3401 Water Street, NW
Dear Ms. Gerke:
Due to the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and national health emergency, the Commission of Fine Arts cancelled its public meeting scheduled for 19 March 2020, and the Commission members were not able to hear a concept design presentation for a five-story addition and alterations for a new multi-family residence at 3401 Water Street, NW (OG 19-185). However, based on their review of the submitted design, the Commission members have voted by poll to provide the following recommendations and comments.
The Commission members adopted the report of the Old Georgetown Board (enclosed) and recommended approval of the project, noting the project’s high visibility within the historic district along the Potomac River and the C&O Canal. As the design is developed, they recommended considering more architectural detail in the facade designs related to the context of the historic district. For the landscape design, they requested generally that the project team consult with the National Park Service to coordinate this proposal with the forthcoming C&O Canal Park Plan and recommended a new design for the proposed arched benches that is simpler in form. They encouraged reconceiving the landscape as post-industrial in character, both in massing and form as well as plant specification, following a logic of “novel ecology” using native and hardy non-native species that thrive in harsh site conditions.
This recommendation will be placed on the administrative agenda for confirmation at the Commission’s next public meeting. As always, the staff is available to assist you with future submissions.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
The IDI Group Companies
2101 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1200
Arlington, VA 22201
cc: Israel Olmos, BBGM
Jonathan Mellon, Goulston & Storrs
Encl.: Report of the Old Georgetown Board, 19 March 2020
OG 19-185 (HPA 19-361)
3401 Water Street, NW
(Square 1183, Lot 813)
Addition and alterations
(Reviewed in concept as OG 16-375: Jan 2017, Dec 2016, Oct 2016; as OG 19-069: Feb 2019; as OG 19-185: June 2019, Oct 2019, Nov 2019, Dec 2019, Feb 2020)
REPORT: The applicant, Whitehurst Associates Limited Partnership, proposes a five-story plus penthouse addition to an existing two-story commercial structure located at 3401 Water Street, NW. The proposed development would be a multi-family residence with retail at the ground floor fronting Water Street NW. The site is located on the north side of Water Street NW with the Key Bridge to its west and the C&O Canal and towpath abutting the north property line. The proposed building will be visible from many vantage points, including the Key Bridge and Potomac River.
The existing commercial building consists of a brick eastern portion that was constructed in 1939 and a concrete western portion constructed in 1946 as garages for the Crystal Ice Company. The building has seen considerable alterations over the intervening decades, including changes to the fenestration and the introduction of steel supports for the Whitehurst Freeway that were notched into the Water Street façade around 1949. The proposed scope of work necessitates partial demolition of the existing warehouse, but the existing exterior walls will be largely retained, and the windows replaced with metal casements that closely reflect the 1939 and 1946 designs.
The proposed construction consists of five stories and a penthouse set within the existing building walls. The north elevation would feature a subtle curve, following the bend in the adjacent C&O Canal and opening a view of Key Bridge from the canal’s towpath. The north elevation is broken down into three distinct massings through the use of changes in planes articulated with red and gray brick; it is further broken down through the use of balconies, particularly on the west end, where the architects have carved away the masonry to take advantage of the views of Key Bridge. A metal trellis covered with wisteria joins the two red brick massings at the third floor at a terrace overlooking the C&O Canal.
The building’s south elevation maintains the warehouse character of the historic building, which is generally compatible with the area of Georgetown south of M Street, NW, known for its industrial past and water-powered mills; the design would maintain the street facade but includes larger openings for the proposed commercial tenants at the ground floor as well as a vehicular entrance. The pedestrian entrance for the residential units would be on the east elevation at the second level, helping to activate the uphill access along 34th Street to the C&O Canal. The renderings depict the flat roofs as green, following a recommendation of the Commission from its concept review and approval in January 2017.
At the request of the Old Georgetown Board (OGB), the applicant engaged a landscape architect to develop a concept for the proposed plantings around the building, most importantly along the north elevation where the landscaped area will abut the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The applicant proposes arched concrete benches, inspired by the arches of the nearby Key Bridge, and a variety of native plants found in an industrial setting. The OGB requested that the applicant work closely with the National Park Service (NPS) to ensure any proposed furnishings and plantings are compatible with the canal plan currently under study by NPS and Georgetown Heritage.
At its meeting of 6 February 2020, the OGB recommended approval of the revised concept design, but requested that the applicant continue to study the proposed windows to be more vertical in the proportion of subdivisions than shown in this submission, finding that the windows on the north elevation are successful in the red brick but not in the gray brick portion, where the transom compresses the proportions of the glass lites. Subsequently, the applicant revised the windows on the north elevation, a change that is documented in the submission before the Commission for review this month. In its review, the OGB also noted that the landscape plan should continue to be refined with input from the National Park Service, elevations should clearly document the height of the penthouse, and a mock-up panel on site will be required before issuance of a recommendation on the permit.
RECOMMENDATION: NO OBJECTION to revised concept design for a five-story addition with penthouse on existing two-story building, per supplemental drawings received 11 February 2020, PROVIDED the window muntins within the gray brick portion of the building are reconfigured for more verticality, the metal trellis option is selected for the north elevation, and the landscape plan continues to be developed in coordination with the National Park Service.