Dear Ms. Tosini:
In its meeting of 20 June, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design for alterations and additions to the federal office building at 1700 G Street, NW, for consolidation of the headquarters of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. While generally supportive of rehabilitating and adding to the building, the Commission raised numerous concerns with the proposal and did not take an action, requesting further study and a new concept submission.
The Commission members expressed appreciation for the careful design analysis of the existing building, confirming its significance as a notable and sensitive example of modernist architecture in a historic urban context. They emphasized that the particular elements of the building—the elegantly expressed slabs and piers framing expanses of glass in counterpoint to the solid planes of shot–sawn limestone blocks—are integral to the success of the original design. While they supported accommodating more space with limited additions to the 6th and 7th levels of the building, they commented that many of the proposed changes to the existing structure would have the overall effect of transforming noteworthy modernist architecture into a more conventional, contemporary office building. They also acknowledged the value of bringing more light into the building but nonetheless questioned the appropriateness of some of the proposals, particularly the various alterations to the solid planes of the facade; they commented that the proposal of curtainwall facing the courtyard and slit windows facing the street would diminish the building's architectural clarity and introduce unrelated vocabularies on the courtyard and street facades. They recognized the challenge of bringing daylight into occupiable areas of the basement, suggesting that conference spaces limited to temporary occupancy would be more suitable for these areas.
Regarding the design of the site, the Commission members commented that many of the proposed courtyard modifications would generally improve on the existing conditions, but they recommended further study to build upon the modernist heritage of the historic landscape instead of replacing it completely with a more contemporary and generic design. They questioned the apparent lack of an explicit relationship to the adjacent facades of the historic Winder Building, recommending that the courtyard design celebrate the combination of 19th– and 20th–century architecture framing this open space. They supported the removal of the high glass arcade along the south side of the courtyard but suggested more refinement of the ground–plane topography to enhance accessibility and to create occupiable areas of lawn. They also raised concerns about the proposed alterations to the palette of paving materials for the sidewalks and open public passages leading to the courtyard, recommending that the ground plane maintain a more consistent surface of red brick to emphasize the continuity of public space, rather than imply a transition into privatized space.
The Commission welcomes the continued use by the federal government of this exemplary modernist building and looks forward to a new concept submission that addresses the concerns that were raised. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Chief Administrative Officer
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
1700 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20552
cc: Rod Garrett, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Thomas Balsley, Thomas Balsley Associates