various locations in Federal Triangle and the National Mall
Dear Mr. Wiedefeld:
In its meeting of 20 April, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the proposed final design submitted by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for modifications to improve flood protection at several Metrorail vent shafts in the Federal Triangle and on the National Mall, last presented for review in September 2013. The Commission took no action, citing the insufficiency and inconsistency of the design as presented, as well as the lack of vision among the responsible government agencies for a longer-term comprehensive design solution for the streetscape and park settings of the proposed interventions.
The Commission members reiterated their strong support for protecting the safe operation of the Metro system, and they acknowledged WMATA’s limited role within the complex environment of interagency coordination involved in these projects in civic, public space. However, they expressed frustration with the limited conception and depiction of the various design proposals, observing that they are located in highly visible areas at the heart of the nation’s capital—and are therefore deserving of a more considered design approach that addresses the wider context and the pedestrian experience of moving through public space. They added that the current solution of surrounding the vents with plastic barriers and sandbags, while unsightly, is clearly perceived by the public as a temporary measure; they commented that this solution may be preferable to the construction of ill-conceived, permanent flood protection measures.
For the vent protection in the Federal Triangle precinct, the Commission members found that the proposed stone enclosures would be awkwardly placed among the many existing concrete planters providing perimeter security for the adjacent building, resulting in an incoherent, congested sidewalk to be navigated by the many workers, visitors, and tourists who use 12th Street. They recommended further coordination with the General Services Administration and any other involved agencies in order to develop a more thoughtful overall design that incorporates perimeter security elements, stormwater infrastructure, and other requirements of the public streetscape including lighting and sufficiently wide pedestrian walkways. They also questioned the adequacy of the presentation drawings, noting the unclear or inconsistent scale and siting of the proposed vent enclosures within the existing streetscape elements. For the proposal to raise the height of a vent along one of the walks within the Mall by creating a shallow apron of pavement, they requested a more complete presentation of this area, including section drawings across the width and affected length of the walk. They raised concern that the proposed design, only occupying part of the full walkway, may create other problems—for example, the settlement of the surrounding grade and the ponding of water. They urged further coordination with the National Park Service in evaluating the best treatment for this portion of one of the Mall’s prominent central walks.
For the project generally, the Commission concluded that the range of issues with the documentation of the project would best be addressed in a revised submission for all of the proposed sites. This presentation should include graphic documentation of the anticipated flood levels for the project as a whole, as well as section drawings that annotate the relationship of the design criteria to the new physical elements; it should also document the proposed enclosure structures in relationship to their context of public space, whether in the streetscape of the Federal Triangle or within the landscape of the National Mall. Because of the project’s high prominence, any permanent proposal involving other federal stakeholder agencies should present a coordinated design, rather than one focused narrowly on solving a single technical issue.
The Commission looks forward to further review of this project. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
General Manager and Chief Executive Officer
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
600 5th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
cc: Gay Vietzke, National Park Service
Mary Gibert, General Services Administration
Marcel Acosta, National Capital Planning Commission
Terry Garcia Crews, Federal Transit Administration
David Maloney, D.C. Historic Preservation Office
Leif Dormsjo, D.C. Department of Transportation