CFA 17/FEB/11-4


National Zoological Park
North Road
United States

Smithsonian Institution
National Zoological Park
General Services Building Retaining Wall
Review Type


Dear Ms. Trowbridge:

In its meeting of 17 February, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the design for a proposed retaining wall along North Road in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park. The Commission took no action on the project, requesting the development of further alternatives and the opportunity to inspect the site in conjunction with its next meeting.

The Commission members acknowledged the intention to construct a parking garage that will largely conceal the retaining wall from view; however, they prefer to consider the wall as a stand-alone feature since it is not known when the parking garage might be built. They questioned the decision to use cast-in-place concrete mimicking the appearance of stone, commenting that such a treatment—with its visible seams and repetitive patterning—seldom looks convincing. Noting the great length and height of the wall, they encouraged the design team to consider a more authentic treatment of the material. They also suggested developing a design that would incorporate repeated buttresses to modulate the extensive planar surface and allow control joints to be hidden at inside corners.

The Commission requested a site visit in March to assess the impact of the proposal on the context of the zoo and Rock Creek Park, and asked for options for articulating the wall with samples of material finishes. As always, the staff is available to assist you.


/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA

Ann Trowbridge, Associate Director for Planning
Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations
Smithsonian Institution
P.O. Box 37012, MRC 5508
Washington, DC 20013-7012

cc: Jeffrey Luker, Quinn Evans Architects