Dear Mr. Hoskins:
In its meeting of 20 March, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a revised concept proposal for the public space components of the proposed Southwest Waterfront development, known as The Wharf. The public space elements associated with Phase 1 of the development, submitted directly from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, included concept designs for the piers, wharf frontage, parks, and streetscapes. The Commission members present provided the following comments to guide development of the project for final review.
The Commission members commented that the design has improved substantially in the course of review; they characterized the project as ambitious and a great contribution to the city. However, they recommended further simplification of the public space elements to reinforce the strongest idea of the project: that the wharf esplanade at the Washington Channel is the main focus of the design and should be understood as a continuous, coherent experience along the waterfront. They cautioned that the design continues to present unnecessary emphasis on specific moments or events within this linear urban space—using too many materials, too many elements, and too many unrelated forms—which may result in a carnivalesque character, and they suggested editing the vocabulary of design elements to create a calmer, more dignified effect. They made the following recommendations for the various components of the public space design:
Wharf esplanade: The Commission members recommended that the design of the esplanade be continuous—not interrupted by new paving patterns from incidental features such as piers, pavilions, and streets—to reinforce this central organizing element within the project. They recommended a simpler and more regular treatment of the paving and attention to atypical conditions such as the hazard of pedestrian stairs within the walkways. They also recommended studying the pattern and number of metal pylons, suggesting that fewer vertical elements would strengthen the design.
Gates and arches: Noting that the Market Pier gate had not been previously presented, they recommended a simplification of this design without an arch, which they found to be unrelated to the spirit of the project; they questioned the use of wood for vertical elements above the pier decking and benches, observing that metal has been established as the primary material for this condition. They recommended elimination of the metal arches in Jazz Alley, which they also identified as both formally and tectonically extraneous to the project, and they suggested instead a simpler system of support for street embellishments, possibly attached directly to the adjacent buildings without introducing columns into the streetscape.
Fountains and water features: The Commission members commented that the character of incidental water elements appears unrelated to the overall design; they noted in particular the fountain proposed for the turnaround at the Theater Alley, which they found to be unacceptably generic. They also suggested careful consideration of the sound created by the water at the District Pier entrance to the underground parking garage.
Maine Avenue streetscape: Noting the desire for retail frontage along Maine Avenue, the Commission members recommended careful calibration of the design of the streetscape along the buildings—balancing the competition for space among such functions as pedestrian movement, bike lanes, sunken low–impact design planters, and a double row of trees—where there may be insufficient space to accommodate outdoor seating for restaurants.
Parks: The Commission members acknowledged the concept approval for the design of the Waterfront Park in July 2011; they questioned the complexity of the design of the park fountain in both material and detail, suggesting simplification of the design with consideration of potential maintenance issues. For the 7th Street Park, they supported the intended simplicity of the landscape, but questioned the logic of the curving pathways through the space. For the public space in the northwest corner of Parcel 11, they accepted the proposed design of simple pavement as an interim installation until that part of the project is developed.
In summary, the Commission members expressed their strong support for the project as an important addition to the vibrant life of the city. As there was not a quorum during the review, these recommendations will be placed on the administrative agenda for confirmation at the Commission's meeting of 17 April. As always, the staff is available to assist the development team with the submission of the final design for review.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Victor L. Hoskins
Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 317
Washington, DC 20004
cc: Shawn Seaman, Hoffman−Madison Waterfront
Stanton Eckstut, Perkins Eastman / EEK
Paul Josey, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects
Michael Vergason, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects
Jennifer Steingasser, DC Office of Planning