The meeting was convened in the Commission of Fine Arts offices in the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, at 9:08 a.m.
Hon. Earl A. Powell, Chairman
Hon. Edward Dunson
Hon. Liza Gilbert
Hon. Alex Krieger
Hon. Mia Lehrer
Hon. Elizabeth Meyer
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Frederick J. Lindstrom, Assistant Secretary
A. Approval of the minutes of the 21 April meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the April meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance, and the staff has added minor clarifications of the wording. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the minutes.
B. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 16 June, 21 July, and 15 September 2016. He noted that no meeting is scheduled during August.
C. Anniversary of the establishment of the Commission of Fine Arts, 17 May 1910, and the Shipstead-Luce Act, 16 May 1930. Mr. Luebke acknowledged the Commission’s two anniversaries falling in May: the 106th anniversary of the Commission’s establishment and the 86th anniversary of the Shipstead-Luce Act.
D. Report on the 2016 National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs grant program. Mr. Luebke reported on the federal grants program administered by the Commission to support Washington, D.C.-based arts organizations. The applications for 2016 have been processed, and 23 organizations have been approved for grants, similar to the number in recent years. Most of these organizations have previously been recipients, including presenters of symphony music, ballet, and theater. One group is included for the first time: Step Afrika!, which is dedicated to traditional African step dancing.
II. SUBMISSIONS AND REVIEWS
Mr. Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting.
Appendix I – Government Submissions Consent Calendar: Mr. Lindstrom noted several changes to the draft appendix. For a retail tenant’s illuminated sign at the U.S. General Services Administration headquarters building (case number CFA 19/MAY/16-l), the recommendation has been revised to request design compatibility with the D.C. sign regulations for the Shipstead-Luce Act area, consistent with other signs on the building; newly submitted drawings appear to be responsive to this recommendation, and he said that the staff would continue to work with the applicant in refining the sign’s design. A project has been added for a rooftop solar panel array at the National Museum of Natural History (CFA 19/MAY/16-s); the sequencing of two projects at the end of the appendix has also been adjusted to maintain the consecutive grouping of the numerous solar panel projects. The Commission approved the revised Government Submissions Consent Calendar, with Mr. Powell recusing himself from acting on the submission for renovation of the Andrew W. Mellon Memorial Fountain (CFA 19/MAY/16-a).
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported several changes to the draft appendix. The first project listed on the draft has been removed for consideration in a future month (case number SL 16-072). The recommendations for two projects have been changed to be favorable due to design modifications (SL 16-105 and 16-110); one of these is subject to the receipt of supplemental materials, and the favorable recommendations for two other projects are also subject to the receipt of supplemental materials (SL 16-101 and 16-114). She requested authorization to finalize these recommendations as the materials are received. She also noted that the revised appendix includes minor wording changes and updates to note the receipt of supplemental materials. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell, the Commission approved the revised appendix.
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Martinez reported that all supplemental materials were received prior to issuance of the draft appendix, and the only change to the draft is the removal of one project. Upon a motion by Ms. Lehrer with second by Mr. Powell, the Commission approved the revised appendix. (See agenda item II.E for an additional Old Georgetown Act submission.) At this point, the Commission departed from the order of the agenda to consider the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library.
F. District of Columbia Public Library
CFA 19/MAY/16-4, Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW. Replacement library building. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 17/MAR/16-3.) Mr. Luebke noted the multiple prior reviews of this project; he said that the Commission may wish to approve the submission without a presentation and to delegate further review to the staff. Chairman Powell supported this action and invited comments from the Commission members. Ms. Meyer requested careful review by the staff of the design for the courtyard on the north side of the building, sunken below the adjacent Newark Street sidewalk; she suggested review of section drawings to ensure that the space would be pleasant for people to occupy. Mr. Krieger recommended continued refinement of the exterior detailing to improve the relationship among building materials. Mr. Luebke summarized the consensus of the Commission to approve the revised concept submission without a presentation, and to delegate further review of this project to the staff, consistent with the comments provided. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Dunson, the Commission adopted this action.
The Commission returned to the order of the agenda with item II.B.
B. National Park Service
CFA 19/MAY/16-1, Benjamin Banneker Park, southern terminus of 10th Street, SW. Pedestrian-bicyclist connection between 10th Street and Maine Avenue—interim stairs and ramp. Concept. (Previous: included in CFA 21/NOV/13-10, Southwest Ecodistrict Initiative) Secretary Luebke introduced the concept proposal for interim pedestrian and bicyclist connections between 10th Street and Maine Avenue, SW, which incorporate stairs, paths, and new landscape elements. The proposed designs would modify Benjamin Banneker Park, which was designed by the noted modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley and completed in 1967. The improvements are considered temporary as the area awaits more significant redevelopment. He noted that the Commission reviewed an earlier concept, presented in November 2013 by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) on behalf of the Southwest Ecodistrict Task Force, as part of the planned improvements envisioned in the Southwest Ecodistrict plan. He summarized the general support from the Commission of Fine Arts for the earlier concept with the recommendation to simplify the proposal. He asked Peter May of the National Park Service (NPS) to begin the presentation; Mr. May introduced Otto Condon of ZGF Architects to present the concept design.
Mr. Condon said that completion of the project’s improved connections between the park and the waterfront is intended to coincide with the planned opening in late 2017 of The Wharf, the large waterfront development that is under construction. He said that the project team has worked with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office to identify the existing significant features of this cultural landscape, which include the fountain at the end of 10th Street and some surviving dogwoods and Japanese yews. The existing conditions also include informal pathways and a walkway that connects to Case Bridge, providing access across the Washington Channel and the Potomac River.
Mr. Condon said that NPS and NCPC have evaluated three alternatives and prefer Alternative B. He described this design’s pathway configurations to help pedestrians and bicyclists negotiate the 33-foot drop in elevation from the park’s overlook to Maine Avenue: a 15-foot-wide stairway along the park’s western side, and a 10-foot-wide path on the eastern side accessed by improved crosswalks. The crosswalk further north on 10th Street would also be improved. He said that the design incorporates on-site stormwater management, a goal of the Southwest Ecodistrict plan that is also required by the D.C. government.
Mr. Condon presented the proposed landscape treatment, which has been developed to be more responsive to Kiley’s design. The landscape would include small groves of trees planted in a grid meant to recall Kiley’s plantings; the groves would be located at transition points where pedestrians would be encouraged to pause and observe surrounding views. The existing six-foot-wide sidewalk on the northeast side of Maine Avenue would be widened to as much as twenty feet. A proposed adjacent retaining wall along the park’s southwestern edge would be a maximum of ten feet tall; in time, plants would grow to conceal this concrete wall. The groundcover planting on the hill above the retaining wall would be designed to require little maintenance, and the proposed construction materials would be complementary to the original Brutalist design.
Ms. Gilbert asked about the proposed groundcover for the park and the intended maintenance. Mr. Condon said that because the park will not be irrigated, NPS is considering low-maintenance alternatives to grass; Ms. Gilbert agreed with this approach, which will lessen the problems of irrigation and runoff. She asked for clarification of the rationale behind the so-called “grid” arrangement for tree planting. Mr. Condon responded that the proposal is intended to reflect the original Kiley design—which incorporated more than 700 flowering dogwoods planted across the entire site—by placing a smaller number of trees in a loose grid formation at selected points on the pathways to provide shade. He added that the new tree type has yet not been selected, but dogwoods are not being considered. Ms. Gilbert commented that the grid concept is inappropriate when applied as a fragmentary reconstruction of the original design, and she suggested lining the paths with trees to provide shade for pedestrians and bicyclists. She also suggested adding massings of yews as volumetric elements in the landscape, instead of simply planting a line of yews along the edges of the paths; she said that volumetric plantings would be a more appropriate response to Kiley’s original design.
Ms. Meyer supported the proposal’s improved stair and path alignment, but she agreed with Ms. Gilbert that the grid concept for the trees is inappropriate; she supported reconsidering the planting strategy to support the pedestrian sequence of walking in shade. She commented that the proposed grid of trees would not be complementary to the Kiley design, which derived its significance from the dogwoods’ original quantity, configuration, scale, and organization. She emphasized that the proposed design should respond to current conditions while respecting and differentiating itself from the past.
Mr. Krieger agreed that the proposed grid concept is inappropriate, that the experience of moving along the paths would be enhanced by lining the walkways with trees, and that the proposed design would be a diminishment of what was there before. He asked if mesh would be added along the concrete retaining wall to facilitate the growth of climbing plants; Mr. Condon responded that NPS is still considering the landscape between the wall and the sidewalk, with the intention of a low-maintenance design.
Ms. Gilbert commented that the proposed ten-foot retaining wall seems extremely tall, especially when placed adjacent to a sidewalk; Mr. Krieger and Ms. Lehrer agreed. Ms. Lehrer suggested that the grade instead be addressed with two shorter walls, which would reduce the perceived height and improve the pedestrian experience; Mr. Condon responded that NPS could consider ways to lower the height of the retaining wall. Ms. Lehrer asked how long this temporary improvement is expected to be in place; Mr. Condon estimated approximately ten years, when a new museum may be built near Banneker Overlook and the landscape facing the waterfront may be redesigned.
Mr. Luebke noted that the staff considers the twenty-foot width of the sidewalk along Maine Avenue to be excessive, and decreasing this width by several feet would allow for a reduction in the uncomfortable height of the proposed retaining wall; Mr. Krieger and Ms. Gilbert agreed. Mr. Condon said that NPS, in its coordination with the D.C. Department of Transportation, would consider ways to configure the curb and sidewalk to address this issue; further geotechnical work will also provide information on soil quality. Ms. Meyer suggested alternative methods of improving soil health before construction, rather than undertaking a costly soil replacement project. She cited the recent innovative rehabilitation of a contemporaneous Kiley landscape at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis by planting radishes to aerate and enrich the soil; this alternative method also preserved Kiley’s design of the ground plane.
Chairman Powell summarized the consensus to approve the NPS preferred alternative concept, with the comments provided. Upon a motion by Mr. Krieger, the Commission adopted this action.
C. John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
CFA 19/MAY/16-2, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW. Pedestrian-bicyclist bridge—part of the south expansion project. Final. (Previous: CFA 16/JUL/15-1.) Secretary Luebke introduced the proposed final design for a new pedestrian and bicyclist bridge over the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, connecting the southern landscape of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with the parkway’s riverfront recreational path. He said that this bridge was originally a component of the Kennedy Center’s south expansion project, but it was excluded from the final design approved by the Commission in July 2015 due to unresolved regulatory issues. The bridge proposal is now resubmitted with several options responding to previous Commission comments, particularly regarding the walkway width and the transparency of guardrails. He asked Christopher McVoy of Steven Holl Architects to present the proposal.
Mr. McVoy noted that this bridge would link the Kennedy Center and the riverfront for the first time, connecting with the increasing amount of pedestrian and bicyclist activity along the path through the narrow riverfront parkland between Georgetown and the Lincoln Memorial. A long cast-in-place concrete ramp with a gentle 1:12 slope would lead to a steel bridge over the busy roadway. The switchback ramp, sited in the parkland south of the bridge’s west end, would be supplemented by steps from the south connecting the ramp’s intermediate landing with the existing path. The intermediate landing and lowest run of the ramp would be set on a raised grade. The upper run of the ramp would be supported on columns; where its height above grade is less than eight feet, the ground below would be covered with coarse gravel in order to discourage people from entering this area and to avoid the problem of growing conditions in this location. He noted that the ramp has been carefully sited in relation to existing trees.
Mr. McVoy said that the bridge would have a low profile to minimize its visual impact on the parkway, and it would continue the attenuated language derived from the Kennedy Center building and expressed in the south expansion’s landscape design as a thin white line. The powder-coated stainless steel structure supporting the ramp would be tapered to appear thinner on the edges, and its clearance over the roadway would be 14.5 feet. The columns supporting the bridge and ramp would be gray cast-in-place concrete with a board-form texture, similar to the concrete surrounding the entrance to the Kennedy Center parking garage on the other side of the roadway. He said that the thin design of the columns would accentuate the lightweight appearance, and the connection detail at the top of the columns is also designed to emphasize the structure’s lightness. The bridge deck would be twelve-inch-wide stainless steel planks with a non-slip, bead-blasted walking surface; these planks would be elevated above the structural deck, which would be covered by a membrane and drainage channels. He indicated three overlook areas along the ramp, which would provide places where visitors can pause to enjoy the view over the river: the intermediate landing of the switchback on the south, where a bench would be located; a projecting balcony on the west, midway along the ramp’s upper run and located near a large existing tree; and at the ramp’s connection to the bridge, where the ramp would widen to the west.
Mr. McVoy summarized the Commission’s previous review comments on the bridge. The first concept design had an eight-foot-wide walkway alongside a planting strip with a solid guardrail; the Commission had commented that the walkway may be too narrow and suggested further study of its width in relation to anticipated pedestrian and bicyclist traffic. In a revised version presented in July 2015, the walkway had been widened to nine feet; including the planter and guardrail, the total width was eleven feet. Due to concerns about maintaining the plantings, the planter has been removed from the current design; the walkway width remains nine feet wide, and the overall width would be 9.5 feet.
Mr. McVoy discussed changes to the design of the guardrails. The first concept design used a translucent glass guardrail at a standard height of 3.5 feet on one side of the bridge and a cable rail on the other. During the subsequent regulatory review process, the D.C. Historic Preservation Office requested a guardrail design with more visual transparency, objecting that a glass guardrail would increase the visual prominence of the bridge and therefore have a greater visual impact on the parkway. In response, the proposal now calls for a cable rail on both sides of the ramp and bridge. The thin cables would be supported by bent stainless-steel brackets attached to stainless-steel stanchions, along with a top rail of 1-inch-diameter steel and a handrail of 1 1/4-inch-diameter steel. He noted that the cable rails would be mounted with springs to keep them taut, and they can therefore extend for a considerable distance between brackets. He said that the National Park Service has requested that the height of the guardrail be raised to four feet, which is six inches above the height required by code, to provide greater safety; an additional request was for signage encouraging cyclists to walk their bikes. Lighting would be integrated within the handrail on one side, illuminating the deck without any spilling that could distract drivers. At the intermediate landing, a small LED light would be installed beneath the bench, and several existing streetlights would remain.
Mr. Krieger asked for clarification of the upper overlook’s height and guardrail. Mr. McVoy responded that this overlook would be twelve feet above grade, and steel panels would be included in the guardrail at each of the three overlooks to establish a sense of place and to enhance safety.
Ms. Lehrer commended the thoroughness of the presentation. She supported the proposed nine-foot width for the walkway but noted that such paths are usually at least ten or twelve feet wide. She recommended that the design encourage cyclists to slow down, such as by providing signs or by giving one side of the walkway a textured surface. She supported the inclusion of the three overlook areas on the bridge but commented that the bench on the south landing appears uncomfortably narrow.
Ms. Lehrer expressed concern about the potential difficulties where the bridge ramp meets the existing riverfront path. She commented that the sharp corner of the railing at this location would present a hazard for anyone approaching along the path from the north. She recommended redesigning the intersection by widening the path or changing the configuration of the ramp abutment—perhaps moving the entire ramp further east, or moving one leg of the ramp while lengthening it. Ms. Meyer encouraged reconsidering the landing height and ramp lengths as part of the improvement of the ramp’s connection to the riverfront path. Mr. McVoy responded that lowering the intermediate landing would require extensive adjustment of the ramp configuration. Ms. Meyer emphasized that the overall geography of the setting may need to be given more priority than the preferred geometry of the ramp. She said that the larger issue is the need to design the lower portion of the ramp with the same elegance of detail as the bridge itself. Citing the presented view from the cafe interior toward the river, she questioned the placement of a solid guardrail panel at the intermediate landing, suggesting that the solid surface should screen the ramp’s undercroft; she discouraged the proposed solution of treating this undercroft with gravel, and instead recommended creating a beautiful piece of constructed topography for the entire lower portion of the ramp, a solution that would strengthen the elegance of the overall project. Ms. Meyer emphasized the special privilege of being allowed to build this connection into a national park.
Mr. McVoy noted the desirability of providing a bench on the landing, which requires a solid panel or backing to shield visitors from the roadway traffic. Ms. Meyer observed that the existing path alignment is only six feet from the roadway for a considerable distance. Mr. Krieger accepted the proposal for a panel behind the bench as a benefit for visitors who sit there, but he agreed that the landing should be extended. Ms. Meyer clarified that she is not opposed to a panel but said that its character may need to be lighter so that the visual mass of the landing does not become too heavy.
Ms. Gilbert commented that no visitors would sit on this bench because it would be located at a major circulation node, which would have a great potential for accidents notwithstanding any warning signs. She recommended widening and simplifying the connections, as well as incorporating warning devices such as a different pavement texture in front of the stairs and ramp. She said that pedestrians and bicyclists would need to be aware that they are approaching a major circulation area, before they reach the sharply angled handrail; Mr. McVoy responded that all the paving here could be textured. Ms. Gilbert also encouraged the design team to consider where people would want to stand to look at the bridge and the Kennedy Center beyond. Noting the nighttime use of this path, Ms. Lehrer commented that more lighting would be helpful along the bridge and ramp; she added that people attending evening events at the Kennedy Center would make use of the bridge.
Mr. Krieger observed that the bridge appears to be very elegant overall, but a few details remain to be adjusted, primarily for safety. He agreed that the nine-foot width might still be too narrow and asked if it could be increased, even slightly. Mr. McVoy responded that the walkway has been kept relatively narrow for reasons of cost and structure, and also because of concerns about the project’s visual impact, but he agreed to study this further.
Ms. Lehrer discouraged the extensive use of cable rails, commenting that they seem never to appear elegantly designed, and they may soon look dated. She asked why cable rails are proposed instead of steel rails. Mr. McVoy responded that the cable rail system has greater visual transparency while providing sufficient safety, and also because cable rails along with translucent glass would be used throughout the new Kennedy Center landscape. Mr. Krieger commented that the combination of translucent glass with cable rails is better and more elegant; he observed that the extensive use of cable rail throughout the landscape would have the effect of making this feature look generic.
Mr. Luebke summarized that the Commission members have raised substantial questions about the ramp’s layout, the design and length of its landing, and how the pieces would come together on the ground. Several Commission members agreed in requesting a revised submission for further review. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
(Comments concerning the Kennedy Center bridge continued during discussion of the next agenda item. Chairman Powell departed at this point; in the absence of the Chairman and Vice Chairman, Ms. Meyer presided for the remainder of the meeting.)
D. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
CFA 19/MAY/16-3, Potomac Yard Metrorail Station. Blue and Yellow lines, between the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Potomac Yards Park, north of Potomac Greens, Alexandria, Virginia. New Metrorail station. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposal for a new Metro station in Potomac Yard, in the northern part of Alexandria, Virginia. He noted that this location is outside the geographic area of required submissions to the Commission, but the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has requested the Commission’s review. The station would be served by Metro’s Yellow and Blue Lines, which already run along this rail corridor, and the context includes the extensive redevelopment underway at Potomac Yard, a large former railroad yard. He asked Ivo Karadimov, manager of architecture at WMATA, to present the design.
Mr. Karadimov said that the design has been developed as a joint effort of WMATA and the City of Alexandria staff, in close coordination with the National Park Service; the design team includes KGP Design Studio. He indicated the proposed station site in relation to the wider context of existing Metro stations to the north and south, and the Potomac River to the east. The immediate context includes the George Washington Memorial Parkway on the east, CSX railroad tracks and the Potomac Yard redevelopment to the west, and the Potomac Greens neighborhood to the southeast. The site encompasses existing pathways, wetlands, and Metro infrastructure that includes a substation.
Mr. Karadimov described the precedents and constraints that have shaped the design. The existing CSX tracks will remain in operation, separating the new station from the Potomac Yard redevelopment area. The station would be constructed along a new, straight alignment of track that would require infill of the wetland area; the existing curved Metrorail track in this area would remain as a service track. He presented photographs of several comparable exterior stations in the Metro system, dating from the 1970s to the past decade, with varying architectural vocabularies for features such as platform canopies and weather-screen walls. He also presented images of the adjacent parkway, which includes arched bridges with natural stone cladding. He summarized the design principles that were developed by Alexandria with community input: topics include visual appearance, environmental issues, station access, and compatibility with the context including the parkway.
Mr. Karadimov presented the proposed station configuration. The Metro tracks would run at grade on a north-south alignment through the center of the station, with a passenger platform at each side. Access to the platforms would be from two elevated mezzanines located within pavilions at the north and south ends of the station, and each mezzanine would be reached by a pedestrian bridge. The north bridge would extend west over the CSX tracks to an entrance pavilion with vertical circulation; the exact siting of this entrance pavilion is still under study, and it may be incorporated into a planned private-sector development project. The south bridge would extend both west and southeast to provide unrestricted circulation for pedestrians and bicyclists, linking the Potomac Yard and Potomac Greens neighborhoods across the Metro and CSX tracks; the station access control at the south would be at the mezzanine, without limiting access to this public bridge. The south bridge would have shallow access ramps as well as an entrance pavilion containing vertical circulation, sited to align with Glebe Road on the west. He noted that the Commission’s previous two agenda items of comparable infrastructure demonstrate the importance of pedestrian and bicyclist connections in current urban design.
Mr. Karadimov presented sketches of several design alternatives for organizing the station’s major components. One alternative is to treat the massing as distinct elevated north and south mezzanine pavilions connected by a low form encompassing the platforms. A second alternative is to establish a continuous angled geometric form that unifies the mezzanines and platforms; the angles would correspond to the escalator access to the platforms. A third alternative is a more organic profile that would unify the station components within a curved form, which has been developed further with two variations. He said that the consensus from the community and the Alexandria government was to pursue the first two alternatives; the organic approach was seen as too different from the typical Metro station design vocabulary and not related to the parkway context. He said that further design study showed that the first alternative involves much more extensive roofing for the mezzanine pavilions, and a hybrid solution has therefore been developed to combine the advantages and efficiencies of each alternative. In the hybrid solution, angled roofs above the escalators would serve as “hyphens” between the mezzanine pavilions and the lower platform canopies; the result is five visually distinct zones along the length of the station. He said that this solution would reduce the apparent visual mass of the station, addressing the concern that the station would be too prominent along the parkway. He presented several drawings of the station as seen from the parkway, indicating how the landscaping would be used to screen the lower elements of the station; he also noted the relationship of the station profile to the taller development underway within Potomac Yard, and he emphasized the goal of minimizing the station’s visual impact on the parkway.
Mr. Karadimov said that the proposed design stays within the city’s fifty-foot height limit for the station, measured from an average grade, as well as the minimum required clearance above the CSX tracks; the combined constraints result in the access bridges being slightly higher above the CSX tracks than at the station mezzanines. He summarized that the vertical constraints, along with other site constraints, are very tight for this project.
Mr. Karadimov presented more detailed views of the station and described the proposed materials. He said that the National Park Service raised a concern that large amounts of glass could cause glare along the parkway or excessive visual prominence for the station, particularly when seen at night. He described the solution of limiting the extent of glass to mezzanine areas where needed for weather screening, treating some of the glass to reduce its visual prominence, and using a louvered wall on the lower level to avoid glare and allow for more air flow; these screens would be supported on an “exoskeleton” system that would continue along the pedestrian bridges. The canopies above the mezzanines, escalators, and platforms would use a steel-plate girder structure similar to the canopy at Metro’s Morgan Boulevard station, which opened in 2004; he said that the arched shape of the canopies would also relate to the existing aesthetic along the parkway.
Mr. Karadimov said that the finish selection for the proposed exoskeleton is still being studied, and he welcomed the Commission’s guidance. He presented renderings of two alternatives: light gray to match the steel finish used elsewhere at the station; or a dark brown color, either Cor-Ten weathered steel or the standard Metro brown finish. He said that Alexandria government officials prefer the Cor-Ten steel finish. He provided samples of additional materials, including zinc for the roof, stainless steel mesh, and the standard Metro palette of granite and hexagon-patterned pavers. The base of the entrance pavilions, pedestrian bridge piers, and station would have a stone cladding that responds to the parkway aesthetic. Mr. Krieger questioned the angled shapes depicted at the base of the station; Mr. Karadimov said that these would be berms to be built up from the existing wetland, and the steepness would match WMATA’s established maximum of a 1:1 slope. He presented additional renderings that depict the ten-year growth of landscaping along these berms.
Mr. Karadimov presented more detailed plans and renderings of the station features. He indicated the bicycle storage enclosure, the pedestrian bridge railings that may use mesh, and the portals where Metro signage would be placed. Mr. Krieger asked about the intended finish of the exterior walls for the service rooms adjacent to the entrances; Mr. Karadimov said that the cladding would be stone. He provided renderings of the proposal from Potomac Greens on the southeast, from Glebe Road on the west, and from the southwest. He concluded with a schedule of upcoming presentations to the community, local government, and the National Capital Planning Commission.
Mr. Dunson commented that notwithstanding the light character of the proposed materials and design elements, the appearance is very heavy due to the compression of so many elements and the profusion of verticals and horizontals. He suggested further separation of the exoskeleton from the main elements of the station to improve the sense of lightness. He said that the arched roofs are also problematic, detracting from the design’s elegance by giving the appearance of pressing down on the structure; he suggested lifting the roofs higher above the mezzanines to give them a floating character. Mr. Karadimov noted the height restriction on the station design; Mr. Dunson and Ms. Meyer suggested exploring other ways of refining the roof design. Mr. Dunson suggested focusing on the relationship between the various roofs, commenting that the presented drawings suggest an awkward appearance where they overlap. He added that further elongation of the roof overhangs may improve the elegance of the design. Mr. Karadimov responded that the roof overhangs are dimensioned to provide the required protection for a thirty-degree angle of rain; the overhangs could be lengthened, but shortening the overhangs would necessitate the introduction of vertical panels to provide adequate rain protection.
Mr. Krieger asked for clarification of the review process for this project. Secretary Luebke said that while the submission by WMATA is voluntary, the Commission could ask to see the design again; the Commission’s role, as always, is to provide design advice. He noted the importance of the Metro system as a design feature of the national capital; the Commission has typically reviewed both above-ground and underground station designs within Washington. Mr. Krieger offered support for the proposal as a concept submission, emphasizing that the design’s success will depend on the details; he noted that the preceding review of the Kennedy Center bridge demonstrates the needed focus on details. He said that careful study is needed for treating materials such as steel mesh, and for the complex interplay of horizontals and verticals. Based on the presented renderings at the current early stage of design, the result could be either good or bad; he said that the Commission needs to review the project at a later stage of development to provide further guidance. He emphasized the concern with how the various materials come together, which is very unclear in the renderings. He added that the presented alternatives of brown or light gray finishes are difficult to evaluate due to possible misimpressions from the rendering technique of the drawings; the light gray finish seems preferable due to the sense of transparency conveyed in the presentation, but in reality the brown finish may give a greater sense of transparency. He reiterated the importance of providing further review as the design is developed; Ms. Meyer agreed.
Ms. Gilbert suggested that an appropriate topic at the current design stage is how the building meets the ground and addresses the topography. She said that the presented context photographs of the George Washington Memorial Parkway show a notable mastery of combining topography and built elements, not just the specific features of arched bridges and stone veneer that were cited as design precedents. She suggested that the landscape design be derived from the existing wetland setting, instead of merely proposing trees to mask the building; for example, the landscape could designed as a bowl that provides interesting views outward from the station, compared to the current treatment of the landscape as visual screening. She encouraged consideration of the site as a living environment that contributes strongly to the overall project design. Mr. Karadimov confirmed that the design team includes a landscape architect, while acknowledging that the landscape design has not advanced as far as the station design; he added that the landscape design is being developed in close consultation with the National Park Service. Ms. Gilbert emphasized that the relationship of the building and landscape is an important and inherent part of the design.
Ms. Meyer observed that the issues being discussed for this project are a larger-scale version of the preceding review of the Kennedy Center pedestrian bridge, such as how the new construction meets the ground. She said that earthwork is the first act of architecture, particularly at this site where the ground plane must be constructed. She commented that some of the confusion results from basing the design on two strong contextual influences: the Metro system, with the design tradition of Harry Weese along with later evolutions; and the parkway, not a natural landscape but a design by Gilmore Clarke (a previous chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts) and Wilbur Simonson. She observed that the hierarchy between these contexts has apparently not yet been understood, and the resulting design is a muddled hybrid. She recommended further study to clarify one of these contexts as primary, and the other as secondary; this would help in addressing such problems as the apparent visual competition between the exoskeleton and the curved roofs. She added that the solution might be to emphasize different contexts on different sides of the station or with different ways of experiencing it. As another example of the design confusion, she observed that hyphens are traditionally smaller in scale than a building’s central and end masses, whereas the intended hyphens in this proposal—the angled roofs above the platform escalators—are at a middle scale between the mezzanines and platforms. She emphasized that the issues are not necessarily in material selection or even design development, but in the conceptual lack of clarity that results in the problems of materials and massing.
Ms. Meyer provided additional background on the design history of the parkway, based on her work for the parkway’s cultural landscape report that included an interview with Wilbur Simonson, the supervising landscape architect. She said that the siting of National Airport was considered as part of the parkway’s master plan—not as something to be masked, but as part of the modern experience of a recreational drive. She recalled asking Simonson if he was bothered by the decades of subsequent development along the parkway, and he said that the parkway was always intended to relate to the urban world around it. She concluded that the effort to hide the proposed Metro station from parkway views is excessive, and the proposed stone cladding is merely cartoonish instead of helping the station to fit in with the context. She said that a better design precedent would be the original terminal at the airport, which was closely related to the parkway prior to a later realignment. She recommended more consideration of treating the Metro station as part of the parkway experience, while addressing related issues such as glare.
Mr. Dunson supported further study of the history and experience of parkways in order to clarify the conceptual intent for the Metro station’s design. He suggested further consideration of the landscape concept and whether the station is an intrusion into it; he said that this is a bigger issue than the more solvable logistics of getting people to and from the train platforms, and he suggested that the architectural design follow from the landscape concept. Mr. Krieger noted the prevalence of stone in historic parkway designs such as Connecticut’s Merritt Parkway. Ms. Meyer suggested further study of the George Washington Memorial Parkway’s features; for example, at nearby Daingerfield Island, a median planted with large willow oaks is designed to allow for flooding, instead of using a more generic Washington-area landscape. She also noted that Clarke and Simonson had worked earlier on the Westchester County parkways in New York, which had a nostalgic vernacular design vocabulary; the New York design details, not a local Virginia aesthetic, were the basis for the George Washington Memorial Parkway design. She suggested applying that complex aesthetic history to the current design challenge, instead of relying on surface appearances.
Mr. Dunson agreed that the intended use of hyphens in the massing is problematic and requires further study. He said that the kit of parts and the profusion of elements have detracted from the streamlined aesthetic that is intended, and he recommended simplifying the design to improve its clarity. Ms. Meyer summarized that the design has gone beyond the needed complexity to become merely complicated. She expressed appreciation for WMATA’s willingness to submit this station for the Commission’s review; she invited a further submission while acknowledging the complexity of the project’s overall review process. Mr. Karadimov responded that all of the review comments are important to receive, and many of the design features have been studied through multiple iterations; he acknowledged that the design still needs further refinement. Ms. Meyer emphasized the potential for a great project, and the Commission members confirmed their desire to review a further submission. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
E. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Old Georgetown Act
OG 15-239, 2715 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Demolition of existing gas station and construction of new five-story mixed-use building. Concept. Ms. Barsoum introduced a case forwarded from the Commission’s Old Georgetown Board (OGB): the concept design for a new five-story mixed-use building at 2715 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. The building would replace an existing non-historic gas station, which would be demolished. She said that the OGB, in its several reviews of the proposal over the past year, has focused on the building itself more than on the landscape design, and the proposal is now forwarded to the Commission for comments. She asked Mary Mottershead of EastBanc, the development company for the project, to introduce the presentation.
Ms. Mottershead said that the building would include a ground-floor restaurant and, on the upper floors, seven to nine apartments. The site is located between two National Park Service reservations: on the east is a portion of Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, and the small park on the west extends to 28th Street. She said that the project is following the Planned Unit Development process, which will be considered at an upcoming D.C. zoning review; as part of this process, EastBanc is offering a set of public amenities that includes improvements to the two parks and an ongoing maintenance agreement for them. She said that EastBanc has been coordinating this project with the D.C. Department of Transportation, the D.C. Office of Planning, the National Park Service, and the community. The design team includes the Portuguese architect, Eduardo Souto de Moura of Souto Moura Arquitectos, and landscape architect Lisa Delplace of Oehme, van Sweden & Associates. She introduced Mr. Souto de Moura to present the building design, and she said that she and Mr. Souto de Moura would address the landscape proposal in the absence of Ms. Delplace.
Mr. Souto de Moura described the difficulties presented by the site because of the conflicting characters and scales of central Washington’s West End neighborhood to the east, the Georgetown neighborhood, M Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue. He noted the larger-scale context of the Four Seasons Hotel to the southwest and the buildings of the West End; the lower scale of buildings across M Street to the north; and the many trees associated with the park reservations, particularly to the east. He described the design concept for the building as an abstract cube with spaces carved from it on each of the four facades; the ground floor would emphasize transparency for the restaurant space.
Mr. Souto de Moura said that in response to OGB guidance, the massing has been adjusted to respond to the varied context: a lower height on the north along M Street, and a taller height to the south that is more compatible with the Four Seasons Hotel. He noted that the site was once occupied by a church, prior to the present gas station; he presented a historic photograph of the church and said that its features have inspired elements of the proposed design such as the chimney rising above the roof terrace, the configuration of other terraces, and the angled massing. He indicated additional features of the design, including the granite base scaled to the height of pedestrians; the predominant facade materials of glass, concrete, and brick; the corner terraces of the apartments; and the ground-floor facade alignments that respond to M Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Mr. Souto de Moura said that the initial ground-floor design placed the restaurant and outdoor dining terrace on the northeast, with expansive views of the Rock Creek valley; the support and utility spaces were to the south and west, largely concealed behind walls, and the service drive was placed to the west. The OGB had requested that the building address more intentionally the urban life of the immediate context, and the design has now been revised to place the restaurant and bar on the west with a continuous glass facade; the service drive would extend along the east side of the site. The restaurant support space has been moved away from the primary facades, and the residential lobby at the southeast would include a main entrance from Pennsylvania Avenue and vehicular drop-off from the service drive.
Mr. Souto de Moura said that the design emphasizes the ground floor as a strong, elegant volume that is largely transparent in contrast to the floors above. The vertical circulation is organized in a central core, freeing the perimeter of the ground floor to be shaped in response to adjacent conditions. The residential floors above would extend from this core, including a cantilever over the relocated service drive to the east, which will include on its east side a pedestrian walk to replace an existing social trail through the park. The restaurant’s outdoor terrace would be open to the public space on the west and the activity of the Georgetown neighborhood. The ground floor would include wide stainless-steel sliding doors manufactured in Portugal with a matte finish to resemble the gray granite; the bricks will be imported from southern Portugal.
Mr. Souto de Moura described the facades of the residential floors, which alternate between walls within the primary facade plane and recessed terraces. Most living spaces would look out onto the terraces, which are glazed to admit natural light into the apartments; many of the terraces would be located in alternating corners of the originally closed cube in response to the surrounding urban condition. A horizontal mullion line on the ground floor continues from the glazing across walls, providing a base line for lettering along Pennsylvania Avenue that would spell out the building address. He emphasized the pedestrian scale that is defined by the height of the various ground-floor facade elements. He added that the apartments will be rental units instead of condominiums, allowing for more control of a unified exterior appearance for the building.
Ms. Mottershead presented the landscape plan, noting that OGB had requested more interaction between the building and the parks to enliven the urban setting. She said that the park to the west is currently in poor condition; the design for its improvement is being developed in consultation with the D.C. Department of Transportation and the National Park Service, which each have jurisdiction over portions of the open space in this area. A long rack for rental bicycles, part of the Capital Bikeshare system, is currently located in this area; it would be repositioned along the M Street edge, separated by a low wall from the remainder of the open space. Several existing trees would be retained and one or two would be removed; the species for new trees have not yet been determined. New paving materials would include the same granite that is selected for the building, along with varieties of brick and granite used in Georgetown. She said that lighting would illuminate the trees, and lighting would also be placed beneath benches; she noted the abundance of ambient light in the area.
Ms. Mottershead said that the larger park to the east is heavily overgrown. A social trail has been worn through this area by pedestrians moving between M Street and Pennsylvania Avenue; the D.C. Department of Transportation requested a design that would discourage this movement because it encourages pedestrians to cross the streets mid-block. The proposal is therefore to install plantings on the edges of the park and by the Pennsylvania Avenue bridge, although she noted that the design provides sufficient room for anyone who persists in cutting through to do so safely. She said that the project does not include parking because of the small size of the site, and no parking or loading is permitted along M Street or Pennsylvania Avenue. The site plan therefore includes the service drive for loading and unloading vehicles, with one-way access from Pennsylvania Avenue to M Street. She noted that the main kitchen for the restaurant would be in the basement level, along with utilities and residential storage space.
Secretary Luebke suggested that the Commission discussion include consideration of the OGB report, which recommends approval of the concept. He said that the project has involved many urban design issues, most notably what constitutes an appropriate design for this site at the threshold to the Georgetown Historic District; the design of the volume has evolved to address the particular conditions on each side of the site. Ms. Meyer asked why OGB has referred this project to the Commission; Mr. Luebke responded that it was referred because it is a new building on a prominent site. Ms. Lehrer asked the extent of land use and zoning issues in shaping the project; Mr. Luebke acknowledged these issues but emphasized that the Commission’s role is to evaluate the design within the Historic District. Ms. Mottershead said that the primary zoning issue is the proposed sixty-foot height, exceeding the allowable fifty feet; her reference to the zoning process was intended to explain how this project would relate to the adjacent public spaces.
Ms. Lehrer opened the discussion by commending the removal of the gas station, which she said is an indication that the public transportation is robust. She expressed enthusiasm for the design, commenting on the sensitive treatment of its scale, volumes, and materials, as well as its openness to public space. She said that the site design would be welcoming to people who come there simply to enjoy the parks; consistent with this welcoming character, she discouraged the addition of any fencing and suggested that any restrictions on night-time use of the open space should be communicated by signs.
Mr. Dunson commented that the building appears very elegant, with a skillful composition of solids and voids; he anticipated that the details would be carefully executed. He encouraged Mr. Souto de Moura to retain the subtlety of contrast between lighter and darker materials as the design progresses. He emphasized that he is especially impressed with how the building would sit on the ground; he stressed the importance of designing the ground plane in ensuring that the building fits comfortably within its environment. He recommended keeping the ground plane unbroken; he also suggested keeping open the view from the parkway up the hill to the building, because this view will make the structure a strong symbolic gateway.
Mr. Krieger remarked that the intended control of the apartments’ exterior appearance is reminiscent of Mies van der Rohe’s attempt to require that window coverings in his apartment buildings be set to a consistent bottom line. He said that he does not support this approach but leaves it up to the architect and owner. He added that he would ordinarily recommend that a building on such a prominent site be several times taller, and he expressed regret that such height would not be possible in Washington. He commented favorably on the numerous open views that will be available toward this beautiful object in a major, open park setting.
Mr. Krieger also commended Mr. Souto de Moura for the proposal’s internal architectural aesthetics. He discouraged the inclusion of a chimney as a reference to the church that once occupied the site, and he also questioned the effort to vary the height along different frontages. He said that a building treated as an object in a space this large cannot respond to all of the adjacent conditions; establishing a strong internal idea is a very good point of departure, but he regretted that the building is not being treated as a purer object. He noted the proposal’s resemblance to many 1970s-era buildings in the Boston area with exposed structural concrete and brick infill. He summarized that his overall support for the project while reiterating that it would be better as a more pure object. Ms. Gilbert observed that the different character of each side of the building will inspire pedestrians to walk entirely around it.
Ms. Meyer observed that the concept of the building as a pure volume necessitates that it have a ground plane to sit on. She said that the proposed site plan is compromised because the paving pattern emphasizes a distinction between the sidewalks and the project’s open space, creating almost a visual belt around the periphery. She suggested breaking down this differentiation by integrating different paving materials so that the building will appear to be occupying a space. Mr. Souto de Moura asked for clarification; Ms. Meyer suggested thinking of the paving pattern as a textile that interweaves granite and brick. She added that the plaza design on the west appears to be a facile translation of the building facade to the horizontal ground plane, resulting in a plaza fragmented by a dispersed series of tree planting areas; she said that this is not a landscape idea, and the goal should be to create a place instead of merely a pattern. She suggested consideration of the plaza’s anticipated social use. She concluded that the ground plane and plaza design lack the conceptual clarity of the building design. Ms. Mottershead responded that the goal is to open up the site and make it more porous, while the D.C. Department of Transportation has clear expectations for the design of sidewalks and curb cuts. Mr. Krieger and Ms. Meyer reiterated that the site edge does not need to be highlighted by such a definite change in materials.
Ms. Gilbert suggested further study of the location or configuration of the Capital Bikeshare rack, observing that it may interfere with desired pedestrian movements across the western part of the site. She noted that pedestrians may not be simply following the sidewalk alignments, and a better understanding of the pedestrian may suggest not configuring the bicycle rack in one long line.
Ms. Meyer invited comments from the audience. Patricia Zingsheim with the D.C. Office of Planning said that her office works in close coordination with the D.C. Department of Transportation on public space issues; she emphasized that they discourage a strongly defined separation between public and private space, as well as the extension of private design elements into public space. Mr. Krieger noted that this is especially important in reference to the west end of the site. Ms. Meyer said that Ms. Zingsheim’s comments provide a useful context for the Commission’s advice.
Ms. Lehrer offered a motion to approve the concept submission, consistent with the recommendation of the Old Georgetown Board, with the comments provided. Mr. Krieger added that the Commission would be interested in seeing the project again during the development of the design, prior to the final design submission. Upon a second by Mr. Dunson, the Commission adopted this action.
F. District of Columbia Public Library
CFA 19/MAY/16-4, Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW. Replacement library building. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 17/MAR/16-3.) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
G. District of Columbia Department of General Services
CFA 19/MAY/16-5, Triangular park (Reservation 323E), bounded by 13th Street, Quincy Street, and Kansas Avenue, NW. New landscape to create a “Zen Garden” park. Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposed renovation of a small triangular park located between the Columbia Heights and Petworth neighborhoods; the park was formerly a federal government reservation and has been transferred to the D.C. government’s jurisdiction. He said that the proposal would re-imagine the park as a Zen garden. He asked project manager Shahrokh Ghahramani of the D.C. Department of General Services to begin the presentation.
Mr. Ghahramani said that the project is part of a reexamination of D.C.’s numerous triangular parks, undertaken in response to several departmental and mayoral initiatives involving public health and open space. This particular triangular park has been selected by the Ward Four councilmember to become a more active space, accommodating new programming such as yoga. He said that the selected landscape architecture firm, Lee and Associates, has been working within the budget constraints to address the needs of both the D.C. Department of General Services and the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. He introduced Adrienne McCray of Lee and Associates to present the design.
Ms. McCray described her firm’s initial approach of developing an Asian-inspired design for this Zen-themed park. But after further discussions with the D.C. government on programming, forms, plants, materials, and spaces, the Zen theme was interpreted as creating moments of pause and places of contemplation within the busy neighborhoods and urban environment. The challenge has therefore been to develop this concept for a D.C. park, rather than to mimic elements of Asian culture or religion.
Ms. McCray described the site and context, indicating the Petworth Metro station several blocks to the east. The surrounding streets are generally relatively narrow two-way streets with parking on both sides, and the surrounding residential neighborhood is primarily two-story houses with front parches and front yards; one goal of the design is to encourage people to use the park as part of a community instead of remaining on the porches of their homes.
Ms. McCray indicated the existing street trees within the curbside planting strip at the perimeter of the site, and the simple lawn encompassing the interior of the park; the lawn is slightly raised, with a quarter-round curb separating it from the perimeter sidewalks. The major feature of the proposed design is a “council ring” in the wider area at the north end of the park, toward Quincy Street; this ring would be kept low enough to maintain views into the site from the surrounding homes. Slight berming would encourage seating along the circular wall and would provide a further sense of separation. The planting materials would include a low groundcover, along with multi-stem ornamental and flowering trees to enhance the sense of enclosure while allowing open sightlines. She indicated the entrance points near the park’s three corners and the meandering five-foot-wide paths, which are kept narrow to emphasize slower movement along the paths while the perimeter sidewalks serve as the primary circulation. South of the council ring, the eastern side of the park along Kansas Avenue would be an open lawn, encouraging people to step off the paved areas and accommodating activities such as yoga. Paving within the park would be distinct from the perimeter sidewalks, perhaps using permeable paving, and the area within the council ring would have a slightly darker color than the meandering paths; the council ring would also include an area of cobblestone paving, and the seating walls would be concrete. She presented images of each of these materials as used in other landscapes.
Ms. McCray said that an early version of the design used varying grades and ramping, but this has been simplified to a generally flat space with slight grade changes at the curb edges, along with the berming at the seating walls. She presented a more detailed plan of the council ring, with an eighteen-foot radius that would provide a focused space. She said that site furnishings are still being coordinated with the D.C. government, possibly using newly designed features such as benches and bicycle racks. She said that D.C. intends to develop additional Zen parks, and the furnishings could be used in these other parks to indicate the related theme. She summarized that the design emphasizes simplicity and a unique character.
Ms. Lehrer asked if the proposal is a prototype for a larger program of related parks, or for this specific site. Ms. McCray responded that the design is unique to this site, and her firm is developing separate designs for other parks; the designs would have similarities such as material selections and the design of site furnishings, resulting in some consistency among the various parks. Ms. Meyer suggested that the proposal could serve as a prototype; Ms. McCray agreed. Secretary Luebke noted that the Commission may wish to comment on the general program for multiple parks as well as the specific design for this site. Mr. Ghahramani confirmed that the current request is for approval of the design for this site; if designs are developed further for other sites, they would be submitted separately to the Commission. Ms. Meyer asked if the palette for the other parks would be established by the design for this park; Mr. Ghahramani responded that this is possible but may vary for different locations.
Ms. Gilbert supported the overall interest in developing these small parks to become more usable by neighborhood residents. However, she questioned the proposed plantings and shrubs without fencing, commenting that these would likely be overrun within weeks by dogs and children. She suggested that the planting budget instead be used for more trees, possibly emphasizing increased density; higher-branching trees could be selected to address the safety concern of maintaining views across the park. The focal point could then be a more authentic Zen garden, instead of a ring of trees around the council ring that would not provide the intended sense of enclosure. She observed that only the longest of the three paths is actually meandering, while the other two are straight; she suggested further study of how these two shorter paths could be more closely related to the intended overall experience of the park. She summarized that the landscape would not have the benefit of ongoing maintenance by gardeners, and the emphasis should therefore be on more durable elements such as hardscape and trees.
Ms. Lehrer acknowledged the concern for safety but suggested further consideration of this issue. She noted that the new design may attract more users including children, who may chase balls into the streets on each side of the park. She said that grading could potentially be used to address such problems, although the grading would have to remain low to maintain the sightlines that are also desired for safety. Another solution could be benches, which should be oriented carefully. She discouraged a solution of signs that prohibit various recreational activities. She emphasized that the best solution would vary based on site conditions, and the Commission should have the opportunity to review each park rather than approve the repetition of a general prototype. Mr. Ghahramani emphasized that this design has the support of this neighborhood and may serve as a prototype, but the concerns of each neighborhood may be different. Ms. Lehrer asked about the extent of the wider program of small park designs. Peter Nohrden of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation responded that the submitted site is the first priority, and the number of additional sites has not been established; the total may be three or four, but the results of this first park will be evaluated to decide whether to continue the program. Mr. Luebke clarified that the Commission is only being asked to approve the design for the presented site. Mr. Nohrden added that designs for other sites may have to address other concerns such as a historic district where the reuse of existing site furnishings may be preferable; the currently submitted site is simply an open lawn, with no major constraints of existing features. He suggested not emphasizing any effect of this proposed design on potential designs for other parks.
Ms. Meyer said that Ms. Gilbert’s advice would be useful for this site, as well as for a set of future projects: the power of the design can come from the contrast between the trees and a clearing, instead of from a particular site furnishing. She said that this guidance may also be helpful in working with the typically small scale of the city’s triangular parks; although the building heights vary around such parks, they typically are not high enough to provide a sense of enclosure. Mr. Nohrden agreed, noting that lower building heights are especially likely in residential areas. Ms. Meyer suggested the strategy of defining the park space with two horizontal planes—the ground plane and the bottom of the tree canopy—rather than relying on surrounding buildings to provide the spatial definition. The sense of a special place of arrival would then be defined by entering a clearing, such as at the council ring.
Ms. Meyer noted that council rings were part of the historic park designs of Jens Jensen in Chicago and elsewhere in the Midwest. She recalled that Jensen had carefully determined their dimensions to accommodate a class with a teacher reading stories; however, the council ring in this proposal has no discernible rationale for its scale. Ms. McCray responded that the council ring is intended to be large enough to accommodate small gatherings such as yoga groups or book circles. Ms. Meyer said that the size of the council ring should be a driving force of the project, and she encouraged careful study of the scale relationship between a teacher at the center and students at the periphery, or a book group whose members are all seated at the periphery. She said that careful design could make the council ring an actual place, rather than an arbitrary-looking place-maker.
Ms. Meyer observed that two of the presented precedents are treated as fields, where the design character is created through the ground plane’s texture and grain; however, the proposed design would add the council ring as a figural object, which is a different conceptual approach to a project. She said that a field-related concept could be powerful for this park, instead of awkwardly trying to place a central geometric object within the existing strong geometry of the triangle. Ms. Lehrer asked how a focal circle could be part of a field concept; Ms. Meyer clarified that the circle would not be used, and the precedents of field designs instead show an emphasis on repetition of land forms to create the texture and grain. She indicated the path in one of the precedent images, folding back on itself to create a meditative walk, and filling the entire space with simply the winding path and a small amount of planting. She noted that these precedents do not suggest centers and would not accommodate yoga, but their inclusion in the presentation creates an expectation that they have influenced the design proposal. She said that a Zen garden could be imagined as just a place for a contemplative stroll, and repetitive elements that are modestly scaled for adults could create an amazing fantasy world for children.
Ms. McCray responded that the design could be developed as a series of circles; Ms. Gilbert and Ms. Meyer agreed. Ms. McCray added that the series could include raised circles and planted circles. Ms. Gilbert said that an alternative could be simply a weaving path, perhaps expanding and folding back on itself in various ways. She suggested consideration of the likely hierarchy of pedestrian approach routes; perhaps a larger feature could be designed in relation to the entrance that would be used by the most people. She observed that the location of the council ring is simply determined by where the biggest available area is located; Ms. McCray agreed. Ms. Gilbert added that the site is likely now crossed by people moving in many different directions, which will be difficult to change; an open design is an appropriate response to continue accommodating this expected activity. She suggested that the planting scheme be developed to accommodate this use, allowing people to enter and exit the park from many directions while providing some density to define a gathering area.
Mr. Krieger questioned the importance of linking the term “Zen” to this park, commenting that some people may visit the park for this reason and may be disappointed. He acknowledged the term’s value as a source of inspiration but said that perhaps the term should no longer be used. He also observed that the choice of precedents in the presentation was too indiscriminate. In addition to the problem of showing field precedents, as discussed, the images also emphasize perennials and flowers that would be difficult to use here. Even the examples of council rings show a much greater topographic variation than is intended on this site, which appears to have only a very modestly shaped section although the section drawing is quite small. He said that the different expectations raised by the precedents are causing the Commission’s skeptical response and are creating confusion about the design intent. He encouraged a more disciplined effort to communicate the design using more directly applicable precedents. He offered support for the proposed council ring if it responds to a programmatic requirement to accommodate small gatherings. But he said that this feature should be elaborated further, particularly in section, to show the relationship or separation between the ring and the city beyond; he concluded that the presented design may be too simple.
Ms. McCray responded that one purpose of the presented precedents was to illustrate details such as the change in materials between the open lawn and the hardscape of the council ring, as well as examples of texture. Mr. Krieger reiterated that the more provocative features illustrated in the precedents would not realistically be part of this proposal; he said that early inspiration can be broad, but it should become more specific as one moves through the design process. Ms. Gilbert said that the park’s theme may not need to be so specific, and the design could then proceed with simple, direct moves that are achievable and maintainable, potentially resulting in a great project.
Mr. Dunson observed that the site is not flat, and it has several entrance points; he recommended careful study of the design through multiple section drawings. He suggested including sections at a scale that would illustrate more of the context to show how people would enter and leave the park area. He noted that the site itself is a residual fragment that results from the convergence of two grid streets and a diagonal avenue; the grading is a feature that could be developed further to create special areas. He summarized that the topography, along with the context conditions, should influence this design. He therefore supported a focus on designing for this particular site, rather than creating a prototype for multiple park sites, although some relationship may be appropriate such as using similar materials in the various parks. He suggested a more detailed proposal for the plantings, which are used to define areas of the park, with careful consideration of each level of plantings: grass, other groundcovers, hedges, shrubs, flowering trees, and then the higher tree canopy. He said that the vertical as well as horizontal composition should also be considered; the alternative to such careful design would be simply to leave it as an open space.
Ms. Meyer requested a consensus on whether to approve the concept, and whether to support Mr. Ghahramani’s request for delegation of further review to the staff so that the tight project schedule could be maintained. Ms. Lehrer summarized the apparent support for the concept of a gathering space that gives an identity to the park and draws the community. She said that the proposal contains kernels of an idea, but an approval would need to be accompanied by a request for an additional concept submission; Mr. Luebke noted that such a request would be equivalent to simply not approving the current concept submission. Ms. Lehrer emphasized that the proposal has strong ideas but needs more work, especially as a potential prototype for the design of other parks and as a welcome example of improving one of the city’s small parks for greater public use. Mr. Luebke suggested sending a letter summarizing the Commission’s comments. Mr. Krieger said that the Commission’s response should include support for the overall effort of improving the small parks; Mr. Luebke confirmed that this was clear from the discussion and would be emphasized in the Commission’s letter. Mr. Krieger joined in supporting the concept of a centralized gathering space, although the presented plan and detailing are still somewhat vague. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 12:31 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA