935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (Squares 378 & 379)
Dear Mr. Acosta:
In its meeting of 15 September, the Commission of Fine Arts was pleased to hear a second information presentation on the development of square guidelines for Squares 378 and 379—the site currently occupied by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) headquarters building—as a revision to the 1974 Pennsylvania Avenue Plan.
Consistent with their comments from the July 2016 discussion, the Commission members strongly emphasized the importance of the existing streetscape design of Pennsylvania Avenue as a primary public space in the capital city which is dedicated to civic uses, most notably as the setting for presidential inaugural parades. They observed that this block currently maintains continuity with several other blocks along the avenue featuring a large setback and three rows of willow oak trees; they underscored their support for keeping this spatial configuration and preserving the urban landscape masterwork by Dan Kiley and Sasaki & Associates. They urged that the trees and their long-term health be a first priority as any plans are developed for the site.
Regarding the massing of new development on Square 379, the Commission members did not express support for moving the Pennsylvania Avenue frontage of new buildings to the historic property line established under the L’Enfant Plan, and they characterized any line in between as being without historic meaning but generated instead by a desire to maximize development at the expense of public space. In the formulation of specific massing controls for any building facing Pennsylvania Avenue, they recommended that new development generally reflect the prevailing height and stepped massing of the Federal Triangle on the opposite side in order to promote the uniqueness of the avenue as the preeminent civic link between the Capitol and the White House.
The Commission members expressed their appreciation for the thoughtfulness of the presentation, and they suggested that the information might be more understandable to a wider audience if presented more concisely, perhaps as a matrix of diagrams with a preferred alternative. They also advised that these Modern landscape features of the avenue are worthy of protection, and they support efforts to include them in the listing for the Pennsylvania Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Commission looks forward to the formal review of square guidelines when they are ready for consideration by the various authorities having jurisdiction over this nationally prominent project. As always, the staff is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Marcel Acosta, Executive Director
National Capital Planning Commission
401 9th Street, NW, Suite 500-N
Washington, DC 20004
cc: Mina Wright, General Services Administration
Peter May, National Park Service
Eric Shaw, D.C. Office of Planning