801 Mount Vernon Place, NW (Mount Vernon Sq. at Massachusetts and New York Aves.)
Dear Mr. O'Dell:
In its meeting of 20 February, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design for the second phase of alterations to the streetscape and building exterior of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, occupying the blocks to the north of Mount Vernon Square. The Commission approved the proposal for wayfinding signage, but did not take an action on the other components of the submission—a new entrance canopy at the Mt. Vernon Square Metro station plaza, and new facade infill panels along 7th Street—instead providing the following comments for the development of the design.
In their approval of the wayfinding program, the Commission members expressed support for the proposed circular pylons, which they said would be more elegant than the accordion-like panels previously presented. In discussing the remaining scope of the project, they praised the design of the existing convention center, which they said blends subtle details of modern and classical architectural language to successfully control the massing and scale of the immense building within the context of a low-scale residential neighborhood. However, they found that the proposed Metro canopy and alterations to the facades ignore the precedents of both the region-wide design of Metro entrances and the sensitive architectural details of the convention center.
For the Metro entrance, the Commission members expressed support for the proposal to open up the enclosed space to improve the entry experience and allow for programming. However, they said that the proposed black and red canopy appears forbidding and is not in character with either the convention center, the neighborhood, or the iconic glass and steel canopy typical of Metro station entrances. They therefore suggested revising the concept to focus on the design of the plaza for use by convention center visitors and the community, with a new canopy that derives either from the successful language of canopies found throughout the Metrorail system or from those of the convention center itself. They questioned the red supergraphics reading "Mt. Vernon Square," which they said may invite confusion with the historic square located two blocks south of this station entrance; they strongly supported the proposed benches to be installed around the escalator well, but they recommended designing the proposed armrests to be more welcoming for all people.
Regarding the facade infill, the Commission members questioned the location, number, color, and scale of the frames and inset panels, commenting that the smaller frames previously approved for the N Street facade may not be the appropriate design gesture for the larger and more prominent bays along 7th Street. They commented that the frames appear to draw more attention to portions of the existing building that were designed to be unobtrusive in the streetscape, and that substantial refinement of the proportion and scale of the proposed infill panels would be necessary if they are retained in the design. They also commented that the stark color palette proposed does not have a clear relationship to the context, and they suggested consideration of using lighting behind the translucent panels to enliven the existing facades instead of the proposed modifications.
The Commission looks forward to further review of this project. Please consult with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Gregory O'Dell, Chief Executive Officer
801 Mount Vernon Place, NW
Washington, DC 20001
cc: Jason Long, OMA
Hallie Boyce, OLIN