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 9:13 a.m.
Hon. Earl A. Powell, Chairman
Hon. Elizabeth Meyer, Vice Chairman
Hon. Edward Dunson
Hon. Liza Gilbert
Hon. Toni Griffin
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Frederick J. Lindstrom, Assistant Secretary
A. Approval of the minutes of the 18 January meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the January meeting had been circulated to the Commission members in advance. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Dunson, the Commission approved the minutes. Mr. Luebke said that the minutes will be made available on the Commission’s website.
B. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 15 March, 19 April, and 17 May 2018.
Mr. Luebke reported that a job opening on the Commission staff will be advertised, seeking an architect or historic preservation specialist to work on cases in the Old Georgetown historic district. The position announcement will be listed on the federal government’s USAJobs website. He said that the position is a replacement for Jonathan Mellon, who will soon be leaving the Commission staff to join a local law firm, where he will work on land use and historic preservation issues. He cited Mr. Mellon’s expertise and friendly presence on the staff since August 2016.
II. Submissions and Reviews
Mr. Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting.
Appendix I – Government Submissions Consent Calendar: Mr. Lindstrom said that the only changes to the draft appendix are to clarify that the General Services Administration is the submitting agency for three retail sign submissions at the headquarters building of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer, the Commission approved the revised Government Submissions Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler reported that two projects on the draft appendix have been removed (case numbers SL 18-048 and SL 18-059); these cases will likely be on the March appendix. Changes for other projects are limited to minor wording adjustments and noting the receipt of supplemental materials. She noted that all of the submissions are now complete, with no need to await further supplemental materials. Upon a motion by Ms. Gilbert with second by Ms. Griffin, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act appendix.
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Mr. Mellon noted the unusually lengthy appendix, with 41 cases. He said that the application stage has been corrected from a concept to a permit submission for three cases; the listings were erroneous on the draft appendix due to a database error. He noted that four projects are listed with a negative recommendation. Upon a motion by Ms. Griffin with second by Mr. Powell, the Commission approved the revised Old Georgetown Act appendix.
B. National Park Service
1. CFA 15/FEB/18-1, National World War I Memorial. Pershing Park, Pennsylvania Avenue, between 14th and 15th Streets, NW. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 18/MAY/17-2.) Secretary Luebke introduced a revised concept submission for the proposed National World War I Memorial, submitted by the National Park Service on behalf of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission. He said that in May 2017, the Commission approved a concept design for the memorial that would rehabilitate the historic Pershing Park, designed by landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg with Oehme, van Sweden, and would add new commemorative elements, including a relief sculpture mounted on a vertical wall surface along the west side of the park’s existing central pool. The Commission had raised concerns about the lack of documentation provided for other elements than the sculpture and requested more detailed information—including sections of the pool showing its depth and edge conditions, the length of the sculpture wall and its relationship to the water, how water would be used, and how the site of the existing kiosk might be developed with sculptural elements.
Mr. Luebke said that the project team has produced two alternatives for the revised concept that explore different ways of displaying the sculpture within the existing framework of the park’s central pool and terraced landscape. The commemorative wall is still intended to present a narrative sequence of scenes depicting the experience of Americans in World War I in a highly realistic aesthetic derived, in part, from photography. The length of the sculpture has not changed since the previous review but its depth has increased, from a bas relief to something closer to sculpture in the round. As in the previous schemes, the overall approach has been rehabilitation and reconstruction, consistent with the design review and historic preservation consultation process.
Mr. Luebke introduced Peter May, associate director for lands and planning with the National Capital Region of the National Park Service. Mr. May asked Edwin Fountain, vice chairman of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, to present the revised concept design.
Mr. Fountain recalled that at the previous review, the Commission gave concept approval to the basic elements of the concept design—preserving the existing topography, terracing, planting, and pool of the Friedberg design; replacing the fountain and equipment structure with a sculpture and a water feature behind it; and replacing the kiosk with an area for flags. The design has subsequently been reviewed by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), and the Centennial Commission has conducted site condition surveys, enlisted the aid of various consultants, and hired David Rubin Land Collective as the project’s new landscape architect. Mr. Fountain said that two options for a revised concept design are now brought to the Commission for comments, along with a maquette of the proposed sculptural relief by sculptor Sabin Howard.
Mr. Fountain said that the World War I Memorial design needs to integrate the site’s purposes as both a park and a memorial. He identified three audiences who will come to the site: visitors to the World War I Memorial, visitors to an urban park, and visitors coming to see an important work of public art. While there are valid reasons for this memorial to be in Pershing Park rather than on the Mall, he said that a concern remains that this location could indicate that World War I is not as consequential to the United States as other twentieth-century wars—when in fact it was more so. The sculpture therefore needs to convey the significance of World War I and the heroism of American troops. The sculpture is not meant to be a documentary, and many important features of the war have been omitted; instead, its imagery and themes are intended to express the essence of the American experience, both on the battlefield and at home, and the transformation of America through the experience of this war.
Mr. Fountain provided a summary of the sculptural narrative, which will be expressed through the narrative journey followed by the recurring figure of a soldier. He said that because of its park setting, the sculpture is not intended to be morbid, so it will have only suggestions of injury and death. Diversity would be introduced through the depiction of women and of African American soldiers; other ethnic groups that served will also be added. While this memorial is not intended to be a triumphal, it will include figures representing pride in American accomplishment.
Mr. Howard presented the eleven-foot-long maquette of the proposed sculpture. He said that he began by seeking images of people from the period of the war, and he showed the Commission members several historic photographs. He defined his most important task as depicting what World War I looked like by creating a range of scenes. He divided the narrative into five scenes organized in three sections that comprise, from left to right, a beginning, a middle, and an end; he described this narrative structure as being rooted in Shakespearean drama. He said a visitor must have a visceral reaction to what is seen so that the experience is not simply didactic but emotional, inspiring a desire to learn more. He noted that the scale of the maquette is one-sixth of full size, and the final sculpture will be cast in bronze.
Mr. Howard described the process of producing the maquette during a six-month workshop in New Zealand for film design and special effects. He obtained authentic World War I uniforms that had been worn in battle, and then had models dress in them to pose for scenes. He had originally chosen relief because of its resemblance to film, an art form that is easily understood. He said that film and relief sculpture differ in that film is temporary and ethereal, while a relief can have substance and gravitas, appropriate for a depiction of war. But sculptural relief resembles film in being composed of scenes; these change as visitors walk along the sculpture, and as they see the scenes change, they become active participants. To increase the story’s drama and emotional impact, he decided to model the relief in much greater depth than originally planned.
Mr. Howard provided further details on the structure of the narrative, which he called “A Soldier’s Journey.” He described its depiction as classical, relying on the golden ratio, and also as similar to a symphony that builds from a quiet opening to a crescendo before returning to quiet at the end. Diagonal lines throughout the sculpture propel the action forward. He said that the first and final panels are the same size and equally weighted, with the same number of figures. The exact center of the composition is marked by an X-shape; the X begins at the ground on the left with a figure of a charging soldier, and the diagonal rises to the arresting figure of a soldier staring into space due to shell shock, now called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He said that the X-shape is a universal symbol of transformation, used here because the sculpture represents the transformation of a soldier, a war, and a country. He added that the story is a version of the hero’s journey, referring to mythologist Joseph Campbell and his identification of this journey as a trope that appears across cultures throughout history.
Mr. Howard described the sculpture’s protagonist as a man who appears as father, husband, and soldier—participating in different actions and displaying a range of emotions. As the Commission members examined the maquette, Mr. Howard described each scene. The father says farewell to his wife and daughter, kneeling before his daughter as she hands him his helmet; the kneeling pose suggests nobility and emphasizes the importance of the next generation. Then the husband, representing America, takes leave of his wife to march with his fellow soldiers. A gap between scenes represents the Atlantic Ocean, and the soldier is shown stepping onto European soil and then engaging in battle. The emphasis in the battle scene on diagonal lines driving into the ground represents death and the end of the pre-modern world; the lines then move up; the highest point, above the panel, would be the top of the U.S. flag. The next scene indicates the cost of war, with the depiction of the man with PTSD along with empty helmets symbolizing deaths in battle. The soldier then leaves the battlefield and returns home, and he is finally shown handing his helmet back to his daughter, which suggests passing the legacy to the next generation and also indicating the outbreak of another world war twenty years later.
Ms. Meyer questioned how this insertion of a new work of art into an existing work of art would be accomplished. She said that the background wall is depicted in the drawings as a surround along the perimeter of the relief panels, but it is not depicted in the maquette. She asked how the wall would appear, how the frame around it would relate to the parts of the sculpture that project above the overall rectangular shape, and whether its supporting wall would land upon a base or within the pool. Mr. Howard responded that the sculpture would be set two feet above the pool, and the dark area below would create a visual transition to the water. He asked landscape architect David Rubin to further discuss Ms. Meyer’s questions.
Mr. Rubin began by illustrating Pershing Park’s existing conditions. He said that the proposed changes focus on three areas: the fountain and west terrace, the pool, and the kiosk site. He noted that the park has multiple paving materials, including the Pennsylvania Avenue pavers, the carnelian granite pavers in the Pershing Memorial, and granite setts in the lower plaza. The proposed new insertions may include the reuse of these materials; for example, the new walk in front of the relief sculpture may use carnelian granite pavers like the Pershing Memorial. The damaged cast-in-place concrete of the former ice rink may be replaced with a new stone, possibly a coarse, flame-finished treatment of black granite pavers to enhance the water’s reflective quality.
Mr. Rubin presented the two options for the setting of the sculpture wall. Option A proposes a two-sided freestanding wall; Option B proposes a wall that would be integrated within the west terrace. Both options preserve the size and dimensions of the existing pool. In Option A, elements that would be removed include the source fountain and equipment enclosure, part of a planter, and the kiosk. New elements would include the freestanding wall at the western end of the pool and new walks across the pool. The removal of the source fountain would allow for the extension of the west terrace steps to create a continuous line of steps behind the sculpture wall; the distance between the freestanding wall and the lowest riser behind it would be five feet seven inches. Modifying the one planter would permit the new walk to land on the edge of the pool. The proposed walk and viewing platform would appear to float above the water, and the edge of the viewing platform would be two feet four inches from the nearest projection of the deeply modeled relief sculpture.
Mr. Rubin said that one project goal is the creation of a new source for the fountain that will be similar to the original, with water flowing from the top of the wall and then cascading down on three sides. The wall’s narrow sides would be treated as a flame-finished granite surface, similar to the existing fountain. On the long rear side facing the new contemplative area and steps, a skim wall of water would flow over the wall’s face, which would bear inscriptions. Like the existing fountain, the cascade would create turbulence in the pool, and on the sides would fall into smooth channels; the noise of the cascading, splashing fountain would provide an important acoustic quality to enhance the contemplative quality of this area. Behind the wall, visitors would descend from the upper terrace to the lower terrace. On these steps and in the space between the steps and wall, visitors could sit, look at the fountain, and meet each other in a new social space.
Mr. Rubin said that in Option B, the relief sculpture would be set into a wall that is integrated within the terrace. As in Option A, the source fountain and the kiosk would be removed. Placing the sculpture on the western terrace would allow the full shape and edges of the existing pool to remain. The sculpture would be aligned with the face of the pool; as in Option A, a two-foot-four-inch gap across the pool would separate the sculpture and the sixteen-foot-wide viewing platform. A zone for contemplation and observation would be created in a niche at the terrace level above the sculpture wall; it would have a replica of the bench designed for the Pershing Memorial. Visitors standing here would have a panoramic view of the park to the east, but they would not be visible to people below who are looking at the sculpture from the viewing platform. The cascades flowing over the sides of the sculpture wall would fall into a stepped channel that would create the turbulence for acoustic effect.
Ms. Meyer asked for specific information on the proposed dimensions of the sculpture, the wall, and the stairs. Mr. Howard responded that the sculpture would be 36 to 38 inches deep at its deepest point, and 18 to 24 inches deep at its shallowest. Mr. Rubin said that the height from the bottom of the pool to the top of the sculpture is proposed as eleven feet six inches; the depth of the wall is two feet four inches; the height of the cascade is ten feet three inches; and the depth of the wall to the observation area is nine feet. He added that the width of the stairs would range from fourteen feet to twenty-four feet, with this widest dimension at the northwest corner.
Mr. Rubin presented a rendered drawing of the integrated wall and platform in Option B. The surface of the walk projects outward two inches above the water’s surface to create a shadow line; this dimension would allow for any turbulence in the water to be visible and to affect the entire pool. The width of the walk at its entrance point would be seven feet, equal to the width of two of the pavers repeated from the Pershing statue; this walk would lead to the sixteen-foot-wide observation platform in front of the sculpture. In response to comments from the Commission staff, the project team has developed two other options for the entrance and the water elevation, depending on the treatment of the walk: raising the level of the water on the right side to allow for a slight slope from the existing level, with a stop edge for wheelchairs; or a flush condition on the existing curb or stop edge that then descends to a walk that is flush with the existing water level. The water’s surface would be treated differently: in one, the water would have turbulence; in the other, turbulence might need to be created because the walk would be supported on the base of the pool.
Mr. Rubin described the proposal for the kiosk site. The intent is to remove the kiosk and its elevator, installing new pavers to mark the circular form where the kiosk itself had stood. This circular space would become a display area for a grouping of flags, including a large U.S. flag. The ramped walk behind the kiosk would remain. He added that the flags would not obstruct views of the Pershing Memorial, as the kiosk now does.
Mr. Rubin described how the two wall options vary in affecting visitor access to the water’s edge at the west side of the pool. In the existing design, the planters each take up approximately seventeen feet of the perimeter, and the existing source fountain creates an impediment of another fifteen, for a total of approximately forty-nine feet of the pool’s edge that is not directly accessible. In Option B, an additional fourteen feet would be taken up by the new wall, for a total of about sixty-five feet of the pool’s edge. In Option A, the perimeter would only be impeded by the presence of the two planters—approximately 36 feet—and the removal of the source fountain would leave the rest of the pool’s western edge directly accessible from the terrace steps.
Chairman Powell expressed appreciation for the presentation and asked if the project team has a preference between Options A and B. Mr. Rubin said that, as a landscape architect, he likes to increase opportunities for social gatherings; he therefore offered a preference for Option A, because the freestanding sculpture wall would foster social interactions on the west side. He commented that Friedberg’s goal for the landscape had been to allow people to gather in the center of the park; however, the freestanding wall would limit sightlines across this area, while Option B would free the pool area, and visitors at the overlook behind the sculpture wall would see the park’s opposite side without any impediment.
Ms. Gilbert observed that the sculpture is now almost in the round; given this, she asked if other locations along the pool’s edge been considered, particularly locations that would allow visitors to stand at the ends of the sculpture to view the entire work at an oblique angle. Mr. Rubin responded that he has not considered any other location because the site at the west edge was chosen before he was asked to participate in the project. He added that there would be advantages to locating the sculpture on the upper terrace level, outside of the pool area, but this placement would block the view of the White House and may conflict with White House safety concerns. Ms. Gilbert asked if he had considered placing the wall along the pool’s eastern edge; Mr. Rubin said that he had not. He added the length of the wall had changed before he joined the project team, and it continues to change: it was originally 116 feet long, it was then reduced to 75 feet, and it is now proposed to be 65 feet long.
Ms. Gilbert observed that in the rendering of Option A, the area between the wall and the stairs resembles a trench or an odd, dark slot. Mr. Rubin responded that it might have this appearance, depending on the angle of the sun, but the more important consideration would be the shift in the character of the space to an area where the steps would be unified, and where people could congregate. He said the physical character of this environment—cool in the summer, enlivened by the sound of cascading water—would carry an emotional content that would help people engage with the park. He emphasized that as a memorial this park must achieve balance among a challenging set of priorities, including recreation, social engagement, play, and contemplation.
Mr. Powell asked Mr. Rubin to describe the intended condition of the pool in winter. Mr. Rubin said that he hopes the pool would be “tempered,” or treated so that it can remain full; Mr. Powell agreed that this is an important consideration. Mr. Rubin said that the existing condition of the inoperable ice rink, now a bare concrete plane, has been an obstacle for visitor enjoyment; the goal is that people would always see a horizontal plane of water, even in winter.
Mr. Dunson observed that, in one section drawing, the wall appears to float in the water, while in another rendering it appears to engage the walk. Mr. Rubin said that the wall is intended to look as if it floats apart from the walk; he acknowledged that the shadow line depicted beneath the sculpture might be misleading. He reiterated that the greatest projection of the sculpture would be two feet four inches from the edge of the walk. He added that the goals for the pool intervention are twofold: to preserve as much of the pool’s perimeter as possible, because of its design significance; and to define the new walk’s approach, exit, and the gathering space for viewing the sculpture.
Mr. Dunson said that one view of Option A from its south end suggests that visitors would want to stand where they could see the entire oblique view, but the location of the planter would prevent this; he asked if this was intentional. Mr. Rubin responded that the answer is slightly different for each option. He noted the desire to preserve every element possible of the original Friedberg design; in Option A, the location of the planter would not allow a good vista down the length of the sculpture, while Option B would.
Mr. Dunson observed that in Option A the placement of these two planters, as seen in plan, would create a space, but in another view they appear to cut off access to this space. Mr. Rubin said that the design team is attempting to balance the preservation of the original elements with the insertion of the new wall, which in both options will alter the area’s character. If possible, they would remove or reposition the planters, but the Friedberg design had specific intentions regarding both symmetry and slight asymmetries. Mr. Dunson asked Mr. Rubin if every feature he wanted appears in Option A or Option B; Mr. Rubin responded that they do not, but those that do appear are respectful of the Friedberg design.
To assist in the Commission’s evaluation, Mr. Rubin presented three site models showing existing conditions, Option A, and Option B. He indicated that in Option A, the freestanding wall would interrupt views from the western edge of the park, but he emphasized that it would create a new and possibly more contemplative experience through the quiet gathering space behind the wall. In contrast, the sculptural front of the wall would provide instruction for those seeking to learn about World War I, so both types of visitors would be served. In the model for Option B, he pointed out that the zone of plantings is not delineated. People might congregate in the viewing area above the engaged wall to see vistas of the park; the design of this area is configured to avoid the perception by the sculpture’s viewers that other visitors appear to loom above the wall.
Noting the small scale of the models, Ms. Meyer asked for clarification of the width of the southern portion of the pool that would be isolated by the proposed seven-foot-wide walk leading toward the sculpture wall. Mr. Rubin responded that the channel separating the edge of the existing steps from the proposed walk would be seven feet wide; Ms. Meyer observed that the model is therefore incorrect. Mr. Rubin acknowledged that the model is slightly inaccurate, but the drawings correctly depict what he described as the better option for deterring people from jumping across this area of water while allowing the existing edge condition to remain.
Ms. Meyer emphasized the importance of understanding the precise dimensions depicted in the models and renderings in order to understand the proportions of the sculpture wall and the impact it would have on the park. If the walk and the channel to its south are both seven feet wide, then the wall would not end as depicted in the model; she said that she cannot tell from the model which dimensions are correct. Mr. Dunson requested the project team to provide confirmation that the channel and the walk would be equal; Mr. Rubin said they would. Ms. Griffin said that, according to the scale on the model, the walk would be ten feet wide, and she asked if the channel would also be ten feet wide; Mr. Rubin said it would.
Chairman Powell asked for public comments. Edwin Fountain of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission addressed the question of the project team’s preference for Option A versus Option B. He said that the Centennial Commission has consulted with government agencies and commissions, and the consensus seems to be a slight preference for the more integrated sculpture wall of Option B instead of the freestanding wall of Option A, and this option has the support of the memorial commission.
Chairman Powell recognized Charles Birnbaum of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, who asked to address the Commission. Mr. Birnbaum said that he had attended a historic preservation consultation meeting for this project earlier this week, and that he had not heard the consensus described by Mr. Fountain. Mr. Birnbaum said that the bronze sculpture wall would be a substantial intervention in a park that has been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. He said that Pershing Park has changed little from the time it was first built. The proposed wall would be 65 feet long, with a height described as eleven feet six inches from the basin of the pool to the top of the wall. He said that this size has been problematic for many official consulting parties and government agencies, including the members of the Commission of Fine Arts. All these groups have given numerous suggestions on how such a feature might be sympathetically integrated within this park design. He said that the National Capital Planning Commission had suggested reducing the size of the wall to improve views, and better integrating the wall into the terracing, while the Commission of Fine Arts had asked for further study to determine whether the proposed length would be appropriate.
In spite of this, Mr. Birnbaum said, the Centennial Commission is once again presenting two options for the same concept. He said that at the most recent Section 106 historic preservation meeting, the scale of the wall had not changed, and Mr. Fountain had said he had little interest in shortening the wall. However, the wall would alter critical visual and spatial relationships, and it would sever the connection between Pershing Park’s upper and lower terraces; the effect would be to diminish freedom of movement, and it would do little to improve accessibility. Inserted into the heart of the park, the wall would reduce the pool’s extent by forty percent and destroy the existing fountain; the loss of the fountain will damage the integrity of the Friedberg design. He noted that the fountain was designed to mitigate noise, to have a cooling effect, and to make the park a place of respite. Mr. Birnbaum discussed further details of how the fountain would be reduced in the two options, and he summarized that the options presented have done little to address the most pressing concerns of the reviewing agencies and the consulting parties. The proposal is still to add a commemorative wall whose impact would ruin the park’s design, an intervention that would place a barrier between the upper and lower terraces, resulting in the loss of the dynamic animating qualities of water that are fundamental to the experience of this park.
Chairman Powell invited further comments from the Commission members. Ms. Meyer underscored her earlier comment about the challenge presented by the sculpture as a work of art that would be inserted into a work of art. She said that she appreciates the work of the sculptor, but emphasized that the design of a public space which has commemorative works within it is an iterative process, moving between the intent of the original designer, the current clients, and the new artist. She described her general sense that the sculpture is evolving on its own without being coordinated with the landscape architect’s design. She suggested that the project team take the Commission’s comments in the spirit of a back-and-forth debate, the same process that occurred in the Commission’s many reviews of the Eisenhower Memorial—a collaborative, flexible process that resulted in considerable change over the years to the design of both the site and the tapestry sculpture.
Ms. Meyer emphasized the importance of remembering that the World War I Memorial would be placed within a park. She described two of the park’s fundamental characteristics that would be conducive to a memorial. The first is its partial enclosure by the berm and steps—which she emphasized is not an anti-urban gesture, as she had heard it called, but an urban gesture to create a place of respite along Pennsylvania Avenue. The second is that this enclosure surrounds a central pool; the enclosure, the pool, and the grove of honey locust trees together created a microclimate that made the park an attractive place to be in Washington’s hot summers.
Ms. Meyer said that no one should forget what is essential about this park—that it is a spatial organization and an experience, not just an aggregation of materials. She emphasized that historic preservation is not just about material culture; it is also about spatial organization, which has for decades been a fundamental quality recognized by the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior in defining historic properties.
Regarding the specific proposals, Ms. Meyer said that both options clearly have potential, but both need a wall that is not as long as the current proposal. She commented that the diagram depicting walls in various lengths is compelling, and the extent of access to the water is vital. She observed that in Friedberg’s design, the length of places along the pool’s edge where it would not be possible to reach the water is 49 feet, according to the dimensions shown by Mr. Rubin; she therefore recommended 49 feet as the longest that the new wall can be without changing this access. She said that she understands the major difference between a low planter and a high wall, but a memorial in this space will have impacts; she stressed that both options would be “dead in the water” if the wall does not get shorter.
Ms. Meyer commented that the freestanding wall, Option A, has considerable merit. She found compelling Mr. Rubin’s account of the possibility that a freestanding wall might create a different kind of social space. However, she said that the small-scale model with its inaccurate dimensions does not yet prove to her that Option A could fulfill this intent. She added that the animation of the water needs to be sufficient to actually create a pleasant microclimate and ambient sound.
Ms. Meyer recommended considering whether the freestanding wall could be moved to other locations in the park; specifically, she suggested placing it closer to the statue of Pershing and the two walls that define its setting. She said that the three-dimensional nature of the revised sculpture wall suggests that this location could be a viable alternative, and she recommended studying it as a third option. She said that she does not have a preference among the two options presented, although from the perspective of wanting the park to be returned to its historic condition as a lively social space, she found herself compelled by the freestanding wall in Option A.
Ms. Griffin outlined several specific points. She began by expressing appreciation for Mr. Fountain’s reminder of the different audiences that would experience the park, such as visitors seeking commemoration, urban dwellers, and art enthusiasts. She commented that if the new design successfully addresses all of the project’s challenges, these categories may merge. She also thanked the project team for the models and Mr. Howard for walking the members through the process of creating the sculpture maquette; she added that seeing the historic images of the war was helpful in understanding how he is thinking about scale and how visitors would experience this representation of the experience of the war. She observed the tension of placing a commemorative work in a very delicately designed park.
Ms. Griffin asked if African American soldiers actually fought alongside white soldiers in World War I, as depicted in the maquette. If they did not, she said that they should not be represented as having done so; the sculpture should depict the authentic experience. She expressed appreciation for Mr. Howard’s inclusion of this narrative, but if black soldiers fought in segregated troops, that reality should be represented. Mr. Howard responded that black and white soldiers had not fought alongside each other, but he believed that when troops go into battle, race is not an issue, and he did not want to depict segregated troops. Ms. Griffin reiterated that the sculptural representation should be consistent with what actually happened.
Ms. Griffin described her concerns with the size and treatment of the wall, and how water could be incorporated in a way that respects the existing design. She said the first time she saw this project she had commented that the wall and the sculpture should not be treated as separate elements, but the sculpture still appears to be applied to and not integrated with the wall. She identified this as still the inherent problem: the sculptural relief sits in a frame, floating on a wall, and is disconnected from both ground and water. She said that the design needs to conceptually incorporate the pool, as well as the sound of the water, in order to engage the rest of the landscape in the same way as the original fountain had. She emphasized that the sculptor and the landscape architect need to collaborate, and the wall must be treated as sculpture on all sides. She elaborated that the heavy frame has a different appearance from the sculpture, and the two together appear uncomfortable. She observed that the two-foot space beneath the sculpture creates a ground datum, with the relief hovering above; she characterized this as a strange relationship. She noted Mr. Howard’s description that the breaks in the relief’s narrative are meant to refer to the Atlantic Ocean, but she said this would not be understandable to a viewer and would need to be explained. She commented that the components do not yet work with each other in a convincing way, and the challenge will be to treat the entire wall as the sculpture.
Ms. Griffin said that elements of the existing landscape could provide datums to dictate dimensions of the new composition, such as the dimension of approximately 50 feet between the two planters yielding an appropriate length for the wall. She recommended reducing the length of the wall to 50 to 55 feet, with the sculpture’s story adapted for this length.
Ms. Griffin said that she finds many elements of the story and the sculpture poignant, but she also notices that a redundancy of figures may work to obscure the narrative’s power. She said that she does not encourage design by committee and respects preserving the vision of artists and architects; nonetheless, she noted that the project team has been told repeatedly that the scale of this wall is a problem. She said that the Commission members respect the challenge of commemorating World War I and support the decision to use a deeper sculptural relief, but the issue of scale must be addressed. She observed that the sculpture has gotten progressively smaller, but it is still not at the right scale, and she recommended that Mr. Howard consider the park’s inherent datums to find the appropriate length for the sculpture wall. The result would be that a person standing at a certain point would be able to see the stair return, and to understand that the sculptural wall is an integral component of the landscape.
Ms. Griffin said that, after hearing the presentation, she supports the freestanding wall of Option A because she finds it more responsive to the urban gestures of the landscape’s original scale; she referred to a drawing that indicated the length along the pool’s perimeter where visitors would be able to engage with the water. She added that if the scale of the wall is reduced, Option B may become more viable; but if this scale does not change, then Option B would be less successful. She underscored the importance of maintaining as much access to the water as possible. She noted that the planters also establish a datum for the water channels, but their scale is difficult to understand because they are represented so differently in the renderings and models.
Ms. Griffin questioned the proposal to duplicate the paving grid used in the existing area of the Pershing statue in the new walking surfaces within the pool. She noted that the renderings from May 2017 showed a paving that appeared seamless; the currently proposed paving looks different and distracting. She suggested using a different paving pattern, perhaps the same as proposed for the pool, or the same material as in the Pershing statue area but in a different finish.
Ms. Gilbert said that Mr. Howard’s description of the journey followed by the sculpture’s recurring figure made it clear that she does not know what the visitor’s journey through the landscape would be; she said that this concern results from the park’s east side not being connected to the rest of the park. She also questioned the intention of reusing the circular area occupied by the kiosk to install a group of flagpoles. She recommended further study the park’s east side to integrate it with the overall landscape plan; simply duplicating the paving from the Pershing statue area will not create a unified connection. She advised starting from the beginning, figuring the composition out using new dimensions—perhaps a shorter wall, perhaps a wall that extends further out over the water—and deciding how all these elements relate, because these relationships are not yet evident. She described the need for separation between elements, such as the walk and the sculpture wall, with sufficient space for the different experiences promised by this new design. She questioned the decision to place the freestanding wall in Option A on the western side of the pool, suggesting that a better location might be further out into the water. She advised reconsidering this placement, observing that the area behind the freestanding wall would be experienced as a tight, uncomfortable slot of space.
Ms. Griffin agreed with Ms. Gilbert’s concern about the kiosk site, describing the proposed arrangement of flagpoles as underwhelming. Ms. Griffin said that the space occupied by the kiosk provides an important opportunity to extend the story of the sculptural wall or to explore another aspect of the story, adding that this space does not need to remain circular. In this way, the story of World War I can be experienced as visitors use the park, so that even those who do not come to see the memorial would be caught up in the story. She also agreed with other Commission members in questioning the notched configuration of the viewing platform’s termination near the northwest corner of the pool.
Mr. Dunson said that the freestanding wall in Option A is his preference, but he too found the proposed length to be an issue; he recommended that the wall be presented in several lengths for the Commission to review. He emphasized the need to remember the vital part played in the Friedberg design by the sound of cascading water; this quality is now missing, and water is presented in the two options as a static, placid element. He said that the sound and sight of water cascading over the fountain wall is what creates the feeling of contemplation, and in either option it would enliven the whole environment.
Ms. Meyer noted the apparent consensus for Option A, the freestanding wall. She summarized that it would have less effect on the stairs and their enclosure of the space; that it would create a new kind of social space for the park; and that it would be a less bulky treatment of the wall that holds the sculpture. She suggested that the members provide the project team with more direction; Chairman Powell agreed. He supported the suggestion to explore the freestanding wall option, emphasizing the role of water and further studying the location of the wall. He said that the Commission is willing to support Option A, subject to the comments provided, while remaining open to considering a third option with the wall in a different location. Mr. Dunson reiterated that the next submission should provide options for the length and placement of the wall, emphasizing the sound and movement of water as an essential part of the Friedberg design.
Secretary Luebke asked if the members are foreclosing Option B or if they would still be willing to consider it. Ms. Meyer said that the approved concept was presented to the Commission seven months ago, and Option B is very similar but does not incorporate the requested revisions; she emphasized that if any version of this option is submitted without these revisions, it will not be approved.
Ms. Meyer said that Ms. Griffin’s comments were the most important of the review: the sculptor and the landscape architect have to collaborate to make this a successful work of art, and the connection between the wall and the park is fundamental. She commented that the sculpture now just looks as if it is glued onto a wall. Ms. Griffin added that, as the project appears now, the sculpture is not only merely attached to the wall, but the water merely flows over it; the Commission remains unconvinced about the effectiveness of how water is incorporated. She urged the project team to begin with the dimension of the wall, and then figure out how to engage the wall with the stairs, and how to integrate the water into this composition. She reiterated that resolving the wall means finding a better, shorter length, and that the wall should be treated as integral with the sculpture. As it is now, she said, the Commission finds merit in the freestanding wall but cannot really critique the design because it is a collection of components, although the options present exciting opportunities.
Chairman Powell summarized that the Commission supports further development of Option A or possibly of other options, subject to resolving issues of scale and integration, but would take no action on the current submission. He thanked the members of the project team for their presentation, and the discussion concluded without a formal action.
2. CFA 15/FEB/18-2, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, East Basin Drive, SW. Accessibility improvements. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the proposal to construct a symmetrical pair of sloped walkways at each end of the Jefferson Memorial’s north side. The walkways would provide a simplified barrier-free route between the entrance plaza and the lower level of the memorial’s interior, which has an elevator leading up to the statuary chamber. He noted that the existing barrier-free route between the plaza and the lower level is circuitous and more than a thousand feet long. He said that three options will be presented with slightly different configurations. He asked Peter May of the National Park Service to begin the presentation.
Mr. May said that the project is part of the National Park Service’s ongoing effort to adapt existing memorials to be more comfortable and accessible for a wider audience of visitors. He introduced landscape architect Doug Mettler of VHB to present the design alternatives.
Mr. Mettler said that the Jefferson Memorial is one of nine sites in the national park system that have been selected for accessibility improvements. He indicated the existing barrier-free route, constructed in 1975 to connect the memorial with the rear parking area to the south. The parking area has subsequently been closed, and visitors are more likely to approach the memorial along the Tidal Basin paths rather than from the south; the current proposal would provide a much more convenient barrier-free route from the Tidal Basin edge of the memorial. He noted that the memorial’s design is generally symmetrical, but the grade varies slightly across the front facade, partially due to greater settling on the memorial’s western side.
Mr. Mettler described the plantings that form the context of the proposed walkways. The original landscape was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., for the memorial’s opening in 1943. This landscape is partially extant; some plantings have been replaced in accordance with the historic plan, while some added plantings are inconsistent with it. The proposed walkways would affect the hedge of inkberry and Japanese yews around one of the memorial’s terrace walls; this hedge was replaced in 1986 and is similar to the originally specified plantings.
Mr. Mettler said that the proposal is intended to go beyond simply meeting the requirements of an accessible route; for example, the slope of the new walkways would be shallower than necessary in order to be more comfortable for visitors to use. He said that the proposal has been influenced by comments received at a public meeting in November 2017; one request was that the walkways have adequate width to accommodate wheelchairs passing in opposite directions. Another request was to provide handrails as a convenience even if not required for the shallow slope of the walkways.
Mr. Mettler presented the three design alternatives. Option 1 would place the walkways within the existing planters at each side of the memorial’s front facade, along the lower terrace wall. This would result in removal of much of the vegetation within the planters, and the width of the walkways would be constrained to five feet; a handrail might be feasible on one side of the walkways, but not on both sides due to the limited available width. Option 2 would similarly place the upper portions of the walkways within the existing planters, while the lower portions would be outside the planter walls; the width would be constrained as in Option 1. Option 3—the project team’s preferred option—would place the walkways entirely outside the planters, minimizing impacts on the existing terrace wall. This option would allow the walkways to be eight feet wide, accommodating two-way passage and handrails as requested at the public meeting. He added that Option 3 would have the least impact on the existing plantings.
Mr. Mettler provided additional details of how Option 3 would be implemented. The slope would be 4 to 4.5 percent, and some existing plaza paving would be adjusted to avoid having a cross-slope at the base of each walkway. The inner edge of each walkway would be the existing planter wall; the outer edge would be a new retaining wall supporting the sloped walkways above the slightly modified grade of the adjacent landscape. The material of the new wall is still under consideration; it is currently shown with granite cladding, and the handrail material would be dark stainless steel. A flush granite band in the paving would mark the removed segment of the terrace wall as each walkway crosses to its upper landing.
Chairman Powell noted the apparent inevitability of the preferred option. Ms. Meyer asked where the slope would begin. Mr. Mettler responded that this is still being studied; a five-foot-square flat area is required adjacent to the base of the slope, and the position of this area requires further detailing. The slope may be designed to be shallower toward the bottom, perhaps two percent, as a transition to the steeper grade of the upper walkway beyond an intermediate landing.
Ms. Gilbert asked if the memorial has existing handrails that could suggest the appropriate design vocabulary for the new handrails; Mr. Mettler responded that no handrails currently existing on the north side of the memorial. Ms. Gilbert asked if accessibility regulations preclude integrating the handrail with the walls framing the walkways; Mr. Mettler responded that handrails are not a regulatory requirement because the slope would be less than five percent. Ms. Griffin suggested attaching the handrails to the walls, or possibly eliminating them from the design; Mr. Powell said that the handrails could be as unobtrusive as possible. Ms. Griffin said that if handrails are included, the color should match the stone walls rather than contrast with them. She also suggested that the new outer walls be stone, instead of using the outer handrails to form this edge of the walkways; she said that this change would reduce the perception that the walkways are merely add-ons to the original design. She expressed appreciation for the perspective renderings that illustrate this detail of the proposal. Catherine Dewey of the National Park Service, chief of resource management for the National Mall & Memorial Parks, responded that several wheelchair-using attendees at the public meeting had recommended against placing walls on both sides of the walkways. Their concern was that the walls would create an excessive sense of enclosure, as if the visitor is entering a cave. She said that this comment has resulted in the current proposal of an open railing along the outer edge of each walkway; Mr. Mettler emphasized that this configuration offers greater transparency in the design. Ms. Griffin acknowledged this concern of the users; she reiterated her suggestion that the color of the railings be reconsidered to reduce the contrast with the stone, in order to achieve a better relationship with the memorial’s existing architecture. Mr. Mettler noted that the inner handrail is also shown as freestanding, without being attached to the existing planter wall; Ms. Griffin said that this inner handrail could have a more elegant appearance if it is instead attached to the wall.
Ms. Meyer offered support for Option 3 as the best alternative, which appears to be the consensus of the Commission members. But she agreed with the concern that the railings look insubstantial in comparison to the scale of the memorial. She welcomed the effort to design the walkways with a shallow slope that does not require any handrails; while acknowledging the comments from the public meeting, she suggested that a handrail on only one side may be sufficient for the shallow walkways. Mr. Mettler responded that a guardrail along the outer edge would be necessary for safety due to the grade change, regardless of the walkway slope. Ms. Meyer suggested a solution of attaching this outer railing to a new site wall, while eliminating the inner handrail along the existing planter wall; she said that the scale of this redundant handrail detracts from the elegance of the memorial.
Ms. Griffin asked for clarification of whether a railing along the outer edge is required; Mr. Mettler clarified that the need would depend on the difference in grade between the walkway and the adjacent landscape area, which could be adjusted further. Ms. Griffin commented that the most open experience for a visitor would be to have no barrier between the walkways and the landscape, if the grading could be adjusted accordingly; the result would be a sense of simply moving through the landscape. Ms. Gilbert suggested that a low wall or curb could provide a minimal edge for the walkways; Ms. Griffin agreed that this could address the safety concern, while providing a relatively seamless experience within the landscape. Mr. Mettler offered to study the use of more fill in the landscape to develop this solution.
Ms. Gilbert asked for clarification of how the walkways would cut through the existing terrace wall. Mr. Mettler said that the walkway width is wider than the length of the existing capstones on the terrace wall. One solution would be to remove one capstone entirely, while shortening a second capstone to provide a sufficiently wide opening; another solution would be to center the new opening within a grouping of two or three capstones, modifying the length of both remaining capstones. He said that any new stone would be contrasting to convey that it was not part of the original construction. Ms. Gilbert supported exploration of these alternatives.
Chairman Powell invited a motion to summarize the Commission’s advice. Ms. Griffin recommended accepting the project team’s preference for Option 3, with a suggestion to study altering the site grading to allow the outer railing to be removed from the design, and to further study the inner handrail to either eliminate it or attach it to the existing planter wall. The Commission adopted this action.
C. U.S. Department of the Army
CFA 15/FEB/18-3, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Southern Expansion Project. Information presentation. Mr. Lindstrom introduced an information presentation on the early stages of planning for a southward expansion of Arlington National Cemetery. He noted that the Commission had visited the site in March 2017 during a tour of several cemetery sites led by Col. Michael Peloquin, the cemetery’s director of engineering. He asked Col. Peloquin to begin the presentation.
Col. Peloquin described a report provided to Congress one year earlier concerning the future capacity for gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery. The report had concluded that the long-term demand for gravesites at the cemetery would exceed the potential for adding capacity by expansion, and the solution would need to include reconsideration of the policies that establish who is eligible for a gravesite at this cemetery. He said that this reconsideration is already underway as an ongoing national dialogue, but meanwhile additional capacity is needed, made possible by the Southern Expansion Project being presented today. He noted that the Commission’s visit in March 2017 included a view across the site from the adjacent Air Force Memorial, with a general description of the road system that is being planned as the framework for the expansion area, with the goal of creating a seamless extension of the existing cemetery. Today’s presentation is at the fifteen percent stage of the design process, intended to obtain comments from the Commission at an early stage. He introduced architect Gregg Schwieterman of HNTB and landscape architect Martin Poirier of PWP Landscape Architecture to present the design.
Mr. Schwieterman described the broad objectives provided to the design team: to maximize the number of future gravesites as required by Congress, and not to harm the integrity of the existing cemetery. Army officials have worked to acquire the land for the southern expansion and, in coordination with state and local governments, to realign public roads in order to provide a gravesite area that is contiguous to the existing cemetery. The result, as identified by Ms. Griffin during the 2017 site visit, is the opportunity for the realigned Columbia Pike in this area to serve as a parkway that ties together several significant national features: the cemetery, the Air Force Memorial, the Pentagon, and the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial as well as its future visitor education center.
Mr. Poirier acknowledged the many people who have contributed to the design character of the cemetery since its establishment, as well as the longstanding involvement of the Commission in providing design guidance. He cited the advice on the cemetery’s appearance given by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., to Army official Montgomery Meigs in the late 19th century: the cemetery should be “studiously simple.” This advice remains a guiding principle for the current design process, which emphasizes rigor and discipline in order to successfully shape the landscape and choose the plantings.
Mr. Poirier presented a satellite image to illustrate the cemetery’s relationship to the urban context, the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, and Washington’s monumental core. He provided an overview of the cemetery’s chronology and geography, from its initial establishment in 1864 to the expansions southward in 1888 and 1897, then eastward in 1966. A smaller expansion to the northwest, the Millennium Project, has been completed in the past year. The current southern expansion is enabled by the southward realignment of Columbia Pike, providing nearly fifty acres of land north of Columbia Pike, contiguous to the existing cemetery, that can be used for roadways and gravesites; an additional area south of Columbia Pike would be used for support functions, stormwater management, and parking for employees and visitors. He noted that this southernmost area was initially not planned as being under the Army’s control as part of the cemetery, raising the concern of whether it would become a suitable neighbor to the cemetery’s southern boundary; in August 2017, this area was designated for cemetery use, allowing for placement of cemetery support facilities south of Columbia Pike and thereby freeing up significantly more space for gravesites in the expansion area north of Columbia Pike. He noted that the planning for this southernmost support area has only recently been started, and it will be brought to the Commission when the design is further developed. At the east end of this southernmost area, a site has been reserved for a visitor education center associated with the nearby 9/11 Pentagon Memorial.
Mr. Poirier provided an aerial view of the cemetery superimposed with the plan for the proposed road system within the southern expansion; he emphasized that the goal of a seamless expansion appears to have been achieved. He noted the need to balance several design goals: providing gravesites; extending the cemetery’s design character; and accommodating funeral services. The areas designated for burial sites have setbacks to allow for maintenance needs and below-grade utilities. The planned road widths have been established by longstanding experience with the operational needs of funeral services. Other design parameters include a maximum distance of 200 feet from any gravesite to a road, and a maximum grade of 10 percent for the burial areas and 7 percent for the roads.
Mr. Poirier presented the planned design features in greater detail. A vehicular tunnel beneath Columbia Pike would connect the new support area to the main area of the cemetery; the service road connecting to this tunnel would extend alongside the cemetery boundary at the southwest corner of the expansion area. He emphasized the cemetery’s complex maintenance operations that occur simultaneously with funeral ceremonies, requiring flexible routing options for service vehicles; he said that the proposed layout has the support of the cemetery staff. The planned columbarium complex, containing walls with niches for cremated remains, would be placed adjacent to this southwest perimeter road; the columbarium walls would serve to block views of the service areas and Columbia Pike, as well as providing sound attenuation. The columbarium area would be largely flat, and the cemetery landscape beyond would descend to the north and east by more than 100 feet. The western and central portions of this terrain would be designated for in-ground burial of cremated remains; the area toward the east would accommodate in-ground casket burials within pre-set crypts; and a smaller area to the extreme east would have traditional burial sites for caskets. The existing Air Force Memorial partially interrupts this landscape, extending northward from the realigned Columbia Pike and bordered on three sides by the cemetery’s southern expansion. The planned layout of roads results from the criteria for setbacks and distances to graves, resulting in a net area for gravesites of approximately 33 acres within the 50-acre expansion area; he said that this yield rate is very good in meeting the goal of maximizing gravesite capacity for the cemetery.
Mr. Poirier said that most of the existing boundary wall in this area would be removed, although a portion adjacent to some historic gravesites would remain. The new boundary wall would extend along the public roads bounding the cemetery expansion on the west, south, and southeast. Coordination is underway to provide a single entrance gate along Columbia Pike for both the cemetery and the Air Force Memorial, intended to eliminate the need for an attenuated and potentially unsightly boundary wall along the other three sides of the memorial site; a pedestrian entrance to the cemetery would be provided along the west side of the memorial’s grounds, adjacent to the planned columbarium. He said that one goal is for the Air Force Memorial to become an integral part of the cemetery due to their compatible purposes; the columbarium would be at approximately the same grade as the west edge of the memorial’s plaza, providing opportunities for further connections, while the east edge of the memorial’s plaza provides a dramatic overlook across the descending topography. The planning for the new alignment of Columbia Pike includes a signalized crosswalk at the Air Force Memorial entrance to provide a route for pedestrians using the planned public parking area south of Columbia Pike.
Mr. Poirier said that the more detailed design for the grading and planting is based on Olmsted’s principle of a “studiously simple” landscape. The maximum grade of 7 percent for the roads is intended to accommodate the horse-drawn caissons that are used in funeral processions: the caissons are very heavy, and the design must consider the comfort of the horses. He provided an analysis of the terrain steepness in iconic gravesite areas of the existing cemetery, often with a slope of 20 to 25 percent and sometimes reaching 33 percent; the more modest maximum of 10 percent for the new gravesite areas results in a challenging task to relate the terrain character of the expansion to the existing cemetery’s terrain. Further study of the existing cemetery focused on the rolling lawns, the rows of headstones, and the use of trees to shape meadows, giving the sense of a sequence of enclosure and openness. To provide the rolling lawns in the expansion area, the terrain would not simply slope in one direction but would have a compound topography, curving in two directions. He showed photographs of a similarly configured landscape from one of his firm’s other projects, the Glenstone museum in Potomac, Maryland.
Mr. Poirier described the impact of pre-set crypts on the landscape design. He said that this system of crypts has been used elsewhere in the national cemetery system but has only recently been introduced in Arlington National Cemetery as part of the Millennium Project. The crypts are stacked two high as part of the initial sitework, extending in a field across the site; they are then buried beneath a shallow layer of soil, approximately 18 to 24 inches deep, that forms the landscape surface. This technique results in efficiency of excavation but can be difficult to configure within a complex topography; he noted that the Millennium Project’s topography primarily slopes in a single direction, with a relatively shallow cross-slope of two to five percent. He presented a photograph of a cemetery in California that has successfully installed a system of pre-set crypts with significant slopes in two directions, sometimes exceeding sixteen percent; the design team therefore has confidence that the desired topography can be achieved in combination with the crypt system. He described the array of crypts as a structure with a green roof above. Water management within the soil must be carefully designed to ensure the success of the plantings; a material providing additional rainwater absorption will be needed above the crypts to provide a sustained source of water for the plants in order to avoid a parched appearance or the need for additional irrigation.
Mr. Poirier said that an additional issue in the landscape design is major viewsheds, both from and into the expansion area of the cemetery; he noted the staff’s emphasis on this topic during consultation meetings. Desirable views must be identified to keep them open, and potentially problematic views would need to be screened. Due to the rising topography of this area of the cemetery, it will be prominently visible throughout the year from nearby areas such as the Pentagon, Columbia Pike, and multiple highways; he emphasized that this expansion area will become the most visible public face of the cemetery for the tens of thousands of people in the area each day who do not even enter the cemetery grounds. He indicated several important views across the expansion area from nearby locations, including the Air Force Memorial; the landscape should be designed so that these views convey the iconic visual character that prevails at Arlington National Cemetery, and unattractive elements should be kept away from these views or adequately screened. He added that these views should also be considered as a design is developed for the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial’s visitor education center. He presented several computer-simulated perspective views across the expansion’s landscape looking south from the Air Force Memorial plaza, with alternatives for shaping the topography in various ways to give a sense of undulating terrain. He observed that greater variation in the grade, in combination with the placement of trees, results in a sense of distinct areas with a sense of containment, intimacy, and identity.
Mr. Poirier described the strategy for plantings. Clumps of trees would be placed along the roads near intersections, where extensive soil would be available within the setback area between the gravesites and the roads; these tree canopies would define the broad spatial areas of the cemetery. Large specimen trees would be located among the gravestones. Dense plantings of evergreens would be placed where needed to screen views, such as at the back edges of the columbarium where the landscape would provide an attractive buffer to the adjacent neighborhood on the west. Three different soil types would be used in response to the different planting conditions. Approximately seventy existing trees within the expansion site have been identified as candidates for transplanting within the reconstructed landscape. He emphasized that this landscape will endure indefinitely, and trees will be carefully replaced when necessary. He added that the placement of trees along the roads would take advantage of the saw-tooth edge of the array of pre-set crypts, while the specimen trees would be planted in an area of deep soil that would be reserved among the crypts; the necessary area for the growth of these trees is still being studied. He presented a section drawing to illustrate the special planting strategy in the relatively low area of the cemetery immediately south of the Air Force Memorial viewing platform: moderate-height plants would screen views downward from the memorial into the cemetery, providing a sense of privacy for funeral services, while the broader horizontal views from the memorial toward the Potomac River would not be significantly impeded.
Mr. Poirier said that the initial planning for trees in the expansion area has been compared to the existing pattern of trees within Arlington National Cemetery, in order to confirm the intention to extend the cemetery’s character. Various areas of the existing cemetery have an existing density of approximately 12 to 15 trees per acre, compared to nearly 20 trees per acre being planned within the expansion area. However, this calculation is exaggerated by the dense planting of trees that is envisioned in the 3-acre columbarium area, which has over 53 trees per acre. Considering only the open landscape of the expansion area, the density would be 14.5 trees per acre, comparable to the density of trees at the existing cemetery.
Mr. Poirier said that the initial layout of the columbarium in the expansion area is based on a study of the existing columbarium areas in the cemetery. Some of the existing areas seem too narrow and undignified between rows of niche walls, while the U-shaped alcoves of approximately 24 feet square seem appropriately scaled. This pattern of U-shaped alcoves is therefore the basis of the new columbarium layout. Trees and lawns would be interspersed among these alcoves to bring the cemetery’s landscape character into the columbarium, and views would open toward the new and existing cemetery landscape on the north. This configuration would provide solid niche walls toward the adjacent roads, serving to provide screening. Two committal shelters would be provided for holding funeral services within the columbarium area, spaced sufficiently far apart to allow for simultaneous services; the design for the shelters and their adjacent plazas is still being developed.
Mr. Poirier concluded with several perspective views in the vicinity of the Air Force Memorial. He noted that some of the views encompass the planned 9/11 Pentagon Memorial visitor education center, which has not yet been designed; a large extruded volume is shown in the views as a placeholder, and he emphasized the importance of this facility’s design as an element in the views through this area. He said that the character of Columbia Pike should be a parkway through cemetery property, rather than simply a southern edge of the cemetery; careful design of the area south of Columbia Pike, including the visitor education center as well as cemetery-related support facilities, is therefore an important concern. He added that the stormwater retention facilities in this area would have a varying character, ranging from wetlands to meadows.
Chairman Powell acknowledged the ambitious scope of the project and invited comments from the Commission members. Mr. Dunson said that the planned 9/11 Pentagon Memorial visitor education center, although illustrated simply as a placeholder, will be an important part of the context. Mr. Poirier responded that the sponsor of that building, the Pentagon Memorial Fund, is committed to developing an appropriate design that will be compatible with the cemetery and the Air Force Memorial. He said that the project team for the cemetery expansion supports the planned siting of the visitor education center, which is spacious and does not affect the gravesite capacity of the cemetery expansion; in contrast, an earlier siting idea discussed for this building would have squeezed the building into a portion of the gravesite area. He added that the presentation images are simply intended to convey that some sort of building will be located on that site. Secretary Luebke clarified that the visitor education center is a separate project that will be submitted in the future for Commission review; a representative of that project team is present in the audience. Mr. Dunson said that the design of this building will strongly affect the character of this edge of the cemetery. Col. Peloquin responded that the cemetery staff has been meeting with the project team for the visitor education center, including a meeting yesterday to see the current design ideas for the building; he said that the site and building volume depicted in today’s presentation remain accurate, although the building design has evolved very differently compared to earlier studies. He said that the cemetery superintendent, Katherine Kelley, is very satisfied with the design evolution for that building, including the awareness of the context and the need for a unified design character along this realigned segment of Columbia Pike. He anticipated that the project team for the visitor education center would meet with the Commission staff separately and in combination with the cemetery expansion’s project team. He added that the cemetery expansion project is currently further in the design process, but the visitor education center may move forward more quickly. Chairman Powell asked who is designing the visitor education center; Col. Peloquin responded that the design firm is Fentress Architects, and Curtis Fentress has been participating in the coordination meetings.
Ms. Meyer suggested focusing the discussion on the current presentation for the cemetery expansion. She recalled that the presentation concerning the expansion during the Commission’s site inspection in March 2017 had conveyed an exciting vision, and she said that today’s presentation is similarly exciting in conveying the design potential for addressing emotional as well as technical issues. She expressed appreciation for the presentation, describing it as the most eloquent and rigorous description of a design process that she has seen in her five years as a Commission member. She said that the presentation has demonstrated that “hyper-functionalism and minimalism can lead to poetry.” She cited two topics in the presentation as especially insightful: the understanding that the slope of the land will affect the experience of the place, leading to studies of different topographic configurations; and the acknowledgement that the use of pre-set crypts could result in a parched landscape. She said that these technical issues will determine whether the project is superlative. She added that many designers would be more informal or careless in their study, while this presentation has demonstrated technical precision.
Ms. Meyer also commended the project team for its study of the existing columbarium spaces. She agreed that some of the existing dimensions are too tight, and the current presentation has successfully identified the best proportions to convey a sense of enclosure as well as connection to the larger landscape; she also cited the consideration of materials. She suggested that the further development of the design include much more detailed consideration of the columbarium, which may become preferred over in-ground burials as the American public becomes more aware of sustainability issues.
Ms. Meyer suggested a stronger sense of priorities in the consideration of views, observing that the view of the Pentagon should be more important than the view of the planned visitor education center. She said that the height and bulk of the visitor education center should be designed with consideration of how much of the Pentagon would be visible from key locations. She urged the cemetery expansion’s project team to advocate for this issue in its coordination meetings with the visitor education center’s project team.
Ms. Gilbert commended the designers for their study of how a landscape can be healing and therapeutic, with consideration of metrics and techniques for establishing a sense of containment, gathering, and contemplation in the landscape. She said that the presentation was very moving, and the design analysis was consistent with her sense that cemeteries can be very beautiful places; she especially acknowledged the importance of trees in defining the character of Arlington National Cemetery. She questioned whether the consideration of specimen trees, with special soil and specific siting among the array of crypts, has given adequate consideration to how these trees would be replaced when they eventually die. She noted the difficulty of planting a replacement tree in exactly the same location as a previous tree, and she cited the expectation that this landscape will endure forever.
Ms. Gilbert agreed with Ms. Meyer’s comment that the choice of materials will be important to the success of the columbarium. Ms. Gilbert cited a notable cemetery design in Italy by architect Carlo Scarpa with concrete finishes that included the impressions of leaves and a strong sense of shadows; she encouraged a similar effort to achieve beauty in this columbarium.
Ms. Gilbert observed that the Air Force Memorial site appears to be a large intrusion into the cemetery expansion, and she questioned the purpose of the memorial’s large plaza space. Mr. Poirier confirmed that the space is currently used as a bus turnaround. Ms. Gilbert suggested that its use be reconsidered, preferably with a focus on the pedestrian experience; the bus drop-off function could be moved toward Columbia Pike. She said that extensive fencing between the cemetery and the Air Force Memorial site could be problematic. She recalled the presentation at the Commission’s November 2017 meeting of a very long fence along Fort Myer’s boundary with Arlington National Cemetery; she described the Fort Myer fence proposal as “studiously overwrought” rather than simple. She encouraged further consideration of the design for the edges of the expansion project, particularly along the boundary with the Air Force Memorial that will be a lengthy presence extending into the middle of the cemetery expansion area. Col. Peloquin responded that the potential changes to the Air Force Memorial site are related to the development of the cemetery property south of Columbia Pike; the design process for this area has only recently begun, and therefore the presentation did not address it in detail. The intent is to provide visitor parking on the cemetery property south of Columbia Pike; visitors would cross Columbia Pike to reach the memorial, using the crosswalk that is being planned as part of the road’s realignment. He noted that the grades are favorably configured at this location to provide a reasonably level route for pedestrians to reach the memorial, notwithstanding the prevailing steep slopes in the area. The planned cemetery entrance along the plaza could provide access to a nearby stop for the cemetery’s tram system that moves visitors around the cemetery grounds. He said that the result could be a greatly increased number of visitors to the Air Force Memorial. Consistent with Ms. Gilbert’s suggestion, he envisioned that the memorial’s plaza would no longer be used for vehicles except on special occasions. He noted that the project team has not yet coordinated this planning with representatives of the Air Force Memorial, beyond some constructive preliminary discussions; a meeting is anticipated in the coming weeks.
Ms. Griffin joined in expressing appreciation for the presentation and for the site visit in March 2017. She recalled being impressed with the combination of topography and trees that shapes a variety of experiences and emotions; she encouraged the use of these techniques for the development of the planned expansion of the cemetery. She agreed that the treatment of the Air Force Memorial is an important consideration in the cemetery expansion project, and its circulation system should not simply be left as it is. She encouraged stronger consideration of a unified vision for the cemetery, the memorial, Columbia Pike, and areas to the south, comparable to the strong vision that was presented for the cemetery expansion area itself. She said that the presented planning for this southern area is simply a programmatic diagram, but a more developed master plan is needed that involves collaboration among the different entities controlling the properties in this area. She cited the space between the cemetery service area and the visitor education center as being especially in need of further definition.
Ms. Griffin commented that the planning appears to be organized around the needs of vehicular circulation, and she suggested giving comparable analysis to the pedestrian’s experience. For example, she suggested studying the experience of a visitor who parks in the planned lot on the south side of Columbia Pike and then walks to the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial visitor education center, the Air Force Memorial, and the cemetery. Issues to consider include the width of Columbia Pike, the landscape along it, and the presence or absence of sidewalks. Ms. Meyer commented that the roads within the cemetery would appropriately be treated as pedestrian paths that happen to allow vehicles; design details could be developed accordingly. Ms. Griffin reiterated her suggestion that the pedestrian experience be treated as thoroughly and eloquently as other topics in the presentation; she said that the closer study might reveal that pedestrians would be confined to a narrow sidewalk alongside a cemetery boundary wall. She added that the study of the pedestrian experience should include consideration of how a pedestrian would move through the cemetery, and she encouraged the development of this experience as part of the poetry of the overall design.
Ms. Gilbert asked if the older cemetery roads were originally carriage paths. Mr. Poirier confirmed this earlier use; he said that the roads are typically very narrow, and sidewalks are provided in only a few locations. He noted that private vehicles are generally not allowed within the cemetery except in conjunction with funeral services. He agreed that the planning should include further study of the pedestrian experience, as well as further consideration of the cemetery expansion in relation to the inspirational Air Force Memorial, the Pentagon, and the distant view of the Washington Monument. He offered to work further with the neighboring visitor attractions to create a unified experience rather than merely separate places. Ms. Griffin clarified that she did not intend to focus on the provision of sidewalks, but is instead concerned with the overall visitor experience after exiting a vehicle, especially the sequence of moving to the several visitor attractions.
Chairman Powell summarized the Commission’s appreciation for the presentation, with the expectation of a future submission showing the evolution of the design. Mr. Poirier acknowledged the helpfulness of the comments from the Commission members. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
D. U.S. Department of State
CFA 15/FEB/18-4, Foreign Missions Center, former Walter Reed Army Medical Center—western portion at 16th Street and Alaska Avenue, NW. Master plan for new Foreign Missions Center. Final. (Previous: CFA 16/FEB/17-3.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the master plan for a new Foreign Missions Center (FMC) on property acquired by the State Department in 2013 at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus. The FMC will provide additional sites for diplomatic chanceries in the city. The master plan anticipates that the FMC land will be divided into approximately 11 to 15 parcels of varying sizes, allowing for flexibility to accommodate the needs of the individual foreign missions and of the State Department. She noted that the Commission last reviewed the proposed master plan in February 2017 and approved it with recommendations, particularly regarding the development of design guidelines for each building site and for the shared streetscape, including stormwater management features, fence lines, building frontages, and the treatment of building forecourts. She asked Adam Bodner, director of the Office of Real Property Management at the State Department, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Bodner said that his office is responsible for the State Department’s domestic real estate activities. He said that although the District of Columbia is one of the smallest capital cities in the world, it is home to the most international organizations; demand is therefore high for the limited land and space available, especially to house foreign missions. He said that the overall goal of the FMC is to provide a safe and secure facility for diplomatic relations between the U.S. and other governments; this would also help the U.S. to establish secure facilities in other countries. He noted that the FMC master planning process began in 2011.
The master plan was presented by architect Greg Bordynowski of EYP; lead master planner Sandy Carroll of the firm Jacobs; lead historic preservation architect Matt Chalifoux of EYP; and lead designer Richard Clarke, also of EYP. Mr. Carroll said that the Walter Reed property was divided among three entities: the State Department, the D.C. government, and the Children’s National Medical Center. The D.C. government established the Walter Reed Local Redevelopment Authority to develop its property with mixed-use residential and commercial buildings. The Children’s National Medical Center organization intends to develop a research facility in support of public health, using the former Institute of Pathology building.
Mr. Clarke described the context of the former Walter Reed campus within a larger residential neighborhood composed primarily of single-family houses and small apartment buildings. The FMC would occupy approximately the western half of the former Walter Reed campus; the D.C.-sponsored development and the Children’s National project would be on the remainder. He indicated on an aerial photograph the FMC site’s boundaries with the existing neighborhood: 16th Street to the west and Alaska Avenue to the northwest. He said that the concentration of trees on the western portion of the FMC site is reminiscent of the landscape of Rock Creek Park immediately to the west across 16th Street; the master plan intends to retain as much of this wooded character as possible in the accommodation of the new chanceries. He added that this character dissipates toward the east, where the campus character becomes more urban as the larger institutional buildings of the former hospital predominate. He added that the planning emphasizes Dahlia Street as the central east–west artery for the overall campus.
Mr. Chalifoux said that all of the buildings on the campus were evaluated for historic significance as a part of the U.S. government’s Base Realignment and Closure program. The entire Walter Reed campus, including the proposed FMC, is a historic district listed on the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places; the period of significance for the entire campus is from 1909, when Walter Reed was established, to 1956, which marks the construction of one of the last major campus buildings, the Institute of Pathology research building. All structures that fall within this time period are considered significant, regardless of their individual architectural quality. He added that the Civil War’s Battle of Fort Stevens took place just south of the site, in July 1864; battle lines were located across what is now the Walter Reed site. The master plan therefore considers the new development’s effect on campus historic resources both inside and outside the project’s boundaries.
Mr. Chalifoux described the existing buildings on the FMC site, including three large-scale buildings and three smaller buildings. Building 40, which was the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, is a large H-shaped building near the center of the proposed FMC; the western addition to this building was constructed after the campus’s period of significance. Building 41, to the northeast of Building 40, is referred to as the old Red Cross building; it was constructed in 1920, with a later addition. He said that a feasibility study has concluded that Buildings 40 and 41 could be appropriate for chancery use. The Memorial Chapel (Building 57), located at the intersection of 14th and Dahlia Streets to the northwest of Building 40, is the only freestanding chapel on the Walter Reed campus; because of its importance and uniqueness, the chapel would be retained and used by the State Department as a meeting facility. The small structures clustered on the west side of the campus are former officers’ quarters; these residences were on the site prior to the establishment of Water Reed, and most would be demolished.
Mr. Clarke described the proposed FMC site planning, referencing the new composite diagram that was prepared in response to the Commission’s previous comments. He indicated the site’s varied topography, including a steep wooded slope in the southwestern section. A green buffer along the 16th Street and Alaska Avenue edges of the FMC would reinforce the desired woodland character created by the adjacent park. Within the former Walter Reed campus, Dahlia Street would run east–west through the northern part of the FMC site, and Main Drive would form the southern boundary of the FMC, running east–west in a curvilinear fashion along a contour line. The northern sidewalk of Main Drive would be a part of the FMC, while the curb, cartway, and opposite sidewalk would be controlled by D.C. and subject to its various regulations. 14th Street, extending north–south through the FMC site, would be redeveloped as a north–south parkway with a median of green infrastructure, connecting the two east–west streets; the existing traffic oval at the junction of 14th Street and Main Drive would be retained. He said that a small entrance to the FMC would be located at 16th and Dahlia Streets. The project team also explored opening 14th Street to through-traffic at Alaska Avenue, but determined that terminating the northern end of 14th Street with a vehicular cul-de-sac would make the campus more secure and enable a wider range of foreign mission sizes and scales near this intersection. However, a pedestrian and bicyclist connection would be established here to provide public access from the neighborhood on the north, and setbacks included in the plan could allow for the opening of 14th Street to traffic in the future. He said that the master plan intends to reinforce the urban character of Dahlia Street east of 14th Street. In addition, the strong axes of the existing buildings are respected in the proposed orientation of the FMC’s internal streets. The green space around the chapel would be retained and embellished by the parkway character proposed for 14th Street; an existing strip of green space located on the Children’s National Medical Center site, adjacent to the FMC, would also be retained. The existing tree canopy would be kept wherever possible, but it would be affected by parcelization and the future building footprints.
Mr. Clarke presented the master plan’s parcelization proposal, which has three options ranging from 11 to 15 parcels; this approach is preferred by the State Department to allow for flexibility in accommodating prospective missions. He indicated the buildable area on each parcel, noting that the lot coverage diagrams are intended to illustrate the allowable buildable footprints, not the architectural configuration of actual buildings. He also indicated the segments of the parcel edges that are proposed as allowable for entrance points, noting that the goal of the master plan is to orient as many entrances as possible on Dahlia Street. He presented a diagram of the different character zones that would be created within the FMC: the chapel, Dahlia, and Main Drive zones. The northern area adjacent to the chapel would have several options for parcelization. The parcels along Dahlia Street would have chanceries that front the street and address the corners; the setbacks specified for lots on Dahlia west of 14th Street would be broad, while the setbacks to the east, established by Building 41, would be narrower. He said that the urban character of Dahlia Street would be strengthened by contrasting it with the more open green space that would surround the chapel. The largest parcels would be located near Main Drive, since these sites would be less encumbered and have relatively easy access from this street; he said the lot coverages and frontages proposed for these parcels are intended to reinforce the traffic oval and curves of the street. He added that the existing trees on the steep slopes would provide privacy for the missions that would be located in this area. He indicated the green buffer along the west and northwest edges of the FMC site, as well as which trees would be retained or removed to accommodate construction.
Mr. Carroll described the components of the chancery building typology that have informed the proposed master plan. Forecourts, perimeter fences, gates, and gatehouses often separate chanceries from the street, and the anticipated garden component of chanceries provides the opportunity to maintain the special and heritage trees on the campus. The chancery building itself would have a semi-public character. Each foreign mission would be required to accommodate all of its parking demand within its parcel, either above or below ground, or in an offsite garage; this is similar to the requirements at the forerunner to the FMC, the International Chancery Center in the Van Ness neighborhood of Washington.
Mr. Clarke indicated on plan, section, and volumetric diagrams the basic massing guidelines for the chanceries, which would be used in conjunction with the various site conditions described by Mr. Carroll. Mr. Clarke presented perspective renderings of Dahlia Street showing the elimination of a planted strip previously proposed to run along the fence line; it would be replaced with a base wall for the fence. He said that the proposed fence is intended to be visually transparent but would clearly define the sidewalk line. This revised fence design would allow for more planting or garden space within the chancery parcel. The plan also calls for street trees within planted pits, which would serve as a layer of protection between the chanceries and the street. He presented renderings of Dahlia Street at the intersection of the two halves of the Walter Reed redevelopment, noting that the cartway of Dahlia Street would narrow moving westward from the D.C.-controlled part of the campus to the FMC; this would be achieved by a northward shift of the sidewalk and street trees. He said that this configuration results from the property line established by Building 41, as well as from the decision not to have parking lanes on the FMC. Mr. Carroll emphasized that Dahlia Street would be open to traffic across the entire campus from 16th Street to Georgia Avenue, the result of coordination with the D.C. redevelopment authority.
Mr. Clarke reiterated that 14th Street, which runs downhill from north to south, is intended to have a parkway character with a sense of openness. Within its central median would be stormwater mitigation structures, a series of stepped weirs lined with plantings and rocks; a mid-block pedestrian bridge would enable crossings of the median. The chancery parcels along this parkway would be larger and have deeper setbacks than those to the north; taller chanceries would also be permitted on the larger lots. The fence line along these parcels could also be set further back from the sidewalk, with a maximum height of nine feet—though some in the foreign mission community have expressed a desire for taller fences. The planted edge along the fence line would be retained in this area because it is more suburban in character; street trees within planted pits would line the roadway. He noted that each foreign mission would be responsible for stormwater mitigation within its own chancery parcel.
Mr. Clarke presented some of the more detailed lot guidelines that would be included in the master plan, including diagrams for the area centered on the chapel that delineate potential building heights, lot coverage, setbacks, lot character and improvements, and parking provisions; the proposed diagrams also depict topographic features and the heritage and special trees to be preserved. He described how the guidelines would create the intended character. For example, the guidelines call for the retention of the open space in front of the chapel, which would maintain oblique views from public space toward the building, thereby preserving its historic presence on the corner. The diagrams would also help guide the planning for lots with existing buildings, which might be retained, enlarged, or demolished. For example, if the addition to Building 41 is demolished, the plan calls for the creation of an open square space that historically included the space of the former addition; structured parking would be allowed underneath this square to accommodate the parking requirements of a new chancery on this lot. He concluded by reiterating that the lot coverage guidelines are not intended to establish a preferred architectural design.
Chairman Powell expressed appreciation for the presentation and invited comments from the Commission members. Ms. Griffin asked if the campus’s entrances are gated at 16th Street or Georgia Avenue. Mr. Carroll said that these entrances are currently gated and closed, but in the future these locations would not be gated, and all streets within the campus would be open to pedestrians and vehicles. Ms. Griffin asked if the proposed fence detail would be used throughout the FMC. Mr. Carroll responded that the design team has been studying the concept of a common fence detail. However, one complicating factor is the historic fence around the perimeter, which is a contributing resource to the FMC portion of the Walter Reed historic district, though not the entire property. Moreover, some foreign missions have expressed interest in having unique fences. Ms. Gilbert asked for a description of the historic fence. Mr. Chalifoux said that it is Georgian Revival in style, composed of black-painted iron pickets with brick and limestone detailing; it was modified in recent years to be a secure barrier. He said that this existing fence would be retained along the perimeter of the FMC site, with slight modifications at the entry points. Any additional fences for the chanceries would be set back from the historic fence. Ms. Gilbert asked if a maximum allowable fence height would be established. Mr. Carroll responded that the allowable height of any new fence would depend on the lot, with the maximum height being nine feet on the largest lots. Ms. Griffin asked if chanceries would be required to have fencing. Mr. Carroll said that fencing would not be required, and he cited several chanceries on the International Chancery Center campus that are not fenced.
Ms. Griffin asked why Dahlia Street west of 14th Street was characterized in the presentation as less urban than the eastern portion; Ms. Meyer suggested that this description may have been unintended. Mr. Carroll responded that the eastern portion is lined with buildings close to the sidewalk, such as Building 41. On the western portion, the remnant forest landscape is similar to that of nearby Rock Creek Park. Therefore, the intention is to broaden Dahlia’s western streetscape to allow for a greater expression of the tree canopy. Ms. Meyer said it was counterintuitive to describe Dahlia Street as less urban as it approaches 16th Street, which is a major arterial road. In addition, she questioned the presentation’s assumption that trees are not a component of an urban streetscape, which she said is a binary conceptualization that is not useful for this project. She also questioned the shift in the setback configuration along Dahlia Street, suggesting that if the goal is to protect trees on the western section of the street, then a consistent setback would be more appropriate; it would also create a more coherent streetscape. Mr. Carroll responded that Building 56, which has already been leased to a foreign mission, determined the setback for the south side of the western section of Dahlia Street. Ms. Meyer questioned the reasoning that Building 56 should generate the setback line, rather than having it be an exception to an otherwise consistent setback along the entire length of the street. Mr. Clarke responded that the deeper setback proposed for the western section of Dahlia is also intended to respond to the deep setback of the chapel on the north side of the street. Ms. Griffin said that she accepts this additional explanation for the wider proposed setback, rather than the previously presented logic that the street’s character ought to be suburban because of its denser tree canopy.
Ms. Griffin asked if the plan would require forecourts, or if they would be discretionary for each foreign mission; she added that if forecourts are discretionary, and Dahlia is intended to be an urban street, then the master plan should prescribe limitations on where forecourts and the related curb cuts would be acceptable. In addition, recognizing the plan’s goal of creating zones with different characteristics, she recommended further study of the appropriateness of the character-defining elements prescribed for each zone. For example, she suggested that forecourts could be prohibited on Dahlia and 14th Streets, but allowed on Main Drive. She also commented that the presented diagram of the zones is too generalized; she suggested preparation of a diagram of each street that clearly shows how the character-defining elements should be incorporated. She observed that more curb cuts are actually proposed for 14th Street than for Main Drive. Mr. Carroll responded that Main Drive would be controlled by D.C., not the federal government; proposed curb cuts on this road are limited because the process of obtaining permits for curb cuts would be through the D.C. Department of Transportation. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that avoiding the D.C. permitting process may not be the most appropriate factor for determining the location of curb cuts.
Mr. Bordynowski responded to the question of where forecourts should be encouraged or prohibited. He clarified that each foreign mission will have to submit a chancery design to the Commission; forecourts could be included in these designs, but they are not required. He recalled a previous discussion regarding the functional problems of accommodating visitor parking on the site, and he noted that each chancery design will include a parking plan. Ms. Griffin commented that if Dahlia is designed as an urban street, then it should not have curb cuts; visitors would be dropped off at the curb and walk up a path to a chancery. She suggested that the design team should therefore be more explicit about the appropriate location for any curb cuts. Mr. Bordynowski agreed with this reasoning, and he suggested that a separate diagram could illustrate the desired street edge conditions. Ms. Griffin supported this suggestion, and she accepted the proposal that each street would have a different character. However, she emphasized that because the development guidelines associated with each of the streets are not the same, the diagrams should clearly define which elements are required, which are discretionary, and where they are appropriate; she cited a common fence identity and forecourts as two such elements. Mr. Bordynowski agreed; citing his work on U.S. embassies abroad, he said that the foreign missions will most likely have specific height and anti-climb requirements for their fences, and the master plan should have flexibility to accommodate these requirements while still specifying consistent setback proportions based on lot size and potential building height. Ms. Griffin noted that the intention to locate fences away from the property line would help in this regard.
Ms. Gilbert asked how vehicles would be accommodated during large events, and if they would be allowed to idle along the streets. Mr. Carroll acknowledged that this issue has not been resolved. He said that missions would be required to complete a transportation demand management plan to address staff, visitor, and event parking, along with loading, receiving, and waste disposal. He added that the D.C. side of the campus will have at least one large parking garage that may be able to accommodate overflow parking, but the foreign missions would have to negotiate directly with any potential operator of the garage.
Ms. Meyer expressed appreciation for the revisions to the design, particularly for the inclusion of consolidated diagrams that illustrate the specific opportunities and constraints of each chancery site; she said that these diagrams would reduce any surprises for the foreign missions, such as steep slopes and heritage trees. She questioned why the potential locations for forecourts are shown only on larger plans and sections, and she suggested that the forecourts be included on the diagrams at every scale—clearly documenting the relationship between these elements and primary building facades. Mr. Clarke responded that forecourts are shown on some diagrams; Ms. Meyer emphasized that these diagrams are confusing and should be refined.
Ms. Griffin asked for a more detailed explanation of the architectural character guidelines that are proposed; she asked if an emphatically contemporary design for a building would be permitted. Mr. Chalifoux said that the design guidelines, which are intended to be used as a reference tool, are based on guidelines used by the D.C. government for regulating the design of new buildings within historic districts. The guidance would address how new buildings may respond to the specific character and rich history of the historic district. He noted that architectural styles on the campus range from Georgian Revival to Brutalist, and the guidelines are intended to be broad enough to help new designs respond to this wide range of existing building styles. He added that the architecture of potential new buildings on the D.C. side of the site is still unknown, and flexible design guidelines are therefore important. He anticipates that foreign missions will express their national and cultural identities through the architecture of their chanceries, which would be possible within the guidelines; he added that new buildings would not be required to be Georgian in character. Ms. Griffin advised that the language of the guidelines be changed to clearly articulate these expectations, citing a passage that reads, in part: “Limit the use of exterior materials that are not present within the historic district….” She said that the option to use different but complimentary materials for new buildings within the historic district would be desirable.
Chairman Powell expressed support for the master plan, and he offered a motion for approval with the comments provided. Ms. Griffin asked that the motion include the request to provide more definitive recommendations in the master plan regarding the type and location of the character-defining site elements that were discussed. Mr. Powell agreed to this clarification; upon a second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission adopted this action.
E. District of Columbia Department of Transportation
CFA 15/FEB/18-5, Francis Scott Key Bridge, over the Potomac River between Georgetown and Rosslyn, Virginia. Architectural lighting. Concept. Mr. Mellon introduced the proposal to install architectural lighting for Key Bridge. He noted that the bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) is undertaking a historic preservation review process. He said that the Commission’s Old Georgetown Board reviewed the concept proposal at its December 2017 meeting. Of the four options presented for the lighting configuration, the Board expressed support for Concept 1, which would light the bridge’s large arches and spandrel arches but not the vertical piers; the Board had also raised the concern that the lighting of the road deck itself was not included in the presented renderings. He said that the Board opposed the proposal to include programmable color lighting, due to its incompatibility with the established pattern of lighting buildings and other features in Washington’s monumental core. The Board did not take an action but requested a revised submission and a mockup to better evaluate the proposal’s visual impact. Ms. Meyer asked for clarification of any subsequent submission to the Board. Mr. Mellon said that DDOT has not made a further submission to the Board; he noted that the concept-level review is a courtesy offered by the Board. He anticipated a future submission to the Board that could incorporate a response to any comments offered by the Commission in today’s review. Secretary Luebke noted that the Board’s report on the proposal has been distributed to the Commission members, and the proposal is also being reviewed by other agencies including the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC).
Ted Van Houten, the project manager from DDOT, presented the proposed alternatives for the bridge lighting. He said that the D.C. government owns Key Bridge, and the Federal Highway Administration is serving as the lead federal agency in the review process. The proposed nighttime lighting is intended to enhance views of the bridge and accentuate its architectural features. He noted that this proposal is separate from the lighting of the bridge deck, which is included in a bridge rehabilitation project that is currently underway. Information on the deck lighting has been included in today’s presentation, and all of the currently proposed architectural lighting is for the lower part of the bridge below the deck.
Mr. Van Houten presented views of one of the case studies for this project: the Cabrillo Bridge in San Diego, which is a historic bridge located in a historic area. He said that the Key Bridge lighting project began as part of a long-term plan from the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID), which included various proposals for improving public space in the Georgetown neighborhood; DDOT has subsequently been developing the lighting project. Three lighting concepts emerged from DDOT’s initial study: lighting the outer faces of the bridge piers from below; providing down-lighting from the bottom of the sidewalks that project from the bridge deck; and lighting the inner faces of the bridge’s arches. The conclusion from this initial study was to move forward with the up-lighting of the piers and the lighting of the arches. DDOT subsequently initiated the formal process for environmental and historic preservation review, as well as agency consultation meetings. He added that the current design process will be brought to an intermediate stage, and then the design will be completed when construction funding becomes available.
Mr. Van Houten described the historic resources that have been identified as being affected by this project; most are in the immediate vicinity, but the Washington Monument is also included because the view from the top of the monument includes Key Bridge. He presented the four concept alternatives that have been developed for the bridge lighting, using various combinations of lighting effects to highlight the bridge’s architectural form using light and shadow. Concept 1 would light the bridge’s large and small arches; Concept 2 would light the large arches and the piers; Concept 3 would light the small arches and the piers; and Concept 4 would light all of these elements—the large and small arches and the piers. He noted that these four alternatives have been presented to the Old Georgetown Board, to NCPC, and at a public meeting held in September 2017.
Mr. Van Houten described several concerns that have arisen during the design and review process. One question is whether the lighting would be limited to the evening hours and then turned off toward the middle of the night, when fewer people would be seeing the bridge. Another concern was whether the lighting should be turned off during critical migratory periods for birds. Minimizing the brightness of the lighting has been suggested, as well as coordinating the aesthetic lighting with the bridge deck lighting. He noted that the deck lighting was already studied as part of the current rehabilitation project for the bridge, resulting in the determination that the deck lighting would not have an adverse impact on historic properties. The deck lighting will use LED lights that are set at 3,000 degrees Kelvin, mounted on poles that are being replaced as part of the rehabilitation.
Mr. Van Houten said that the outcome of the recent consultations and reviews has been to propose moving forward with Concept 1 only, which does not include lighting of the piers. He said that the comments favoring this option were that lighting of the piers would be excessive and generate light spill, contributing to light pollution, while the lighting of the arches in Concept 1 would be more contained within the bridge structure. He presented nighttime photographs of the existing conditions and renderings of the proposed lighting with Concept 1. He noted that the presentation includes views toward both Rosslyn and Georgetown, as requested by NCPC; views are also taken from the George Washington Memorial Parkway and from the Whitehurst Freeway.
Mr. Van Houten addressed the possibility of introducing colored lighting to the proposal, which has been supported by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the Georgetown BID, the Rosslyn BID, members of the D.C. Council, and Georgetown University. However, the use of colored lighting is not supported by the National Park Service nor by the C&O Canal Association. Mr. Luebke asked for clarification of NCPC’s position. Mr. Van Houten responded that several NCPC members did not support this feature, but the adopted action does not specifically state an opposition to colored lighting; the action requests coordination of this feature with the historic preservation review process, with the goal of avoiding an adverse effect. He presented photographs of colored lighting that has been used on other bridges in historic settings in the U.S. and worldwide. He acknowledged concerns with this feature, including from within DDOT, such as how the color system would be managed. A large number of requests may be received for color lighting effects; a management plan would be needed to provide a framework for lighting that celebrates holidays or special events, including the consideration of how many days such colors would be featured. At other times, white lighting would be used. He said that a management plan has been drafted, emphasizing that it would have to be developed further through a consultation process that would include the Commission. A managing entity would need to be identified, and the plan would specify the number of nights when colored lighting could be used, along with the holidays and special events for which colored lighting would be appropriate. The authorized color schemes would be specified in the management plan, and the duration of the colored lighting could be limited to specific hours. The implementation could include a pre-set system of allowable colored lighting schemes that would not require further authorization, as well as a process for obtaining approval for any additional lighting proposal that is not part of the pre-set system. He presented several renderings to illustrate how colored lighting could be used. Examples include red, white, and blue; pink lighting during the cherry blossoms season; and red and white, the colors of the D.C. flag, for events of local interest.
Mr. Van Houten said that the next steps include continued consultation meetings and incorporating the comments into the proposal. He concluded with several technical drawings to illustrate how the light fixtures would be attached to the bridge. Ms. Gilbert asked who would be responsible for maintaining the light fixtures, such as replacing the lamps when necessary. Mr. Van Houten said that the management plan would address this question; the responsibility could be assigned to DDOT or some other entity.
Ms. Meyer asked about the potential biological impacts of the lighting, and she cited a recent study about the impact of LED lighting on sleep patterns for humans and wildlife. She also noted the comment in the presentation about the project’s potential impact on bird migrations, and she asked if additional consideration has been given to the effect of the lighting on wildlife in the river and on its banks. Mr. Van Houten responded that these issues have been explored in greater detail; one result is to propose using a relatively warm color for the LED lighting, comparable to the 3,000-degree lighting that is being installed on the bridge deck. He said that this specification would avoid the effect of a cool blue appearance for the white architectural lighting of the bridge.
Mr. Dunson observed that Washington has many bridges, including many beautiful bridges spanning the Potomac River and Rock Creek, as well as less notable bridges across the Anacostia River. He asked why the current proposal addresses the lighting of only one bridge, instead of the broader concept of bridge lighting for the city. He noted the lighting of the city’s major features and monuments, observing that some of the bridges are themselves comparable to monuments. He also cited the importance of Washington’s shorelines. He suggested developing a broader lighting plan that could serve as a basis for specific lighting proposals. He also suggested clarifying the purpose of lighting Key Bridge; he suggested that the beauty of the bridge’s structure should be enhanced, which could be accomplished with white light, while colored lighting would have the unwanted effect of painting the bridge.
Mr. Van Houten responded that the selection of Key Bridge is appropriate because it is one of the few D.C. bridges listed on the National Register of Historic Places; the local community has also supported lighting Key Bridge, while support for lighting other bridges has not arisen. He said that community support is also the reason for proposing the use of colored lighting; the goal is not only to highlight the bridge’s architectural features, but also to express community values and celebrations. Independence Day, along with other holidays and events, even D.C. statehood, could be celebrated through the colored lighting.
Ms. Meyer said that Mr. Dunson’s comments relate to a broader historical context for this proposal. She cited the importance of the Potomac River as part of the monumental character of Washington, as conveyed in the McMillan Plan and through the early work of the Commission and of NCPC. She noted the advocacy of landscape architect Charles Eliot II for protection of the entire riverscape from Great Falls to Mount Vernon through acquisition by the federal government. In earlier history, the Potomac had served as the initial “highway” of the region, relating to the siting of Washington near the river’s fall line and the subsequent construction of the C&O Canal. She agreed with Mr. Dunson that the proposal for only a single bridge is questionable, possibly resulting from DDOT’s jurisdiction over this bridge while many others deserve consideration. She suggested coordinating with the National Park Service to develop a master plan addressing the bridges in this important area. The master plan could then provide a larger context for making decisions about Key Bridge, including a sense of hierarchy for bridges and lighting. She acknowledged that Key Bridge is exceptionally beautiful, particularly if its arches are illuminated by white light, but she emphasized that the Commission’s role should also be to evaluate the proposal as part of the broader landscape of the Potomac River, with the goal of protecting the federal interest as part of the project review. She said that the presentation has instead emphasized the interests of the local neighborhood, with insufficient consideration of the larger context of the river and the capital city.
Ms. Griffin supported Ms. Meyer’s comments, adding that a master plan would likely be helpful in the near future as the lighting of other bridges is being considered. Regarding the presented alternatives, she expressed support for lighting the piers with either the smaller or larger options, as shown in Concept 2 and Concept 3. She suggested that adjusting the intensity of lighting for the various bridge features could serve to improve the legibility of the bridge’s smaller details; for example, the small arches could be illuminated more brightly than the larger arches. She said that further experimentation with the lighting intensity could affect the decision about which of the bridge’s features should be included in the lighting proposal, and the final selection of an alternative may still be premature. She summarized her overall enthusiasm for lighting the bridge, but with a preference for developing the proposal in conjunction with a broader master plan. She asked how the lighting levels and the alternative concepts could be tested as part of the review process, preferably with a mockup instead of only through rendered drawings. Ms. Meyer recalled that the Commission had required extensive facade mockups for the National Museum of African American History and Culture; these were prepared as part of the Commission’s decision-making process, rather than later as a demonstration of the project’s technical standards during the construction process. She suggested a comparable mockup process for this lighting proposal.
Mr. Van Houten responded that the possibility of a mockup has been discussed, particularly due to the request by the Old Georgetown Board. Although a mockup is beyond the current scope of the project, it could be considered as part of a later phase of design. He said that the current goal is to solicit comments from the various review agencies, including the Commission of Fine Arts. He added that the Commission’s interest in a mockup will be considered as DDOT officials discuss this topic further. He asked if the Commission would be satisfied with a lighting mockup within a single arch, or whether the desire is for a mockup on the entire bridge. Ms. Griffin said that this could be flexible, and she suggested that a mockup with two arches could be sufficient—perhaps one arch at the shore and one arch above the river. She also offered to consider a more developed management plan before reaching a conclusion on whether colored lighting would be acceptable.
Ms. Griffin commented that the roadway lighting on the bridge deck should be considered in the evaluation of the proposed aesthetic lighting; she asked for clarification of the deck lighting. Mr. Van Houten responded that the deck lighting is part of the bridge rehabilitation project that will be completed later in 2018; he confirmed that the presented renderings include a depiction of the bridge deck lighting.
Ms. Gilbert said that the use of colored lighting would be problematic, effectively turning the bridge into a billboard. She said that one of the presented photographs had shown the colorful skyline of Rosslyn reflected on the river surface; but projecting comparable colors onto Key Bridge would have the effect of bringing the aesthetic of Rosslyn across the river into Georgetown. She cited the elegance and simplicity of the bridge’s architecture, which would be enveloped by the colored lighting and shadows, detracting from the bridge’s beauty. Ms. Meyer agreed, adding that the reliance on controlling the use of colored lighting may be naive; for example, she observed that intended patriotic meaning of red, white, and blue could also be perceived as having political or ideological meanings. The bridge color could be linked to the political party currently in power, or for similar political commentaries. She emphasized that the management of the colors would be messy, and she recommended a simpler lighting system. Ms. Griffin said that these issues might be addressed by a management plan that includes careful restrictions and requires multiple levels of approval for special lighting. She reiterated that at this current concept submission stage, she is willing to keep open the option of colored lighting, subject to the presentation of a convincing management plan. She added that the use of multiple colors—such as the illustration of red, white, and blue—may not be desirable. The development of colored lighting effects would require artistic creativity, which should be addressed in the management plan.
Mr. Luebke noted that some people in the audience may want to address the Commission. Chairman Powell recognized Joe Gibbons, chairman of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E, which includes Georgetown and Key Bridge. Mr. Gibbons said that this proposal relates to many recent meetings with DDOT concerning the use of LED fixtures for streetlights in the neighborhood, which has resulted in a good working relationship and a satisfactory outcome. He said that the ANC has adopted two resolutions on this proposal, approving the use of white lighting with enthusiasm, while not conveying a preference for a specific alternative. The ANC also suggested flexibility to turn the lights off in response to bird migrations. The ANC also voted to support the flexibility to use colored lighting, with the expectation that DDOT will consult further with the ANC as the proposal is developed; a likely outcome would be a memorandum of understanding between DDOT and the ANC on the use of colored lighting. He said that the ANC is already aware of many of the concerns raised by the Commission, and he expressed confidence that these could be addressed through coordination with DDOT.
Chairman Powell recognized Elsa Santoyo of the Citizens Association of Georgetown; Ms. Santoyo chairs the group’s historic preservation and zoning committee. She acknowledged the concern with selecting Key Bridge for lighting in the absence of a more general master plan for the treatment of Washington’s bridges. She noted that this bridge is located at the convergence of National Park Service properties as well as historic landscapes, which rely on a dark sky without the intrusion of artificial lighting. She commented that the presented renderings tend to show the view toward Rosslyn rather than the nearby national park properties, which are critical to evaluating the proposal. She confirmed that DDOT has reported the specification of the light temperature for the bridge deck as 3,000 degrees Kelvin, but she described this as a very white light in contrast to its characterization by DDOT as a warm light. She said that her organization has previously requested that the deck lighting be in the range of 2,400 to 2,700 degrees, comparable to incandescent lighting that is more appropriate to the Georgetown historic district’s period of significance.
Jim Wilcox, an elected member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E, provided comments to the Commission. He said that DDOT is incorrectly asserting that the ANC is in favor of colored lighting; he said that the adopted resolution only says that the ANC is agreeable to a technology that would accommodate colored lighting. He also emphasized his own opposition to the use of colored lighting, while supporting the use of white lighting to emphasize the structural characteristics of the bridge; he cautioned against creating a carnival atmosphere through the bridge lighting. He also questioned whether the colored lighting could be adequately managed. He added that he attended the presentation of this project to the Old Georgetown Board in December 2017, and the Board members expressed some of the same concerns that have been raised today by the Commission. He expressed a preference for ruling out the use of colored lighting, which he said is consistent with the preference of the Board and the comments of the NCPC members.
Joe Sternlieb addressed the Commission on behalf of the Georgetown Business Improvement District. He acknowledged that this review process had originated with an idea publicized four years ago by the BID in the “Georgetown 2028” planning proposal. This fifteen-year strategic plan was developed in coordination with the ANC, neighborhood groups and the National Park Service. It included 75 proposed action items to enhance the Georgetown community, organized around three themes: preserve what’s great, fix what’s broken, and create what’s missing. In preparing the study, one of the missing features identified was Key Bridge at night: the bridge is a spectacular architectural feature but its nighttime appearance is entirely dark, more than was conveyed by the photographs and renderings in the presentation. He said that the nighttime view from the Georgetown waterfront is dominated by the lights of Rosslyn and small features on top of the bridge. The initial proposal was therefore to wash the bridge with a subtle white light to accentuate its architecture. Further consideration included the bridge’s dedication to Francis Scott Key, suggesting the desirability of honoring him by projecting red, white, and blue lights on Independence Day, or perhaps encouraging further artistic expression as suggested by Ms. Griffin. He cited an illuminated bridge in Istanbul that gradually transitions in color over the evening hours, and he suggested the possibility of lighting different parts of the bridge in different colors.
Mr. Sternlieb emphasized that the current request is to allow for the potential of these effects through the installation of fixtures and lamps. He added that the D.C. mayor is responsible for issuing permits related to the lighting of bridges, such as by projecting light from a barge. He noted that the Kennedy Center used a similar projected lighting effect for several weeks last December; some people liked this display, and others didn’t. He also noted that several of the city’s bridges on the other side of the monumental core are currently lit, and the planned new Anacostia River bridge at South Capitol Street will be lit; the Key Bridge lighting would serve to “bookend” the monumental core in conjunction with the other illuminated bridges.
Mr. Sternlieb said that the lighting proposal will be easiest to implement in the immediate future, while the ongoing rehabilitation project provides access to the spaces within the bridge arches, and while funding is available; delaying the project could result in much greater cost or a postponement of several decades. He said that this is the reason for proposing the project now, rather than waiting for the preparation of a broader master plan; he acknowledged that the Commission may prefer to accept a longer delay.
Mr. Sternlieb summarized the preference of the BID for near-term installation of lighting that is subtle and highly managed, serving to accentuate the bridge’s architecture. He said that the presentation may have overemphasized the effects of colored lighting in response to the BID’s desire to install a system that has this capacity. He envisioned that colored lighting would be limited to Independence Day and rare special occasions, such as a major athletic championship win by Georgetown University or achieving peace in the Middle East. He emphasized the preference for a highly regulated and highly controlled system, taking advantage of modern technology for programmable LED lighting. He added that the BID has suggested to DDOT that the control of the lighting include a partnership among federal and local government agencies, with the inclusion of the arts community at times.
Chairman Powell recognized Duilio Passariello, a lighting designer with extensive experience in illuminating bridges. Mr. Passariello said that color is used in bridge lighting to create a symbol, which would be appropriate for this bridge that symbolizes the author of the lyrics to the national anthem. Because of the anthem’s relationship to the U.S. flag, the use of the flag’s colors would be appropriate here; he disagreed that the result would be a carnival atmosphere. Mr. Luebke asked if Mr. Passariello is part of the project’s design team; Mr. Passariello responded that he is speaking as a citizen with experience in this work, and he has been consulting with the Georgetown BID.
Ms. Griffin expressed regret that a lighting designer is not part of the presentation; she said that some of the issues being raised are technical design problems, such as the appropriate temperature value of the light. She reiterated her preference for Concept 2 and Concept 3 due to the subtlety of their lighting effects, at least as conveyed in the renderings; she asked whether these alternatives could remain under consideration. She also reiterated her request for a mockup to better evaluate the lighting levels of various features, and she encouraged NCPC or the D.C. Office of Planning to consider the larger vocabulary of bridges and lighting in Washington, at least in a preliminary way to inform the evaluation of the current proposal. She described the development of a strong and clear management plan as essential to the project, particularly the decision on whether to use colored lighting, or at least whether to incorporate the technology for colored lighting into the design.
Mr. Dunson agreed with the request for a mockup, including further study of the level of intensity for the lighting. He added that another viewpoint on the proposal could be that no lighting should be provided, although he acknowledged that some sort of lighting is probably appropriate.
Ms. Meyer said that she does not support approval of the proposal as a concept submission; she characterized the current status of the project as an information presentation, comparable to an earlier presentation on the Commission’s agenda. She said that the many suggestions for the project need to be considered further before it moves forward. The issues include not just the relationship of the bridge to Francis Scott Key and the Star-Spangled Banner, but its relationship to a 25-mile stretch of urban waterfront and parkland that has centuries of significant historical associations. She said that her reluctance to support the concept includes the concern that it seems to be too much of a commercial spectacle, rather than being a small contribution to the much wider cultural landscape. Ms. Griffin said that she would prefer not to vote against the submission, but she agreed that the decision would be aided by further exploration of the issues that have been raised.
Chairman Powell summarized the consensus of the Commission to offer general support for the concept, but to request more information before taking an action. He agreed that a mockup and a master plan will be important in the further consideration of this project. He raised the additional issue of the effect of colored lighting on aircraft, noting that the bridge is located along the flight line of Reagan National Airport. He recalled a past show at the National Gallery of Art that included green light emanating from the atrium, which resulted in complaints from pilots that were relayed to the National Gallery by the Federal Aviation Administration. Mr. Van Houten responded that the Federal Aviation Administration has been a consulting party during the review process for this project, and this consultation will continue. Chairman Powell expressed appreciation for this inclusion, and he said that the Commission’s comments will be summarized in a letter to DDOT. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
(Ms. Meyer departed at this point and was not present for the final agenda item.)
F. District of Columbia Department of General Services
CFA 15/FEB/18-6, Ward 5 Short-term Family Housing, 1700 Rhode Island Avenue, NE. Building renovation and six-story addition. Concept. (Previous: CFA 16/FEB/17-8.) Ms. Batcheler introduced the concept design by architect Ronnie McGhee of R. McGhee & Associates for the Ward 5 short-term family housing facility. She said that the Mayor’s initiative for replacing the D.C. General Family Shelter includes a requirement to provide new short-term family housing in each of the District’s eight wards. The Ward 5 project proposes the expansion and adaptive reuse of the historic police substation at 1700 Rhode Island Avenue, NE, built in the early 1920s. The Commission reviewed the project in February 2017 but did not take an action, expressing concern that the size of the program had resulted in a design for a new six-story building that would be too large for the site and would visually overwhelm the historic building. She asked Stephen Campbell of the D.C. Department of General Services (DGS) to introduce the project.
Mr. Campbell reported a favorable outcome from the District’s recent zoning review, and he noted that the project team has been consulting with the Commission of Fine Arts staff since the previous review to respond to the Commission’s concerns. He asked Ronnie McGhee to present the proposal.
Mr. McGhee said that the project includes both the design of a new structure and the renovation of the former police substation, which will house some of the program; he noted that the interior of the historic building has been heavily altered, and few original details remain. The project team, which includes landscape architect Ryan Moody of Moody Graham, has worked with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office (HPO) and Commission staff to ensure that the new building will respect the scale and appearance of the historic substation. He noted that the HPO supports the current proposal; a memorandum of agreement with the HPO stipulates that the substation will be designated a D.C. landmark at the end of the project.
Mr. McGhee described the site, which is bordered by Rhode Island Avenue on the south and by 17th Street on the west; the substation is prominently visible from all sides. The surrounding blocks include several four- and five-story buildings constructed within the last year. He indicated the 150-foot-tall cellular communications tower on the northeast corner of the site; the possibility of moving this tower has been explored, but the conclusion was that relocation would be too difficult, and the tower on its one-story base has therefore been incorporated into design decisions for the housing proposal.
Mr. McGhee said that the new building would be set back slightly from the historic substation so that they will appear as two distinct structures, physically separated except for a glass-enclosed, slightly recessed hyphen on the first floor and a more deeply recessed hyphen connecting the second and third floors. He said that community residents had expressed concerns about the size of the new building, but he noted that other tall buildings in the neighborhood are adjacent to two- and three-story houses.
Mr. McGhee described the proposed materials and floorplans for the new building. The brick base would match the material and color of the historic substation. In response to comments from the Commission and the HPO, the vestigial mansard roof of the previously submitted design has been eliminated; the community comments expressed a preference for a bolder color on the top stories, such as a red oxide. The interior layout of both buildings has been redesigned for greater efficiency. The major change from the first proposal is that all residential units would be placed in the new building, and all shared services and amenities would be shifted to the historic substation; the kitchen and dining area would be located in its dormered third-floor attic. Each residential floor would include a glass-enclosed common area and a control point from which every apartment’s entrance door can be seen. The organization of the housing in the new building into “pods” of ten apartments would result in a slightly taller building than first proposed.
Mr. McGhee presented the landscape plan, designed by Mr. Moody and intended to engage with the neighborhood; the natural areas are also meant to help reduce stress for the resident families. Mr. McGhee said that the number of children who will be living here makes play areas necessary, but fitting recreational space on the site has been difficult. Decorative gardens are proposed for the site’s public spaces; an outdoor play area would be provided for children living in the building, and an indoor recreation area would occupy an entire floor of the historic building. He also noted that the Langdon Park Community Center is located nearby across Rhode Island Avenue. In response to the Commission’s previous comments, the dark and narrow space at the rear of the building that was previously proposed as a recreation area would be planted as a stormwater retention area and garden that would be visible but not accessible.
Mr. McGhee said that although the area in front of the historic building is not part of the property, it is being redesigned to provide attractive, unobstructed views from the sidewalk. Similarly, although it would no longer be regularly used, the entrance on the south facade of the historic building would be made to appear as if it is still the main entrance, and new lawns would be located along the substation’s south and west facades. Two existing large spruce trees in front of this building would be retained as part of the new landscape; new street trees may be planted on this block of Rhode Island Avenue, which does not currently have any.
Mr. McGhee said that the Commission had previously asked how site walls and landscape edges could be designed to be more compatible with the historic building. He explained that the facades of the new building now have fewer small projecting elements than in the previous version. The fence along the site’s more public boundaries would have metal pickets on a brick base punctuated by brick piers; this type of fence would allow for some transparency and views while also suggesting privacy and security. A brick wall incorporating play elements is proposed for the boundary between the parking and play areas toward the southeast corner of the site. Plantings along the fences would further define edges while allowing views into and out of the property. He said that providing public access to the site’s open space would not be appropriate for this project, but the public space area outside the property line would appear to be a visual continuation of the site’s landscape, in part through the use of low fencing between these areas.
Mr. McGhee recalled that the Commission had requested study of an L-shaped configuration for the new facility to reduce its height; however, following discussion with the staff, the project team determined that this would not be a workable solution due to the program requirement to limit the interior layout to ten units per floor, resulting in the proposed six-story height. The Commission had also commented that the proposed building was too large and overbearing, looming behind the historic substation. Working with the HPO, the design team has revised the new building to give the older structure breathing room on all four sides, and with materials that would be more compatible. He added that the currently proposed massing for the new building has been extended forward to obscure the view of the neighboring condominium building to the north, which is sheathed with a panelized system.
Ms. Griffin expressed appreciation for the project team’s responsiveness to the previous comments. She agreed that the more efficient site plan would improve the function of the new residential building, commenting that the design now works well and could be improved through further refinements. She asked why the southeast corner of the new building, rising above the at-grade parking area, would be angled rather than squared off; Mr. McGhee responded that the corner responds to the geometry of the angled property line and street frontage. Ms. Griffin commented that the fence should not be so high as to appear institutional; she recommended a lower fence as more appropriate for a residential appearance.
Ms. Griffin said that the proposed palette of three different exterior colors is slightly too assertive, and she recommended simplifying it to one or two at the most. Observing that the neighborhood’s stately historic multifamily buildings are restrained in their use of color, she said that following this precedent could make the new building a suitable background to the older one, and reducing the number of colors on the new building would make the historic structure more prominent. She agreed that the color of the new building’s base should closely resemble the brick of the historic building, although she suggested toning down the red color. She recommended using a second color above, with perhaps a third used for accents in the spandrels, which could repeat or be a variation on the color of the base.
Ms. Gilbert indicated the different fence conditions proposed for the tight, densely programmed area on the southeast corner of site—a perimeter fence between the sidewalk and the perennial garden, a curved seat wall between this garden and the play area, and a brick wall screening the parking area. She observed that they all have different styles and angles, and together they are a disjointed ensemble. Mr. Moody responded that the picket fence above the brick base would allow visibility between the residents’ playground and the public-space perennial garden; the brick wall would then continue around the parking area. Ms. Griffin asked why the curved seating wall is necessary, rather than allowing the playground to extend into the area occupied by the perennial garden. Mr. Moody said that the seats facing the play area would be useful for parents watching their children.
Ms. Gilbert commented that the proposed planting of four trees and five shrubs in the small perennial garden area appears too crowded; she suggested opening up this area by planting only a couple of canopy trees, with a lawn or ground cover and benches. Mr. Moody described this area more fully, noting that bioretention planting is required. The HPO staff had expressed concern that canopy trees would block views of the historic building; the revised plan therefore keeps the view open by proposing understory trees with a planting bed composed of low perennial groundcover and a series of slightly taller perennials. Ms. Gilbert asked where people would sit; Mr. Moody emphasized that this area would not be accessible for occupancy but would be a visual amenity for pedestrians walking along Rhode Island Avenue. He added that lawns would be limited to the areas adjacent to the historic building as a foreground to its facades. Ms. Gilbert asked who would be responsible for maintaining the perennial garden; Mr. Moody responded that it would be maintained by the D.C. Department of General Services, and the garden would be designed with a limited palette of hardy plants with a few accent plants. Ms. Gilbert characterized the proposal for this perennial garden area as a missed opportunity to create an inviting place where residents can sit and wait; although it is not within the property line, she emphasized that it is the largest open space on the site. She said that if it is not regularly maintained, the garden would become an area of bare dirt; a lawn might be a better solution, with a shade tree that people can sit beneath and located so that it does not block the open view of the historic substation. Mr. Moody agreed that this design approach may be possible.
Ms. Griffin asked if an eight-foot-high fence along the property line is necessary in addition to the low fence along the sidewalk. Mr. Moody responded that a secure fence is needed around the site’s perimeter, and the proposed fence would be slightly less than seven feet high because the grade slopes up to meet the fence. He added that this had previously been proposed as a solid fence; the new proposal is for a fence with metal panels to provide some transparency. Ms. Griffin asked why this fence is depicted as low in some places and high in others; Mr. Moody said that the maximum height for a fence within public space is 42 inches. Ms. Griffin asked for clarification of the fence configuration. Mr. Moody confirmed that its height would be stepped, and it would include a gate for emergency access; the gate is illustrated as low in height. Ms. Griffin suggested that the fence be as low as the gate; Mr. Moody responded that a taller fence is a DGS security requirement, and the gate may need to be raised to the same height. Mr. Campbell explained that the Department of Human Services, as well as DGS, requires a higher gate as a security measure to help prevent strangers from entering the children’s play area. He emphasized that the entire area between this playground and Rhode Island Avenue is designed to be visually attractive but to act as a barrier. If public seating is desirable, he suggested that it could be placed in front of the historic building’s south facade, or along 17th Street near the new entrance to the complex, but it could not be located near the play ground. Ms. Griffin and Ms. Gilbert supported the inclusion of seating. Ms. Gilbert commented that if the garden’s purpose is to provide a beautiful view along the edge of the public space, it should be planted with native drought-tolerant shrubs, which would be low maintenance and would provide seasonal interest. Mr. Moody responded that the plants under consideration are creeping St. John’s wort, a semi-evergreen groundcover, interspersed with native shrubs and witch hazel; he said that this combination is occasionally used in Washington.
Chairman Powell summarized the consensus that the new proposal shows considerable improvement; he and Mr. Dunson agreed that the discussion has answered their concerns. The Commission approved the concept with the comments provided and delegated review of the final design to the staff.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 4:00 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA