Dear Mr. Hanlon:
In its meeting of 16 January, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design for the proposed renovation of the former elementary school, located at 34th and Dix Streets, NE, to serve as the River Terrace Special Education Center. Citing numerous concerns with the site planning and disposition of the programmatic spaces, the Commission did not take an action and instead requested a new concept submission that better responds to the context.
The Commission members acknowledged the design strategy of relocating the entrance to the west side of the site, away from the residential neighborhood, in response to the building's new use involving the extensive use of vehicular drop–off of students. They emphasized that this strategy has the important benefit of orienting the school to the Anacostia River and waterfront park on the west, which should be celebrated in the site design and interior programming of the building. They questioned the proposal to place a large surface parking lot on the northwest portion of the site, effectively separating much of the building from the riverfront landscape. They also noted the inefficient curved layout of the parking, resulting in excessive pavement, and observed that the few school interior spaces enjoying the river views would primarily be administrative areas. They therefore recommended further study of the site and building layout, including consideration of occupiable second–story spaces to increase the visual access to the riverfront setting and treating the site as a multi–use landscape.
The Commission members gave the following comments for specific elements of the design. They supported the effort to introduce expressive architectural forms, such as canopies and atriums, to highlight the major circulation and gathering spaces of the renovated school; however, they recommended simplification of the architectural vocabulary of these elements to avoid the impression of too many unrelated design features in this relatively small building. For the design of the parking area, they suggested a more naturalistic strategy that is more sympathetic to the riverfront context–perhaps to use bio–swales instead of an inaccessible retention pond, and to include trees within the pavement to create the image of a bosque when seen from a distance.
In conclusion, the Commission expressed strong support for the goal of establishing an inspiring image for this important school, and encouraged developing this aspiration beyond the proposed character of a utilitarian parking lot at the building's main entrance. 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: Ed Schmidt, Fanning Howey