The ground floor would include practical, functional rooms used for education and fellowship that connect to the community; the sanctuary would be located on the second floor. The palette of materials would have both liturgical and nautical inspiration. The main entrance to the northwest would relate to the waterfront and the plaza space. The carillon tower on the west would contain the bells of the current church building, and its form would initiate the rhythm of vertical bays in the proposed apartment building to the south; the proposed brick for the base of the church would also be related to the residential building. The facade would feature stones from Canterbury Cathedral, a reference to the church's heritage; the cross forms within the windows would also be a special material, and the ground–floor openings would be generously scaled to encourage openness to the community. The baptismal font would be located within the foyer; he noted the distinctive circular patterns proposed for the floor around the font and on the exterior plaza which would have a labyrinth design.
Mr. Foster noted the sloping site and the desire for barrier–free access at both ends of the ground floor; the building would therefore be set within a flat plaza that would be accessible from the entrance plaza; on the east, the secondary entrance would be several steps down from the sidewalk with the result of be a small exterior amphitheatre that could accommodate overflow from the fellowship room. The stair towers would extend outward from the main volume of the church to provide transitional elements along the end wall of the residential building. The curved glass walls that come together to frame the sanctuary would continue the nautical motif, suggesting a glass object set within a "bronze cloak," and would also serve to screen the rooftop mechanical equipment. He summarized the intent of balancing simplicity with the expression of the congregation's objectives for creating a meaningful church design; he emphasized the diversity of the congregation and its interests, extending to providing for the homeless.
Mr. Foster concluded with aerial perspective views of the design. He emphasized the "simplicity" of the sail–like glass wall and the angled opening within it, symbolizing the openness of the building. He acknowledged that the context is not depicted well due to the computer software that was used to generate the views. He introduced Federico Soifer of SK&I Architectural Design Group to present the design of the residential building.
Mr. Soifer summarized the Commission's previous guidance, resulting in the simplification and clarification of the residential building design, along with improved integration of the residential and church buildings. He described the context, noting the importance of designing a good neighbor to the townhouses across 6th Street on the east. Other influences include the nautical theme of ports, reflected in the design of the window and balcony bays, and the details of buildings in the neighborhood which include architectural frames and panels.
Mr. Soifer described the changes subsequent to the previous submission. The width of 6th Street would be reduced, allowing for more sidewalk space and an improved configuration of sunken private outdoor entrances to some of the apartments; planters instead of retaining walls would be located along the sidewalk edge. He added that these entrances would relate to the residential vocabulary of Washington, establishing the desired character for 6th Street. The material palette has been simplified: fewer colors would be used, and the relationship to the church would be established by the dark brick at the base and the bronze–colored brick above. The entrance tower at the southwest corner and the vertical groupings of windows would relate to the bell tower of the church. He confirmed that the brown–colored areas of the facade would be brick, also intended to refer to the church design while not imitating it; he acknowledged that the design of the two buildings may have been inharmonious in the previous submission. He said that the number of window bays has been reduced and the geometry of each bay is now shown as orthogonal, providing a calmer character than previously presented.
Mr. Soifer presented several perspective views of the proposed design. He emphsized that the main entrance is located to face the planned Waterfront Park, contributing to the urban quality of the area. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked for clarification of the access to the apartments; Mr. Soifer responded that all units would have access from the interior corridors, and eight of the ground–floor units would also have a private entrance from the sidewalk.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked how the glass color of the church would be designed to change over time. Mr. Foster responded that careful design of the glass pattern, along with coatings or films, could produce different colors and patterns based on the angle of the sun; these angles would be calculated to produce specific color patterns over the course of the year to relate to the liturgical calendar of the church. He confirmed the intention to design the color variation to be apparent across the width of the glass facade as well as having a chronological change. Ms. Balmori observed that the sanctuary is depicted in the renderings as a simple glass box, but it would actually have complex intersections of planes, solid walls, and a roof. Mr. Foster confirmed this complexity and noted that the plan drawing depicts the simple outline of the sanctuary at a single height; he said that the glass would completely encircle the sanctuary at the higher clerestory level.
Ms. Fernández noted the small sample of dichroic glass provided to the Commission and its vague depiction in the renderings, in comparison to its very extensive use on the proposed church facade; she asked for further information on its performance and emphasized the difficulty of understanding its reflectivity and visual character when seen from the street level. Mr. Foster responded that the glass is currently being tested with mockups; the sample provided depicts one option for the glass, and the desired color quality may be achieved through a frit, a film, or the content of the glass itself. The overall glass form is intended to suggest a sail, and it would also have a more integrated liturgical art component; the church leadership has not yet addressed this art component in detail, but it is included in the program and budget of the design. Ms. Fernández commented that, as with the Georgetown University agenda item, artwork should not simply be added at the end of a project in a designated location; the artistic treatment of the church facade will affect the building's appearance from the public street and the building's relationship to the surrounding neighborhood. While acknowledging that interior artwork may not require Commission review, she requested further information for the Commission on the proposed treatment of the glass that would be an extensive part of the church facade–serving as an important part of the building architecture as well as being artwork. She added that the minimal documentation of the glass treatment, shown simply as strips of colors, contrasts with the stated importance of this artwork in expressing the church's liturgy; she described the design intent as difficult to understand.
Mr. Foster responded that the glass walls would integrate several design issues, including the need to achieve energy efficiency; although a portion of the glass facade would rise above the ceiling, the glass that faces interior spaces would require coatings and reflectivity to address solar heat gain. He noted that such coatings would be applied on the interior and may change over time. Ms. Fernández concluded that the Commission at this point could only assess the facade in general terms as a glass wall; Mr. Foster agreed.
Mr. Rybczynski asked for clarification of the forms seen in the glass facade area on the renderings; Mr. Foster responded that the ceiling of the square sanctuary would be visible behind the glass. He added that the ceiling lighting has not yet been included in the computer model that was used to generate the renderings; the moveable interior furnishings of the sanctuary are also being added to the computer model. He indicated the various reflections and components of the clerestory glass that appear in the renderings, adding that solar control would be provided on the south–facing clerestory. Ms. Plater–Zyberk noted the need for a waterproof joint along the glass facades to separate the interior enclosure from the projecting glass parapet. Mr. Foster indicated the line of this joint, which would include flashing; Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented that such details are not clearly depicted in the renderings, and overall the proposed design for the glass is illegible.
Ms. Fernández asked for clarification of the proposed church entrance, commenting that it is not depicted well in the renderings. Mr. Foster offered to enlarge a rendering or generate a closer view of this area. He indicated the two planes of limestone that would frame the entrance, suggesting open arms that support the sanctuary above. The doors would be glass, and the windows of the adjacent chapel and administrative conference room would have the effect of a layered decorative screening.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented on the difficulty of separating design problems from rendering problems in the proposal, instead offering several general comments on the submission. She said that the effort to relate the designs of the residential building and church is not contributing to either building, and she recommended making them more distinct. She noted the cross form in the window mullions of the church, a motif which appears to be echoed inappropriately in the residential windows; she added that the intent to unify the colors of the two buildings may be the wrong strategy by suggesting one large building complex. Mr. Rybczynski agreed, suggesting that the residential building could have the appearance of relating to the church in some way, but the church should not appear to be relating to the residential building. He noted that historically churches had their own architectural style, distinct from the context. He said that the proposed bell tower is particularly problematic: its relationship to the church is unclear, and its importance is lost in the composition due to the repetition of its form in the residential bays. Several Commission members agreed that the bell tower appears to be part of the residential building, despite the cross on its facade; Mr. Foster responded by noting the distinction of the materials. Mr. Rybczynski questioned why the materials appear to be similar, and questioned the placement of the cross on a separate tower rather than at the peak of the glass sanctuary volume. He agreed that the presentation drawings are difficult to understand.
Ms. Fernández commented that the glass volume of the church, assessed without regard for the inadequately designed color treatment, has the appearance of a drive–in movie screen; she criticized the character and large scale of this element as disjointed from the context, including the other parts of the church as well as the residential building. She acknowledged that the color treatment of the glass may improve this perception, emphasizing the importance of presenting this design feature to the Commission in greater detail. She also agreed that locating the cross on the bell tower is confusing, resulting in the lack of a clear relationship between the cross and the church; she suggested that the location of the bell tower may itself be problematic.
Mr. Foster acknowledged the Commission's concerns and emphasized the design challenges of this project. He agreed that the church should have its own identity and character rather than appear to be the end unit of the residential building. However, historically architects would typically relate new buildings to their context, and some design relationship is therefore appropriate. He said that the pointed roofline of the sanctuary volume may not be exactly the right solution, but overall the palette and composition of the proposed church is distinctive. He added that the Episcopal Church is facing the challenge of establishing its modern identity in the nation and world; for symbolic reasons, the traditional church steeple is no longer desired, particularly at this neighborhood church which is not intended to have the design character of the National Cathedral. He emphasized this building's role as a community church, as well as its setting in a neighborhood of modern architectural style. Ms. Fernández said that the modern style of the neighborhood should not be equated with a corporate modernist style; Mr. Foster agreed.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk commented that the visibility of residential windows between the church sanctuary and bell tower may be contributing to the Commission's perception that the church and tower are not sufficiently related. She suggested further study of a more picturesque composition in this area to strengthen this relationship.
Mr. Powell offered agreement with the comments of the Commission members, including the difficulty of envisioning the building and the potential for the glass volume to appear merely as a "huge colored mirror." He requested further depiction of the design and further strengthening of the bell tower's relationship to the church; Ms. Balmori agreed.
Mr. Schlossberg suggested constructing a physical model of both buildings; he said that the residential building is potentially a coherent design, but its relationship to the church suggests a lack of coherence between the two buildings. He added that a model would also help to clarify the relationship of the design to pedestrian circulation, which is not clear from the renderings, and would ensure sufficient design study of the residential building's end wall alongside the church. He said that the selected viewpoints for the perspective drawings may be contributing to the perception that the bell tower is related too closely to the residential building. The model would also depict parts of the residential building that were not conveyed in the presentation; he and Mr. Powell emphasized that the design of the residential building appears to have improved. Mr. Powell agreed that a model would be helpful. Ms. Fernández encouraged further clarification of undefined features such as the corner of the sanctuary's glass volume and its transition from wall to parapet.
Chairman Powell summarized the consensus of the Commission to provide a range of recommendations, with support for the residential proposal; he said that the church design is not necessarily problematic but has not been presented with sufficient clarity.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked for clarification of the topography at the steps to the private residential entrances. Mr. Soifer responded that these entrance areas would be four feet below the sidewalk level. Mr. Schlossberg said that this design feature is difficult to understand from the drawings and is another example of the need for constructing a physical model; Mr. Powell agreed. Mr. Schlossberg said that the design may not be well resolved, and the presented information does not sufficiently address this concern; Ms. Fernández said that the design may not be acceptable, even if presented more clearly. Mr. Schlossberg added that the process of constructing a physical model may result in the resolution of some design issues. Ms. Plater–Zyberk emphasized that the Commission has a number of concerns, offering the example of the ground–floor apartments that are set a half–story below the sidewalk level; the model would illustrate more clearly how these units relate to their exterior exposure which is effectively a lightwell. She summarized other issues, including the distinct identities of the two buildings and the structure of the glass volume in the church, commenting that the complex adjacencies of the glass to interior and exterior spaces and various materials may be problematic. Ms. Balmori added that the presentation drawings give the false impression of a simple glass box, whereas the actual design includes solid interior walls, spandrel conditions, and a glass parapet. She said that the residential design has improved and is well resolved while the church design is not. Ms. Plater–Zyberk and Mr. Schlossberg said that the success of the church design cannot be evaluated from the drawings.
Ms. Lega asked the Commission to consider acting separately on the residential and church buildings, potentially approving the residential concept as currently submitted. Ms. Fernández said that elements such as the bell tower need to be addressed in relation to the design of both buildings. Ms. Lega noted that the bell tower is on the church's portion of the site, and its design refinement could be included with a resubmission of the church design. Mr. Luebke said that the Commission could choose to take separate actions on the two buildings in the proposal.
Mr. Rybczynski questioned the underlying decisions in the church design, including the division of the site's two parcels and the proposed orientation of the church entrance toward the Washington Monument, which he said has no relevance to the church's mission; he suggested that a better choice would have been to orient the entrance toward the community. However, after accepting the site division as presented, he offered support for the residential building as proposed. Ms. Fernández suggested excepting the north wall of the residential building from a concept approval due to this wall's problematic relation to the church design; Mr. Rybczynski said that the north wall is not objectionable.
Chairman Powell supported separate actions on the two buildings and agreed with Mr. Rybczynski's suggestion to approve the residential portion. Mr. Schlossberg and Mr. Rybczynski emphasized the need to construct a physical model that encompasses both buildings to present the proposal more clearly. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the presentation lacked basic drawings such as a section to illustrate the sunken apartment entrances; Mr. Soifer acknowledged that this drawing had been omitted from the current submission. Ms. Fernández said that the next submission should also include documentation of two projects where this type of glass enclosure has been used on a large scale, including photographs of these buildings at different times of day.
Chairman Powell summarized the consensus of the Commission to approve the concept of the residential building and provide comments on the church without approval, subject to the construction of a physical model depicting both buildings. Upon a second by Mr. Schlossberg, the Commission adopted this action.
E. DC Water
CFA 19/APR/12–3, Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, 5000 Overlook Avenue, SW. New bio–solids management facility (digesters). Final. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposal for a new facility to treat bio–solids at the Blue Plains treatment plant located at the southern tip of Washington. He noted that the Blue Plains plant is the largest advanced treatment plant in the world. He asked Katherine Cahill of DC Water to begin the presentation. Ms. Cahill introduced several members of the project team and asked project manager David Schwartz of Pizzagalli / CDM Joint Venture to present the design.
Mr. Schwartz said that an earlier concept design for the bio–solids project had been presented to the Commission several years ago, featuring prominent egg–shaped digesters; an updated design was presented to the staff a year ago. He noted that some elements of these earlier designs are included in the current presentation to provide context; the current submission is for the structures housing the "main process train" which is a portion of the overall bio–solids project.
Mr. Schwartz presented the location of the proposed facility toward the south end of the Blue Plains plant; he indicated the site's relationship to the administration building on the north, Interstate 295 on the east, and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on the south. He noted that Blue Plains serves over two million people in the Washington metropolitan area, including the District of Columbia and numerous suburban jurisdictions. The plant processes an average of 370 million gallons daily and over a billion gallons daily during wet weather; he said that the plant has an excellent history of performance and has won numerous awards.
Mr. Schwartz summarized the treatment process: wastewater is separated into liquid and solids; the proposed facility would handle the solids toward the end of the treatment process. Solids are currently stabilized with lime at Blue Plains and then trucked to a variety of sites, primarily in Virginia and Maryland, involving seventy truckloads per day. The solids are used for land reclamation projects and as a free agricultural fertilizer. Although this use is popular with farmers, the odor is not popular; the proposed facility would improve the treatment level of the solids, resulting in a less objectionable fertilizer product. The project also includes a co–generation facility that will produce eleven megawatts, approximately a third of the plant's substantial power requirements. The project would save DC Water approximately $20 million annually, would eliminate half of the truck trips for removing the solids from Blue Plains, and would likely shorten the length of the remaining truck trips because the improved treatment of the solids would allow them to be used at sites closer to the city. He confirmed that the improved treatment would greatly reduce the volume of resulting solids: bacteria would be used to digest the bio–mass which reduces its volume, and the addition of a substantial amount of lime would no longer be necessary.
Mr. Schwartz described the three program elements of the main process train. Bio–solids from various parts of the Blue Plains plant are brought into the system for pre–processing, which involves a thermal–hydrolysis process that he described as a series of large pressure cookers. The second stage is digesters, where anaerobic bacteria consume much of the mass; bio–gas, primarily methane, is a byproduct of this process and would be channeled to a heating and power plant–a separate project that is depicted in some of the renderings–where the bio–gas would be cleaned and then burned to power turbines. He added that the turbine process results in steam, which would be used for the thermal–hydrolysis process in the first phase of the main process train. The final stage involves dewatering, with the bio–solids compressed on belt presses in preparation for being trucked away from Blue Plains.
Mr. Schwartz described the structures that would correspond to the stages of the process. The initial processing would occur in a screening building, which would include centrifuges to remove some of the liquid content. The thermal–hydrolysis process would occur in free–standing vessels located between the other buildings. The digesters would include four large cylinders, 66 feet tall and 100 feet in diameter, capped with shallow domes; a support building would be located between the digesters. The digesters would include enclosed flares for burning excess gas that may sometimes not be accommodated in the turbines; he contrasted this design with the open flares that are sometimes included in other treatment plants. The adjacent heat and power plant would be submitted as a separate project; the final dewatering facility is also a separate adjacent project, already approved by the Commission as an extension to an existing building for treatment of solids.
Mr. Schwartz presented the proposed disposition of these built elements on the site; he noted that the location is a portion of Blue Plains that has not previously been intensely developed. Notable design features include exposed rooftop ductwork; odor control towers; bridges for utilities and staff spanning the plant's internal roads; access stairs and elevators; the flare enclosures; and expansion room for additional thermal–hydrolysis vessels and digesters. He noted that the support building for the digesters would be primarily underground, and its rooftop equipment would be at grade. Ms. Plater–Zyberk asked about the height of the built elements. Mr. Schwartz responded that the tallest part would be the existing solids treatment building adjacent to the proposed construction; the tallest of the new elements would be slightly lower than this building. He noted that the egg–shaped digesters in the earlier proposal were 101 feet tall; the currently proposed digesters have a height of 66 feet.
Mr. Schwartz presented views toward Blue Plains from several key locations in the area including Wilson Bridge, Memorial Bridge, Hains Point, Arlington House; the project would be slightly visible from Wilson Bridge among many other utilitarian elements, and would not be visible from the other locations. He presented a view from the Alexandria waterfront, indicating the visibility of the project but its significantly lower profile than the previously proposed egg–shaped digesters. He also presented several views from I–295, indicating the project's visibility and noting that the future heat and power plant is not shown in these photographic simulations. He said that the proposed materials include light gray precast concrete with dark gray banding, and translucent Kalwall panels would be used to bring daylight into the areas occupied by operators of the facility. Solar screens and aluminum fins would also be provided at some locations. The digester tanks would be constructed of post–tensioned concrete; he added that a fluted form liner would be used for the concrete to provide a surface texture.
Ms. Balmori commented that the proposed design misses a great opportunity that was apparent in the previous submission of the egg–shaped digesters. The historic attitude toward such infrastructure was to hide it, and the public neither saw nor understood it; the current worldwide trend is to display this infrastructure, giving it an aesthetic treatment and making it part of urban life. She said that the form of the egg–shaped digesters expressed the natural convection process occurring inside; in contrast, the digesters in the current proposal have the appearance of oil tanks, and the support facilities are configured like an office building. She also criticized the effort to limit the visibility of the facility as much as possible, recalling the unwelcome tradition of burying infrastructure or putting plants or fencing around it so that it would not be seen as part of the city. She instead emphasized that we live with this infrastructure and should let it take form, exposing the process. She cited recent examples in France and Denmark of allowing such infrastructure to add to the city, with distinctive forms that attract people's attention along streets and rivers. She acknowledged that the design change may have occurred for good reason but expressed regret at the loss of the evocative form, commenting that the design is more reminiscent of the 19th century than of the 21st.
Mr. Schwartz responded that the design change was partially to reduce the project cost but also because the key state–of–the–art feature of the proposed system is the thermal–hydrolysis process. Ms. Balmori said that this process could itself be expressed in the built form. Mr. Schwartz added that the co–generation facility is an additional key element that has made the project affordable for DC Water; the turbine building is being designed to accommodate visitors, including an observation deck. He said that this project would be the first application of the technology, serving as a nationwide example for the industry. Ms. Balmori acknowledged the technical achievements of the project but emphasized that the associated forms in other cities have been developed as "very elegant pieces of the city," which is not achieved in the current proposal; she reiterated her disappointment with the design, noting that her preference is not necessarily for egg–shaped digesters but more generally to design forms that express what is happening inside.
Mr. Schlossberg said that even the proposed structures could be used as an opportunity for graphic design that identifies the functions of the various project components. An associated website could then provide further information to supplement super–graphics that people would see from the highway, such as describing the purpose of a digester. He said that this solution might partially address Ms. Balmori's concerns while responding to both budgetary constraints and our current information technology. He said that an educational website would be desirable regardless of the design response, and graphics visible from a distance would help people to relate the website information to the visible infrastructure. Mr. Schwartz expressed enthusiasm for this approach. Ms. Fernández emphasized that such graphics would have to be carefully designed by a talented designer, commenting that the result could be very good or very bad. Mr. Schwartz responded that a graphic design proposal could be submitted for further review, clarifying that this would be separate from the approval of the final design that is currently requested for the main process train facilities.
Ms. Plater–Zyberk acknowledged the issue of making the infrastructure prominently visible but said that the presented views from I–295 were unsatisfactory; she suggested improved landscaping on the Blue Plains property along the highway to provide a less messy edge appearance, while not necessarily trying to screen views of the infrastructure. Mr. Schwartz responded that such improvements may need to be considered separately by DC Water; he noted the existing vegetation and buildings along some portions of the highway frontage. Ms. Plater–Zyberk said that the current situation appears haphazard and could be designed more carefully to emphasize certain views that are intended for the public while concealing minor elements that are not significant to the story of the treatment process. Mr. Schwartz acknowledged the concern but noted that much of the landscaping is on the highway property; Ms. Plater–Zyberk emphasized that her suggestion was to address this issue within the DC Water property.
Mr. Rybczynski requested the opportunity to review alternative paint colors for the exterior of the project elements, noting that such a submission would not delay the project schedule. He suggested a range of options encompassing "witty versus sober," acknowledging that the best choice may turn out to be the gray that is proposed. Mr. Schwartz responded that the color of the digesters would be established with staining as part of the concrete casting process, and the decision about color would therefore need to be made quickly; the proposed color is intended to match the existing buildings, but other options could be considered. Chairman Powell suggested that the staff could work with the design team on selecting the color; Mr. Rybczynski requested the opportunity for Commission review of the options. Mr. Luebke said that the project schedule should allow for such review, and the Commission could approve the project subject to an additional submission for the finish color and, if pursued, a graphic design proposal. Mr. Schwartz noted that other exterior design features are derived from the project elements, such as the bands related to the location of windows. Steven Bradford, the project architect, responded that a range of color options was already considered but was not included in the presentation; the options included various yellow, blue, and green colors. Mr. Schlossberg suggested providing these alternatives to the Commission, along with any additional suggestions.
Chairman Powell summarized the consensus of the Commission to approve the design subject to further review of the surface treatment. Upon a second by Mr. Schlossberg, the Commission adopted this action. Chairman Powell noted that Ms. Balmori had departed the meeting during the discussion and had requested that her vote be recorded as an abstention.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:52 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Last Modified: May 18, 2012