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 9:10 a.m.
Hon. Earl A. Powell, Chairman
Hon. Elizabeth Meyer, Vice Chairman
Hon. Edward Dunson
Hon. Liza Gilbert
Hon. Toni Griffin
Hon. Alex Krieger
Hon. Mia Lehrer
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Frederick J. Lindstrom, Assistant Secretary
A. Approval of the minutes of the 20 April meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the April meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. 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: 15 June, 20 July, and 20 September 2017. He noted that the September date is on a Wednesday to avoid conflict with a religious holiday on Thursday, 21 September; he also noted that no meeting is scheduled in 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 107th anniversary of the Commission's establishment and the 87th anniversary of the Shipstead-Luce Act. He recalled the activities associated with the Commission's 100th anniversary, including publication of a book on the Commission's history.
D. Report on the approval of one object proposed for acquisition by the Freer Gallery of Art. Mr. Luebke reported Chairman Powell's approval in late April of a textile artwork that the Smithsonian Institution was considering for acquisition as part of the permanent collection of the Freer Gallery of Art: an Ottoman brocade panel from circa 1600, made of silk and metal threads with a floral pattern on a chartreuse background. He said that the Freer was subsequently unsuccessful in auction bidding for the panel; the approval is noted for the Commission's records.
E. Report on the pre-meeting inspection of a mockup of the Eisenhower Memorial tapestry. Mr. Luebke reported the Commission's inspection earlier in the morning of a mockup of a portion of the large metal tapestry that is planned as part of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial. Chairman Powell commented that the mockup was interesting, and he conveyed the Commission's appreciation for its preparation. He suggested that further comments from the Commission members could be provided in conjunction with the review on the agenda (see item II.B.1).
II. Submission 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 said that no changes have been made to the draft appendix. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer, the Commission approved the Government Submissions Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported several changes to the draft appendix. The dates have been noted for the recent receipt of supplemental materials. One favorable recommendation is subject to the receipt and review of further supplemental materials, and she requested authorization to finalize this recommendation shortly (case number SL 17-101). Two projects listed on the draft appendix have been removed to allow for more extensive coordination (SL 17-099 and SL 17-100); she anticipated that these projects would be placed on the June appendix. Upon a motion by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the revised appendix. Mr. Luebke noted that the final item on the Commission's agenda is an additional Shipstead-Luce Act submission.
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Mellon said that no changes have been made to the draft appendix, which includes 37 cases; all of the supplemental drawings were received prior to distribution of the draft. The Commission approved the Old Georgetown Act appendix. Mr. Luebke noted that the Commission's agenda includes an additional Old Georgetown Act submission (see item II.E).
B. National Park Service
1. CFA 18/MAY/17-1, Dwight D. Eisenhower National Memorial. Intersection of Maryland and Independence Avenues, between 4th and 6th Streets, SW. Revised final design. (Previous: CFA 23/JAN/17-2.) Secretary Luebke introduced the revised final design for a national memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, submitted by the National Park Service (NPS) on behalf of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. He noted that the Commission has previously approved a final design; new revisions were subsequently presented in January 2017, when the Commission granted conditional approval to some of the design modifications subject to the viewing of a mockup for the welded-wire tapestry, which would feature a new composite image of a present-day aerial view of the Normandy beaches in place of the rural Kansas landscape that was previously approved. He noted that the requested mockup has been prepared, and the Commission viewed it earlier this morning. He said that other proposed changes include the removal of four large canopy trees from the approved landscape design, and a revised sculpture of Eisenhower as a youth, to be placed at a new location near the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education (DOE) building to the south of the memorial. He introduced Peter May, the associate regional director for lands and planning for the National Capital Region of the National Park Service.
Mr. May said that the NPS is requesting a final approval in order to be able to issue a permit for construction; he asked Carl Reddel, executive director of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, to begin the presentation. Mr. Reddel noted that Congress has recently issued a statement of funding support for the memorial so that construction could begin. He introduced architect Craig Webb of Gehry Partners to present the update on the proposed revisions to the final design.
Mr. Webb summarized the three topics that remain to be resolved: the tapestry; the elimination of four trees from the planting plan; and the location and design of the sculpture of Eisenhower as a young man. He illustrated the current proposed design for the 400-foot-long, 60-foot-high tapestry: a landscape image of the Normandy coast, the site of the D-Day landing, with the iconic Pointe du Hoc headland occupying the center of the scene. This image will generate the "linework" that will be used to fabricate the tapestry.
Mr. Webb said that the Normandy coast represents Eisenhower's transition from military service for the United States to civilian service. The image would depict the promontory in the center, with the shoreline, sea, and sky extending on either side to the full width of the tapestry, which he likened to a landscape painting. He said that the tapestry had never been conceived as something that would be fully visible from any one point of view; it was instead always intended to be viewed through trees as a series of vignettes. He described two primary aspects of the tapestry's legibility: weaving stainless steel wire to create a legible, artistic image; and reading the tapestry within the larger context of the memorial. The fundamental goal is to create a tapestry that can be understood by visitors as the landscape of Normandy, and he said the mockup indicates that this will be successful. In addition, the project team had studied the framed views of the tapestry along the two diagonal walks into the memorial core that would result from removing the four trees. Although eliminating the trees would mean less shade, he said that this would mostly affect lawn areas, which are not expected to be the main places visitors will be. Also, with the change in the tapestry image from rural Kansas to the Normandy coast, the living trees on the memorial site would no longer be intended to blend in with the illustrated trees in the tapestry.
Mr. Webb said that the entire tapestry would comprise 600 panels stacked four high. On an illustration of the tapestry, he indicated the area selected for the fifteen-foot-high mockup, consisting of three three-foot-wide panels in the lower middle horizontal row; this portion was chosen for its inclusion of a varied landscape and a large area of sky. He said that the tapestry artist, Tomas Osinski, begins with a photograph and, through a computer process, generates the linework that directs an automated machine to weave and weld the tapestry. Because of the similarity between linework and tapestry panel, the project team is confident that the image will be legible. He added that some transparency, as provided in the extensive tapestry area depicting the sky, would be desirable to allow views of the DOE building through the tapestry and reciprocal views from the building. Mr. Webb said that the current mockup will soon be erected in front of the DOE building for viewing by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), and it will also be available for Commission members to see at the site.
Mr. Webb then described the proposed revisions to the sculpture of Eisenhower as a young man. Referring to the seven guiding principles used in site selection, he reminded the Commission members that the memorial is intended to unify the buildings surrounding the site; the site had also been chosen because the buildings, including the DOE, define an urban "room" and have relevance to Eisenhower's presidential legacy. The previously presented location for the statue had been near the DOE because the space that would be created between the tapestry and the building—referred to as the "promenade"—is intended to be an area devoted to education, with a focus on presentations for schoolchildren. Other locations considered for the statue included the lawns of the memorial's landscape, but this would require additional paving in order to provide adequate access to the statue; another option was at one of the entry points into the memorial core toward the northeast or northwest, but the conclusion was that visitors entering the memorial from other directions would not see the statue and would therefore lose an important part of the memorial narrative.
Mr. Webb said that the statue was previously proposed on a pedestal within the promenade; the current proposal is for the statue to sit upon a plinth on the wall separating the DOE building from the memorial, where it would be visible from all sides and could be tied more closely into the educational program and the building's architecture. He said that the plinth would be a limestone block set within the wall at the entrance to a ramp leading up from the memorial to the promenade. The bronze figure, by sculptor Sergey Eylanbekov, would depict the young Eisenhower sitting with his arms clasped around his legs and his head turned to the left, looking toward the memorial. A text from Eisenhower's homecoming address in Abilene, Kansas, would be carved into the plinth, ending with "the proudest thing I can claim is that I'm from Abilene," thus returning to the story of Eisenhower's Midwestern roots. The inscription would use the same font as the rest of the memorial typography. He said that the slightly abstracted statue is meant to represent the ambition and hopefulness of youth.
Chairman Powell invited public testimony. The first speaker was Justin Shubow of the National Civic Art Society, who said that the Eisenhower Memorial would be a memorial to D-Day rather than to Eisenhower since the tapestry would be its second depiction of Normandy, in addition to the bas-relief behind the sculpture group centered around Eisenhower as general. He noted that the tapestry, although huge, would not be identifiable as the Normandy beach or as a modern view but would require a caption to be understood. He emphasized that the proposed image fails as a work of art: the bottom third is a dark band of water while the top two-thirds is a featureless light band, and the two are connected by an unrelenting horizon line that would stretch the tapestry's entire length. He also said that the segment chosen for the mockup does not represent the image as a whole, and he cited two members of the National Capital Planning Commission who had questioned the appropriateness of the Normandy image.
The second speaker, critic Catesby Leigh, noted a widespread lack of enthusiasm for Frank Gehry's memorial design. He described the tapestry as bombastic and overscaled, noting that it is as high as and far wider than the Lincoln Memorial. He said that a previous Commission member had raised the issue of memorial sprawl, a problem which Mr. Leigh identified as resulting from the inability of post-World War II memorial designers to think in symbolic terms—as a distillation of people, events, or ideals into formally resonant, essentially non-narrative forms. He contrasted the Lincoln Memorial's success as a symbol to the failure of the proposed Eisenhower Memorial design. He called it a "theme park," with the first tapestry depicting the landscape of Abilene as a stagey backdrop to a real Abilene-themed landscape, along with kitschy sculptural dioramas. He said that the best possible argument for the previously approved design was that it conveyed the Eisenhower story, but the narrative's coherence has now been obliterated because of changes negotiated by Eisenhower's grandchildren. He anticipated that the present-day peacetime coastal vista that would be displayed on the gargantuan tapestry would only bewilder visitors, and the young Eisenhower has been disengaged from the foreground sculptural groups, breaking up rather than uniting the narrative. He said that the formal issues are not about style, noting the success of the modernist Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and Four Freedoms Park in New York. In conclusion, Mr. Leigh said that well-designed memorials typically do not tell stories but honor and inspire in a different, more elevated way; the Eisenhower Memorial design is about quantity, bigness, and brashness, and he described it as unworthy of Eisenhower and of Washington's monumental core.
Chairman Powell opened the discussion for questions. Ms. Meyer thanked the speakers for their comments, but she noted that the Commission has already supported the memorial design and the proposed change to the tapestry image, and the current submission involves only further refinements to the design.
Ms. Meyer expressed appreciation for the opportunity to view the mockup. She acknowledged the reasons for changing the tapestry subject but expressed concern about the effect of the Normandy image compared to the previous image of the rural Kansas landscape; she emphasized the importance of understanding the effect of the image on a 400-foot-long tapestry. She doubted whether a huge tapestry depicting the Normandy coast would have the same resonance as one that created a contrast between the large living trees and the image of Kansas. She said the previous scheme had possessed a coherent narrative, and she had admired the tapestry both as an idea and as an object with an extremely powerful, integral connection to the park. She said that she remains willing to support the change of image, but she finds herself underwhelmed by its effect. She emphasized her strong support for the final concept while expressing her reservations about the mockup.
Ms. Gilbert agreed the original image of the Kansas landscape image had been so powerful that it drew viewers in. She asked if the texture of the tapestry could be bolder so that the new image could be seen more clearly, observing that the renderings suggest that it would get lost amid the visual cacophony of its surroundings. She commented that the image of a tree in the previous mockup had appeared to be woven from a thicker gauge of wire, and she observed that the new mockup looks flatter and less textured.
Mr. Krieger observed that the public commenters who had opposed the original tapestry design are now calling for a return to this image, an argument that he called "duplicitous." He observed that they are now talking about the loss of the narrative when they had not supported the previous sculpture of the young Eisenhower sitting on the promenade, and he suggested that their criticism was intended to prevent the memorial from being built. He said he accepts that the memorial has fundamentally changed, and he is ready to approve it in support of the consensus that has been reached between the memorial sponsor and the Eisenhower family.
Mr. Krieger said that he agrees that the image of Kansas had greater narrative coherence than the image of Normandy. He questioned the proposal to move the statue of young Eisenhower close to the Department of Education, which he said would leave the memorial to be about the adult Eisenhower instead of his entire span of life. He observed that with the Normandy image, the tapestry would no longer be part of that larger narrative, and so it could now become what he had always felt it was going to be: a magnificent backdrop for the sculptures. He said that the result of the revisions is a separation of elements: the memorial path with sculptural tableaux of the adult Eisenhower; the tapestry as a backdrop; and the Department of Education building as a somewhat removed area with the statue of young Eisenhower.
Mr. Krieger characterized the current memorial design as primarily a four-acre park; for this reason, he opposes the proposal to eliminate four trees from the design. He commented that improved sightlines would no longer be critical to understanding the now abstract tapestry, whose subject would no longer be readily identifiable; with the focus away from the tapestry, it would remain as an amazing artifact that would entice visitors to approach it. He said that he would accept the relocation of the statue, which would now be related to the Department of Education, while acknowledging that the memorial narrative would be somewhat diminished.
Mr. Krieger commented that the most impressive aspect of the mockup was that the tapestry looked different depending on the vantage point. He commented that the Commission members may previously have been influenced by the juxtaposition of the living trees and the Kansas image in the presentation renderings, and he questioned whether the design would have actually worked to meld the two. He suggested that the Commission approve all of the submitted changes except the elimination of the trees. He added that he was amazed to hear so much support for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial because he remembered the controversy surrounding its design, more than thirty years ago, and the many complaints about how terrible it was; he cited this as an example of how opinions change after a work of art is created. He also said that he likes the idea that someone might walk through this park and not even notice the Eisenhower Memorial, while others would become intrigued by discovering the depictions of the adult Eisenhower.
Ms. Gilbert agreed that the four trees should remain in the design, emphasizing the importance of providing as much shade as possible. She anticipated that visitors would walk and sit on the lawns, and the aim should be to create a gracious and comfortable public landscape throughout. She added that retaining the trees would also create a more mysterious veiling of the tapestry, encouraging visitors to linger in the space.
Ms. Griffin said that she has conflicting feelings about the design and agrees with some of the public testimony. She questioned whether the core objective has been met to create a legible tapestry image that could be understood. She commented that the mockup was beautiful with a fascinating technology, and the tapestry would invite close study; but looking at the mockup from different vantage points, she had found the image inconsistent in its legibility. Similarly, she questioned whether someone would understand whether the landscape depicted was Kansas, Normandy, or somewhere else entirely, and she questioned whether the tapestry is still an integral part of the narrative. She acknowledged Mr. Krieger's view that the tapestry would serve as a backdrop and that its image does not matter, but she noted that the project team has emphasized the tapestry as key to the narrative, therefore requiring its legibility and reading. Mr. Krieger clarified that he had not said the image does not matter, but instead that it would now be subject to interpretation.
Ms. Griffin asked Mr. Webb how he might alter the image of Normandy, or if he would choose another image to ensure the tapestry remains in the core narrative. She commented that moving the statue of the young Eisenhower to a plinth along the rear promenade was simply a matter of convenience, and this location at the entrance to a ramp would interfere with visitors being able to contemplate either the statue or its inscription. She said that moving the statue out of the memorial space to the ramp may not do it justice; at the previous location, visitors would have been free to walk around it, a compelling reason for choosing that site.
Mr. Dunson commented that his opinion has come full circle. He agreed that the image on the tapestry would not be that important. He said that the previous story of a young man becoming a soldier of international renown and then a statesman was powerful—but now it has been taken apart, particularly through treating the statue like an afterthought. The tapestry would now be the backdrop to the park, and its vague image would let visitors create their own interpretation. However, he concluded that the narrative of Eisenhower's life is still an important feature of the design.
Mr. Krieger commented that the proposed siting of the statue may still connect it too much with the main portion of the memorial; he said that the project team had made a reasonably compelling case that the statue would now be a part of the story of the Department of Education, and it would be almost a separate small memorial. He said that the proposed location may be an attempt to have things both ways. He recalled that when it was in the middle of the composition, the statue was powerful as part of the narrative about the trajectory of Eisenhower's life; but since this storyline has now been diminished, perhaps an even less obvious location should be found near the DOE building.
Ms. Meyer said that she remembered making the case for a memorial in a park at previous reviews; speaking from the perspective of a landscape architect, she had wanted to make sure the park experience was extremely strong. She recalled her satisfaction at seeing the project come together—with the tapestry, sculpture, and constructed landscape united in a coherent work of art. She expressed dismay at now hearing that a 400-foot-long, 60-foot-high tapestry does not matter to the experience of that park. Mr. Krieger reiterated that this had not been his comment. Ms. Meyer responded that the comment seemed to be that it does not matter what the image is or how it is perceived; if that is the case, she said that the design could merely propose a billboard. She emphasized that the tapestry's technology, scale, and legibility have to be related to the content of the image and its effect on everyday experience, even though it probably would not matter if every person who walks through the site does not immediately understand where the image comes from. She commented that great works of art have content that is known at first only to experts, but great art still moves people and makes them curious to learn its history and meaning. She said that she had found this quality in the previous combination of park, sculpture, and tapestry but does not see it now, and she expressed regret at the loss of this previous conceptual unity. She said that she might think differently if the tapestry were not so vast; but with its large scale, the comments of the other Commission members have only strengthened her opinion.
Mr. Krieger responded that the Normandy coast is not a random image but is related to the memorial, and to compare it to a billboard is a false analogy. He said that if the image would engage the viewer's interest and imagination, then the fact that people will only slowly understand what it represents would be powerful. He emphasized that it does not have to be recognized from four blocks away; visitors will discover the identity of the tapestry image as they become more engaged by it. He acknowledged that the graphic quality of the trees seen in the earlier mockup had been more persuasive, but he said that he nonetheless supports the fundamental change in the narrative from Eisenhower's entire life to his adult roles as soldier and diplomat.
Mr. Dunson said that he sees the tapestry as a backdrop that derives its meaning from its role defining the park's edge. He questioned the clarity of the image, whether it is of Kansas or France; he emphasized that the image should be somewhat abstracted and left to individual interpretation, but he questioned whether this could be achieved at so large a scale.
Mr. Powell said that he too has returned to his original position. He commented that the tapestry has the potential to be beautiful and powerful, and it would not be like a drive-in movie screen, as had been feared. He agreed that the four trees should remain in the design, leaving filtered glimpses of the tapestry background. He said that he is increasingly intrigued by the Normandy image, although the Kansas image would have been more legible and perhaps more relevant. He did not support the proposed new location for the statue, commenting that it would appear to be floating in space; he recalled that previously it had been a central part of the memorial, and he recommended reconsidering its placement. Mr. Krieger suggested that the statue could be put in the lobby of the adjacent building; Mr. Powell agreed that now it could be placed almost anywhere. Mr. Luebke noted that the adjacent DOE building is already dedicated to President Lyndon Johnson.
Mr. Dunson said that because of the powerful quotation on the statue's pedestal, he objects to having it moved away from the heart of the memorial; Mr. Powell agreed. Ms. Gilbert suggested placing the statue within a grove of trees, without a lot of paving; she said that there would be value in discovering it, and she described the proposed location as the memorial's "back yard." Mr. Krieger recalled that the Commission members had previously objected to placing this statue in the park because it would require a location at one side rather than the other, and so not every visitor would see it; however, he said that this objection is not valid because some visitors would never go to the proposed location in the rear either. He therefore agreed that the statue should be placed within the park.
Chairman Powell noted the consensus that the location of the statue should be reconsidered, along with the many valuable comments that have been provided. Mr. Krieger framed a motion, seconded by Mr. Dunson, to support the tapestry proposal, largely because of the consensus between the Eisenhower Memorial Commission and the Eisenhower family; to keep the four trees in the previously approved landscape design; and to move the statue to a site in the memorial's park. Ms. Griffin noted that Mr. Webb has asked to respond to some of the comments.
Mr. Webb defended the choice of the Normandy coast for the tapestry image, emphasizing that it symbolizes Eisenhower's legacy at a key turning point in his military career. He added that the idea of transformation is inherent in many works of art, and the image of a peaceful coast where a huge battle once took place can recall the memory of that event. He said the image also represents Eisenhower's globalism and leadership in the world.
Ms. Griffin responded that Mr. Webb may have misunderstood her comments, which did not concern the choice of subject, but whether its depiction would be legible as the Normandy coast. She had suggested further study of fabrication methods so that the composition of the more horizontal landscape could be read clearly and connect with the memorial's larger composition. She asked if there are ways to exaggerate the image or otherwise improve its fabrication. Mr. Webb responded that the tapestry would not be a backdrop but an important symbolic part of the memorial; Ms. Griffin emphasized that this makes its legibility and reading even more critical. Mr. Webb compared viewing the mockup to seeing a small section of a painting by Rembrandt, which would reveal brushstrokes and colors but not the overall image. For the mockup of the Kansas landscape, he said that the project team had chosen a segment that succeeded as a work of art in itself, but the larger landscape of the Normandy coast is more difficult to convey in a small sample. He said that as the linework is generated, the definition of different parts of the image—particularly the cliffs, ocean, and sky—would improve. He added that the mockup is too transparent; while the first mockup had been guided by Mr. Osinski, this morning's mockup was woven by machine, with Mr. Osinski enhancing it in parts. He said that this mockup was an important step along the way to the tapestry's realization because it has proven that the image will be legible.
Mr. Powell said that Mr. Webb's explanation is helpful, but he suggested that the image is not like an Impressionist painting that coheres at a certain distance; the tapestry image would need to cohere both up close and far away. Mr. Krieger commented that the trees and the position of the statue had been related in the image of Kansas; the living trees and relocated statue now have a more ambiguous relationship with the tapestry, and this led him to support the Normandy image.
Ms. Griffin emphasized that something as large as the tapestry needs to be successful, but she reiterated the need to work on the fabrication technique. She commented that in such a transparent image, viewers would not be able to see anything as subtle as brushstrokes from close up. Ms. Lehrer observed that the tapestry will be vital to unifying the memorial and creating the space, and the Normandy image should be as strong as the Kansas landscape had been.
Roger Courtenay of AECOM, the landscape architect for the design team, responded to the recommendation to retain the trees. He said that only four out of approximately fifty proposed canopy trees would be removed; in addition, the landscape would have numerous understory trees. The conception has now changed to establishing a dialectic between setting and tapestry; the tapestry would not be seen through the trees as part of a single composition but would be perceived as being different from the park's trees, and views opening as a visitor walks along the diagonal paths will be critical to understanding this. Mr. Krieger expressed disbelief that anyone would not notice the tapestry, whether those four trees are there or not; he emphasized that people will inevitably see and understand something so huge.
Mr. Osinski said that the Normandy landscape is similar in weight and value to the Kansas image, with the same proportion of land to sky. He emphasized that the focus will be on the contrast of the depicted sky with the real sky. In addition, he said that the new tapestry design would work better with the DOE building. The trees on the previous design would have contrasted with the building, but now the organic image in front of the facade's rigid geometry would make the building appear to dissolve. The darker horizon line has been placed lower to preserve as much as possible the views toward the Mall for the occupants of the DOE building looking through the tapestry, which would be readable from the rear. The rendition of the sea has not yet been developed, but the goal is to make it as powerful as the sky. While most visitors would not know it is the Normandy coast, Mr. Osinski said that some will recognize Pointe du Hoc; he also emphasized that the Normandy landing is more important than Kansas. He said that the composite image of the Kansas landscape had great sharpness; this cannot be done with the more distant aerial view of the Normandy landscape without making it resemble a postcard, and so the Normandy image will be treated more like a painting, with slightly softened forms. The tapestry would appear to be constantly changing; from some places it would be legible and from others the image would dissolve. Ms. Gilbert asked how the alignment of the horizon line had been determined; Mr. Osinksi said that it would be in the same position as in the previous Kansas image.
Mr. Dunson continued to question whether the trees should be removed, comparing the opportunity for open views of the tapestry with the alternative of seeing the tapestry from below the tree canopy. Ms. Gilbert observed that these trees would be deciduous and would lose their leaves in the fall, creating open views seasonally and suggesting the ever-changing character of landscape.
Mr. Powell expressed support for Mr. Krieger's original motion, commenting that the view of the tapestry through the trees for much of the year would be a dramatic experience. Mr. Krieger reiterated his motion, but the Commission did not vote to support it. Secretary Luebke said that the Commission members could still suggest changes to the tapestry technique, based on the mockup provided earlier in the day.
Mr. Krieger suggested amending the motion to say that the Commission approves the new tapestry image but would like another opportunity to examine a mockup and the evolution of its technique. Ms. Meyer noted that the Commission has already approved the change to the Normandy image, and she is not reconsidering that decision. She said that the Commission is being asked to accept on trust that the tapestry would be great, but she emphasized that it is a huge part of the project and she is not yet comfortable approving it. She said that her objection is not about the choice of image but about the physical object of the tapestry itself, suggesting the Commission would not be so ready to approve a 400-foot-long building. She acknowledged that the current mockup would be erected on the memorial site in two weeks but said that she would not be available to see it. She asked if the Commission could still support the concept while saying that a new mockup is needed on the actual site.
Mr. Krieger noted the other two parts of his motion, keeping the trees and moving the statue into the park; Ms. Meyer confirmed that she supports these actions. She recalled the Commission's review of the corona cladding for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Commission's insistence that it be as well designed as possible; she said that the Commission now faces a similar situation, and she emphasized the necessity of having confidence that the quality of the proposed material and surface will be excellent.
Ms. Meyer said that she would support a motion for the tapestry if it is contingent on the Commission's approval of a larger area of additional panels emphasizing sea and sky, and showing more of the texture. She offered a revision to the motion addressing all three issues—the retention of the four trees, moving the statue toward the center of the park, and the change in image contingent on additional review of mockups on site showing different parts of the tapestry to indicate the overall character and quality of this very large addition to the landscape of Washington. Mr. Powell and Mr. Krieger offered support for the motion, which was adopted by the Commission.
Mr. May noted that the National Park Service could not issue a construction permit without a final approval from the CFA and the NCPC, and he asked if this action constitutes final approval. Chairman Powell said that the approval would require another review. Secretary Luebke added that the NPS already has an approved final design; Mr. May said that the proposed changes have effectively nullified the previous final approval, which would therefore not be sufficient for issuance of a permit. Mr. Luebke reiterated that the Commission has requested a further review. Mr. May said that the most important concerns of the National Park Service are getting a clear final approval and ensuring that the Commission is satisfied with the design.
2. CFA 18/MAY/17-2, National World War I Memorial. Pershing Park, Pennsylvania Avenue, between 14th and 15th Streets, NW. Concept. (Previous: CFA 20/OCT/16-1.) Secretary Luebke introduced the revised concept proposal for a National World War I Memorial in Pershing Park, an existing landscape that was designed by M. Paul Friedberg & Associates. He summarized the previous review in February 2017, when the Commission reviewed alternative design concepts and took no action, expressing support for a new memorial in the park but identifying a fundamental conflict in the presentation between the goals of preserving the historic landscape and reconceptualizing the site. He said that the currently submitted concept proposes less overall change by inserting new commemorative elements within the existing park landscape; the changes include a new monumental bronze bas-relief wall, removal of the existing kiosk, repositioning the statue of General Pershing, and restoring the landscape elements added by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation on the north side of the park. He asked Peter May of the National Park Service to begin the presentation; Mr. May introduced Edwin Fountain, the vice chairman of the World War I Centennial Commission.
Mr. Fountain said that the proposed design would fulfill his organization's two primary goals: creating a memorial that would convey the world-changing significance of World War I, and expressing the scale of American service and sacrifice. He said that the memorial would be successfully integrated within its urban park, and neither would overwhelm the other. The proposal would preserve the park's historic landscape with two exceptions: the kiosk would be replaced by a ceremonial flag stand; and the structure that formerly housed ice-resurfacing equipment would be replaced by a new commemorative bas-relief. He said that the project team had considered other design approaches but concluded that no other design would accomplish the goals. He introduced architect John Gregg of GWWO and sculptor Sabin Howard, noting that their presentations would be followed by testimony from other supporters of the design.
Mr. Gregg said that the project team has considered the Commission's previous comments and reevaluated other design approaches, such as the insertion of vertical elements and the distribution of memorial components throughout the park. This study, however, only confirmed their belief that the proposed bas-relief sculpture is critical to creating a World War I memorial within Pershing Park. Therefore, the revised concept is generally limited to enlarging the existing stone fountain element at the western end of the pool, inserting a walk within the pool to provide access to the sculpture, and replacing the kiosk with a vertical flagpole that would provide an opportunity for additional interpretation at its base. The rest of the park would be treated following principles of preservation and restoration.
Mr. Gregg said that the key to the design's success would be the visitor experience of a respite from the city that would allow contemplation of the park's new memorial elements. Visitors would be drawn to enter the park and then encouraged to approach the sculpture to study and touch it, forming an emotional engagement. He asked Sabin Howard to discuss the proposed sculpture.
Mr. Howard said that he has closely studied the history of World War I in order to frame a narrative for the sculpture that would engage visitors and inspire them to learn about the war. His process has involved photographing live models in his studio, who enacted scenes portraying the experiences of a representative American soldier in the war. The soldier is depicted leaving his family, engaging in combat, and returning from war in a bas-relief sculpture using slightly abstracted figures of men, women, and children arranged in overlapping sequences, telling a story that unfolds over time. Mr. Howard said that the choice of the bas-relief medium offers advantages compared with freestanding sculpture in its ability to portray a complex, serial narrative over time. Bas-relief allows the use of perspective, hierarchy, changes in scale, and manipulation of dark and light; further, it has similarities to movies, a form familiar to and easily understood by the public. Lastly, bas-relief panels would be less physically intrusive in the park than a sculpture in the round. He said that visitors walking along the bas-relief would become participants in the story, and the eye-level view of the sculpture would give it a modern quality because it would not be elevated above the visitor's sightline.
Mr. Fountain joined in describing the appeal of a monumental bas-relief from the viewpoint of the World War I Centennial Commission: it would be appropriate for the period of World War I but would still be contemporary; it would present a variety of images and themes yet would be unified; and it would encourage direct interaction with visitors. In addition, the war is far enough removed in time that the memorial would not be mournful or solemn. He added that the sculpture's final scene, of the soldier returning home and handing his helmet to his daughter, would represents loss and also the passing on of the war's legacy.
Mr. Fountain introduced three associates of the World War I Centennial Commission. Deputy director Meredith Carr and Tod Sedgwick, a former ambassador, spoke on behalf of two individuals who could not attend the meeting; and architect Harry Robinson [former member and chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts] presented his own testimony. Mr. Sedgwick read a statement from Jay Winter, historian and professor emeritus at Yale University. Mr. Winter's statement said that the main contribution of the American Expeditionary Forces was to shore up the Allied forces after they had suffered two million deaths. He said that this memorial would create a dialogue with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial because both commemorate wars that terminated without a decisive victory, leading to increased instability in the world. The statement also described the design's innovative aspects and the significance of its accessible figural representations.
Meredith Carr spoke on behalf of Sandra Pershing, the only surviving member of John J. Pershing's family. Ms. Pershing's statement said that Gen. Pershing had honored the courage and sacrifice of the American soldier in the First World War. The addition of the sculpture honoring the common soldier, along with the reorientation of Gen. Pershing's statue to face it, would create a symbolic engagement of general and soldier that would honor his memory, compared to the existing placement of the statue in which Gen. Pershing is staring into empty space.
Mr. Robinson recalled his frequent visits to the park for its peaceful atmosphere. Citing his experience as a member of the jury for the memorial's design competition, he said that this entry was the only one that tried to preserve the underlying framework of the park. He added that the first simple design has evolved into a proposal that would maintain the urban character of Friedberg's design; he concluded that the proposed landscape would be vibrant and attractive to tourists, and would reestablish Pershing Park.
Chairman Powell thanked the presenters and invited initial questions from the Commission members. Ms. Meyer asked for clarification about the changes proposed for the fountain basin and ground plane, and the discrepancy in the presentation materials about removal of the stairs. Mr. Gregg responded that the intent is to locate the new bas-relief and extended stone fountain in the same general location as the original fountain. The existing perimeter of the pool would not change; the walk would be inserted within the pool, separated from the edge by a narrow strip of water to allow the pool's full perimeter to remain. Stairs on the sides and in front of the pool were not depicted in all renderings but would remain in their existing locations.
Ms. Lehrer asked about the size of the bas-relief and its figures. Mr. Gregg responded that the panel would be 65 feet long; Mr. Howard added that the panels would be 10.5 to 11 feet high; the figures would be set two feet above the bottom of the panel, and the tallest figures would be eight feet high, with figures in the background scaling down to a height of five feet. Ms. Gilbert asked how the length of the wall was determined. Mr. Howard said that he tried to pare down the narrative to a sculpture length that would be comprehensible. Mr. Gregg said that the effect of the wall's size had been evaluated; they had settled on 65 feet as a length that would not overwhelm the park, would fit within the western edge of the pool, and would allow scenes to be developed in the sculpture. Ms. Gilbert asked how the sculpture's ground plane would be depicted; Mr. Howard responded that the ground would be further developed as a natural surface that would also have a modern, industrial appearance through the patination of the bronze. Ms. Gilbert asked for clarification of the relationship between the sculpture and the pool; Mr. Howard confirmed that the water in the pool would lap against the bottom of the stone fountain and bas-relief element.
Chairman Powell invited public testimony. The first speaker, Patricia Zingsheim from the D.C. Office of Planning, questioned the intent to keep the Friedberg design's closed treatment of the southern side of Pershing Park. Ms. Zingsheim emphasized that a planning goal of the current Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative is to increase the sense of openness along the avenue. She noted the lack of section drawings in the current presentation, and she questioned whether the park would provide enough seating. Chairman Powell commented that on a recent site visit he had seen many places to sit.
Next to speak was Charles Birnbaum, representing the Cultural Landscape Foundation. Mr. Birnbaum expressed support for the new design's emphasis on embracing the design of the existing park—a landscape listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He said he had expected that the presentation would fully address more issues than the bas-relief. He commented that the renderings do not appear animated by the qualities that typify Friedberg's work of this period, and he asked the design team to discuss what the quality of the experience would be like, particularly of the water. Mr. Gregg responded that the rest of the park would be restored to its original condition; the fountain element would be enlarged, but the concept of the fountain would be maintained. The top of the fountain would continue to hold water, which would cascade down the sides of the fountain instead of over the bas-relief on the front before flowing into the pool.
Ms. Gilbert began the Commission's discussion by observing that the design would substantially change the existing park, notwithstanding the description that the park would largely remain the same. For example, the proposal would place a walk through the middle of the pool, a condition that does not exist in the Friedberg design; the walk would be large, and the presentation did not clearly indicate how its edge would meet the water or how deep the water would be. She emphasized the need for section drawings and other details.
Ms. Meyer agreed that additional information would help the Commission to discuss a range of issues. She expressed surprise that neither the designer who won the competition nor the landscape architect is presenting at this concept review, and the result may be that her questions will not be answered satisfactorily. She commented that the proposed design is not a restoration of Pershing Park but an adaptation, and she emphasized that an adaptation requires the landscape architect, the sculptor, and the client to work as a team with the architect of record; an adaptation also requires considering each piece of the design in relation to the others. She commented that the sculpture seems to have just suddenly appeared in the park, lacking any engagement with other elements—the water, the stairs, and the experience of place. She said that the project team is treating the park as a background issue, rather than as a park that would be altered by the proposed design changes, and the presentation was therefore not persuasive.
Ms. Meyer responded to Ms. Zingsheim's comments by noting that the Commission has previously commended the configuration of Pershing Park as an enclosure in section, reaffirming that this design is what makes the park a great addition to Pennsylvania Avenue. She said that a flat park on this site, open to the south, would not be a great public space; instead, it is the sectional quality of the Friedberg design, along with the sound of water, that give this park the character of an oasis. While the park still has merit even with the water currently inoperable, she recalled the discussion at the last presentation that it is the tactile and sound quality of water that makes it possible to imagine this park transformed into a memorial where visitors would not be overwhelmed by traffic noise. She observed that even in its currently deteriorated state, Pershing Park still attracts many visitors.
Ms. Meyer concluded that the design is moving in a good direction, but questioned the proposed 65-foot length of the bas-relief wall. She said that the essential characteristic of Friedberg's enclosure could be defined as a stepped terrace with a pool at the center and an object within the wall; however, the proposed bas-relief would be so large that it would not be an object within the wall but a much more prominent figure. She suggested that the 40-foot length proposed earlier would be a more appropriate dimension for this insertion, even though it might require compressing this narrative so much that a different sculptural design may be necessary. She expressed regret that the project team has not accepted the Commission's suggestion to use the footprint of the kiosk as a place to add a substantial, circumferential bas-relief, which could have a length of approximately 60 feet; she commented that the proposed flagpole at this location does not add significantly to the memorial's meaning. She said that a sculpture at the kiosk site could address the comment from Sandra Pershing that the statue of Gen. Pershing has no relation to any depiction of his troops; she encouraged the project team to develop a plan in which the proposed wall and a new element on the kiosk site would relate to each other. She reiterated her strong support for the overall direction of the design and said that it is very close to being resolved.
Mr. Dunson agreed with Ms. Gilbert and Ms. Meyer that presentations from other members of the project team would have been beneficial by providing a better understanding of how the proposal would respect the spirit of the original Friedberg design. He supported the effort to bring the Pershing statue into a closer relationship with other elements. He said that the length of the bas-relief wall is not a great concern, and he suggested preparing a physical model to help in understanding changes in elevation, the character of the enclosure, and how the park would open to the north.
Ms. Gilbert requested further information about the use of water, commenting that the design of water effects seems "timid." She asked if letting water cascade over the sculpture is still under consideration, and if the runnels on either side of the pool would create sound. Mr. Gregg responded that water would cascade off the sides of the wall before hitting the terrace and flowing to the pool, although the possibility of water falling over the bas-relief is still under consideration.
Mr. Krieger commented that he had found the letter from Mrs. Pershing profound, particularly in its statement about the reciprocal relation between the statue of Pershing and the bas-relief of soldiers. He called the proposed length of the wall precisely right, saying that a shorter wall would be awkward without replicating the size of the original stone fountain element. He emphasized that this design is an adaptation of Friedberg's park, not a preservation of it; the bas-relief, as a memorial to World War I, cannot simply be the formal equivalent of what was there before. He concluded that the proposed scale of the wall is correct, unless the shape of the pool is changed. He expressed appreciation for the design team's increasing respect for the Friedberg design and said he agrees that it is almost fully resolved, pending additional refinements. He also agreed that the landscape architect should have been present for this review.
Ms. Griffin expressed appreciation for the sculptor's discussion of the process of developing the design of the bas-relief, an explanation that helps the Commission to support the adaptation of the park as a memorial. However, she said that the absence of the landscape architect and other design team members is disappointing, resulting in less opportunity for a more in-depth conversation. She recalled that members of the design team had recently met with M. Paul Friedberg, and she had been looking forward to hearing about their discussion. She thanked the project team for responding to the Commission's comments from the previous review; she expressed support for the design and for the direction to incorporate touch and sound. She commented that sections through the fountain would be helpful, observing that the presentation drawings suggest the level of the water would be raised and the steps on the north and east would be eliminated. She also questioned whether the ability to touch the water—an essential component of the park—could be maintained if the water and the walk are at the same level. She asked for further information about the height and treatment of the various faces of the wall that would carry the bas-relief, especially when seen from the back; she noted that the back of the original fountain wall has a carefully designed surface treatment. She requested that the next presentation include clear details of the treatment at the rear and top of the wall. She said that collaboration between the sculptor, the landscape architects, and the other designers is important. She agreed with Ms. Meyer that the proposal to place a flagpole on the kiosk site is a missed opportunity for additional dialogue between elements; she urged more consideration of this issue with the sculptor and the landscape architect, emphasizing that the design team should take advantage of the opportunity presented by the kiosk site for more commemoration.
Chairman Powell summarized the consensus of the Commission that the concept is moving in a good direction, and he offered a motion for approval with the comments provided. Upon a second by Ms. Lehrer, the Commission adopted this action.
C. Events DC (Washington Convention and Sports Authority)
CFA 18/MAY/17-3, Carnegie Library, 801 Mount Vernon Place, NW (Mount Vernon Square at Massachusetts and New York Avenues). Building rehabilitation and exterior restoration to accommodate retail and education uses (Apple Store). Concept. Mr. Lindstrom introduced the proposed rehabilitation of the Carnegie Library, a National Historic Landmark, to accommodate a retail store for Apple, the computer products company. The building would also continue to provide space for the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. He asked Jennifer Iwu of Events DC, the District of Columbia government agency that manages the building, to begin the presentation. Ms. Iwu introduced Mike Brown of Apple, architectural historian Emily Eig of EHT Traceries, and architect Hany Hassan of Beyer Blinder Belle.
Mr. Brown provided an overview of the vision for the project, which he related to philanthropist Andrew Carnegie's vision in donating public library buildings more than a century ago: to help those who want to help themselves, by providing the means for self-improvement. He said that Apple's vision is to enrich people's lives, to help dreamers become doers, and to leave the world a better place. He described the goal of making this building a library of the 21st century, using the opportunity provided by a partnership of two entities within the building—Apple would bring the digital realm with a vision for the future, while the Historical Society brings the physical realm that encourages reflection on the past.
Mr. Brown said that the project is intended to create a sense of community through the "learning commons," where Washington's educators, students, and the general public would come together to collaborate, learn, share, and be entertained. An additional intent is to strengthen the building's civic role within the L'Enfant Plan. For example, windows that were eliminated in previous remodelings would be restored to improve the views outward along the streets and avenues that converge on Mount Vernon Square, contributing to the fulfillment of L'Enfant's description of the reciprocity of sight between the city's major open spaces. He described the library as one of the city's first Beaux Arts-style buildings constructed after the McMillan Plan of 1901–02, and the proposal includes removal of some later alterations in order to bring the building closer to its original appearance. He said that the project includes restoration of the building's exterior and the common spaces of the interior, along with replacement of outdated mechanical systems.
Mr. Brown described the range of Apple retail stores that have been established around the world; some are well known for their very modern appearance, while others involve historic preservation. He cited the Apple store at New York's historic Grand Central Terminal, as well as another Apple store in New York that recently won an award from the city's landmarks commission. Additional examples of restored historic buildings include the Apple stores in Paris and Amsterdam.
Ms. Eig said that the project is subject to federal historic preservation regulations. She described the library as a beautifully designed building that has many problems; it is currently deteriorating, and the proposed project would restore and rehabilitate it. She presented a diagram of boundaries for ownership and jurisdiction: the library building is owned by the D.C. government; the surrounding open space of Mount Vernon Square is owned by the U.S. government but administered by the D.C. government. She noted that the current proposal is primarily limited to the building itself, with only limited site alterations that are necessary as part of the building project; Events DC intends to coordinate an overall landscape proposal for Mount Vernon Square in the future.
Ms. Eig said that the historic drawings for the building's design have been obtained. They show a more elaborate design than what was actually built; the initial assumption was that many features had been removed during subsequent alterations, but further documentation has shown that the initial design was significantly simplified prior to the building's completion in order to reduce the cost. Examples include the use of less expensive materials and the simplification of the plaster work to a more austere style, especially in the reading rooms. She emphasized that the completed building was nonetheless beautiful, as seen in early photographs. She described the changes in the building's use: it remained the city's central library until 1971, when the nearby Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library opened; it was vacant for the remainder of the decade, with Mount Vernon Square fenced and inaccessible to the public; it was acquired and renovated by the University of the District of Columbia in conjunction with a planned campus on the blocks to the north, which was not implemented; and it was renovated again in the early 2000s for the Historical Society, including museum exhibit space.
Ms. Eig said that the administrative control and leasing of the building was most recently altered in 2011, with Events DC leasing space to the Historical Society and renting out some spaces for special events. However, the problematic condition of the building is now beyond the ability of Events DC to manage, and the interest of Apple is a fortunate opportunity. She presented several photographs of existing features that would be removed, dating from the Historical Society's recent renovation of the building: a theater with stepped seating; an exhibit room with a raised floor, altering the room's original proportions; and storefronts within the library's central space. She summarized the project team's thorough study of the building's history and existing condition, including assessments of the building envelope, windows, and historic finishes.
Mr. Hassan described his longstanding admiration for the Carnegie Library as an architectural gem set within a green oasis in the city. He said that recent large-scale development in the surrounding blocks has further emphasized the iconic importance of this building. He said that the design process began with careful study of the library's history, conception, and layout. He presented several plans and sections of the building with diagrammatic overlays to highlight the organization of the original design. The main entrance at the center of the south facade provided access to the primary public spaces and vertical circulation; reading rooms were to the east and west, and the circulation desk was at the center. The wing of the building extending to the north contained the library stacks and office space. A lightwell in the center of the upper floors provided exposure for a laylight above the circulation desk, bringing natural light to the heart of the public space.
Mr. Hassan said that the proposed organization of the building would have Apple occupying most of the first floor, with the Historical Society primarily on the second floor. A modern construction within the lightwell would be removed, and this area would be reconfigured as a sky-lit atrium; he said that some of the historic finishes and windows have survived in this area and would be used in the new design, resulting in an interesting tension between the historic and modern surface textures. He indicated the pair of chimneys rising above the roofline alongside the lightwell, a distinctive feature of the original design when viewed from a distance along the converging streets; these chimneys were partially obscured in recent decades by the high profile of the lightwell infill, and the proposed atrium skylight would have a lower alignment in order to restore their visual prominence. He described the atrium's purpose as a place of interaction and synergy between Apple and the Historical Society, and as a central gathering space that supports the goal of bringing the public to the building.
Mr. Hassan said that the reintroduction of the vertical open space at the center of the building, along with the placement of modern egress stairwells, results in a fragmented layout of second-floor spaces for the Historical Society. This will be addressed by providing a pair of modern-style bridge structures along the sides of the atrium at the second floor, linking the spaces used by the Historical Society while allowing ample daylight to reach the center of the first floor. He presented several perspective renderings of the proposed atrium space, including a view showing the many people who would likely be using the Apple and Historical Society spaces. He emphasized that the proposed floorplans would be consistent with the library's original organization, as expressed in the motif of paired columns and the south facade's central triple-arch configuration. He also indicated the relationship of the proposed bridges to the existing chimneys. He characterized the design of this atrium space as an honest expression of the building's original design, with the modern configuration incorporating some of the lightwell walls that were not as prominently visible to the public in the original design.
Mr. Hassan characterized the exterior changes as minimal. The existing skylights, windows, and masonry facades would be restored, and the windows would be operable. The entrance staircase on the north side, built as part of the most recent renovation for the Historical Society, would be replaced by a simpler entrance stair, and the modern canopy and signage at this entrance would be removed. He noted that the closely spaced windows on this facade were associated with the library stacks, and the window openings are too narrow for an entrance; the previous alteration to remove a portion of the center pier would therefore remain to accommodate a north entrance, and the proposal would remove the remaining upper portion of this pier to give the entrance a sense of openness. On the south side of the building, the overall configuration of the building's entrance sequence would remain unchanged. The slope of the intermediate-level entrance plaza would be reduced from approximately five percent to two percent—a safer and more accessible slope for an outdoor public space—by adding two additional steps to each flight of stairs at the north and south sides of the plaza. He indicated a modern switchback ramp that would be removed, connecting the south plaza to the sidewalk along the south side of Mount Vernon Square; instead, barrier-free access to the south plaza would be provided by the paths leading from the four corners of Mount Vernon Square. An additional modern ramp at the northeast corner of the south plaza would remain, providing access from the plaza to the lower level of the building. Perennials and shrubs would be planted in the areas immediately around the building, and these areas may also be used for stormwater retention. The sunken mechanical area on the northeast side of the building may be screened further, and a similar design may be implemented on the northwest to balance the site design symmetrically. He noted that OLIN is the landscape architecture firm on the project's design team. He concluded with a nighttime rendering of the library's south facade, emphasizing the inspirational civic character of the building.
Chairman Powell expressed overall support for the project, which he described as a straightforward proposal. Ms. Griffin said that Mount Vernon Square is a distinctive federal reservation within the city due to the unusual placement of a civic building within it, and she encouraged the development of new ideas for this location. She asked for further information about signage, particularly for Apple. Mr. Hassan responded that a comprehensive signage plan for the interior and exterior will be prepared, but it has not yet been started. He said that this plan would draw on Apple's signage program that is used for all of its stores that are located in historic buildings, and he characterized this design approach as a minimal intervention. Ms. Griffin observed that the nighttime rendering shows a pair of glowing Apple logos in the bays to each side of the primary south entrance, and she anticipated that these would be part of the signage proposal; she also cited the signage at Apple's store at Grand Central Terminal as a likely precedent. Mr. Hassan responded that an additional precedent is the Apple store on New York's Upper East Side, with simply a flag to serve as exterior signage. He said that the signage plan would be carefully considered and would be submitted for the Commission's review.
Mr. Krieger commented that the exterior Apple logos shown in the rendering would be acceptable, but he expressed concern that the interior space near the main entrance would be crowded with merchandise displays and salespeople. Mr. Hassan responded that a subsequent submission would show the layout of retail displays and customer service areas. Mr. Brown added that the primary retail spaces would be in the two former reading rooms to the east and west; the central portion of the building is intended as a gathering space and would not have merchandise. He said that people arriving through the south entrance would see tables at each side but no retail furnishings immediately ahead. Beyond the central atrium, the north side of the building would accommodate the customer service area.
Mr. Krieger noted the historical research indicating that a more elaborate building was intended before cost-saving changes were made to the design; he asked whether the intent is to restore the executed design, or perhaps to draw on Apple's financial resources to achieve the more costly design that was originally planned. Mr. Brown responded that the goal is to restore what was actually built, rather than to imagine the original intent of the architects. Mr. Krieger observed that the availability of completed design drawings could allow for an accurate restoration of the original design intent, and he encouraged further consideration of this issue.
Ms. Lehrer commended the project and asked if it could be characterized as a public-private partnership; Mr. Brown responded that the funding is entirely from Apple, but the project does involve a partnership arrangement with the non-profit Historical Society. Ms. Lehrer expressed appreciation for the private-sector involvement, along with the hope that members of the community could participate in activities at this location even if they cannot afford Apple products. Mr. Brown said that public engagement is an important component, and he cited the company's recently announced program, "Today at Apple," that provides community events and training at Apple stores. As an example, he said that some free sessions involve applications using iPads, and an iPad would be lent to attendees who do not already have one for the session. He said that Today at Apple is already in place at Apple's nearby store in Georgetown, and it will be a key program at the Carnegie Library site.
Ms. Gilbert asked for clarification of the landscape proposal, which was briefly presented but was also described as being beyond the project scope. Mr. Brown said that some landscape work is required to address stormwater management, in accordance with D.C. government regulations based on the size of the project. He said that Apple is not comfortable proposing an overall design for Mount Vernon Square, which should be planned as a bigger project for the community. He said that Apple's purpose in the current project is to bring the building back to full use, while the community should decide whether any changes are needed to Mount Vernon Square. He noted Mr. Hassan's characterization of the existing open space as a beautiful place of respite among the steel and glass buildings of the surrounding blocks, and the best choice may be not to change it.
Ms. Gilbert commented that the concept of an interactive forum, presented as the design intent for the building's interior, could also be achieved in the outdoor space. She also observed that the proposal includes some site work, and she encouraged a more comprehensive consideration of the entire open space as an urban oasis within the neighborhood. She cited examples of current problems such as trees in poor condition and dry patches within the lawns. Mr. Brown clarified that the proposal does include treatment of the existing trees to address conditions such as soil compaction; a tree survey has been prepared, and pruning would be done. Ms. Gilbert observed that the lengthy and passionate presentation focused on discovering the building's history, while the landscape also has a history. She supported such measures as pruning and root care, which may seem banal but are actually critical to achieving a successful landscape. She emphasized that people coming to the building would also enjoy being in the outdoor space, and she encouraged the project team to understand the landscape as contributing to Apple's intended programming.
Mr. Krieger commented that funding of landscape improvements as part of the current project could be advantageous. Ms. Iwu responded that the complex jurisdictional issues are a constraint; Events DC, the applicant for the current project, controls the building but not the entirety of Mount Vernon Square, although it maintains the open space through an agreement with the D.C. government. She acknowledged the general issue of considering the wider landscape, which she said has long been of interest to Events DC, but emphasized that Events DC cannot bring forward an overall design for Mount Vernon Square at this time. Mr. Krieger said that an unfortunate result of delay may be that the site improvements would be constructed several years after the building renovation, rather than simultaneously or immediately afterward. He suggested further consultation, whether with Apple or other entities, to coordinate the timing of the building and site improvements. Ms. Meyer suggested a consensus that the Commission's approval of the proposal would be contingent on attempting this coordination, which could perhaps be characterized as a philanthropic gesture by Apple to enhance a National Park Service reservation. She cautioned against the outcome of a beautifully restored building that is set within a poorly maintained site, which is frequently a concern in Washington. She expressed support for the project, particularly commenting the rehabilitation of the historic library to serve as a new type of learning facility, and she encouraged the further goal of having the building serve this purpose within a revitalized open space reservation. Ms. Lehrer added that implementing landscape and architectural improvements together is notably more cost-effective than addressing them separately.
Ms. Lehrer offered a motion to approve the concept submission, which Chairman Powell said would include a recommendation to coordinate site improvements. Upon a second by Mr. Dunson, the Commission adopted this action.
D. District of Columbia Department of Transportation
CFA 18/MAY/17-4, Cleveland Park, 3300 to 3500 blocks of Connecticut Avenue, NW (between Macomb and Porter Streets). Streetscape improvements. Concept. (Previous: CFA 16/MAR/17-3.) Ms. Batcheler introduced a revised concept submission for streetscape improvements along the Connecticut Avenue commercial corridor in the Cleveland Park neighborhood. She said that in the previous review of March 2017, the Commission expressed support for the project but did not take an action, recommending more rigorous definition of the intended design character for the streetscape and reconsideration of the design for the service lane on the east side of Connecticut Avenue. She asked Paul Hoffman of the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) and landscape architect Oliver Boehm of the consulting firm Volkert to present the design.
Secretary Luebke noted that the Commission's previous review had provided specific advice for the development of the design; he encouraged the presenters to exclude the project background and focus on the proposed revisions. Ms. Meyer said that the current design appears not to have changed substantially, based on her review of the submission materials distributed in advance of the meeting; she reiterated the Commission's previous advice that the design team avoid a simple aggregation of streetscape elements and instead articulate a clear conceptual idea for the project.
Mr. Boehm skipped several presentation slides detailing the project's existing conditions and stormwater management issues, and he instead began the presentation with a slide listing the Commission's previous recommendations and a description of how the revised design responds to these recommendations. He summarized the Commission's previous guidance: a reinforced sense of place; a design approach that draws on the corridor's strong architectural character; support for the use of granite paving to strengthen the character of Cleveland Park while cautioning against a literal expression of the site's early history as a granite quarry; and a stronger tree canopy, especially along the service lane.
Ms. Meyer emphasized that the Commission's recommendations were intended to lead the design team to a more coherent and unified conceptual idea; she asked if this idea would be included in the presentation. Mr. Boehm responded that the intent is a streetscape design that improves Cleveland Park's commercial area by responding to the neighborhood's history and existing architecture, as well as to community input. Ms. Meyer said that these intentions are articulations of functional and programmatic parameters rather than a unified conceptual idea. She said that if this idea is not part of the presentation, then the project should be resubmitted for a future meeting after further revision. Mr. Hoffman emphasized that the streetscape improvements comprise only a third of the overall project, which includes extensive stormwater infrastructure in nearby alleys, and he said that the designers are using established streetscape tools in DDOT's Public Realm Design Manual to match the context of the area. He acknowledged that the designers have not been tasked to think deeply about "re-theming" the Cleveland Park streetscape. He requested that the Commission members provide more specific suggestions to help develop the design.
Mr. Krieger questioned the extent of revising the design in response to the Commission's previous comments, commenting that he does not observe any dramatic difference in the design from the previous review. He expressed disappointment that the design team has not developed a more coherent overall conceptual idea, and he suggested that proceeding with the presentation would not be fruitful if the proposal does not incorporate substantive changes. Mr. Hoffman said that the presentation would show a revised design, adding that truncating review of the current design would merely add time to the project schedule; the contract has already been extended and will end in early 2018. He emphasized that an important goal of the project has been to eliminate the area's persistent flooding problem by the summer of 2018, and further delays would jeopardize this goal. He added that a further submission would most likely not have new and better ideas for the project. Mr. Krieger agreed that the presentation could continue, but requested a succinct focus on the changes to the design.
Mr. Boehm presented a drawing of the proposed streetscape, noting that much of the design remains the same because it is limited by DDOT's design standards and the various user groups in the Cleveland Park community. He indicated the locations along the service road median and near the eastern Metro station entrance where the proposed soil volume has been expanded to allow for additional trees and shade; he also indicated new proposed curb bulb-outs. He said that the service lane would be paved with granite blocks of a quality similar to what was historically quarried in the area; this granite would also be used throughout the project for elements including tree boxes, walls of the bioretention cells, and paving bands, including those that would define the proposed outdoor restaurant dining area on Connecticut Avenue's western sidewalk. The granite walls of the five bioretention cells would be decorated with markings intended to replicate the appearance of channeling lines historically found on granite blocks or quarry walls. He also described the Art Deco-inspired bollards that would be distributed throughout the project area, serving as informal seating areas.
Mr. Hoffman emphasized that the commercial tenants along Connecticut Avenue are eager to bring more activity to their businesses and the area. He said that the proposed design offered an elevated material palette when compared to DDOT's standard streetscape treatments, which usually feature concrete sidewalks and some brick detailing; he referenced the proposed treatment of the storefront sidewalks and the extensive use of granite, which DDOT usually uses only for curbing and in new streetscape projects.
Ms. Griffin commented that the Commission members are having difficulty in evaluating the proposal due to its poor documentation, with only a single combined drawing and limited renderings to show the various components of the proposal, and she questioned whether the design team has created a coherent streetscape strategy across the various layers of the project. For example, one presented rendering seems to specify large cobblestones in the parking area of the service lane, differently sized cobblestones in the driveway area, and a third paving type for the sidewalk. She said that this is a design strategy she would most likely support, but a separate paving plan would make the intent much clearer. She also recalled discussions during the previous review regarding the underground constraints on planting trees, particularly in the service lane median; she observed that the submission materials do not make clear the extent of these constraints and do not differentiate the existing trees from those that are proposed. She commented that the trees rendered at the southeast corner of Connecticut Avenue and Ordway Street seem to be poorly sited in relation to pedestrian circulation, but this concern is difficult to evaluate within the context of a larger landscape strategy because of a lack of sufficient documentation. She questioned both the conception and placement of the proposed Art Deco-inspired bollards, commenting that their random arrangement in the furnishing zones seems to be inappropriately inspired by large and open plazas, which can more readily accommodate this type of arrangement than the more constrained sidewalks of this project area. She therefore suggested that these various components—existing conditions, the ground plane, paving, landscape plantings, and furnishings—be documented in separate drawings. Finally, she questioned whether the other elements selected from DDOT's streetscape standards, such as trash receptacles and benches, are the most appropriate choices for this project, especially when considering the rich analysis of the area's architectural character as presented at the first review.
Mr. Krieger agreed that the Commission members are having difficulty understanding the proposal's intent because of the way the design has been presented. Ms. Griffin said that the Commission may be more receptive to the design if presented with more diagrams and better organization of the materials. She provided the further examples of the difficulty in understanding the placement of benches, bollards, and trees, as well as the overall grading of the site. Mr. Hoffman responded that schematic sections and enlarged renderings could help clarify the project area's varied topography and better illustrate the proposed design, which attempts to balance the project's various constraints with its opportunities. Ms. Griffin agreed, commenting that the current submission materials make the project seem as though it is a simple kit of parts, and she expressed optimism that with more work it could cohere around a unifying concept. She reiterated that the preparation of separate paving, landscape, and furnishing plans would help the Commission in evaluating each aspect of the design and how they come together to create identity and character. Ms. Meyer added that axonometric sections in critical areas, drawn at a conventional scale of 1/2" = 1', would also be beneficial in conveying the intended character and sense of place.
Mr. Hoffman asked if continuing with the presentation would be useful; Ms. Griffin said she doubted that continuing would help her evaluate the project. Chairman Powell suggested that the Commission members provide further comments based on their evaluation of the submission materials that were distributed before the meeting.
Ms. Meyer recalled the discussion in the previous review about the corridor's diverse architectural context, and she recommended that the streetscape design not focus so narrowly on Art Deco motifs. She suggested that the Commission may be more receptive to a design that develops a vocabulary for the ground plane that gives the corridor an identity. Whatever vocabulary is chosen, she emphasized that this design character has to be clearly defined, which does not appear to have been done in the current proposal. She noted that the programmatic requirement of stormwater management could serve as a compelling conceptual underpinning from which to derive this character, and she suggested that the project team think about the design as a high-performing landscape that must mitigate flooding. She cautioned that coherent character is not intrinsic in a highly designed bollard but is derived from fundamental design gestures such as the quality, texture, and porosity of the ground plane and the relationship between tree boxes and the sidewalk. Mr. Hoffman agreed that additional work on the design would be more beneficial than further presentation of the current design.
Chairman Powell emphasized that the Commission is eager to work with the project team to produce an acceptable design; he encouraged further consultation with the staff. Mr. Boehm and Mr. Hoffman responded that the comments provided have been helpful. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
E. District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
1. Old Georgetown Act
OG 17-146, West Heating Plant, 1051-1055 29th Street, NW. New replacement multi-unit residential building and garden. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the proposal for a combination of rehabilitation and demolition of the West Heating Plant, formerly a government-owned facility, to become a private-sector residential building. He noted that the project has previously been reviewed by the Commission's Old Georgetown Board, which is now referring the case for the Commission's review. He described the historic significance of the existing building, constructed between 1942 and 1948 in the Art Moderne style. Its architect was William Dewy Foster, who later became a member of the Old Georgetown Board at its creation in 1950; the project was under the direction of Gilbert Stanley Underwood of the federal government's Public Works Administration, precursor to today's General Services Administration (GSA). He cited the building's heroic massing and abstract detailing, exemplifying the New Deal era's aspirations for public infrastructure, and he said that it may be the best example of this period in Washington.
Mr. Luebke said that the GSA sold the property in 2013; the deed of sale included a covenant providing for the long-term preservation of the building, with the requirement that any redevelopment conform to local preservation laws as well as federal standards for rehabilitation of historic buildings. The new owner has made numerous submissions to the Old Georgetown Board in the subsequent years, including the presentation of an engineering study on the building's structural integrity; an additional peer-review engineering study was also provided at the Board's request. The engineering studies agree that rehabilitation would require extensive repairs to treat the building's steel frame and retain the exterior brick, requiring removal of the interior backup wall of terra cotta; the studies vary in their conclusions about how much repair would be required. The owner has also presented the Board with three different concept designs since 2013, all for residential use; each proposal included extensive demolition of the historic building, and none were approved by the Board.
Mr. Luebke said that the current proposal would keep the western side of the existing heating plant, which includes the main entrance, as well as portions of the site's perimeter wall; the remainder of the building would be demolished. He characterized the proposed construction as essentially a new building, along with site alterations that would include a park on the south and a pedestrian walkway on the east along Rock Creek, with access to the C&O Canal whose easternmost segment is on the north side of the site. In accordance with a determination by the D.C. zoning administrator, the proportion of the existing building that would remain—with the remaining site wall included in the calculation—is sufficient to allow the new building to have the same massing as the existing building, which is larger than would be allowed by zoning for an entirely new project. He described the proposed building as a reconstructed reinterpretation of the existing heating plant, with comparable brick facades but several different features: the vertically grouped windows on the long side elevations to the north and south would be comparable to the existing window groupings, but they would be more closely spaced to allow for more windows; the proposed east facade, facing the parkland along Rock Creek, would have a central window bay approximately twice as wide as the window bay on the existing east facade; portions of the facades near the building corners, top residential floor, and penthouse would be perforated to provide daylight for the interior spaces; and operable folding panels within the facade would allow the opportunity for additional daylight for the apartments, addressing the difficulty of accommodating residential use within the existing industrial building's exterior configuration of limited window openings.
Mr. Luebke reported that the Board has stated its willingness to consider alterations to the building for adaptive reuse, as long as the building's fundamental character-defining features are preserved. The Board has urged treating the project as rehabilitation rather than as substantial demolition, in keeping with historic preservation standards and the special importance of this building. The Board has also noted the prominence of this site as a gateway to the Georgetown historic district, urging a carefully conceived design that would respect the monumentality of the existing building—including its stark massiveness that is established by the exterior's extensive planes of brick and the high ratio of solid to void.
Mr. Luebke noted that the Board's report and recommendation has been distributed to the Commission members for consideration; the Commission may also choose to provide guidance on the process for future submissions. He indicated the Board's recommendation against approval of the submitted concept design, with the request for a new concept submission that follows principles of rehabilitation for the historic building.
Mr. Luebke acknowledged the numerous members of the project team involved in the presentation, as well as members of the public who may wish to speak for or against the proposal. To begin the presentation, he introduced two members of the project development team, Nnenna Lynch of The Georgetown Company and former D.C. mayor Anthony Williams.
Mayor Williams said that he is a partner of the project's development team, which includes Richard Levy of The Levy Group; he said that Mr. Levy is a Georgetown native who has been involved in the redevelopment of more than twenty historic buildings in the neighborhood. He also acknowledged the work of The Georgetown Company, based in New York; he said that this company is known for iconic developments in New York such as a corporate headquarters designed by Frank Gehry, as well as non-profit projects such as Bryant Park and the Park Avenue Armory. He said that the top executives of The Georgetown Company had worked with him and his administration to launch the redevelopment of Washington's public library buildings, which has largely been implemented and is still continuing. He noted that two of Washington's new branch libraries were designed by David Adjaye, the architect for the current submission. He cited his former mayoral role as the city's chief planner, expressing pride in the rejuvenation of the D.C. Office of Planning and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office during his administration. He also cited his administration's vision of urban growth that included a projection that the city would grow by 1,000 residents per month, which had initially seemed laughable but has become an accepted estimate. He acknowledged the role of the architecture critic Paul Goldberger, who will be providing remarks later in the presentation, in assisting the initial project team with the selection of an architect prior to the government's auction of the heating plant site; he said that the project team selected three finalists, and chose Mr. Adjaye as the clear winner due to his appreciation of the building's key architectural design elements and its structural constraints, along with a vision for its future.
Mayor Williams provided three closing comments on the project. He emphasized that cities are living, evolving entities that must undergo transformations in order to continue to contribute to the public realm. He said that the praise of some people for the heating plant is overstated; its importance to the Georgetown historic district is limited due to its federal purpose and its location at the far eastern edge of the neighborhood, and the construction of the building had obliterated the significant historic site of the canal's dry dock while imposing on the African American neighborhood that existed south of M Street. He characterized the existing building as a monument to environmental injustice, and he therefore questioned the need to honor it. Finally, he described Mr. Adjaye's concept design as sensitive and imaginative; in transforming the heating plant into a residential building, the design would respect the historic architectural details without being constrained by them. He added that the site design would also be an important contribution to the longstanding efforts to revitalize the waterfront. He summarized that he saw many development projects in his role as mayor, and he said this proposal achieves the rare combination of satisfying environmental needs, neighborhood interests, economic imperatives, and historic preservation.
Ms. Lynch said that The Georgetown Company is working with The Levy Group as the developer for the West Heating Plant. She provided an overview of The Georgetown Company's work, noting that her New York firm may be less familiar to the Commission than Mr. Levy's Washington-based firm. She said that The Georgetown Company dates from 1978 and has projects in many areas of the country, and she presented images of several of the company's projects in New York and Columbus, Ohio.
Ms. Lynch described her company's principles for the heating plant project: embrace community input; honor the site and preserve as much of the historic fabric as possible; and develop a world-class project. She said that the project team has been working closely with several community organizations throughout the development process, resulting in broad and enthusiastic community support for the proposal; she added that representatives of the community groups are present to address the Commission. She summarized the history of the project, noting that the heating plant has been unused since 2000, which has resulted in structural problems. The development partnership bought the heating plant in 2013 and has subsequently made five presentations to the Old Georgetown Board, beginning in November 2013 and continuing to two presentations earlier this year.
Ms. Lynch said that beginning in 2012, the project team has been thoroughly studying the structural challenges of the heating plant, resulting in two conclusions that have guided the design process: the building cannot be preserved in its entirety, and any adaptive reuse cannot meet The Secretary of the Interior's Standards. She said that this outcome was anticipated in the 2013 deed that was executed with the GSA: the covenant concerning compliance with historic preservation standards also has a clause that the standards can be waived for good cause, a condition that she said exists in this case.
Ms. Lynch emphasized that this project should be seen in a wider context than just the building and the design issues. The project would transform a contaminated and long-blighted site, replacing a walled-off coal yard with an elevated park, and resulting in a world-class "gem" for the neighborhood. She said that the developers have made a strong effort to assemble a team of prominent designers, all with a strong civic conscience.
Ms. Lynch introduced the remaining presenters: engineer Joel Silverman, the project's head of construction and a professor at Columbia University; historic preservation consultant Emily Eig of EHT Traceries; architect David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates; landscape architect Laurie Olin of OLIN; and architecture critic and writer Paul Goldberger.
Mr. Silverman addressed the issues of the building's engineering problems and the potential for preservation of its historic fabric. He said that two major concerns have emerged from the study: hazardous materials and structural problems. A hazardous material survey has been conducted, identifying the extensive presence of asbestos from the building's decades of operation as a heating plant. He noted that asbestos was not understood as a hazardous material until the late 1970s, and its use was widespread before that time. The survey also identified the problem of heavy metal contamination in the concrete, including the extensive presence of mercury that was used in the steam plant's instrumentation and fluorescent lighting. He said that spilled mercury soaks into concrete and is almost impossible to remove without removing and disposing of the concrete.
Mr. Silverman said that many of the structural issues arise from the unusual purpose of this building: it was designed primarily as a masonry enclosure for a set of boilers, pumps, and other coal-burning equipment. While conventional buildings have regularly spaced floor slabs that provide lateral bracing and structural support for the exterior walls, the heating plant structure instead has unusually large areas of unsupported, unreinforced masonry walls without intermediate floor slabs. He said that this building or enclosure is uninsulated and is porous to water. During the decades when the heating plant was in operation, the interior was warm at all times, serving to dry out any water that reached interstitial spaces within the outer wall assembly; however, the heating plant has not been operational for the past 16-17 years, and the presence of moisture within the wall has become problematic. As a result of these issues, he concluded that most of the exterior walls are in danger and cannot be preserved; only the western portion of the building, which has intermediate floor slabs, can be preserved. He emphasized that this conclusion is based on five years of study, with consideration of the economic and aesthetic issues as well as the structural concerns.
Mr. Silverman played a videotape presentation providing a summary of the structural investigation. The video narration explained that conventional construction with floor slabs allows for localized repairs within a masonry wall, while the heating plant's extensive spans would require larger areas of masonry to be removed for repairs. The narration also identified the corrosion of the steel structural frame within the masonry wall assembly, resulting from the moisture penetration; the steel has expanded as it rusts, introducing forces that put tension on the facade, and the resulting masonry cracks allow for additional moisture penetration as well as vulnerability to freeze-thaw cycles. The facade has therefore become increasingly unstable, and repair in most areas would require disassembly of the masonry in order to address the problems with the steel frame.
Mr. Silverman presented additional photographs of the structural deterioration, indicating the masonry cracks that have been increasing in size during the five years of study. He said that the expansion of the rusting steel is pushing outward on the brick facade, and the bricks are being held in place only by the mortar, which is itself deteriorating. He reiterated that the deterioration is much less significant along the west facade due to the stabilization provided by multiple floor slabs. He also noted that an earthquake would further exacerbate the stresses on the walls, perhaps causing them to collapse. He said that the best solution to prevent the failure of the north, south, and east exterior walls would be removal of the masonry, repair of the steel frame, reinstallation of the masonry, and improved structural support through the introduction of intermediate floor slabs. He noted that the issue of hazardous materials also needs to be addressed; this is primarily a problem on the interior, separate from the structural issues of the exterior walls. He emphasized that he and the project team's structural engineering firm have a longstanding interest in historic preservation, but a rehabilitation approach would not be feasible for this building.
Ms. Eig recalled that she initially declined to join the project team in 2015, expecting that the heating plant should be preserved instead of following the design approach of saving only the western portion of it. However, after reading the reports on the building's materials and structure, produced by firms experienced in preservation issues, she came to understand the complexity of trying to preserve the building.
Ms. Eig noted the regulatory status of the building: it is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and it is not listed as a D.C. landmark. She described the building as an example of Georgetown's industrial history, and it is also associated with the period soon after the National Park Service's acquisition of the adjacent C&O Canal. Initial plans for developing the canal as a recreational park included the lock and dry dock that were located at this site. But the federal government instead decided to construct the heating plant, with this site selected because it had rail access for coal deliveries and it was already owned by the government. She said that an additional factor was that the nearby residents were among the poorest in the city; this part of Georgetown was derelict, and there was an interest in improving the area's appearance. She said that the siting of the heating plant had frustrated the National Park Service's plan for the canal, and it took many years to achieve the park along the canal as we know it today.
Ms. Eig said that adaptive reuse of single-purpose structures can be challenging, particularly in combination with structural problems; the result is that sometimes a structure cannot be saved, and she emphasized that she is convinced of this conclusion for this building. More specifically, she said that the heating plant cannot be preserved in a manner that is consistent with the Secretary of the Interior's standards and guidelines, regardless of the building's future use, and she said that the owners have good cause for seeking approval of a compromise solution that includes preservation, quality design, and community benefits.
Ms. Eig said that Mr. Adjaye's design approach has been to celebrate the building's significant architectural details and, based on consultation with the D.C. Office of Planning and the Historic Preservation Office, to preserve the heating plant's visual presence while achieving a feasible project. An initial step was to identify the heating plant's most prominent character-defining features; these include the exterior solid-to-void proportion, the material and its treatment, including the rusticated corners; the east elevation fenestration; street orientation; and the massing and height. She said that numerous design studies have been generated, with varying success in their aesthetics and functionality. The current design is the result of this lengthy process, and she described it as a well-balanced solution that is based on consultation with the D.C. government and community representatives. She said that the proposal preserves the west wall, the stone foundation and basement, and the perimeter stone wall around the former coal yard. It also would re-create the heating plant's stepped roof, simple cornice, and visual presence, including the basic massing and height of the existing building. The proposal also uses buff brick in a manner similar to the existing building's treatment, including smooth unadorned wall surfaces, a more ornamental use of brick at the corners, and rounded corners on the east facade. She acknowledged that the fenestration of the proposed design differs from the existing fenestration but notes the close relationship, using a design variation that she said honors the width and height of the existing window openings; the result does not match the existing proportion of solid to void, but it is a design that makes the project feasible.
Ms. Eig summarized that the proposal would preserve all of the historic material that she believes can be preserved, although not enough to meet preservation standards or to satisfy some members of the preservation community. She emphasized that a perfect preservation solution is not possible for this project; nonetheless, the proposal is respectful of the heating plant's historic character and introduces design features that are compatible but distinctly innovative, resulting in a clear understanding of what parts of the project are new or old. She said that the inventive design approach resolves the numerous challenges and allows for the continuation of the building's design character without simply replicating the existing structure.
Mr. Adjaye described the primary design challenge of converting a single-purpose industrial structure into a residential building. One issue is the extent of window area as a proportion of the facades; the existing power plant has a proportion of fourteen percent, while an ideal residential building would have a proportion of sixty to seventy percent. The goal for this project has been to achieve an intermediate ratio of approximately forty to fifty percent. He indicated the western portion of the building that would remain, which is necessary to qualify for the zoning allowance to reuse the existing building's volume. He also indicated the existing vertical groupings of windows—eight strips on the north facade, and six strips on the south facade where the two expected end strips were omitted due to interior elevators and equipment. Single windows below each strip provide further emphasis of the fenestration pattern. He presented a plan diagram of how the existing floorplate and fenestration pattern could be adapted to residential use; due to the building depth and the scarcity of windows, he said that much of the floor area would not be habitable. Alternative layouts with deeper configurations, loft-style apartments, or interior openings were also studied but were not considered successful as residential spaces. He acknowledged that some of these challenges result from the proposed choice of residential use for the building, but he said that the broader consensus is that this use is the best choice for the property. He also emphasized that a successful strategy for the building is necessary to support the other benefits of the proposal, including environmental remediation, creation of a park, and improvements along the C&O Canal.
Mr. Adjaye presented further observations of the existing building and site. He said that the building's composition is traditionally grouped into a base, middle, and top; the overall character combines abstracted classicism with the flat planes of the Art Deco style. He indicated the existing stone base around much of the building, although it is omitted on the south and part of the east facade, where the coal yard historically abutted the building; he noted the later introduction of oil tanks on the site. He presented interior photographs, indicated the steel cross-bracing along the exterior walls that would interfere with the addition of sufficient residential windows.
Mr. Adjaye described the simple proposed organization of the building along an east-west axis, with a portal on the west facing 29th Street and a portal on the east facing the mouth of the canal at Rock Creek, serving as monumental gateways to the building. He indicated the beautiful curved brick framing of the deeply recessed west portal, fabric of the historic building that would remain. Along the long north and south sides of the building, he described the vertical groupings of windows—which would be reintroduced in a modified way in the new construction—as conveying the effect of "colonnades" along the facades; due to the single windows at the base, he also likened them to exclamation points. He said that details of the proposed design were developed as extensions of the existing building's vocabulary, such as ventilation through brick louvers; the proposed system of folding exterior panels is based on the proportions and operation of the existing window system. He emphasized the simple organization of the proposed plan, which the vertical circulation core aligned east-west at the center of the building. Much of the mechanical equipment would be placed at the lower level behind the site wall, away from public view, avoiding the need for extensive equipment at the roof; the mechanical penthouse would contain elevator overruns within a perforated brick enclosure, designed to emphasize its horizontality as a terminus to the vertical articulation of the building below. He presented the proposed elevation drawings including an overlay comparison with the existing elevations; he indicated the different position of the windows to provide ten vertical groupings on both the north and south facades. He said that notwithstanding the changed window pattern, the design respects the overall rhythm and proportions of the existing facades along with their rusticated edges. He described the proposed east elevation as a greater departure from the existing building: the monumental central window bay would be reconstructed at double the width, which he said would have the effect of opening up the building and celebrating the original building's role as a large-scale enclosure.
Mr. Adjaye indicated other window openings toward the top and corners of the facades—areas of solid enclosure on the existing building—that would be designed with hydraulically operated shutters, a system that is being newly developed for this project in order to balance the goal of transparency for the residents with the appearance of solidity for the exterior. He said that one feature is to automatically close the shutters for a unit when the residents leave the building, returning the building closer to the historic appearance. These areas would have a perforated pattern of brick, and he characterized the broad horizontal band as forming a "frieze" across the upper part of the facades. He also noted that this detail would relate to the modern window awnings of the Four Seasons Hotel across the canal to the north, as well as the traditional awnings of the Georgetown neighborhood. He presented photographs of related systems and of the prototypes being developed at his firm's London office; he expressed confidence that the system would be viable, as issues of weight and cost are studied further.
Mr. Adjaye summarized that the architectural proposal is largely a construction that honors the essential character of the existing building, while not literally reconstructing it; the effect would be a modern layering on the historic industrial appearance. He described this layering as a poetic effect that announces the building's modern transformation. He added that the mechanical feature of the shutters is especially appropriate because the building has always been about technology, due to its original purpose to house machinery. He said that the decision not to pursue a strict preservation approach has allowed the flexibility to express the history through transformation and additive layering.
Mr. Olin presented the proposal for the site design. He described the location at the convergence of the C&O Canal and Rock Creek, with the Potomac River and the elevated Whitehurst Freeway to the south. He cited research with early maps, showing that the site has long been primarily industrial, and it was not extensively developed until the late 19th century. The site had included a lumberyard, the canal's dry dock, and other uses, and he noted that the waterfront area south of M Street, including this site, was generally industrial for centuries. Georgetown was a port city, and at one time it was one of the world's largest ports for shipping tobacco. He said that the canal was used to haul freight until it ceased operation. He also noted the African American community in the vicinity, as previously described; many residents worked at the docks. He said that public pressure for beautification along Rock Creek dates from after the Civil War, receiving attention from landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.; his son then worked on the Senate Park Commission (McMillan) Plan of 1901–02, which addressed the opportunity for parkland in this area and throughout the city. He said that as recently as the 1980s, the National Capital Planning Commission had been mapping this site as parkland, anticipating that the existing power plant might eventually be removed. He summarized that the site history provides the inspiration of industrial legacy and social issues, with a tough reality in contrast to the modern romanticized understanding of the canal. He said that the transformation of the waterfront area began in the later part of the 20th century, changing the industrial and working-class district to a very different gentrified character.
Mr. Olin described how this history has informed the current proposal; while discounting the value of nostalgia, he said that the memory of a site can be useful inspiration. He said that historically, the materials on the site would be cobbles, mud, manure from the canal mules and horses, wood, and tobacco, and the more modern materials from the heating plant's use include coal and oil tanks. He noted that the stone wall around the perimeter of the site is not just historical decoration; it is a flood-protection wall. He said that an initial inspiration is the design aesthetic of the period of the heating plant's construction in the 1940s; the landscape architecture field in this period was somewhat ahead of the building design field, which tended to emphasize the Georgian style. He described the modernism in landscape architecture that was emerging from Latin America, Europe, and the U.S. West Coast, as landscape architects were beginning to use new materials and to look at indoor-outdoor living. He said that this period's landscape design history, rather than its architectural history, would therefore be the better inspiration. He acknowledged that the site would not return to industrial use, nor would that be desirable.
Mr. Olin said that the presence of the site wall has resulted in placing the proposed park elevated above the adjacent sidewalk and street—an unusual design approach that would normally be considered problematic, but that works well for this site. He noted that a park at street level would be hidden behind the existing wall, and other uses such as parking are instead proposed for this street-level space beneath the proposed landscape. The site design also provides the opportunity for a recreational path that would connect the Potomac Riverfront on the south to M Street north of the canal, fulfilling a longstanding goal of greater connectivity for the area's park system. He noted that the recently built Georgetown Waterfront Park to the west is a particularly important amenity.
Mr. Olin said that the relatively small site for the park would support only one or two design gestures. He had considered an east-west alignment for a pool, but instead decided to align it north–south along the 29th Street edge of the park. He presented the resulting design, indicating the pool, pergola, mound, lawn, and seating areas. He indicated the Whitehurst Freeway ramp to the south, which generates traffic noise that should be screened; running water is therefore proposed for the park. He said that the resulting design provides ample space for people to sit, stroll, or gather. He indicated the canal towpath along the north and northeast edges of the site, where readily visible access between the park and the rest of the city can be provided. Additional access toward K Street would be provided on the south with a broad staircase that would be partially planted. He also indicated a proposed metal stair and ramp with an industrial character, leading to the canal towpath; he said that an area between the heating plant site and the canal lock would not be accessible to the public, at the request of the National Park Service. He noted that the proposed bridge and path system crossing the canal is deliberately designed to include two changes of direction, which will serve to slow bicyclists on the downhill route and would allow for a shorter bridge span.
Mr. Olin said that some of the park's walking surfaces could be paved in wood blocks, a historic paving material in Georgetown and other cities; he said that this would be more comfortable to walk on than a comparably authentic surface of cobblestones. He added that the wood blocks could be used beneath the wood pergolas for a unified design character. Historic materials would be used to line the water basin, suggesting a submerged memory of the past. He said that the park's plantings could include American chestnut trees, which have been scarce but are becoming available; he said that this type of tree was probably more common than elm trees in this area during the time of Washington and Lincoln. Other trees would include willow oaks, which are native to this region, and bald cypress. He said that jasmine and Nicotiana would also be used, generating a nice aroma. He indicated the planned locations for trees, including a visual screening between the park and the Whitehurst Freeway ramp.
Mr. Goldberger said that he served as an advisor to The Georgetown Company at the early stage of this project, assisting in the eventual selection of David Adjaye as architect. He added that his writings, as well as his long-term service as a trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, are also relevant background for his comments. He said that issues of the philosophy of historic preservation are central to this project. The paradox is that a residential program for the site makes good sense for the neighborhood and has received widespread support, but this program is incompatible with the site's building. He said that this issue of program would remain even if the building's structural issues could be resolved; the building could only be workable for a very limited range of extraordinary and unusual programs. He suggested that the National Building Museum could be a candidate but has no need to move from its current home; and little interest is evident for creating a museum comparable to London's Tate Modern. He concluded that the residential program has emerged as the best, and the paradox of the building must therefore be addressed.
Mr. Goldberger said that he is not a "preservation fundamentalist," and he generally believes that buildings, except for a small number of cultural masterpieces, should evolve over time. He acknowledged that the heating plant is highly valued, and appropriately so, but said that it does not appear to rise to the category of a cultural masterpiece that should be considered untouchable. He emphasized that we must accept the idea of change if we want the building to remain living and contribute to the neighborhood. He said that Mr. Adjaye has used enormous sensitivity in addressing the project's paradox, resulting in a solution that would change the building to make it work for its new program, while acknowledging and even enhancing the existing architectural qualities. He acknowledged that the proposal is an intervention with the building, but he described it as a needed intervention in order to allow the building to stay the same, as suggested by the English writer G.K. Chesterton: "If you want something to stay the same, it's a fallacy that you leave it alone. . . . You must always intervene to keep it as you want it." Mr. Goldberger added that Mr. Adjaye has combined the skill of an architectural historian with the imagination of an architect, masterfully achieving a delicate balance.
Chairman Powell invited comments from members of the audience. Lisa Palmer spoke on behalf of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2E, whose area encompasses the project site. She presented the ANC's resolution from April 2017: the ANC took no position on the appropriateness of the proposed demolition, while voting to support the project's updated concept design if the demolition is approved. Ms. Palmer added that her own single-member district includes the project site, and she represents the residents in the immediate vicinity. Based on her extensive conversations with residents in recent months, she said that the vast majority of her constituents strongly support the proposed design concept by Mr. Adjaye and Mr. Olin, including the elevated public park. She said that the consensus of the neighbors is that they would only support a residential project for this site, because the block cannot accommodate the additional traffic that would result from an office building or a public building such as a museum. One of the few criticisms she has heard from neighbors is the potential increase in demand for on-street parking as a result of this project, which she said would be relatively minor compared to other types of development. She described the existing heating plant as vacant, decrepit, and unsafe, while characterizing the proposal as a low-impact project. She anticipated the future development of this east side of the street so that its foreboding, overgrown character would be transformed to be comparable to the well-tended streetscape on the west side of 29th Street. She added that the neighbors have supported the project, not only for its own aesthetic contribution to the neighborhood, but also for improving connectivity between the Georgetown waterfront and the Rock Creek recreational areas, a longstanding goal of the community. She said that most of the neighbors are frustrated by the long wait for the redevelopment of the site, now approaching twenty years, and she requested the Commission's approval of the concept submission so that the project can move forward to detailed design and then implementation. She summarized that this gateway site can become a vibrant and beautiful location comparable to others in the Georgetown community.
Bob vom Eigen, president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown (CAG), addressed the Commission. He said that CAG has supported the conversion of the heating plant into an attractive condominium building with a public park that would benefit Georgetown residents and visitors. He said that CAG has voiced its support since 2012, including comments to the Old Georgetown Board, and continues to support the current design. He acknowledged that the heating plant is considered to be a contributing building to the historic district, but he said that it is decaying, contaminated, and unfit for human habitation. He agreed that substantial demolition of three sides of the building is necessary, while the stone foundation would be preserved. He said that the Georgetown residents attending an open meeting in March had overwhelmingly expressed support for the proposal. He summarized that the CAG board of directors endorsed the design in April 2017; the proposed residential use is the best use for the site and would have low impact. He described the design as sensitive to the heating plant's architecture and emphasized that it would preserve much of the street facade along 29th Street; the proposed green space and pedestrian/bicyclist connections would also be important contributions.
Stephen Crimmins, a neighbor of the project site across 29th Street, addressed the Commission. Mr. Crimmins said that the block includes nine townhouses from the late 19th century, along with a condominium building from around 1980. He said that for thirty years, his family has looked out on the site, and he has attended numerous community meetings; in all that time, no neighbor has ever called for saving the building—perhaps surprising in a neighborhood known for its emphasis on historic preservation. He said that the wider community would rise in defense of key historic buildings, but there is no support in the immediate neighborhood for keeping the heating plant. He recalled the expectation in the 1980s that this site would eventually become a park, a hope that was revived when the heating plant ceased operation in 1999, but the result has simply been a derelict vacant building with old oil tanks. The federal government's plan for selling the site in 2012 was welcome news to the community, and the selection of a prominent design team has been encouraging. But after five years, the redevelopment process is still bogged down in the details of corner treatments and what to save from demolition. On behalf of the 77 families in his condominium building, as well as the residents of the nine townhouses, he urged the expeditious review and approval of the project so that it can move forward.
Rebecca Miller, executive director of the D.C. Preservation League (DCPL), said that the project raises critical issues related to integrity—including the integrity of the Georgetown historic district, of the GSA's binding covenant for historic preservation in the deed, and of the local and national preservation laws. Ms. Miller emphasized that the applicant purchased the building on an "as-is" basis, with awareness of the covenant for preservation; she also noted that this project team had been studying the site since 2012, in conjunction with the GSA auction. She questioned why the development team placed a bid for the building if it was unsuitable for the intended program; the building could instead have been sold to one of the other bidders. She said that the basic problem is that the intended program does not fit the building, while other programs might be more feasible; even a different type of residential program might be feasible. She said that the range of alternatives has not been explored sufficiently. She also questioned the statement by Ms. Eig that this design results from consultation with the D.C. Office of Planning and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office (HPO); she said that these consultations did not result in official support for the design, and an important question is whether written comments have been provided.
Mr. Luebke said that he received a copy of the comments from the HPO staff at the Old Georgetown Board meeting earlier in the month, and he read them to the Commission. HPO identified the central preservation issue as the degree to which the building requires repair or reconstruction, based on the evidence of its current condition. Preservation laws and standards provide guidance for repair and reconstruction, and some of the proposed work appears to be consistent with the applicable reconstruction standards by matching the existing features. Other proposed work would not match the existing design and would not be consistent with the standards; in these situations, the applicant should explore alternatives. Ms. Miller said that these comments are helpful because they come directly from the HPO staff responsible for reviewing this project, and not from others. She urged the Commission not to approve the concept, and instead to request a proposal that fulfills the deed covenant by conforming to the rehabilitation provisions of The Secretary of the Interior's Standards.
Steve Knight addressed the Commission, representing the Art Deco Society of Washington, a 35-year-old volunteer organization. He said that one of the group's focuses is architectural preservation. He also cited his own experience as a local architect at an award-winning firm that has worked with many building types. He questioned the emphasis in the proposed design on expanding relatively minor features of the existing building to become major parts of the proposal, such as the perforated brick screens; he commented that this choice is particularly strange for the proposed building type. He agreed with the preceding comment that the program is simply incompatible with the building, and he suggested that more time and thought is needed to find the right program. He offered the example of his firm's work on Washington's Hecht warehouse on New York Avenue, NE: the development team initially proposed adaptive reuse as an office building, which would have required removal of the building's distinctive ribbons of glass block walls. Fortunately, the development team reconsidered this plan and conducted more market research, resulting in a bold vision that has been more successful; the project involved the creation of interior courtyards so that the exterior facades could be preserved. He acknowledged that this solution may not be best for the heating plant project, but he cited the Hecht building as an example of the benefits of reconsidering the programmatic assumptions. He also acknowledged the heating plant's technical challenges, noting that the design was in the forefront of technological change when it was built. He said that the historic preservation field is at a pivotal stage, confronting the challenges of preserving more modern buildings as well as much older buildings such as many in Georgetown. He said that The Secretary of the Interior's Standards address the problem of potential structural failure by allowing for replacement in kind, which he said would be a better solution for the exterior of the heating plant than the proposed simulation of the original, which he described as odd and unsuccessful. He noted his recent experience with another historic building in South Carolina that similarly required in-kind replacement of the brick facades, which was successful; he concluded that this treatment is possible and simply presents a different set of challenges.
Sally Berk addressed the Commission on behalf of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, a city-wide organization for planning and preservation advocacy. Ms. Berk also noted her degrees in architecture and historic preservation. She said that the current proposal is illegal because it violates the deed covenant by not adhering to The Secretary of the Interior's Standards. She anticipated that the proposal will be denied by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, as mandated by local ordinance. She said that the Committee of 100 has supported the nomination of the heating plant as an individual landmark, although the owner has opposed it in violation of the deed of sale. She described the heating plant as a monumental presence and familiar landmark in Georgetown that has been underappreciated. She said that the destruction of earlier uses on the site due to the heating plant's construction does not negate the value of the heating plant as a present-day structure. She emphasized that power plants can be a thrilling sight, representing the vitality of a city. Although the heating plant no longer serves its industrial purpose, she observed that it retains this iconography, which is an important issue in historic preservation. She said that nobody is recommending a return to the building's original purpose; but preservation involves managing change, and the Committee of 100 believes that the change for this project has not been managed as well as it could be. She cited Mr. Olin's comment that the memory of a historic property is important to people, and she said that this proposal does not adequately convey the memory of this industrial building.
Ms. Berk acknowledged the difficulty and cost of addressing the hazardous materials and structural problems, but she emphasized that this can be accomplished while emphasizing preservation and, where needed, reconstruction of the historic building. She expressed regret that the developer has instead chosen to allocate money toward a different design strategy. She recalled some successful examples of adaptive reuse involving buildings with exterior solid-to-void ratios comparable to the heating plant; these include reuse of silos, the conversion of industrial buildings to hotels, and the Washington example of the Hecht Company warehouse that has been converted to residential use. She therefore concluded that the heating plant can be compatible with residential use, contrary to the statements during the presentation, although she said that the solid-to-void ratio may not be compatible with the very high-priced condominiums that are likely intended for this project. While a different more preservation-focused approach to the residential adaptation of the building might generate less monetary return, she cited the Supreme Court's 1978 Penn Central decision that a developer isn't entitled to the greatest possible profit for a site.
Ms. Berk urged that the developer reconsider the approach to the project and return with a better proposal that could be approved more quickly, a solution that would be in everyone's best interest. She acknowledged the lengthy process in bringing forward the current proposal but emphasized that the past process could have moved more quickly if the design approach had been different.
Chairman Powell recognized Jim Wilcox, a neighborhood resident. Mr. Wilcox noted that he is an ANC member for the district immediately north of the site but is testifying on his own behalf. He said that he is an attorney who serves on the board of the Georgetown Business Association and has been active in the Citizens Association of Georgetown. He expressed general support for Mr. Olin's landscape design work but said that his concern is with the building, including three legal obstacles for the project. The deed covenant includes a provision for a waiver that would have to be granted by the D.C. historic preservation officer; but several years into the design process, this waiver has still not been granted, and any expectation of receiving this waiver is merely speculative. He said that this issue raises questions about the permissibility of the extensive demolition being contemplated. Second, he observed that the provisions of the covenant have effectively shifted much of the historic preservation oversight from federal to D.C. control. He noted that the federal standards for historic preservation are typically far more restrictive than state and local standards, and the shift in oversight could be subject to litigation as an improper provision. Third, he raised the issue that the proposal may be inconsistent with the local comprehensive plan, which should guide new development if the existing building is largely demolished. He said that the comprehensive plan calls for medium-density, mixed-use development in the waterfront area. A map of future land use is also applicable, which indicates that the southern portion of the site should be a park, and a building on the remainder of the site would be subject to a maximum height of sixty feet; the height limit could be eased under a provision for inclusionary zoning for affordable housing, but this is not part of the applicant's proposal. He said that the proposed building is far beyond this limit, at either 120 or 140 feet, depending how the upper portions are treated for the calculation; he emphasized that this height is far beyond the guidance of the comprehensive plan. He noted that the developer intends to request a zoning treatment of this project as a planned unit development, but it must nonetheless conform to the comprehensive plan.
Mr. Krieger observed that the scale of the existing building gives it a monumental character that is enjoyed by the neighbors. Mr. Wilcox responded that the neighbors have repeatedly described this building as an eyesore, and it is surprising that they would support a proposal that would preserve the western portion of the building that is closest to them.
Mr. Wilcox addressed the conflicting conclusions of the engineering reports; he said that the report by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates is the only one that is unbiased, and he emphasized its conclusion that demolition is not necessary or appropriate. He added that this conclusion negates the underlying premise of the current proposal.
Mr. Wilcox summarized that the community support for the project cannot supersede the legal and comprehensive plan issues that are unresolved. He said that part of the community's frustration is the applicant's failure to properly maintain the existing building during its recent years of ownership, and to implement the park that is required by the comprehensive plan. He suggested requiring the applicant to return with a proposal for a building that is within the comprehensive plan's sixty-foot height limit, which would be consistent with the adjacent buildings. He also noted that a sewer line for the wider neighborhood crosses the site only four inches below the heating plant's existing foundation, and he urged a specific plan for protecting this sewer line during any demolition and construction to avoid disruption to the neighborhood's sewer service.
Chairman Powell recognized Pam Moore, a resident of Mr. Wilcox's ANC district. She said that the approximately 2,000 residents of this district are very much in support of the proposal and do not share Mr. Wilcox's concerns. She provided a written statement and emphasized the opinion of Georgetown residents that this project will be a wonderful addition to the neighborhood's architectural vocabulary. She urged the Commission to consider this strong neighborhood support in making a decision on this project.
Eric Kohler, a Georgetown resident since 1959, addressed the Commission. He commented that the general concept of the proposal is not objectionable, but the particular elements of the design are problematic. He cited the historic building's feature of monumental facades at the east and west ends, each with a slender window rising at the center; this effect would be destroyed by the proposal, which doubles the width of the central window in the east facade. He said that the proposal therefore greatly compromises the conceptual strength of the existing heating plant.
Chairman Powell acknowledged the written statements that have been provided, noting that they will be included in the Commission's record.
Mr. Krieger asked Mr. Adjaye if he is truly satisfied with the design of the project within the given constraints; Mr. Adjaye confirmed that he is very satisfied with the proposal, adding that the reason his firm has taken on the project is for the opportunity to address a complex, extraordinary problem and create a new transformation.
Mr. Krieger acknowledged the many voices on behalf of the merits of this historic building and the regulatory requirements of historic preservation; on the other hand, the project presents the opportunity to get rid of a derelict, contaminated building that has long been vacant, and to replace it with the laudable uses of housing and open space with the support of many in the community, along with the potential for additional pedestrian connections with benefits extending beyond the immediate vicinity. He described the proposal as a brilliant attempt to echo and be inspired by the existing building, and he said that the design appears to address both sides of the controversy satisfactorily. He supported approval of the submitted concept, with the expectation of further review as the design is developed.
Ms. Meyer agreed, while recognizing several important issues that are raised by the discussion. She observed that this case has generated probably the most complex set of public comments that she has heard during her years on the Commission. She emphasized her respect for the commenters even while disagreeing with some of their opinions, which she said is an indicator of the present-day issues of adapting and designing with historic fabric. She observed that when people talk about preservation, they may be talking about preserving different things: material culture, memory, or iconic architectural objects. She said that perhaps five or six different conversations have been occurring in front of the Commission, as people seem to be disagreeing when they're not actually talking about the same questions of what should be kept. She said that the desirability of enlivening this site is clear. The relationship of the proposal to the site's history is also important, notwithstanding that the Commission is not a preservation review body. She offered support for the proposal to retain elements of the site wall, topography, and the western portion of the building, commenting that these are sufficient remnants of the property's historic importance; the additional elements being proposed are what would give the property new life.
Ms. Meyer summarized that she understands the multiple points of view that have been presented, even though disagreeing with some of them. She emphasized that the professional community and the wider public need to change the prevalent narrow dichotomies when discussing preservation and demolition. She said that she admires the proposal while anticipating that some issues should be explored further as the design is developed. She supported the placement of the park on an elevated base, a special and rarely seen configuration that would receive enjoyable summer breezes as well as intense daylight. She urged the design team to develop the proposal with consideration of such qualities, which could extend to the architectural detailing as well as the site design.
Ms. Griffin noted that she had served in the D.C. government under Mayor Williams. One legacy of that period was trying to encourage design innovation in a historic city, particularly one with constraints on building sizes. In keeping with that legacy, she commended this project for the strong effort to develop a design that honors the constraints and the city's history. She expressed support for the direction of the design, citing its careful treatment of surfaces to create an effect of layering on the facades. She said that Washington's constraints can often result in square, boxy buildings that are prevalent in the city, a result that this proposal avoids through the use of texture, solids and voids, and recession and projection to create a better massing. She said that the attention to cultural heritage and the sense of place seems not as strong in the landscape proposal as in the architecture. She observed that the presentation of the site's history began with a very site-specific, landscape-oriented legacy, then jumped to the architectural forms of the late 1940s and 1950s, resulting in a disconnected context for understanding the site and building. She recommended more coordination between the architecture and landscape architecture, with a better sense of how the site's industrial history involved both the building and a working landscape.
Ms. Griffin said that she is leaning toward approval of the concept. One reason is the complexity of the preservation issues that emerged from the discussion. She cited the interesting comment by the engineer that the heating plant was designed as a masonry enclosure, not really as a "building." She said that this original intent affects what is structurally feasible or infeasible, resulting in limitations on how the existing fabric can be reused; the issue is therefore not only what to put in the space within the shell, but what can be done with the shell itself. This highlighted the importance of the technical studies that demonstrated the need for extensive dismantling and reconstruction in order to restore the existing architecture, essentially re-creating the shell rather than saving it. She accepts the resulting determination of which parts of the structure could remain, which is largely independent of the proposed future use. For example, even if the existing window pattern were to remain, it would have to be re-created in conjunction with the structural repairs. She agreed with Ms. Meyer that the project raises questions about what is actually important to preserve.
Ms. Griffin said she wished there had been a more thorough consideration of the historic preservation issues earlier in the process, commenting that the redevelopment could likely have proceeded much more quickly if the GSA had understood the structural engineering problems prior to selling the site. She noted the consultation with D.C. planning and preservation staff about guiding principles that address the character and monumentality of the building. She said that an additional issue that has emerged from today's discussion is cultural heritage, including how the site works and performs. She observed that all sites have histories; the question arises of what parts of this history are most important to honor, and in what manner; for example, perhaps the history does not always need to be honored in a project's architectural form. She observed that the cultural history of this site encompasses energy technologies, water technologies, and construction technologies; all of these could be expressed as part of preserving the heritage of the site, rather than only as part of the building architecture. She suggested that the entirety of the project be considered in honoring the site's heritage and the existing character of monumentality. She emphasized that this site is unique, and Washington has relatively few situations of a residential tower in a park setting.
Ms. Griffin raised the additional question of whether the goal of the project should be to preserve the 20th-century technology and sense of monumentality, or to focus on honoring a 21st-century technology—perhaps while still embracing the site's cultural heritage. She questioned whether the design team has fully explored the potential for incorporating newer technologies that are inherent to the site. She commented that the existing architecture provides remarkable features to draw upon, and she encouraged much further exploration of the project's potential. She questioned whether removal of the existing constraints might result in a very different building and site design, observing that a less literal approach to honoring the historic building could still allow for preservation of some aspects of monumentality, character, and cultural heritage.
Ms. Lehrer commented that the primary perspective rendering of the landscape proposal is too banal and sweet, conveying a suburban character. She suggested further study of the park design that would draw inspiration from the site's existing features; she cited the site's giant oil tanks, which would presumably be removed at great expense, but could instead somehow be used in a beautiful manner that would add to the appreciation of the site's history and cultural heritage. Ms. Griffin added that the proposed pergola could also be designed to relate to the site's history of machinery.
Mr. Dunson commented that a close reading of The Secretary of the Interior's Standards would provide support for the opportunity to develop a more contrasting design—as perhaps encouraged by Mr. Krieger—rather than focus on replicating the existing architecture. He observed that the proposal emphasizes honoring the heating plant and reincorporating its qualities into a new, living building; however, an alternative could involve a more aggressive design approach, and he said that the historic preservation standards could be interpreted to support either design direction. He suggested that the proposal be understood as embodying a choice to respect and honor the site, regardless of how one interprets the exact wording of preservation laws.
Mr. Krieger recalled that an earlier design from 2013, as shown to the Commission, varied further from the existing building's architecture while still evoking some of its qualities. He said that an appropriate response may be to evoke the building's massing, monumentality, and materials, while varying further in other ways compared to the design that is currently submitted. He offered a motion to approve the concept design with encouragement of an even more creative design approach to interpreting the historic building, as well as further coordination to bring a similar sense of innovation to the landscape design. Upon a second by Mr. Powell, the Commission adopted this action.
Mr. Luebke noted that this concept approval will be followed by further submissions, which could be referred initially to the Old Georgetown Board or placed directly on the Commission's agenda. Chairman Powell requested that the next submission proceed directly to the Commission.
Chairman Powell departed at this point, and Vice Chairman Meyer presided for the remainder of the meeting.
2. Shipstead-Luce Act
SL 17-073, Milken Museum and Conference Center (former Riggs Bank and former American Security and Trust Company buildings), 1501 and 1503–1505 Pennsylvania Avenue, and 730 15th Street, NW. Renovation and additions to three buildings. Concept. (Previous: SL 15-174, October 2015, for 1503–05 Pennsylvania Avenue only.) Ms. Batcheler introduced a concept design by Shalom Baranes Associates for modifications to three historic buildings located at the northwest corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street, NW, immediately north of the Treasury Department: the former Riggs National Bank building (1503–1505 Pennsylvania Avenue), the former American Security and Trust Company building (1501 Pennsylvania Avenue), and the adjacent ten-story office building located directly to the north (730 15th Street); the latter two are currently occupied by the Bank of America. The project would link the buildings to create a facility to house a museum, a conference center, and the offices of the Milken Family Foundation and the Milken Institute. In October 2015, the commission reviewed the Milken Family Foundation's concept design for alterations and rooftop additions to the former Riggs Bank building to house a new Museum of the American Educator; most of these alterations are still proposed in the current submission. The foundation has since purchased the other two buildings, and returns with an integrative proposal for all three. She asked Shalom Baranes of Shalom Baranes Associates to present the design.
Mr. Baranes indicated the Riggs building's mid-block site bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue to the south, the Treasury Annex's side yard to the west, a public alley to the north, and the American Security building to the east. He described the previously approved design for alterations to the building, which would move the existing rooftop mechanical equipment and replace it with a one-story glazed penthouse. In addition, the building's external fire escapes would be removed, an existing laylight and skylight would be restored, and a barrier-free entrance would be added by lowering a window opening on the Pennsylvania Avenue facade. He said that subsequent to the approval of the original concept in 2015, the client has decided to combine internally the Riggs Bank building with the two neighboring buildings; this would include closing the segment of public alley behind the building and enclosing this space with a curtainwall and skylight, creating an atrium that would facilitate circulation among the three buildings; this atrium space would begin at the second level. He noted the various historical additions and alterations to the three buildings, and said that combining all three buildings to create one facility would result in many entrances; the proposal would retain all the existing building entrances and add barrier-free entrances.
Mr. Baranes described the major programmatic components: the Riggs building would house a museum; the large central banking hall of the American Security building would be a multi-use space; and 730 15th Street would house conference, office, and dining spaces, with service and support functions located in its basement. In order to extend the museum's attic-level exhibition space into the American Security building's attic, the proposal is to remove a rear portion of the roof between them to allow for construction of a new connection; he said that this intervention would not be visible from the nearby streets. He noted that the proposal from 2015 had been to locate a sixteen-foot tall mechanical system assembly in this area of the Riggs building's roof; the current proposal would locate this equipment further back and away from the facades to be less visible, and the equipment would also be screened. He described alterations to the interior of the Riggs building: the adjustment of basement floor levels; the removal of stairways; new connections to the other two buildings at the basement, banking hall, and some upper levels; and the removal of portions of the building's alley facade. Some banking counters and other elements would be removed from the American Security building's banking hall, and a new doorway connecting to the Riggs building would be created.
Mr. Baranes presented the proposed alterations at 730 15th Street. All of the historic ceiling vaults in the lobby would be restored. The ground level of the existing street facade has five openings of similar appearance and proportions, with the northernmost containing the building entrance and the other four containing windows. The proposal is to reconfigure the southernmost window opening as a barrier-free entrance, requiring removal of the window's sill. He noted that the sidewalk and the building's ground floor are aligned at this location, so no ramping or change in grade would be necessary. Ms. Gilbert asked for clarification of the exterior door design; Mr. Baranes responded that a simple glazed door would be recessed within the opening to approximately match the depth of the existing window.
Mr. Baranes described the proposed modification to the top floor of the street facade at 730 15th Street: the three existing, non-historic central arched window openings would be removed and replaced with a window system with more depth and detail. This proposal is in response to comments from the D.C. Historic Preservation Office staff and was included as an additional drawing with the submission materials. The building's existing mechanical penthouse would be repurposed as occupiable space, and a non-historic generator room adjacent to the penthouse would be demolished. To provide direct access from the penthouse to the roof terrace, five large glazed openings would replace three existing small louvers, a window, and a door; he indicated the alignment of these new openings with the existing windows below. In addition, the existing recess in the north facade, which begins above the fourth floor, would be filled in; new floor slabs would be inserted between the building's service core and the existing party wall of the building to the north. He noted that this alteration would not be visible from the public streets. A portion of the third-floor slab would be removed to create a double-height conference space along the 15th Street facade; he said that the exterior would not change, but the double-height space would be clearly visible from the exterior through the existing windows. Mr. Krieger asked about the floor alignments of the two buildings along 15th Street; Mr. Baranes responded that they are not aligned, and the primary connection between these two buildings would be walkway bridges that would be installed within the proposed atrium.
Ms. Meyer asked if the proposed division of the project into two phases as shown on presentation slides would affect the Commission's review process. Mr. Baranes responded that the client intends to proceed first with alterations to 730 15th Street as drawings are finished for the other two buildings; demolition would begin by the end of 2017 and construction would last approximately two years, with no impact of phasing on CFA's review process. He said that the project is being funded by the Milken Foundation.
Secretary Luebke said that the staff is supportive of the new project to combine the three buildings, which would benefit both the client and the buildings themselves. He added that because of the buildings' prominent location with views of the White House nearby, large antiballistic barrier railings may be necessary in some areas, such as along the rooftop terrace of 730 15th Street. Ms. Gilbert asked about the likely height of such barriers; Mr. Baranes responded that the project team has been working with the U.S. Secret Service to determine the requirements for any antiballistic barriers. Mr. Luebke said that in its previous review, the Commission had commented that the visibility of any rooftop antiballistic barrier railings should be minimized. Ms. Meyer asked about the procedure for closing a portion of the public alley for long-term private use. Ms. Baranes responded that this proposed closure is currently going through the required process with the District of Columbia Government, and he anticipated that the approval would likely be granted. Ms. Lehrer and Ms. Griffin asked about the location and organization names for exterior signage. Mr. Baranes said that any new signage would be located in the same areas as the existing signage; Mr. Luebke noted that any proposal for exterior signage would have to be submitted for the Commission's review.
Ms. Griffin asked if the atrium curtainwall, which appears to be very austere, would be similar in conception and articulation to the more elaborate curtainwall proposed for the rooftop penthouse. Mr. Baranes acknowledged that the atrium curtainwall shown is diagrammatic and has not yet been designed, while the glazing on the penthouse has been studied more carefully. He clarified that the atrium curtainwall would be designed to relate visually to the rooftop curtainwall but would not have the same degree of articulation, due to the atrium wall's alley location where it would not be visible to the public. Ms. Griffin noted that the building's occupants would see the atrium curtainwall, and she asked if the atrium would serve as a building entrance. Mr. Baranes responded that the atrium would not serve as an entrance route because it begins at the second floor.
Mr. Dunson expressed support for the project, commenting that the submission and presentation were very complete and answered all of his questions. Ms. Meyer thanked the design team for the presentation drawings that clearly document the complex interventions that are proposed. Upon a motion by Mr. Krieger with second by Ms. Lehrer, the Commission approved the concept design; Vice Chairman Meyer added that the approval includes the Commission's comments regarding further development of the atrium curtainwall design, the potential visual impact of any rooftop antiballistic barrier railings, and the submission of any signage proposals for further review.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 4:32 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA