201 East Capitol Street, SE
Dear Dr. Witmore:
In its meeting of 16 May, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design for alterations to the site and building of the Folger Shakespeare Library at 201 East Capitol Street, SE (case number SL 19-145), designed in 1932 by prominent architect Paul Cret and an exemplary fusion of Beaux Arts and Art Deco design. The Commission approved the concept submission with the following recommendations for the development of the design.
The Commission members observed that the historic building, with its paired monumental portals rising from a low plinth, strongly signals to visitors to ascend to the plinth terrace to gain entry; they acknowledged the nearly insoluble design challenge of finding an alternative to provide graceful, barrier-free access to the building. Nonetheless, they found that the proposed new entrance sequence—a series of ramps around sunken gardens flanking the plinth, leading to two new lower-level entrances beneath the plinth—was oddly successful as an innovative solution for this difficult condition.
However, the Commission members noted that the convoluted route involved and its illogical relationship with the existing monumental entrance sequence potentially creates confusion that would be exacerbated further by the installation of new ramps for barrier-free access to the plinth terrace—not for entry to the building, but for viewing the sculptural vignettes on the building’s north facade. Once on the terrace, visitors would not be able to enter the monumental doors, nor easily see the new lower-level entrances, nor reach these new entrances without significantly retracing their steps. For mobility-impaired visitors, they commented that this confusing wayfinding could be particularly frustrating and burdensome, and they noted that the vignettes are clearly visible from the grade of the sidewalk. Therefore, they recommended either eliminating the new access ramps to the plinth terrace, or configuring them to allow direct, barrier-free passage from the terrace to the new lower-level entrances. For the design of the landscape, they expressed appreciation that the existing Elizabethan garden on the east side of the building will be retained, and they commended the proposed treatment of the two sunken gardens as Shakespeare gardens, which they suggested could display text from Shakespeare’s plays within the landscape.
The Commission looks forward to further review of this project. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the development of the design.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Michael Witmore, Director
Folger Shakespeare Library
201 East Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
cc: Steven Kieran, Kieran Timberlake
Hallie Boyce, OLIN
Matthew Marcou, D.C. Public Space Committee