1399 Maryland Avenue, SW
Dear Mr. Grigg:
In its meeting of 20 November, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design for a new 15-story residential building at The Portals, located at 1399 Maryland Avenue, SW (case number SL 15-028). The Commission did not take an action, instead making the following comments and recommendations for the development of the design.
The Commission members observed that the site is extraordinarily prominent, at a point where the roadways of the 14th Street Bridge enter into the city fabric, and any major building here will be visible from many locations within the monumental core and from across the Potomac River. They said that the fundamental issue for the project is whether this residential building should distinguish itself from the context of existing public buildings, or whether it should reinforce the established pattern of urban fabric framing Washington’s unique landscape of monuments, parks, and squares. They did not support the design as presented, characterizing its two widely disparate and horizontally layered architectural languages as too gestural and accentuating overly the unusual height of the building, which would be at least four floors taller than its neighbors. They cautioned against the simple dichotomy presented of boxy severity in counterpoint to curving exuberance; while some variation of architectural language may be appropriate for such a large building, possibly using more vertical differentiation than horizontal, they recommended more unity in the design and among its parts. In general, they recommended that the design be calmer, more integrated, and more elegant—noting that the great visibility of the site reduces the need for a conspicuously iconic building.
Recognizing that the original redevelopment agreement for The Portals project envisioned only 90-foot-high office buildings on this parcel, the Commission members expressed support for the change to residential use, but they questioned whether it was appropriate that a taller residential building be the most expressive structure on this entrance corridor to the city’s monumental core. As the design is developed, they also recommended careful consideration of what is appropriate and realistic for the landscape amenities for a residential project, which should include improvements to the design of the ground plane; however, they found that the proposed landscape concept illustrating extensive plantings at the many balconies and terraces would be difficult to sustain.
The Commission expressed confidence in the capacity of the architectural team to develop a design that can respond in a way that enhances this highly prominent gateway site in the nation’s capital city. As always, the staff is available to assist with the next submission.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
1280 Maryland Avenue, SW, Suite 280
Washington, DC 20007
cc: Paul Whalen, Robert A.M. Stern Associates