Dear Mr. Hanlon:
In its meeting of 16 January, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design for proposed alterations of and additions to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, located at 1680 35th Street, NW. While raising several issues regarding the design, the Commission approved the general concept as an imaginative response to the program, requesting the opportunity to review a revised concept submission before the project proceeds to more detailed development.
Noting the design competition that resulted in the current proposal, the Commission members observed that the design retains both strengths and limitations of a creative competition entry. They expressed support for the emphasis on retaining and improving the school's historic landscape setting and primary facade on the east side of the site, along with more substantial alteration of the other parts of the building to accommodate the expanded program. However, they questioned the design vocabulary proposed for the secondary facades, suggesting that the rear facade to the west retain more of the organizing symmetry of the existing building and avoid an overly commercial character, and that the side facades be developed in a scale more sympathetic with the adjacent small–scale residential fabric. They suggested refinement of the design for the east facade and associated walks, ramps, and portals–citing such issues as the proposed portico addition that may not be compatible with the traditional open character of this feature; they requested careful consideration of a more strictly classical design approach for the iconic face of the school building. They also questioned the proposed insertion of a small parking area adjacent to the northeast corner of the building, expressing concern that it would detract from the school's formal landscape setting; they suggested combining this parking area with the extensive interior parking lot proposed beneath the building.
The Commission members raised several concerns about the presentation materials and questioned the height of the theater fly loft; they requested further coordination of the design proposal in the next submission, particularly to include critical information about the building section. They noted the design and operational concerns expressed by several neighborhood residents as well as the willingness of the school principal to work with the community, and they urged that the resolution of these issues be reflected in the design of such features as the proposed rooftop performance space and extensive glazing of the south facade which faces the Old Georgetown historic district.
In conclusion, the Commission members urged that the design of this school aspire to a high standard that supports the artistic endeavors encouraged by the school's curriculum. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Brian Hanlon, Director
D.C. Department of General Services
2000 14th Street, NW, 8th Floor
Washington, DC 20009
cc: Chris Graae, Cox Graae + Spack Architects