2051 and 1951 Constitution Avenue, NW
Dear Ms. Varnon:
In its meeting of 16 January, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design for the renovation of and additions to the Marriner S. Eccles Building (2051 Constitution Avenue, NW) and the Federal Reserve Board–East Building (1951 Constitution Avenue, NW, the former Interior South Building). The Commission approved the general concept for the massing of the building additions and for the site plan following the preferred Option B, while identifying several concerns that should be addressed in a revised concept submission.
The Commission members complimented the project team for the thorough presentation, and for the careful design approach of treating the changes to the properties as insertions into the existing historic buildings and their grounds. They noted in particular the high quality of the Eccles Building by the outstanding early 20th-century architect Paul Cret, and they agreed that the prominence of the two historic buildings should remain foremost in the design strategy for the project. Accordingly, they emphasized that any new additions should be secondary and should recede—in visual prominence and in articulation—from the original Beaux-Arts ensembles, and they advised less contrast in the architectural character of the new additions than what was presented. In their discussion, they debated whether to extend the language of the historic buildings or to differentiate the additions from them; they concluded that the additions should be treated to emphasize their civic function, with the goal of providing a more harmonious and comprehensive design for the headquarters of the nation’s central banking system.
Given the strength of the original architecture, the Commission members advised modesty and restraint in the design of the additions, recommending that their differentiation from the symmetrical masonry buildings should be carefully limited. They raised particular concerns about the design of the large five-story addition on the north side of the East Building, finding that the proposed composition of multiple new architectural languages is awkward and would detract from the historic building; they advised developing a simpler, quieter composition with a more unified architectural character. They strongly advised that the details of the transitions from old to new will be critical to the success of the design, and they expressed interest in the use of composite glass-stone panels; they also recommended further development of the design at the penthouses and at the ground level, especially at the entrances.
Likewise, for the design of the landscape, the Commission members encouraged further exploration of the details where the historic elements adjoin the extensive new installations. They expressed support for the rehabilitation of the south building yards as part of the monumental setting along Constitution Avenue, particularly for the promotion of public access and the more recessive treatment of perimeter security elements. Citing the properties’ established Beaux-Arts character, they recommended a more sympathetic design for the bollards in both material and articulation; they also recommended against the insertion of the new water features proposed at the 20th Street entrance, which they found would diminish the primacy of the fountains and basins in the front landscapes.
Recognizing the great challenge and opportunity of this project to demonstrate what civic architecture can be today, the Commission looks forward to the continued review of this project with revisions to the general concept. Please coordinate the next submission with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Director, Management Division
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Washington, DC 20551
cc: Rod Henderer, Fortus (Callison–RTKL)
Tom Jester, Fortus (Quinn Evans Architects)
Alan Ward, Sasaki Associates