640 Maine Avenue, SW
Dear Mr. Seaman:
In its meeting of 20 September, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed concept proposals for three buildings in Phase 2 of the proposed Southwest Waterfront development known as the District Wharf: Water Building 1 (SL 17-167, 670 Maine Avenue, SW); Parcel 6/7 (SL 17-169, 660–680 Maine Avenue, SW); and Parcel 8 (17-168, 640 Maine Avenue, SW). The Commission took the following actions on the submissions and provided the following comments.
The Commission members reiterated their support for the District Wharf project and for the more imaginative approach to architectural design taken in Phase 2. They observed that the individual projects in Phase 2 do not follow the clarity of the 2012 master plan, which presented a stricter vision of how the building and site designs should relate, and established a strong street wall along both Maine Avenue and the wharf promenade. They cautioned that the Phase 2 buildings and public spaces may give a chaotic impression of having been designed with little awareness of how the individual projects contribute to an overall composition. In general, they recommended serious consideration of what holds the elements of the development together—whether building massing, materiality, retail frontage, or ground plane treatment—and closer coordination among design teams.
Water Building 1. The Commission members did not take an action on the concept for this project; they were unable to reach a consensus on the design, questioning the appropriate degree of expressiveness for the water buildings generally and requesting more information on how they will be perceived as an ensemble. They expressed support for a potential concept for the water buildings as a series of small, eccentric follies along a consistent promenade backdrop; however, this would require that the promenade and the buildings along it be largely consistent. For the proposed design of Water Building 1, they observed that the scale of the architectonic elements seems overbearing, particularly the truss and the evenly split bulkhead, and that the design seems too heavy-handed to achieve the intended playfulness. They recommended that the designers carefully choose which elements to emphasize, perhaps removing or lightening the truss and working with the wood character established by the bulkhead. They expressed support for an elegant, simple glass box, but observed that the project feels caged in and separated from the water by the heavy perimeter truss.
Parcel 6/7. The Commission members approved the concept for this building, characterizing it as handsome, and they commented that the design of the curtainwall is elegant and innovative. They also expressed appreciation for the high quality of the materials and detailing of the two-level retail base, which they said relates well to the waterfront setting and the adjacent Seventh Street Park, contributing to the creation of an attractive public space.
Parcel 8. The Commission members approved the concept for this building, composed of multiple staggered and ziggurat forms expressed in plan and section, observing that it is challenging to develop a massing both distinctive and sympathetic to its surroundings within such a large development. However, they expressed concern about the degree of idiosyncrasy inherent in the design, commenting that a profusion of conspicuously eccentric buildings in close proximity results in a strange ensemble. They recommended further study of the projecting balconies for human habitation and comfort.
In conclusion, the Commission members strongly urged the development team to give more consideration to how these buildings and spaces will work together to create the vibrant, cohesive waterfront neighborhood envisioned in the master plan. They once again reiterated the fundamental importance of designing the buildings and public spaces so that the design of each informs the others, with more attention to the effect of design decisions for individual parcels on the District Wharf as a whole, with a more deliberate calibration of the balance between individually expressive projects and the consistent fabric that holds them together.
The Commission’s review of the District Wharf in this meeting also included 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 29 September 2017 on public space submissions at the District Wharf
cc: Todd Shapiro, Hollwich Kushner Architecture
William Sharples, SHoP Architects
Christian Bailey, ODA
Jennifer Steingasser, D.C. Office of Planning
Melinda Bolling, D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs