201 East Capitol Street, SE
Dear Dr. Witmore:
In its meeting of 20 February, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a final design for alterations to the site and building of the Folger Shakespeare Library at 201 East Capitol Street, SE (case number SL 20-067), an outstanding example of the work of the prominent early 20th-century architect Paul Cret. The Commission did not take an action on the final design, requesting further documentation and the redesign of several components of the proposal.
The Commission members reiterated their support for the project to create new, universally accessible building entrances and exhibition spaces below a reconstructed terrace plinth, although they continued to express regret that the historic entrance sequence to the monumental doors on the terrace will no longer be actively used. They commented generally that the design has been developed to clarify the pedestrian routes to the new lower-level entrances, and they found that some of the proposed wayfinding elements now appear unnecessary. Noting that the closure of the historic doors will be indicated by the proposed new benches in front of them, the Commission members recommended eliminating the segments of handrail that would extend across the top of the steps to each side of the terrace in order to minimize visible disruptions to frontal views of the Cret building. They also recommended the elimination of two types of wayfinding signs at the front of the building: the railing-mounted signs reading "entrance" at the terrace stairway, and the small monument signs adjacent to the sidewalk. For the design of the signs, they recommended simplification of the range of typography selected for the various proposed types of text, with a single sans-serif typeface used for wayfinding and serif typefaces used for the honorific identity signs and the quotations. They also recommended reducing the number of materials used on the proposed pylon signs at the east and west entrances in order to avoid using marble merely as a minor accent.
The Commission members expressed concern about the materials and design of the northeast and northwest corners of the historic Cret building that would be exposed at the new excavated entrance plazas. They questioned the choice of concrete as the finish material for the base of the marble building volume, a treatment that they found could appear like exposed underpinning; they suggested consideration of a stone such as granite, which would equally well differentiate the new construction from the original but would be a more noble material commensurate with the character of the historic building. They also recommended that the "Juliet" balcony at the northeastern corner be less massive in appearance, redesigned with a more consistent relationship to the datum that separates the Cret building's principal storeys from the new, exposed basement walls, as seen in the base treatment at the northwestern corner. In general, they requested a full presentation of proposed samples for all exterior materials, large enough to convey their character and accompanied by detailed drawings if necessary, commenting that they were not able to complete their review of the project without these samples. Finally, the Commission members requested that the original pedestal for the Puck sculpture be incorporated in its new location.
The Commission continues to take great interest in this proposal to modify one of Washington's finest buildings, housing one of its most important cultural institutions. At your request, the submission will be held open for the completion of the final review; the Commission asked that the forthcoming presentation focus specifically on responding to the comments provided. The Commission encouraged the project team to consult with the staff prior to the submission for the next presentation; the staff is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Michael Witmore, Director
Folger Shakespeare Library
201 East Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
cc: Stephen Kieran, Kieran Timberlake
Hallie Boyce, OLIN
Matthew Marcou, D.C. Public Space Committee
David Maloney, D.C. Historic Preservation Office