St. Elizabeths Hospital, West Campus
2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE
Dear Mr. McGill:
In its meeting of 19 November, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the final design documents for the proposed U.S. Coast Guard headquarters facility on the St. Elizabeths West Campus. The Commission acknowledged the difficulty in resolving the design of the 1.4-million-square-foot building on this sensitive hillside site and commended the General Services Administration (GSA) for its efforts in responding to the Commission's concerns from the last review in April 2009. The Commission approved the final design with conditions regarding the treatment of the exterior of the building as noted below.
Acknowledging the need to break down such an immense project into pieces, the Commission members noted that the approach of modulating the building as many smaller elements and layers may be carried too far given the great scale of this project. They commented that the overall building design is generally successful in its horizontal articulation and proposed materials, but noted that there are instances where the layered complexity of the facades may detract from the architecture. In particular, the members characterized the vertical articulation of the prominently framed volume at the uppermost part of the building as incongruous; it should be modified to be less obtrusive in keeping with the horizontal spirit of the entire complex. They also suggested that the panelized green-wall system, clipped on to some surfaces of the upper volumes of the building, appears flimsy and may be one layer too many in the composition; they recommended reducing or eliminating the use of this system in the design.
The Commission members complimented GSA for its willingness to consider the use of new materials and systems which may have unusual maintenance requirements. They supported the use of the metal mesh fins on the office complex, suggesting that these could be made more dense in pattern to increase energy performance. They also supported the use on the garage of the mesh green-screen system, which they commented has ample precedent as a means of softening the visual impact of that immense structure. In their discussion, the Commission members considered the proposed materials on the building and cautioned that the design-build process inherently creates a risk of losing in construction what is presented as a design. Given the design-build process and the absence of prior review of the selection of cladding materials, the Commission required that an on-site mockup showing representative sections of the major exterior cladding assemblies be presented to establish design intent as part of the final review process.
Regarding the design of the site, the Commission members continued to raise concerns about the movement of thousands of workers through this complex, not only in the Coast Guard headquarters, but between the garage structure and the historic campus on the hilltop. They recommended that amenities such as food service and other convenience retail be provided within the campus and, as appropriate, within the large Coast Guard building. While they reiterated their support for the landscape design of the courtyards as a means to improve the experience of working in and moving through the complex, they recommended the elimination of the metal retaining walls proposed throughout the courtyard gardens, as they found Cor-Ten steel to be an extraneous additional material unrelated to the palette of the entire project.
Given the great prominence of the site within the larger composition of Washington, the Commission requested a study of night lighting on the building to assess its impact on the context of the city—particularly when seen from a distance, as this is the primary way most people will experience this facility.
In its action, the Commission members included these comments as conditions that must be addressed to complete the final approval process. They look forward to the review of the mockup as well as documentation of redesign of the cladding systems at the upper volume of the building, including the west-facing vertical element and the use of the green-wall panel system. As always, the staff is available to assist you with future submissions.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, AIA Secretary
Special Assistant for Regional Coordination
National Capital Region
U.S. General Services Administration
301 7th Street, SW Room 7600
Washington, DC 20407-0001
cc: John R. Lowe, WDG Architecture
William Hellmuth, HOK