Dear Ms. Cooper:
In its meeting of 16 May, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the proposed final design for the replacement of the Woodridge Neighborhood Library at 1801 Hamlin Street, NE, at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue and 18th Street. The Commission did not take an action on the proposal, citing numerous concerns with the design and the submission materials, and requested a revised final design submission.
The Commission members reiterated their previous support for the concept design, as approved in November 2012, which was presented as a substantial, iconic building on a hill evoking the sense of a glowing lantern or beacon in the community. They expressed regret that the design as developed, featuring by thick battered walls with slit windows, has emphasized the impression of a forbidding and defensive fortress. They commented that this civic building should be an open and inviting presence in the Woodridge community—not only for those who use the building, but also for the neighborhood and visitors to the adjacent park; the architectural character as proposed, while formally appealing, appears incongruent with the D.C. Public Library's goals of openness and engagement with the public.
The Commission members observed that the less substantial treatment of the building's lattice-like roof embellishment has resulted in further emphasis on the heavy character of the building's main volume and has diminished the dramatic opportunity for reflecting internal light. They strongly recommended further design refinements to mitigate the heaviness of the building form by introducing larger openings which, in addition to strengthening the concept of a lantern-like structure, would provide beneficial daylight in the interior spaces for staff and visitors. They also reiterated their previously stated concern with the extensive glazed opening to the south, which serves to focus attention on a panoramic view to the outside, but would likely introduce excessive glare to the interior and be uncomfortable for readers.
In general, the Commission members expressed concerns about the planning of the building, whose mysterious and massive qualities are relieved only by the experience of moving through the interior. They questioned again the placement of the public meeting room and its after-hours access adjacent to a single-family house to the east; they observed that the site design in this area, and more generally for the project overall, was inadequately developed and documented. For example, they commented that the sloping topography of the site was addressed only generally through a reference to terracing; the various representations of the site design were not coordinated; features such as a screening fence were not described in dimensions nor materials; and no material samples were available for the Commission's review.
The Commission requests review of a more fully developed submission responsive to these comments, documented with drawings and samples appropriate to a final stage of review. The Commission appreciates the exemplary work of the D.C. Public Library to improve the design quality of the nation's capital. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Ginnie Cooper, Chief Librarian
District of Columbia Public Library
901 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
cc: Bing Thom, Bing Thom Architects