50 Massachusetts Avenue, NE
Dear Mr. Valenstein:
In its meeting of 21 November, the Commission of Fine Arts was pleased to hear an information presentation on plans for the renovation and expansion of Washington’s Union Station, the historic building and complex that accommodates commuter and intercity rail service, Metrorail, retail, parking, and the city’s central bus station. The Commission expressed support for Alternative A-C, the project team’s preferred approach, and provided the following comments.
The Commission members noted the ambitious scope of the project, which will provide extensive modernizations for a wide-ranging program, to be implemented while the station remains in operation. They expressed support for the general approach, sectional disposition, and plan layout of the programmatic elements in the preferred alternative; they added that the inclusion of the bus terminal at Union Station is an important, equitable convenience for travelers. For the development of the plan, they commented that the design of the expansion in relation to the H Street viaduct needs careful consideration with the goal of avoiding the perception of the viaduct as an impediment to people’s use of the area. They also commented that the conceptualization of the train hall should be carefully developed so that its design can appropriately express its intended civic role.
Regarding the parking program, the Commission members expressed concern that the planning for this long-term project seems to be based on a model of past decades that may not be a useful predictor of future needs. They observed that Union Station is not primarily a retail destination, but the parking program appears sized to accommodate large numbers of retail customers; the resulting built form, in conjunction with a large two-level bus terminal, generates an ungainly above-ground volume that presents aesthetic and programmatic problems in designing the area above the train platforms. They suggested reconsideration of this component of the project, in conjunction with further study of retailing trends, in order to develop a more appropriately sized and sympathetically configured massing.
The Commission looks forward to review of the project when it is submitted at the concept level. As always, the staff is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
David Valenstein, Senior Advisor
Federal Railroad Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
cc: Beverley Swaim-Staley, Union Station Redevelopment Corporation
Hany Hassan, Beyer Blinder Belle