620 Maine Avenue, SW
Dear Mr. Seaman:
In its meeting of 20 July, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed concept proposals for four buildings in Phase 2, components of the proposed Southwest Waterfront development, known as the District Wharf: Water Building 2 (SL 17-136, 630 Wharf Street, SW); Water Building 3 (SL 17-137, 584 Wharf Street, SW); Parcel 9 (SL 17-134, 620 Maine Avenue, SW); and Parcel 10 (17-135, 590 Maine Avenue, SW). The Commission approved the submitted concept designs with the following comments.
In general, the Commission members affirmed their support for the project as a whole, and they expressed appreciation for the high standard of design that has been applied to the Phase 2 projects presented in the meeting. They urged the individual design teams to collaborate more closely in order to create stronger relationships between the buildings, as well as between the buildings and the public spaces around them, finding that the individual projects appear to have been designed without a thorough awareness of their immediate context or of the District Wharf development as a whole.
Water Building 2. In their action to approve the concept, the Commission members commented on the proposal as a promising design approach of interlocking volumes with contrasting cladding materials. They suggested further development of the facade materials to create a more sophisticated weaving effect, in order to avoid an overly simplistic appearance. They also recommended that the spacing and orientation of the vertical slats on the facades be refined in relation to the sun’s path. They emphasized the close relationship of the building to the adjacent wharf promenade, and they cited the proposed exterior stairs as an extension of the wharf and park landscape to the northeast, as well as a feature of the building. They suggested developing the design with an awareness of this dual role; for example, instead of having the character of a stair along an alley, the plan of the stair could open to the promenade and park landscape, with wider treads and shorter risers to be more consistent with the landscape setting. They also suggested further consideration of the adjacent space on the promenade in relation to Parcel 9 and the other public spaces, observing that this part of the waterfront area seems to be an underdeveloped design.
Water Building 3. While approving the concept as an imaginative design approach, the Commission members emphasized the building’s role as a service support facility for the residents of the boats docked at the adjacent piers; they recommended simplifying the design to avoid its misperception as another public attraction along the wharf. They suggested that this floating building engage more with the water than with the land, perhaps by reorienting it slightly to create a separation from the wharf; they added that a domestic scale for the entrance would be more fitting for the building’s purpose. They questioned the extensive use of metal on the exterior, commenting that it would be uncomfortable to the touch during temperature extremes. Observing that the presentation drawings instead seem to suggest the use of wood, they recommended consideration of wood as a cladding material, which would also help to relate the building to the other water buildings. Finally, they suggested a wilder landscape character for the proposed roof plantings, instead of the appearance of a trimmed lawn.
In their discussion of Water Building 3, the Commission members also commented on its unresolved relationship to the adjacent Terrace park, including the impact of this building on the park’s landscape features and views; they recommended consultation between the two design teams for the building and the park. In particular, they noted that the waterfront view from the park’s stepped seating along the rectangular bioretention garden would be largely obscured by the building in its proposed location; the slight reorientation of the water building suggested by the Commission could ameliorate this condition. They also observed that the seating area could effectively serve as a gathering place for the boat residents, and that its design could be developed to support this character as well as to reorient views toward the water.
Parcel 9. The Commission members approved the concept for this building, observing that the proposed design for this prominent site at an inflection point in the District Wharf development suitably departs from the more rectilinear urban design approach taken in the earlier buildings of the development project. They commented that while its conspicuously curved and tilted shape could appear odd in the context of the other District Wharf buildings, it could also produce a refreshing and elegant building if detailed well; they cautioned that the excessive tilt of the primary building volume could be disorienting and suggested reducing it. They expressed appreciation for the stepping down of the building’s massing to address the smaller-scale public space of Marina Way; however, they questioned the resolution of the transitions between the different volumes, particularly at the Maine Avenue and wharf promenade facades, commenting that these areas need to be clarified to avoid appearing heavy and ponderous in contrast with the broadly curving southeast facade. They requested additional documentation of both of these conditions, including eye-level views looking toward the building from the northwest along the wharf promenade and from the north at Maine Avenue.
Parcel 10. In their approval of this project, the Commission members expressed support for the design parti—a series of taut, rotated glass boxes stacked on a plinth—and they advised strengthening this parti by more fully connecting the plinth to the adjacent public spaces of the M Street Landing park, the Terrace park, and the wharf promenade. They recommended that the amphitheater be enlarged to be more generous and open to the M Street Landing park and to the promenade, and they suggested that form of the plinth could be extended into the landscape of the Terrace park to create the sense of a continuous public space over the top of the plinth, heightening the contrast with the glass boxes above. They noted that the plinth has the capacity to engage with the highly differing contexts on each of the building’s four sides, and they recommended that the relationship with the church and residential buildings on Parcel 11 also be further studied, particularly in the design of the ground plane. Finally, they suggested that the glassy upper volumes could benefit from the addition of sun-shading elements, which could also give the building more of a waterfront character.
In conclusion, the Commission members reiterated the fundamental importance of designing the buildings and public spaces so that the design of each informs the others, with overlap and coordination in the formation of a coherent whole. While supporting the overall approach to designing the building and landscape components of Phase 2 as distinctive pieces, they emphasized that these pieces should still be perceived as a related ensemble, and that the seams between each piece must be strong. They requested that the next submission include a landscape and public space plan that presents the conceptual ideas for each space in relationship to the others, and that each individual building and landscape project show more of the context of nearby buildings and public spaces.
The Commission’s consideration of the District Wharf in this meeting also included review of the public spaces associated with this part of the Phase 2 development, submitted for review by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. For your reference, the letter describing the review of these projects is enclosed.
The Commission looks forward to further review of the various components of the District Wharf development. In preparation for the next submission, please consult with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
690 Water Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024
Encl.: CFA letter of 27 July 2017 on public space submissions at the District Wharf
cc: Sital Patel, S9Architecture
Hiroshi Jacobs, Studios Architecture
Jay Bargmann, Rafael Viñoly Architects
Morris Adjmi, Morris Adjmi Architects
Jennifer Steingasser, D.C. Office of Planning
Melinda Bolling, D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs