Dear Mr. Cinkala:
In its meeting of 21 February, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept submission for a new eleven–story building within the central space of the L'Enfant Plaza complex (case number SL 13-043 at 870 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, previously reviewed as 900 L'Enfant Plaza, SW). The Commission approved the general concept for the planning and massing of the project, requesting further development of the design for a revised concept presentation prior to the final submission.
In their discussion, the Commission members observed that although the proposed building is massive within the space of the plaza, the design approach successfully uses several strategies to begin to mitigate this bulk: the division of the program into two volumes separated by a slot; the lifting of the primary volumes above the ground plane; and the incision of reentrant corners on each of the volumes. However, they commented that the size of the program and the immediate context continue to pose challenges for the design of the site and the building, and they expressed regret at the loss of the open diagonal views to the Washington Monument and the Potomac River from within the plaza. For the design of the plaza areas that would remain, they supported the design goal of creating a collection of vibrant spaces articulated within a field of striations but found that the proposed design may be too homogeneous. They expressed appreciation for the proposal to raise the roadbed to create a curbless and continuous walking surface, recommending a subtle demarcation of the drive and the sidewalk, perhaps by varying the paving color and pattern; they also questioned the viability and intended effect of trees along what would be a narrow and highly urban access road. They strongly recommended a detailed study of the particular light and shade conditions around the site in order to inform the differentiation of the landscape design in consideration of the proposed plant palette.
The Commission members also made several specific recommendations regarding the building design. They observed that the proposed office volumes appear bland and boxy above the expressive structure of the ground levels and recommended that some of this lively character be extended to the upper floors. For example, the public realm is marked on the lower floors by the bold structure; this language could perhaps be extended to a public overlook at the roof that provides access to the long views lost at the ground plane. They noted that the large–scale white grid on the bays facing 10th Street has the questionable effect of making the building appear squat; they suggested that these could be articulated as lighter bays extending from the primary volumes behind. They recommended that the pendant elevator pits within the atrium space be treated as lighter, more transparent elements in contrast to the heavy muscularity of the structural system that gives definition to the ground level.
The Commission looks forward to review of the next submission.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
The JBG Companies
4445 Willard Avenue, Suite 400
Chevy Chase, MD 20815
cc: Ivan Harbour, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Jennifer Steingasser, D.C. Office of Planning