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Meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts

17 January 2013

The meeting was convened in the Commission of Fine Arts offices in the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, at 10:08 a.m.

Members present:
Hon. Earl A. Powell, Chairman
Hon. Teresita Fernández
Hon. Philip Freelon
Hon. Alex Krieger
Hon. Edwin Schlossberg

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

I. Administration

A. Approval of the minutes of the 15 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 Mr. Krieger.

B. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings: 21 February, 21 March, and 18 April 2013. C. Confirmation of the approval of the recommendations for the December 2012 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. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission ratified its approval of the December recommendations. (See agenda item II.A, Appendix III, for the January 2013 Old Georgetown Act submissions.) D. Update on centennial history project. Mr. Luebke reported that the multi–year project to commemorate the Commission's centennial is nearing completion: a contract is in place for printing the book on the Commission's history, with delivery anticipated in April. A presentation related to the book will likely be scheduled in conjunction with the Commission's May meeting date at the National Building Museum as part of the memorial lecture series honoring Charles Atherton, the Commission's long–serving secretary. Chairman Powell noted the Commission's longstanding anticipation of the publication.

II. Submissions and Reviews

A. Appendices

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

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

Appendix II – Shipstead–Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported several changes to the draft appendix. One case with a negative recommendation (case number SL 13–019) was removed to allow the applicant more time to make revisions. Another submission for the Powell Elementary School (SL 13–028) was similarly removed; as a D.C. government property, this case had also been recategorized as a direct submission although it was submitted under the Shipstead–Luce Act jurisdiction. One case has been added with a favorable recommendation (SL 13–032). Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the revised appendix including delegation of additional staff actions for two cases. (See agenda item II.E for an additional Shipstead–Luce Act submission.)

Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Ms. Barsoum reported several changes to the draft appendix for January. Two cases were removed to allow the applicants more time to make revisions in response to the Old Georgetown Board's recommendations. The wording of some recommendations has also been clarified and updated. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Schlossberg, the Commission approved the revised appendix. Mr. Luebke noted that the recommendations on the appendix would be forwarded to the D.C. government. (See agenda item I.C for the December 2012 Old Georgetown Act submissions.)

B. National Park Service

CFA 17/JAN/13–1, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. Independence Avenue, SW, at the northwestern rim of the Tidal Basin. Modifications to the Stone of Hope inscription. Final. (Previous: CFA 21/OCT/10–2.) Mr. Luebke introduced a project submitted by the National Park Service to address an issue with the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial: the abbreviated "drum major" quotation carved on the northeast side of the Stone of Hope, the memorial's central sculpture. Mr. Luebke noted that the Commission had approved the final selection of quotations for the memorial, including the full drum major quotation, in October 2010; previously, when the preliminary selection of quotations had been presented in February 2007, the Commission had specifically discussed the truncation of this passage and instead recommended using quotations in their entirety. However, during construction the 47–word extract was condensed to ten words, a decision presumably made for reasons of graphic layout. He said that the Secretary of the Interior has determined that this abbreviated form should not remain, and he introduced Peter May, Associate Director for Lands, Resources, and Planning for the National Capital Region of the National Park Service, to present the proposed solution.

Mr. May said that the final approved design had included the entire quotation, taken from a 1968 speech by Dr. King; during construction it was shortened to read: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." When the memorial opened, a public outcry arose against use of this truncated version, and the Secretary of the Interior has directed the National Park Service to propose a correction.

Mr. May described the construction of the sculpture from multiple large blocks of stone, and he discussed alternatives for changing the problematic quotation. One alternative would be to chisel out the quotation and feather the surface back into the surrounding stone; however, the inscription is carved so deeply that this approach may not be successful. A second alternative would be to replace the condensed statement with the full quotation, which would require inserting a new, large piece of stone into the sculpture and creating new joints. A third alternative, proposed by the memorial's sculptor Lei Yixin, would be to deepen the existing striations while adding new ones to efface the quotation; National Park Service officials have met with Mr. Lei, members of Dr. King's family, and representatives of the memorial's sponsoring foundation, and all agree that this would be the best solution. The proposal is therefore to implement this modification in the coming months; he noted that the memorial would remain open to the public throughout the alteration process.

Mr. Schlossberg expressed enthusiastic support for the proposed solution; Chairman Powell noted the consensus of the Commission to support this proposal. Upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg with second by Ms. Fernandez, the Commission approved the National Park Service's preferred alternative for removing the quotation.

C. National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund

CFA 17/JAN/13–2, National Law Enforcement Museum, Judiciary Square (Federal Reservation #7), E Street between Court Buildings E and C, and north of Old City Hall. Final. (Previous: CFA 15/MAY/08–2.) Mr. Lindstrom said that the Commission had approved the final design for this museum in May 2008, but construction has not yet begun and this approval has now expired. The museum's sponsoring foundation has resubmitted the design for approval and has included minor changes to the building's exterior. He introduced Craig Floyd, chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, to begin the presentation.

Mr. Floyd said that his organization includes representatives from 16 national law enforcement organizations; it was established in 1984 to create the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, dedicated in 1991 on a site in Judiciary Square. He recalled the Commission's insistence when reviewing the memorial to incorporate the existing Metrorail elevator enclosures into the design; he said that the resulting pergolas and central focal space have been welcome features of the memorial design in the ensuing decades, and reiterated his longstanding appreciation for the Commission's guidance. He summarized the federal law enacted in 2000 that authorizes placement of an associated museum on a site immediately south of the memorial, across E Street, mandating that most of the museum be placed below ground to protect the historic open space of Judiciary Square. He added that the museum site was being used as a parking lot for the adjacent court buildings; the parking has subsequently been shifted to a new underground garage nearby.

Mr. Floyd said that the presentation would cover minor changes proposed for the above–ground entrance and exit pavilions that would serve the museum; more extensive changes have been made to the below–grade portion of the project, which is not subject to Commission review. The first phase of the project, including underground utility relocation and infrastructure, was completed in late 2011. Construction documents have been submitted to the D.C. government for permit approval, with plans to begin building in June 2013. He noted that an environmental rating of LEED Silver is sought for the project. He introduced Davis Buckley of Davis Buckley Architects and Planners to present the museum design. Chairman Powell noted the Commission's previous review of the project in 2008 and suggested an abbreviated presentation with a focus on the design changes.

Mr. Buckley said that the project's hiatus had provided the opportunity to reconsider the elements of the museum proposal. The floor of administrative offices, furthest below grade, has been eliminated from the design; the sponsoring foundation will remain in office space in a commercial building several blocks away. This program reduction allowed for simplification of the exit stair requirements, and additional changes were made to consolidate the museum's visitor circulation pattern. The area for exhibits has also been reduced and concentrated to provide an "immersion experience." These changes have reduced the overall size from 105,000 to 55,000 square feet, and the project would no longer extend under the E Street cartway. The above–ground effect of these changes is to eliminate an emergency egress door from the rear facade of the east pavilion; in addition, the plaza paving pattern would now follow the pattern recently built as part of the D.C. Courts project, and the previously proposed plaza skylight pavers have been eliminated. He also indicated the location of two newly proposed curb cuts at the E Street vehicular dropoff areas, and said that the reconstructed site grades would provide barrier–free access to the adjacent courthouse.

Mr. Krieger offered overall support for the project but expressed disappointment that the design of the pavilions had not been developed further in the intervening years. He said that the pavilions seem to be neither "robust neoclassical" nor minimal modern designs, and he expected that the detailing would be more elegant. Mr. Buckley responded that the pavilion details have been developed extensively, and their diamond–vaulted roof design is based on the existing pergola structure in the nearby memorial. He added that the roofs would be constructed primarily of low–iron glass with some fritted glass, resulting in clear roof structures that would be slightly separated from the glass walls; the goal is to make the pavilions as transparent as possible. Mr. Krieger said that his first reaction was that the steel seems a little too heavy; he nonetheless acknowledged the status of the resubmitted project and said that his comments should not prevent approval of the proposal.

Chairman Powell noted the previous review process that has resulted in the current design. Upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg, the Commission approved the final design submission.

D. General Services Administration

CFA 17/JAN/13–3, St. Elizabeths West Campus, 2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE. Exterior site identity and wayfinding signs for the Department of Homeland Security headquarters–Phase I. Final. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposal for an interim signage and wayfinding program for the headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at the St. Elizabeths West Campus. He noted that the staff has been working with the General Services Administration (GSA) to reduce the size of some signs to make them more compatible with the historic landmark site. He asked Mina Wright, director of GSA's Office of Planning and Design Quality, to begin the presentation.

Ms. Wright said that the proposal is an interim program that would eventually be changed in response to planned future phases of construction on the campus. The schedule for future construction is not known, and the interim program may remain in place for a lengthy period; she emphasized that GSA is not suggesting a specific temporary duration for the project. Mr. Luebke advised the Commission to treat the proposal as a permanent installation. Ms. Wright said that the design consultant is not present due to GSA's funding limitations for the project, and she introduced project manager Thom Ennen of GSA to present the proposal.

Mr. Ennen said that in August 2013 employees will begin occupying the large new U.S. Coast Guard headquarters building; this will be the primary focus of activity on the campus, and a more moderate amount of activity is expected in the central plateau area of the campus. The proposed signage would be concentrated at the historic campus entrances along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, and at the entrances from the new Access Road along the western edge of the campus where most Coast Guard employees would enter the new parking garage. He noted the separate entrance gates along the Access Road for campus deliveries and for the daycare center. He said that the number of signs has been significantly reduced in recent months through ongoing coordination to address the concern of employees getting lost as they shift to this new worksite. He acknowledged that the Coast Guard building is very large, but he emphasized that the campus overall has a more intimate village–like character, with near–term activity concentrated in only a small area. Several types of signs will be used, including large horizontal tombstone–type signs with masonry bases, to identify entrances; flag or pole–and–panel signs to provide wayfinding information for drivers and pedestrians; building identification signs; and moveable stop signs. The design of entrance signs would be consistent with Department of Homeland Security branding.

Mr. Ennen provided more details on the signage proposals at the campus entrances. Signs are needed to advise drivers and pedestrians that they are entering a secure area and are to be placed at each gate and at the entrances to the Access Road which will be an area controlled by DHS. Along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, relatively little activity is expected at Gates 1 and 2 during the first phase of the campus occupancy. He said that these gates are not well marked, and currently many drivers coming up the hill do not realize they have reached the gates. A tombstone–type entrance sign is proposed for Gate 1, where a historic gate and gatehouse are located. Gate 2 will be used by GSA, maintenance vehicles, and many pedestrians, and will have more pedestrian–oriented signs. Along the Access Road, signs at Gate 4 would emphasize vehicular access; Gate 5 will provide access to the Coast Guard day–care center and does not need a DHS entrance sign; and Gate 6, leading to the vehicle inspection building for deliveries, would be a complicated entrance crowded with many moveable signs and would require careful traffic control. Within the campus, he said that almost no signs would be used on the doorways of the Coast Guard building except to distinguish between visitor and staff entrances. He concluded with detail drawings of the various sign types, including the attachment detail for signs on historic buildings.

Mr. Schlossberg observed that most of the proposed identification signs simply say "Homeland Security" and do not actually identify DHS as a departmental agency, as do signs at other federal departmental buildings in Washington, while at the Coast Guard building the sign would read "U.S. Department of Homeland Security." He recommended a more consistent phrasing of departmental names for signage at federal buildings and asked if GSA has developed an overall graphic identity. Mr. Powell agreed that "Department of Homeland Security" would be preferable phrasing for the identification signs. Mr. Ennen confirmed that the proposed design relates to an overall branding concept for DHS.

Ms. Fernández noted her close familiarity with the site and observed that the campus has a certain formal or authoritative character that will be further reinforced by the security measures and the careful posting of information. She commented that this character would be contradicted by the casual and relaxed tone of the proposed identification signs; instead, the setting calls for authoritative phrasing with the formal name, and the rest of the language on the signs should be subsumed under the departmental name. Mr. Schlossberg added that the proposed identification signs have a conversational way of writing rather than the formality one would expect on such signage; he noted that taxonomy or hierarchy in language clarifies understanding.

Mr. Freelon agreed with these comments and added that signage, especially on a street, gives people their first impression of an institution; he said that the Department of Homeland Security would not want to convey a casual impression. Ms. Fernández commented that the presentation images did not give the sense of the campus's bucolic setting, which resembles a park more than the headquarters of a federal agency; she said that the most effective design response would be to use straightforward, official–looking signs to contrast with the setting.

Mr. Krieger observed that the departmental seal shown on some entrance signs says "U.S. Department of Homeland Security." He acknowledged the undesirability from a graphic design standpoint of using this entire phrase everywhere because of its length, and suggested a compromise of placing "U.S. Department of" in smaller letters above, and "Homeland Security" in larger letters below. Mr. Schlossberg said that the details of font size and wording requires careful study at each federal installation; here, he supported using the abbreviation "U.S." rather than writing out "United States Department of Homeland Security" as the highest level of text for the identification signs. Mr. Powell agreed that "U.S." would be preferable. Mr. Luebke noted the importance of communicating on the signs that DHS is a federal agency.

Ms. Wright said that GSA has developed graphic standards and wants to establish standard signage that can be used for other buildings in the region; she said that GSA welcomes the Commission's comments and would appreciate a response letter with very specific advice. Mr. Ennen added that the Commission's review may benefit DHS, which has been investing heavily in the department's branding approach.

Upon a motion by Mr. Schlossberg with second by Mr. Freelon, the Commission approved the proposal subject to adjusting the wording of the departmental name as discussed.

E. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs – Shipstead–Luce Act

SL 13–029, 400 6th Street, SW. New twelve–story office building. Concept. Ms. Batcheler introduced the proposal for a new office building on the site of an existing five–story building, two blocks south of the National Mall and immediately south of the elevated railroad line along Virginia Avenue, SW. She asked architect Jordan Goldstein of Gensler to present the design.

Mr. Goldstein described the site and context. The building would be at the southeast corner of 6th and D Streets; at the east end of the D Street frontage, a small portion of the site is bounded by the diagonal alignment of Virginia Avenue. Immediately west across 6th Street is the large Constitution Center office building [formerly the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Transportation]. The center of Virginia Avenue is occupied by railroad tracks elevated twenty feet above the street level; the stone wall of the railroad embankment faces the site on the north, with 4th and 6th Streets passing beneath the tracks. A portion of Virginia Avenue carries vehicular traffic on the south side of the embankment adjacent to the site; nearby, the vehicle lanes shift to the north side of the tracks. A small triangular park, bounded by 6th and D Streets and Virginia Avenue, is immediately north of the site's northwest corner. He indicated the nearby Metrorail stations–L'Enfant Plaza a block to the west at Constitution Center, and Federal Center SW several blocks to the east at the Washington Design Center building.

Mr. Goldstein presented the proposed massing of the office building. The twelve–story volume would be set back from the south property line; a one–story volume at the south edge would contain the loading dock, with the loading entrance placed on 6th Street opposite the existing loading entrance of the Constitution Center building. He noted that this configuration would provide open space between the upper floors and the abutting property to the south, currently occupied by low–rise buildings. The proposed building's northeast corner would have a setback that recedes from the irregular shape of the site at the diagonal Virginia Avenue frontage; the entrance driveway to the below–grade parking would be at the eastern edge, with access from Virginia Avenue, and the remainder of the offset area would be a small plaza. The building's double–height lobby would face D Street, flanked by office or retail tenant spaces. He described the overall plan composition as a square superimposed on a larger rectangle.

Mr. Goldstein presented the typical office floor plan and the roof plan. The roof would include extensive planted areas; a terrace at the northeast portion would offer views toward the U.S. Capitol. He indicated the deep setback of the mechanical penthouse from the roof edges. Mr. Freelon questioned the notation on the roof plan that refers to a future terrace where landscaping is shown, asking if a portion of the proposed green roof might be eliminated. Mr. Goldstein clarified that the notation refers to the location of a staircase that would need to be extended to the roof level–through a small portion of the landscaped area–if a terrace is created; the extent of the terrace itself would only be as shown in the drawing.

Mr. Goldstein described the proposed facade treatment, which he said is intended to create an artificial quality of articulation that would animate the street frontages. He noted that the context includes many buildings from the 1960s with glass and precast concrete facades; Constitution Center, recently remodeled, has a mix of facade treatments including glass curtainwall. The goal for the proposed building is to draw on the context while creating an interesting facade that wraps around the building and breaks down the massing. The proposal includes a framed facade grid encompassing the upper floors toward the northwest corner of the building at 6th and D Streets, and a glazed base with a more inviting character. The framed grid would articulate the concept of overlapping volumes that comprise the massing of the building. The materials would include glass curtainwall and precast concrete with punctured window openings. The top floor in some parts of the building would be articulated with curtainwall to echo the treatment of the building's base. He emphasized the overall effect of creating a weaved surface for the facade, achieved through modulation of the depth and color tone; he indicated the details of the mullions and spandrel panels that contribute to this effect. Mr. Krieger asked about the range of precast concrete colors; Mr. Goldstein clarified that the proposal includes a darker tone and two lighter tones. He also noted that the size of the window openings is the same in the various facade types. He added that the building would be hardened for blast resistance, which often results in substantial structural elements at the perimeter; here, the hardening would be achieved with two–foot–deep spandrel beams that encircle the building, and these beams would be masked by the woven facade pattern.

Mr. Freelon expressed support for the proposed facades as planar compositions but said that they are less successful in combination as seen in perspective views. He supported the emphasis on the building entrance and the gesture of lifting the facade elements above the glazed base; he suggested further consideration of raising the parapet line to reinforce the concept. He also noted the inaccurate depiction of direct sunlight on the perspective view of the north–facing lobby entrance and recommended further design gestures to give a lighter character to this main entrance; he described the proposed canopy as "abrupt." Mr. Goldstein offered to introduce more transparency to the canopy; Mr. Freelon supported this refinement and emphasized his overall support for the design.

Ms. Fernández commented that the proposed design is comparable to many others that are presented to the Commission, with small shifts in the massing and an appearance of disparate things being "cobbled together." She said that the three–dimensional appearance of the building does not make sense, and the design gestures appear superficial and disconnected without being integrated into the volume. Mr. Krieger agreed, describing the project as an interesting formal exercise that nonetheless appears "concocted" rather than having a functional, environmental, or contextual purpose. He asked about the environmental efficiency intentions for the design; Mr. Goldstein confirmed the goal of a LEED Gold rating. Mr. Krieger said that designing for such a rating would typically include differentiating the facades in response to solar exposure, rather than the artificial distinction of the facades in the proposed design.

Mr. Schlossberg agreed with the comments of the other Commission members. He suggested consideration of materials that respond to the sunlight, such as dichroic glass or reflective surfaces that would alter the building's appearance at different times of day; various materials would change color with the air temperature. He said that these gestures, with a relatively low cost, would add liveliness to the surface and express a relationship to the environment.

Ms. Fernández said that the reference to weaving the facade is interesting but is seemingly applied as a surface treatment, with the effect of a series of scattered tapestries being displayed. She suggested that a woven treatment of the overall building volume would be a more interesting way to address the transitions and corners of the design; the idea of weaving would then become more eloquent and less superficial. Mr. Goldstein agreed to consider this as an interesting approach even within the current material palette, and noted that this concept is not typically seen in Washington–area buildings.

Mr. Krieger suggested that the distinctions among the facade parts could be lessened, commenting that the sharp contrasts in the current proposal suggest more variation than the design actually delivers. He offered the example of the dimensions for the windows and precast areas, which are relatively consistent across the different facade types. He therefore suggested a more limited degree of differentiation in the weave of the facades.

Chairman Powell supported the comments of the other Commission members, emphasizing the opportunity provided by demolition of the existing building and construction of an entirely new project. He said that the proposal has the appearance of an ordinary office building, and the next phase of design could include a more interesting design approach as suggested by the Commission members. He noted that the current submission is for concept approval and said that the Commission looks forward to further review of the project.

Mr. Luebke noted the concerns with the facade treatment and the apparent acceptance by the Commission of the proposed massing and siting; however, he said that this consensus would be marginal for a concept approval action. Ms. Fernández suggested a general concept approval; Mr. Luebke said this would allow further design development of the overall building while the facade issues are being addressed with a follow–up submission. Chairman Powell noted the consensus of the Commission to support such an action, which would result in fine–tuning or evolving of the facades. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the general concept for the massing but not the exterior design, for which they requested another concept submission.

There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 11:41 a.m.

Signed,

Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Secretary

Last Modified: February 22, 2013