925 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
Dear Mr. Anderson:
In its meeting of 18 July, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept submission for a new building and site design for Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, which is proposed to be relocated to the site of the former Shaw Junior High School at 925 Rhode Island Avenue, NW. The Commission did not take an action, providing the following comments for the design.
The Commission members expressed support for the general concept of locating the building at the northeast corner of the site and organizing the school around an interior commons; they noted the community benefits of including a new playing field and maintaining existing park facilities on the site. They recognized that these major program elements have driven the planning of the project; however, they found it difficult to understand the site constraints, circulation logic, and design intent from the documentation provided. Specifically, they questioned the disposition of the recreational and program elements across the site without a clear spatial or organizational concept, resulting in a quilt-like pattern of discontinuous small spaces without a strong relationship to the interior spaces of the school itself.
Therefore, the Commission members recommended a conceptual reconsideration of the entire site plan in order to develop a clear logic for circulation and use by students and the general public, requesting foremost a legible spatial organization where movement through the site to the school, to the streets, and to the recreation elements is readily perceived. In general, they advised more flexibility in the location of program elements such as the playing field, the dog park, the skate park, and the tennis courts, even reducing the number of program elements as necessary to achieve a sense of spatial clarity. They recommended that the primary site circulation and program areas be framed by plantings of trees rather than fence lines, particularly to define a generous north–south crossing through the site as well as a clear and direct approach to the school building. They found that the school’s entrance plaza at the northeast corner appears small, and they recommended consideration of rotating the gym volume on the southwest side of the building to align with Rhode Island Avenue in order to better address the avenue and to allow a larger, more usable outdoor space. They also advised that the plan should connect the school’s interior commons directly to the exterior at both ends—at the main entrance plaza, and at the southwestern side onto a generous lawn leading to the recreational facilities.
The Commission looks forward to further review of this project with documentation of site circulation, sectional drawings showing the relationship of the school to the adjacent exterior spaces, and building elevations. Please coordinate the next submission with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Keith A. Anderson, Director
D.C. Department of General Services
2000 14th Street, NW, 8th Floor
Washington, DC 20009
cc: Omar Calderon, Perkins Eastman DC
Sharon Bradley, Bradley Site Design