The meeting was convened by video conference at 10:02 a.m.
Hon. Earl A. Powell, Chairman
Hon. Elizabeth Meyer, Vice Chairman
Hon. Toni Griffin
Hon. Alex Krieger
Hon. James McCrery
Hon. Justin Shubow
Hon. Duncan Stroik
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Frederick J. Lindstrom, Assistant Secretary
Mary Catherine Bogard
Secretary Luebke noted that the meeting is being held as a video conference due to the coronavirus public health emergency; all of the Commission members and presenters are participating remotely. He acknowledged the technical challenges in using this format for the Commission’s public meeting.
A. Dates of next meetings. Mr. Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 21 May, 18 June, and 16 July 2020. He noted that upcoming meetings may be held by video conference, depending on the duration of the public health emergency; the format will be decided closer to each meeting date.
B. Report on the office closure and move to on-line operations due to the Covid-19 public health emergency. Secretary Luebke noted that the staff has largely shifted to off-site work in recent weeks, consistent with other government agencies and private-sector offices. The Commission’s scheduled meeting of 19 March was cancelled in the early stages of the public health emergency, with some actions taken by an e-mail poll of the Commission members. He said that the emphasis has been on processing the private-sector cases referred under the Shipstead-Luce Act and the Old Georgetown Act in order to provide timely responses to the D.C. Government; the Old Georgetown Board held its scheduled meeting of 2 April as a video conference.
C. Confirmation of the recommendations for items from February and March 2020. Secretary Luebke asked the Commission to confirm several recommendations from the two previous months, as listed on an addendum page to the agenda.
At the February 2020 meeting, the Commission’s review of the U.S. Mint presentation occurred after the loss of a quorum; the recommendations were provided by Mr. Shubow and Mr. McCrery for the continuation of the Presidential One Dollar Coin Program to include an obverse portrait of George H.W. Bush, and obverse and reverse designs for a coin and a medal honoring Barbara Bush. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission confirmed the recommendations to the Mint from the February 2020 meeting.
Due to the public health emergency, the March 2020 meeting was cancelled after publication of the agenda; submission booklets and other meeting materials had already been circulated to the Commission members. The Commission acted on several agenda items by e-mail poll, and Mr. Luebke asked the Commission to confirm these actions in today’s public meeting:
o Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission confirmed its approval of the minutes for the meeting of 20 February 2020. o Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission confirmed its approval of the Government Submissions Consent Calendar from March 2020 (Appendix I to the March agenda). o Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission confirmed its approval of the Shipstead-Luce Act appendix from March 2020. o Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission confirmed its approval of the Old Georgetown Act appendix from March 2020. o Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission confirmed its action on the facade replacement for the Hirshhorn Museum, as conveyed in the letter of 20 March 2020. o Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission confirmed its action on the parking lot entrances at the National Zoo, as conveyed in the letter of 20 March 2020. o Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Powell, the Commission confirmed its action on the proposal for 3401 Water Street, NW (case number OG 19-185), as conveyed in the letter of 20 March 2020, with the requirement that the future submission of a final design include a response to the Commission’s comments. o Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission confirmed its action on the proposal for 3255-59 Prospect Street, NW (case number OG 20-086), as conveyed in the letter of 20 March 2020. o Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission confirmed its action on the four coins to be issued in 2021 for the American Innovation One Dollar Coin Program, as conveyed in the letter of 20 March 2020. Mr. Luebke noted that the Commission’s recommendations included a request for the submission of new designs for one of the coins; he said that the staff would discuss the Commission’s concerns, conveyed by e-mail, with representatives of the U.S. Mint.
Mr. Luebke noted that three additional cases from the March agenda—all submitted under the Shipstead-Luce Act jurisdiction—were held open with the agreement of the applicants, and these three cases are on today’s agenda for presentation.
D. Report on the 2020 National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs grant program. Secretary Luebke noted that this grant program has been administered by the Commission since the late 1980s, and it provides federal grants to support arts institutions in Washington in lieu of the funding that would typically be provided by a state arts agency. He reported that 25 organizations have applied to participate in this year’s program; one of these is a new applicant, requiring the convening of a panel to determine its eligibility in accordance with established criteria. The appropriated funding varies annually; the amount for the current year is $5 million—up from $2.75 million the previous year—and he anticipated that the average grant would be approximately $170,000, using a formula to determine the specific amount for each organization. He noted that arts organizations are currently facing difficulty because the public health emergency has forced the cancellation of all activities involving public gatherings; he said that the staff is working to disburse the grants as soon as possible.
E. Michael McKinnell (1935–2020), Commission member, 2005–2011. Secretary Luebke reported the death of Mr. McKinnell in late March due to complications from the coronavirus. He cited Mr. McKinnell’s architectural practice as a co-founder of Kallmann McKinnell & Wood, which was established in 1962 upon winning the design competition for Boston’s city hall, and which was recognized by the American Institute of Architects in 1984 as the Firm of the Year. He noted Mr. McKinnell’s upbringing in England, his architecture degree from Columbia University, and his long teaching career at Harvard and MIT. He said that Mr. McKinnell was a thoughtful and articulate critic on the Commission, with the ability to find the essence of a project, and he was always a pleasure to work with. Peter May of the National Park Service joined in expressing condolences; he said that Mr. McKinnell’s insights and wisdom were exceptionally valuable in the Commission’s reviews.
II. Submissions and Reviews
Mr. Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action, noting that government and private-sector projects continue to be submitted despite the public health emergency. 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 change to the draft appendix is to note a correction that the submission for the World War I Memorial is a final design, not a concept. The submission is for a temporary banner proposed to cover the memorial’s sculpture wall until the sculpture is installed. Chairman Powell asked for clarification of the timeframe for the temporary banner. Mr. Lindstrom said that the anticipated schedule is for the wall to be constructed in 2022, followed by the installation of the sculpture as it is cast in segments over the following two years; the banner would cover the blank wall, with pieces being removed as segments of the finished sculpture are installed. Mr. McCrery asked about the illustration of the proposed banner design; Mr. Lindstrom responded that the design is a line drawing that depicts the sculpture. Chairman Powell noted the Commission’s support for the revised Government Submissions Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler noted the relatively small number of submissions, likely attributable to the public health emergency. She said that three projects listed on the draft agenda have been removed and are being held open for consideration in a future month (case numbers SL 20-115, 20-117, and 20-118). The recommendations for two projects are subject to further coordination with the applicants; she requested authorization to finalize these recommendations when the remaining issues are resolved. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act appendix. (See agenda items II.F.1, II.F.2, and II.F.3 for additional Shipstead-Luce Act submissions.)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Ms. Bogard reported that the appendix has 28 projects. One listing has been updated to note the receipt of supplemental drawings (OG 20-142, at 3274 P Street, NW); one project has been removed and is being held open for a future month, at the request of the applicant (OG 20-124, at 1225 37th Street, NW). Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the revised Old Georgetown Act appendix.
At this point, the Commission considered items II.B, II.D, and II.E. Secretary Luebke said that the Commission had identified these submissions as ones that could be approved without presentations.
B. National Park Service
CFA 16/APR/20-1, Korean War Veterans Memorial, West Potomac Park, French Drive and Independence Avenue, SW (southeast of the Lincoln Memorial). Modifications to the memorial for a Wall of Remembrance. Final. (Previous: CFA 19/SEP/19-3) Mr. Luebke said that the project team has considered the Commission’s comments from the previous review in September 2019, and an on-site mockup was provided for the staff’s inspection in early March 2020. He said that the proposed final design appears to be satisfactory, with the exception of the termination of the new wall at the rear of the memorial’s existing south wall, which remains unresolved. He suggested that further review and approval of this detail could be delegated to the staff in order to develop a simpler design solution. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the final design submission with the exception of the wall’s southwestern termination, with further review of this detail delegated to the staff. Mary Kay Lanzillotta of Hartman-Cox Architects expressed appreciation for the Commission’s previous comments.
D. D.C. Department of General Services
CFA 16/APR/20-3, St. Elizabeths Single Men’s Shelter. St. Elizabeths East Campus, 2700 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE (east of the Barn and Stables Complex). New four-story building. Revised Concept. (Previous: CFA 16/JAN/20-6) Mr. Luebke noted several recommendations from the Commission members in conjunction with supporting the revised concept. For the site plan, the trees should be consolidated on the south side of the approach road in order to create a better arrival experience and improve the shade along the meadow; the spacing of the trees should be regular but closer than the proposed thirty feet to provide an adequate visual density of trees even if some do not survive. For the building design, which has greatly improved, consideration should be given to reversing the color palette: instead of gray buildings rising from a darker red base, the base should be gray and the upper stories should be red, consistent with the historic context of red brick buildings on the campus. The study of this alternative could be included in the final design submission. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the revised concept submission with these recommendations.
E. D.C. Public Library
CFA 16/APR/20-4, Lamond–Riggs Neighborhood Library, 5401 South Dakota Avenue, NE. Replacement library building. Final. (Previous: CFA 16/JAN/20-3) Mr. Luebke noted that a statement of strong support for the project has been received from the local neighborhood association. He said that the current submission includes clarification of the proposed materials and design details, as previously requested by the Commission, along with design refinements to simplify the site plan and provide additional shade. Mr. Krieger complimented the project team for its careful response to the Commission’s recommendations; he said that the design has substantially improved, and he encouraged continuation of this effort. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the final design submission.
See agenda item II.F.2 for an additional action without a presentation.
The Commission returned to the order of the agenda with item II.C.
C. U.S. General Services Administration
CFA 16/APR/20-2, New Executive Office Building, 726 Jackson Place, NW (on Lafayette Park). Alterations to east entrance and courtyard. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the concept design for alterations to 726 Jackson Place, NW, to provide a new entrance and security screening facility for several buildings on the block, including the New Executive Office Building (NEOB) to the west along 17th Street. He said that 726 Jackson Place was built in the late 1960s as an infill building among the historic row houses along Jackson Place, facing Lafayette Park; it is part of the NEOB complex that was designed by architect John Carl Warnecke. The ground floor of 726 Jackson Place had originally served as an open-air passage to the complex, providing access to the courtyard in the center of the block; the ground floor has subsequently been enclosed, and the main pedestrian entrance to the NEOB has been relocated to its west side on 17th Street. He said that the NEOB’s 17th Street entrance is inadequate for accommodating improved security measures, and the General Services Administration therefore proposes to move the entrance back to 726 Jackson Place. He asked Kristi Tunstall-Williams, deputy director of the Office of Planning and Design Quality, National Capital Region, General Services Administration, to begin the presentation.
Ms. Tunstall-Williams said that the improvement of security at the NEOB complex is a priority of the Trump administration. Development of the design has been underway for a few years, going through the historic preservation review process with consulting parties, although it has been on hold during implementation of a new White House fence nearby, which is now nearing completion. Challenges for meeting security needs at the NEOB’s current 17th Street entrance include the narrow sidewalk, which lacks room for queuing; insufficient room for pre-screening visitors before they enter the building; and constrained lobby space inside. An additional security concern is posed by the Jackson Place row houses, which are all entered directly off the street through conventional doorways with little security, while having rear access to the block’s central courtyard; she noted that the courtyard adjoins the rear of Blair House, the official White House guest quarters at the southeast corner of the block, and people without proper security clearance might be able to enter Blair House as well as the NEOB directly from the courtyard. Because of these concerns, the courtyard is now closed off.
Ms. Tunstall-Williams said the project proposes to reintroduce the original entrance at 726 Jackson Place, with minimal alteration to the building because of its location within a designated historic district. The project includes an expansion at the rear of 726 Jackson Place as part of the security screening and pedestrian circulation; the entrance will serve as a transition between the traditional row houses and the Modernist NEOB. She introduced Anath Ranon of Quinn Evans Architects to present the design.
Ms. Ranon described the project’s background and context. She indicated the location of Jackson Place, facing Lafayette Park just north of the White House; number 726 is located in the middle of a line of row houses, some of which date from the nineteenth century and others from the 1960s. Both 726 Jackson Place and the NEOB were designed with monumental arcades on the ground floor to create the appearance of a breezeway between the two buildings and the courtyard; it is intended that the new glazed enclosures will maintain the idea of the breezeway. She said that the historic preservation review process began in October 2015, with periodic meetings continuing to March 2020. Recent consultation meetings have included the White House Historical Association, which occupies the historic Decatur House, a freestanding Federal-period house located at the northeast corner of the NEOB complex at Jackson Place and H Street, facing the northwest corner of Lafayette Park.
Ms. Ranon reiterated that the goal of the project is to establish a single secure point of entry to the NEOB complex. She noted that one important advantage to locating the secure entrance on Jackson Place is that, unlike 17th Street, it is a pedestrian-only roadway, closed to vehicles and presenting less of a security threat. She said that the proposed alterations at both the front and the rear would be reversible, and the alterations to the front would be kept particularly minimal. She said that within the courtyard, the restrained design would distinguish the addition from the rear facades of the adjacent brick row houses.
Ms. Ranon presented photographs of the existing conditions at the front and rear of 726 Jackson Place, along with views of the courtyard from multiple perspectives and of work recently completed on the interior lobby of the NEOB. She indicated the parking garage entrance ramp on the north side of the NEOB; the garage extends beneath the NEOB and the courtyard. She described the main features of the courtyard: a tall brick wall at the south end, which marks the rear of the Blair House site; a historically significant fountain in the center of the courtyard; and benches, granite steps, and paving of brick and granite. A trellis and a brick wall at the courtyard’s north end adjoin the courtyard of Decatur House; this wall would be increased in height to improve security for the NEOB complex. She said that the existing ground-floor partitions at 726 Jackson Place were added in the 1980s in conjunction with the installation of new security equipment and new heating and cooling units. All of the work dating from the 1980s will be removed as part of this project, but all original material from the 1960s will be retained.
Ms. Ranon noted that the project includes minimal modifications to the other Jackson Place row houses. Security cameras would be installed inside these buildings to monitor the street, but these would not be visible from outside; several security cameras would also be added to the flagpoles in front of 726 Jackson Place, and scanning devices would be added in some vestibules. She said that these features are mandated by the Secret Service, and they will have little effect on the exterior appearance of the Jackson Place buildings.
Ms. Ranon described the proposed entrance screening process at 726 Jackson Place. Employees of the NEOB complex would enter through the doors on the left, or south, side of the facade; they would then pass through a metal detector, if necessary, before walking through the lobby to the courtyard and the NEOB or proceeding upstairs. Visitors would need to stop at the visitor window of the new badging office, located in the center bay of the front facade, to obtain a temporary badge before entering the building through the left portal and passing through the metal detector. People would exit the complex along the north side of the lobby through the portal on the right to reach the Jackson Place sidewalk. If the Secret Service determines a person may be a threat, the person would be taken to an interior space known as the “secondary screening room,” an enclosed room that would be reinforced to contain the force of an explosion within. The program of the new security equipment and the secondary screening room requires construction of an addition at the rear of 726 Jackson Place; it would be glazed to allow visibility of people entering and leaving the complex. She said that other than the secondary screening room, most of the new rooms on the ground floor of 726 Jackson Place would be treated like furniture or insertions into the existing spaces: the walls that enclose them would not extend up to the ceiling, and the alterations would be reversible.
Ms. Ranon provided additional details of the proposed changes to the front facade of 726 Jackson Place. The goal is to maintain design continuity from the front of the building to the back, and facade changes would be limited to the ground floor. Existing doors inserted into the ground-floor openings would be removed and replaced with a glass wall system that includes ballistic-resistant glass. Entrance and exit doors would be installed in the existing facade openings on the left and right, and the transaction window for the badging office would be installed in the center of the facade. She said that the design is intended to maintain the monumental scale of the original double-height arcade, using eight-foot-high doors with expanses of glazing above.
Ms. Ranon presented the proposed design for the courtyard side of 726 Jackson Place. She said that the addition is scaled to remain beneath the existing rear balcony. The floor level of the lobby and addition, aligned with the Jackson Place sidewalk, would correspond with the upper terrace of the existing courtyard, which descends several steps to the main courtyard level. The upper terrace would be extended further into the courtyard to provide enough room for pedestrians to enter and exit the addition, and the steps would be moved to correspond with the relocated terrace edge; most of the existing brick and granite paving material would be reused. The pair of existing light standards would also be repositioned to be located symmetrically at each end of the upper terrace. She noted that the proposed design employs a limited palette of muted colors: the steel framing of the addition would have the dark bronze finish that is used throughout the NEOB complex, and the outer wall of the secondary screening room—visible from the courtyard through the glazed rear facade, as well as from within the lobby—would be clad in a gray fiber-cement panel.
Ms. Ranon said that a new concrete ramp would be installed for barrier-free access between the upper terrace and the main courtyard level, replacing the existing temporary metal ramp. The new ramp would be located at the south end of the upper terrace, extending behind an existing planter, which would be cut back to accommodate the ramp. A handrail would be provided along the ramp where needed. Ms. Meyer asked about the width and slope of the new ramp; Ms. Ranon responded that it would be five feet wide with the maximum allowable slope of 1:12.
Ms. Ranon said that the final element of the project is modification of the brick wall on the north side of the NEOB courtyard, behind Decatur House. She said that the corresponding wall to the south, which separates the courtyard from Blair House, rises to a height of 22 to 24 feet; the proposal is to raise the north wall to a similar height, which will require reinforcement of the wall’s foundations, the removal of an existing magnolia tree, and the removal and reinstallation of the existing trellis. She presented a series of studies that were made to illustrate the impact of a higher wall on the amount of sunlight that would reach the Decatur House courtyard in winter and summer. She said that even with the low sun and longer shadows in winter, the Decatur House courtyard is large enough that the impact of the additional shade will not be severe, and she noted that this courtyard is often enclosed with a tent to accommodate Decatur House events.
Mr. McCrery asked why the proposed addition would enclose extensive lobby space around the secondary screening room; he questioned whether the addition could instead be smaller, perhaps limited to the actual perimeter of the room. Ms. Ranon responded that the room and enclosure have been kept as small as possible. She clarified that the upper levels of 726 Jackson Place contain meeting rooms, including the White House Conference Center, and the building’s vertical circulation is located on the north side; the proposed lobby is designed to allow people entering through security on the south to continue around the secondary screening room to reach the elevator and stair on the north without having to exit the lobby into the courtyard. She added that the design also includes shafts for the heating and cooling system. Mr. McCrery asked if a bench outside the secondary screening room is necessary, and whether it would impede circulation; Ms. Tunstall-Williams responded that the bench will be a place for visitors who have been screened to wait for an escort.
Mr. McCrery questioned the proposed design of the glazed infill on the street facade, observing that the eight-foot height of the doors and of the glazing above would be larger in scale than the fenestration of the other buildings along Jackson Place. Ms. Ranon responded that this option has been selected because it would maintain the vertical emphasis of the original arcade design. She said that an option was considered with horizontal mullions in the glazing above the doorways; this was more similar in appearance to the other row houses but was discarded for this reason during the historic preservation review process. Ms. Tunstall-Williams added that all of the consulting parties have agreed on the presented option.
Mr. McCrery asked if plants could be grown on the raised north courtyard wall to relieve its large expanse of brick. Ms. Tunstall-Williams responded that the intention is to grow plants on this wall surface; she indicated a proposed planter adjacent to the wall. Ms. Meyer said it will be difficult to grow any plants other than English ivy on a south-facing wall in Washington.
Ms. Meyer questioned the limited amount of space that would be available on the south end of the upper terrace, expressing concern that it would be uncomfortably constrained for someone in a wheelchair to exit the security screening, make a tight left-hand turn, and maneuver around the lamp post to reach the ramp. She recommended widening the terrace further and moving the steps further out into the courtyard; she noted that the planter adjoining the upper terrace would be wide enough to accommodate this change, and the ramp could be lengthened by extending it around the planter in order to reduce its slope. She said that the ramp as illustrated may meet code requirements but would be uncomfortably steep, and a ramp with a more gradual slope would provide an easier and more generous procession to the courtyard. Ms. Ranon responded that the project team has wanted to avoid crowding the fountain within the courtyard, and also to maintain the symmetry of the existing composition of fountain, steps, and paired light standards; the extension of the terrace and steps has therefore been limited to only a few feet. Ms. Tunstall-Williams added that the fountain has artistic significance, and its setting within the courtyard requires protection from the impact of new construction. Ms. Ranon agreed to restudy the ramp in relation to the planter; she also agreed that the new location for the light standards could be reconsidered.
Mr. McCrery expressed support for Ms. Meyer’s comments. Referring to a historic image presented, he noted that originally the light standards had been set on the level of the courtyard instead of on the upper terrace. He observed that the proposed design would keep them roughly in their historic location in plan but would lift them onto the extended terrace; he suggested instead moving them off the terrace and placing them on the courtyard level, a solution that would not only improve circulation on the terrace but would also maintain a similar compositional relationship to the architecture and maintain the open feeling of their original placement.
Mr. Krieger also agreed with Ms. Meyer’s comments regarding the ramp and with her recommendation to extend the steps and terrace further into the courtyard. He said the concern with symmetry for the fountain and light standards is a result of seeing the design in plan but would not be perceptible in reality. He observed that the main problem of the proposed terrace and ramp configuration is the narrowness of the space between the opened door from the lobby and the top step; someone in a wheelchair would need to make a quick, tight turn around the opened door to avoid falling down the steps. He endorsed the idea of extending the ramp and turning it around the planter, although he expressed doubt that its slope could be reduced to 1:20, and handrails would likely still be needed. Mr. McCrery asked if the double doors are necessary. Ms. Ranon responded that double doors are required for egress width; she clarified that the double doors to the north would actually open inward to the lobby—not outward as shown on the plan—in order to provide egress from the courtyard toward Jackson Place.
Ms. Griffin questioned the color palette of the proposed construction as illustrated in a rendering of the lobby and secondary screening room seen from the courtyard. She observed that the outer wall of the secondary screening room is shown as a gray color, and she commented that this light color would make the volume appear large and prominent; she suggested that a darker color might make it look smaller and more recessive. Ms. Ranon responded that the intent is for the colors to progress from the dark hue of the entrance facade on Jackson Place to the medium bronze color of the structural members to the lighter color of the screening room cladding. She also noted that a work of art may be installed on the screening room’s outer wall facing the courtyard; she added that this wall would have louvered vents, which are not shown in the renderings. Ms. Griffin reiterated her suggestion to consider a darker color for the enclosure to address Mr. McCrery’s concern about the volume appearing too large.
Mr. Krieger did not agree that a darker color would make the enclosure look smaller; he said that a darker color might make the interior too dark, and a lighter color would probably provide a better background for the display of art. He recommended reconsidering the bronze color proposed for the thick framing of the rear addition because it might make the addition appear too prominent, while a lighter tone would make it less obtrusive. Ms. Griffin observed that her comments and those of Mr. Krieger suggest the importance of minimizing the contrast between colors, whether the palettes are dark or light.
Commenting on the glazed infill proposed for the front facade, Mr. Shubow said he would like to see an alternative that incorporates transoms and secondary horizontal divisions to more closely resemble the facades of the adjoining row houses along Jackson Place; Mr. McCrery agreed. Mr. Krieger disagreed, commenting that the scale of the proposed treatment of the front facade is commensurate with the scale of the courtyard facade. He added that traditionally mullions were necessary due to the difficulty of manufacturing large pieces of glass, but additional mullions are no longer needed for this purpose. Mr. Luebke suggested that the applicant could study horizontal mullions as an option; Ms. Tunstall-Williams said such options have previously been prepared and could be provided to the Commission. Mr. Luebke asked for clarification of the requested alternative, noting for example that a horizontal mullion could divide the tall glass panes in half or could define a small glass pane above the doors to resemble the traditional scale of a transom. Ms. Griffin suggested adding horizontal mullions to align with nearby windows; Mr. Shubow agreed.
Mr. McCrery commented that John Carl Warnecke had taken a completely different approach to the design of the facades along Jackson Place than what is being proposed; he recommended designing the facade of number 726 as a part of the larger composition, resembling its neighbors in size, scale, and material. He said that Warnecke’s design was a modest proposal, and modesty is a desirable quality in architecture. He suggested developing new options that subdivide the facade openings in ways that are harmonious with the fenestration of the other row houses.
Mr. Krieger agreed that alternative designs for the front facade would be welcome. However, he emphasized that 726 Jackson Place will serve as the entrance to the entire NEOB complex, and the proposed design is appealing because it has an appropriately open and generous character that is distinct from the other row houses. Mr. McCrery agreed but said this character could be achieved in many different ways.
Chairman Powell suggested a motion to approve the concept design with the Commission’s comments provided; he supported the inclusion of additional studies of design alternatives in the next submission. Mr. Krieger added that particular attention should be paid to the facade mullions, the color of the screening room enclosure, and the configuration of the ramp to the courtyard. Upon a second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission adopted this action.
D. D.C. Department of General Services
CFA 16/APR/20-3, St. Elizabeths Single Men’s Shelter. St. Elizabeths East Campus, 2700 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE (east of the Barn and Stables Complex). New four-story building. Revised Concept. (Previous: CFA 16/JAN/20-6) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
E. D.C. Public Library
CFA 16/APR/20-4, Lamond–Riggs Neighborhood Library, 5401 South Dakota Avenue, NE. Replacement library building. Final. (Previous: CFA 16/JAN/20-3) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
F. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
1. SL 20-067, Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE. Building renovation and additions. Final. (Previous: SL 20-067, February 2020) Secretary Luebke noted that the Commission did not take an action in its previous review of this project in February 2020, instead raising several concerns to be addressed further. These include the materials and design of the proposed “Juliet balcony” near the building’s northeast corner; the cladding material for the basement walls that would be exposed at the northeast and northwest corners; the location, materials, and typography for the proposed exterior signage; and the potential reuse of more of the historic base for the statue of Puck, which would be relocated from its existing location on the property’s west lawn. He added that the Commission’s request for a complete set of material samples would have to be addressed through images due to the meeting’s video conference format. He asked Michael Witmore, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, to begin the presentation.
Dr. Witmore described the broad goals of the project: to improve access to the building, signaling that the Folger is a public cultural institution that welcomes everyone; to respect the design by architect Paul Philippe Cret [CFA member, 1940–45] for the building and site, with an emphasis on geometric simplicity and orthogonality; and to accommodate an interior program for improved display space to highlight the Folger’s collections, along with improved amenities. He said that the design goals were developed in cooperation with the Commission staff as well as D.C. government representatives. He expressed appreciation for the letter summarizing the Commission’s previous review, which he said provided clear direction for the remaining design issues to be decided or clarified. He introduced architect Stephen Kieran of Kieran Timberlake to begin the presentation of the response to the outstanding design issues.
Mr. Kieran presented a site plan diagram that identifies the location of the design features to be discussed; he noted that most of the concerns involve the pair of historic entrances on the north facade as well as the treatment of the proposed sunken entrances at the northeast and northwest corners. He said that in response to the Commission’s previous advice, the extent of the handrails in front of the two historic entrances has been reduced, and much of the directional signage has been eliminated from these areas; the design would instead rely on other visual cues to direct visitors to the new sunken gardens for entry to the building, while still providing handrails for those visitors wishing to ascend to the plinth terrace. He asked Abbott Miller of Pentagram to address the revisions to other signage.
Mr. Miller summarized the Commission’s previous guidance on the signage as a request for simplification. He said that the typographic range has been studied further, with four fonts now being proposed: “Haarlemmer” sans-serif for the building name etched on the glass railings, intended as an approximate match to the existing facade lettering; “Mallory” sans-serif for other site signage, in keeping with the intended use of this typeface in developing the Folger’s brand identity for the building and website; a stylized all-capitals typeface derived from the existing lettering of the Puck statue pedestal; and “Practice,” a Renaissance typeface that would be used for literary text on the site, including the newly commissioned poetry that would be inscribed on the curbs of the ramps to the two sunken entrance gardens. The design for the site’s pylon signs has been simplified, and their height has been reduced from 8’-0” to 7’-3”; he said that the result is a quieter presence for the pylon signs. Dr. Witmore added that Rita Dove, the former U.S. poet laureate, has recently agreed to write the new poetry for the entrance gardens.
Mr. Kieran presented the revised treatment of the building corners, where wall surfaces of the historic building that were previously below grade would be exposed. He said that the previously presented design showed surfaces of acid-etched and sand-blasted concrete, but the Commission had requested a more noble material. The current proposal is therefore to use Mount Airy granite at these locations. At the northeast corner, the design of the so-called Juliet balcony has been revised to have a glass railing as used elsewhere in the project, which would reduce the perception of mass and would relate the balcony more clearly to the historic building’s water table and the east facade of the theater wing.
Mr. Kieran presented images of the proposed materials, noting that physical samples were provided in an earlier meeting with the Commission staff. The walkways would be paved in basalt-seeded concrete, similar to the public sidewalks in the vicinity. The adjacent curbs, to be inscribed with poetry, would be Georgia white marble. Site walls would be acid-etched and sand-blasted concrete; benches in the sunken gardens would be ipé wood. He indicated the Mount Airy granite to be used on the exposed lower-level facades, noting that this material is also used on the building’s south facade. The glazed exterior walls of the new entrance lobbies would be framed in white oak with a natural weathered gray tone, and the glass railings would have stainless steel handrails with a satin finish intended to resemble the historic aluminum details of Cret’s design. He said that several of these materials would also be used at the plinth terrace, which he noted would be disassembled and reconstructed in conjunction with creation of the new exhibit space below; some materials would be reused, including the planters, and some would be replaced with matching new materials.
Landscape architect Hallie Boyce of OLIN presented several options for the treatment of the existing Puck statue and setting on the west side of the site, as previously requested by the Commission. She said that the options vary in the new location for the statue, its relation to a new fountain setting, and the placement of seating near the statue, which has been requested by the D.C. Public Space Committee. Options 1, 2, and 3 have a two-level fountain, while Option 4 would omit the upper basin; the fountain would be designed to allow visitors to touch the water. Option 1, preferred by the design team, places the Puck statue at the center of the upper basin; the statue would be centered with the monumental window behind it in the first three options. In Option 2, the statue would be positioned at the western edge of the upper basin; she said that the disadvantage is that the fountain’s water would be behind the statue, not surrounding it. In Option 3, the statue would be located to the east of the upper basin, adjacent to the building facade; she said that this would place the statue close to the window but would result in an unsatisfactory relationship with the seating. Option 4 would place the statue within a single fountain basin, but the statue would not be centered on the window, and would instead be further to the north against the solid stone wall at the corner. She provided an enlarged view of Option 1, indicating the Shakespeare quotation and bas reliefs that would be part of the statue’s setting, as well as the axial relationship with the garden walkway and the monumental window within the building facade. She noted that all of these options would retain the statue on the west side of the site, facing the U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress.
Dr. Witmore concluded the presentation by noting that the project team is committed to preserving the beauty and intent of the original building, including Cret’s sensitive choices of materials and design as well as the manner in which it addresses the public. He noted that the Folger’s board of directors has approved the project, and the valuable collection is being moved off-site to facilitate the construction process; he requested the Commission’s support in moving the project forward.
Ms. Griffin asked if seating is part of the historic setting for the Puck statue; Dr. Witmore responded that seating is not part of the existing ensemble on the west lawn. Ms. Griffin asked for clarification of why seating would be added; Dr. Witmore said that the D.C. Public Space Committee requested the benches along the new site ramps to provide a clear signal that the sunken gardens are public spaces, and Ms. Boyce added that the design responds to a specific request to add seating in this area of the sunken northwest garden.
Mr. Stroik commented that the existing setting for the Puck statue appears to be a very beautiful example of the integration of art and architecture; he asked why the statue and fountain are to be moved. Ms. Boyce described the existing sculptural ensemble, relying in part on photographs in the presentation: it is set within a lawn panel, with a driveway passing behind it; parked cars on the driveway are visible in the photographs. She explained that the design of the proposed sunken entrance garden at the site’s northwest corner conflicts with a large magnolia tree in this area which is designated as a heritage tree in accordance with D.C. regulations; the required consultation with the D.C. urban forestry office has resulted in the decision to relocate the tree southward on the west side of the site. The process for moving the tree, while also protecting an important underground collections vault in this area, results in the need to dismantle the Puck statue and its fountain setting. Aside from these issues, the statue’s relocation would also support the goal of providing a welcoming entrance sequence for the new lower-level entrance to the building, with a landscape design that conveys the vibrancy and energy of the treasures within the building. The relocated Puck statue, along with the text inscriptions and the plant selections, are intended to directly relate the landscape to Shakespeare’s works; Puck would be perceived as greeting visitors approaching the new northwest entrance. She said the statue’s proposed location, which would be integrated with the new entrance walkway, would have more prominence than the existing location. She added that the existing driveway in this area would be removed, and the side entrance door along the driveway was removed long ago, perhaps in the 1980s; the proposed design would make the west side of the site more usable by the public, with shade and seating.
Ms. Meyer expressed appreciation for the clarification of how the tree relocation affects the setting of the Puck statue. She said that she recently found an article from 2002 describing the restoration of this fountain; the article noted that the original statue, in damaged condition, was replaced by an aluminum reproduction, and the marble of the fountain was also in damaged condition due to skateboarders. Mr. McCrery clarified that the original statue was marble; Dr. Witmore confirmed that the original statue is now located inside the building.
Mr. McCrery suggested further discussion of the historic fountain, noting with dismay that the fountain had not been a significant part of the past presentations for this project in May 2019 and February 2020. He said that as a new member of the Commission, he has researched the past presentations including documents, photographs, drawings, and meeting transcripts in order to familiarize himself with the project. He described the Puck statue’s setting in the Folger’s west garden as a highly significant piece of public statuary; the ensemble was conceived by Cret, with the statue designed by Brenda Putnam and carved by Robert Daley. He emphasized that the statue should not be treated as an object that can be readily relocated; it is part of an ensemble that includes the fountain, inscription, statue, and architecture. He described the ensemble as exceptional and unique, conceived and built as an integral part of the Folger complex. He noted that the statue and fountain are referenced in the scholarly work of James Goode and in the 1969 nomination of the Folger to the National Register of Historic Places; he cited a 1973 monograph by Theo B. White that describes the Folger as one of Cret’s principal works. He expressed concern that this integral part of the library’s design would be eliminated, with only the aluminum replica of the Puck statue to be relocated into a new concrete basin at a corner of the proposed northwest sunken garden. He said that even the statue’s base—inscribed with Shakespeare’s text, “What fooles these mortals be!”—was to be eliminated, although it has apparently been added to the proposal along with some of the existing bas-relief panels in response to a question raised in the Commission’s previous review. He observed that the submitted photographs of this site feature are so heavily cropped that the extent of the existing fountain is not apparent in the presentation materials; the past presentations and submitted drawings have failed to describe either the existing condition of this area or the intended demolition. He added that the protection of the below-grade vault, mentioned today as a reason to demolish the fountain, has similarly not been documented or previously presented. He acknowledged the desirability of saving the beautiful magnolia tree, but he questioned whether its relocation necessitates destruction of the entire Puck fountain ensemble, which he reiterated is a vitally important component of the Folger’s historic design.
Dr. Witmore said that the presentations have responded to issues raised during the review process, and the intent has not been to mislead the Commission or hide any part of the proposal. He also clarified that the existing fountain would be dismantled rather than demolished. He reiterated that the proposed entrance garden necessitates moving the magnolia tree, and its new placement—constrained by the need to protect the below-grade vault—results in a new design for the west garden that cannot accommodate the existing sculpture ensemble. He acknowledged that the proposal is an imperfect solution that results from a highly constrained design problem. However, he emphasized that the proposed design—salvaging the sculpture along with its inscribed base and associated panels as part of the new entrance approach—will fulfill Cret’s original design intent for the sculpture to draw attention to the institution; he described the proposal as programmatically important for the Folger. He cited the statue’s new location adjoining the sunken garden as helping to greet visitors and convey Shakespeare’s view that nature is full of words; he said that the new location, although different from the original setting, is a wonderful placement for the statue. He added that the design of the west garden has been changed over the past decades, and the extent of the original fountain appears to relate to the length of the drop-off driveway, which will be removed. He said that the preservation pressures on the project have included retention of both the design intent and the materials, and the Folger has been giving serious consideration to these issues. He expressed appreciation for Mr. McCrery’s research into the design review process.
Mr. McCrery observed that the project presents an apparent Solomonic choice between saving the magnolia tree or the fountain. He said that of the two, the fountain is much more integral to the original design of the Folger; he recalled Dr. Witmore’s comment in the previous review that the building itself was intended to be analogous to a historic document of Shakespeare’s work. He asked if another location could be found for the magnolia tree. Ms. Boyce responded that the proposed new location is the only one viable, based on consideration of the tree’s structure and age; the intent is to move it only a short distance so that it does not need to be lifted onto a flatbed truck for transport on the street, which would be problematic. Mr. McCrery observed that all solutions involving the tree appear to be problematic, and he asked what the likelihood is that the tree will survive the relocation process. Ms. Boyce responded that a company has been engaged to move the tree, drawing on its experience with moving trees of even larger size, and the assessment is that the magnolia will be highly viable in its new location. Mr. McCrery observed that if the fountain is destroyed to move the tree, and the tree subsequently dies, then both of these site features will have been lost. Dr. Witmore clarified that the predicted probability of the tree’s survival is 90 percent, and he reiterated that the fountain would be disassembled rather than destroyed; the intent is therefore that both features will survive. He added that Mrs. Folger had planted the magnolia tree, and it is important to the Folger’s history.
Mr. Krieger expressed regret that the proposed treatment of the Puck statue is being presented as an unavoidable result of the desire to save the magnolia tree. He said that the better argument for the proposed design is that the northwest entrance to the building is being radically transformed, and the new setting for the statue in a reinterpretation of its original fountain is a good design idea. He added that the proposed change in the statue’s setting is especially appropriate because the current statue is not the original; he offered the analogy of the replica of Michelangelo’s David statue that is displayed outdoors in Florence. He expressed support for the proposal to move the Puck statue to a reinterpreted fountain, giving the statue an improved relationship to the building’s entrance sequence.
Mr. McCrery emphasized the damage that would be caused by the proposed design, losing a magnificent fountain that is integral to the original design of the building, not a secondary element. He expressed support for the Folger’s past decision to move the original statue indoors, as with the David statue in Florence, and he described the current version of the statue as a fine replica. He said that this alteration does not change the historic nature of the fountain ensemble, which includes inscriptions, marble walls featuring bas-relief carvings of oak branches, and the fountain basin as well as the statue itself. He emphasized that this ensemble is an integral whole that would be lost in any of the four options that were presented. He added that the intent to dismantle rather than demolish the ensemble is of little importance, since the result would still be its complete absence in the renovated Folger complex.
Ms. Griffin suggested focusing the discussion of the fountain on two issues: whether to accept the project team’s assertion that dismantling it is necessary to facilitate the tree relocation; and whether the Commission wants to recommend reconstructing the fountain in its current configuration, compared to the proposed solution of reconstructing only some elements of the ensemble as part of a newly relocated fountain related to the new northwest entrance. Mr. McCrery said that the primary motivation for demolishing the fountain ensemble is apparently to clear a path for moving the magnolia tree; he suggested that this seemingly would not preclude reconstructing this feature in its original location after the tree has been moved.
Dr. Witmore responded that the new location for the magnolia must be on the west side of the Folger site, in accordance with the regulatory process, and this precludes retaining the entire fountain ensemble in its current location. He emphasized that the proposed fountain configuration also results from compelling aesthetic and programmatic reasons. Mr. McCrery questioned why the tree relocation precludes reconstructing the entire fountain ensemble, or even why it would need to be dismantled; he suggested that the tree contractor could move the tree around the fountain. Ms. Griffin observed that the Commission’s questions on this part of the project may result from the lack of adequate documentation and description of the project team’s analysis that has resulted in the design decisions that are being proposed; she said that a resolution of this discussion may not be feasible today without such additional information, and the Commission could instead focus on the other design revisions that have been presented. Mr. Krieger reiterated that his support for the proposed fountain is based on its design and aesthetics, not on any technical problems with potentially keeping the existing fountain ensemble in its current location; he said that the proposed reinterpretation of the fountain in a new location is reasonable to establish a relationship to the building’s new entrance sequence. Ms. Meyer agreed with Mr. Krieger’s response to the proposal, describing the proposed entrance sequence with the reconfigured fountain as a powerful design that is compatible with the new and existing architecture. She noted that the proposed setting would include the inscription panel of the statue’s base, establishing a relationship between the old text and the proposed new poetry to be incorporated into the garden design. She summarized that the proposed design would establish an aesthetically appropriate continuity between the past and present, rather than providing a simulation of the past.
Mr. Shubow asked if the regulatory framework requires favoring retention of the tree over preservation of the historic fountain. Mr. Kieran responded that the D.C. law on heritage trees does not allow the removal of the tree, resulting in the necessity of relocating it to accommodate the building renovation; he said that discussions with D.C. government officials on applying this law have already concluded with this solution, following months or even years of negotiations. Mr. McCrery noted that the Commission’s review process must also be considered, and after a year the Commission is only now learning more information about the extent of the proposal for this area of the project. Ms. Meyer emphasized that some Commission members support the proposal, notwithstanding any concerns with the sequence of the review process; she said that the current proposal is consistent with the initial concept submission that was approved in May 2019, regardless of any legalistic arguments now being raised. Mr. McCrery reiterated his concern that the design team has avoided presenting this part of the design until prompted by recent questions from the Commission members.
Secretary Luebke suggested that the Commission move toward a vote on the submission, perhaps with a separate vote on the proposed treatment of the Puck statue and fountain, in order to establish a clear decision. Mr. Krieger again stated his support for the fountain proposal and added that he supports the other design revisions that have been presented, describing them as good responses to the Commission’s comments from the previous review. Dr. Witmore said that the project team has worked diligently with the Commission and other authorities in responding to questions as they have arisen; he emphasized that the project team has gone through several rounds of Commission reviews, always responding in good faith. He said he believes that the proposed design is the right aesthetic choice, and it is inspired and programmatically correct. He said that the Folger needs a decision from the Commission, noting that design questions are appropriate for the Commission, but the treatment of the heritage tree is a matter of local law.
Chairman Powell suggested separate motions concerning the fountain and the other parts of the project. Ms. Meyer offered a motion to approve the proposed revisions that were presented as the first seven items in the outline of responses to the Commission’s previous review; these revisions include the railings and signage along the East Capitol Street frontage, the refined typography, the revised pylon signs, the materials at the northwest and northeast corners, the Juliet balcony, and the overall project materials. She noted that this motion excludes the eighth item in the outline, the design for the Puck fountain. Upon a second by Ms. Griffin, the Commission adopted this motion, with Mr. Powell, Ms. Meyer, Ms. Griffin, and Mr. Krieger voting in favor, and Mr. McCrery, Mr. Shubow, and Mr. Stroik voting against.
Secretary Luebke asked if the Commission wishes to take a vote on the remaining item, the relocation of the Puck fountain. Chairman Powell suggested that further discussion may be needed for this part of the project; he said that he and Mr. Krieger would not be able to participate much longer in today’s meeting. Ms. Meyer acknowledged the potential importance of further discussion, but she noted that the Commission had already approved the project at the concept stage in May 2019, and she said that the Commission should now be focusing only on the issues that are part of the final review process. She recalled similar situations of respecting prior decisions when she and Mr. Krieger were new to the Commission; she said that new Commission members should consider the review process from the perspective of the project team, with a complex sequence of reviews by multiple agencies. She reiterated her support for the Puck fountain proposal as an appropriate and powerful design, making a motion to approve it, with the request that the Commission take this action at today’s meeting. Mr. Krieger seconded the motion, and Ms. Meyer clarified that the motion is to approve Option 1, as preferred by the design team. Ms. Griffin commented that the proposed seating appears jarring in this composition, although she acknowledged that inclusion of the seating was requested by another review body; she suggested consideration of eliminating it, or else changing the benches from wood to stone so that they are perceived as part of the stone fountain. Dr. Witmore said that this change in material would be feasible. Mr. Krieger suggested that the motion be modified to include a provision for further study of the bench material; Chairman Powell said that this would be incorporated into Ms. Meyer’s motion. Mr. McCrery asked to offer a separate motion; Chairman Powell said that the original motion should be considered first. Mr. Shubow suggested additional discussion; Chairman Powell observed that ample discussion of this topic has already occurred. The Commission adopted the motion to approve Option 1 for the Puck fountain, with the comment provided concerning the bench material; Mr. Powell, Ms. Meyer, Ms. Griffin, and Mr. Krieger voted in favor of the motion, and Mr. McCrery, Mr. Shubow, and Mr. Stroik voted against.
Mr. McCrery requested that the Commission’s action letter, which would be seen by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, should convey the split vote with a one-vote majority. Chairman Powell agreed that this would be appropriate; Secretary Luebke said that this detail could be referenced in response to the Commission’s direction. Mr. McCrery said that he wants the historic preservation officials to be aware of the Commission’s concern with the Puck fountain treatment, especially because this proposal may not be apparent to them from the project documentation. Secretary Luebke noted that the project has been approved by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board; Mr. McCrery said that their approval may be based on inadequate documentation similar to what has been provided to the Commission of Fine Arts. Mr. Krieger agreed that describing the split vote in the letter would be appropriate, and Chairman Powell confirmed this direction to the staff.
2. SL 20-103, The Harrison Apartment Building, 704 3rd Street / 333 G Street, NW. Renovate historic building and construct a 12-story hotel addition. Revised concept. (Previous: SL 20-049, January 2020) Secretary Luebke noted that the only outstanding issues from the previous review concerned the color palette of the brick, for which the Commission had requested a new study of the color contrast. He said that the Commission may prefer to act on the project without a presentation, noting that some Commission members would soon be leaving the meeting; the Commission agreed to provide comments based on the submission materials.
Mr. Krieger commented that the revised monochrome palette for the new construction is a step backward. If a single brick color is used, he encouraged the exploration of a different shade that would be more compatible with the color of the historic brick building. However, he recommended reconsidering whether the better solution would be to include a compatible second color, as had been shown in an earlier proposal. Mr. Powell agreed with these comments. Mr. Luebke noted the apparent consensus to approve the revised concept design, conditional upon further study of the brick palette; the Commission adopted this action.
(Chairman Powell and Mr. Krieger departed at this point; Vice Chairman Meyer presided for the remaining agenda item.)
3. SL 20-112, 280 12th Street, SW. New 13-story hotel building. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the proposal for a 13-story hotel building on a vacant triangular site, approximately one block south of Independence Avenue. The site faces the U.S. Department of Agriculture South Building to the west and the Cotton Annex to the south; to the east is the 12th Street Expressway as it curves into a tunnel under the National Mall, and further east are the U.S. Department of Energy headquarters and the L’Enfant Plaza complex. He noted that the building site is encumbered by a large Metrorail power substation and vault, which severely limit the useable area for structural loading and foundations. Another constraint is the requirement from the D.C. Historic Preservation Office to align the hotel’s south facade with the Agriculture South Building, visually extending the alignment of C Street. He said that the hotel would be highly visible along several view corridors, with the view from the Mall being the most significant. He asked Bahram Kamali, senior architect at BBGM, to present the design, and he noted that Aria Mehrabi of Pacific Star Capital, the owner of the development parcel, would also provide information on the project.
Mr. Kamali described the context, indicating the site’s proximity to the National Mall and several Smithsonian Institution museums, as well as the headquarters buildings for the Departments of Agriculture and Energy. He said the D.C. zoning for the 25,000-square-foot site allows for a 130-foot-tall building of 166,000 square feet; the proposed hotel would reach this height but would be only 89,000 square feet because of the site constraints. He said that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) would not allow any structural loading of the building on top of its underground substation, and therefore only a small area of the site can be used for foundations. Access to the WMATA vault must also be maintained. He described the existing segment of C Street along the site as a private dead-end roadway, but its potential extension and widening within the historic right-of-way would result in a further reduction in the available footprint for the hotel. The proposal is therefore to use the limited bearing locations to support a three-story truss system at the base of the hotel; a few columns would also be located at the edges of the building.
Mr. Kamali presented photographs of the site’s context, noting the many government buildings in the vicinity, as well as the commercial, hotel, and residential buildings that comprise the Portals complex to the southeast. He presented views of the proposed building from several different vantage points, including from the 10th Street Promenade at L’Enfant Plaza, from the Mall near the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Jamie L. Whitten Building, and from the plaza at the base of the Washington Monument, from which he said the building would be barely visible.
Mr. Kamali presented images of precedents that inspired the concept design, which he described as simple and elegant. The building’s truss structures would be expressed on the north and south facades. The hotel entrance would be on the south, facing the extension of C Street. He said that the three-story open area at the lower part of the north facade would span the access portal for the below-grade WMATA infrastructure and allow for WMATA’s equipment to be moved in and out. He described the east facade as having a simple design, and he said the building’s square-shaped fenestration would be similar across all facades. He said the facades would feature the coloration and architectural vocabulary of the surrounding buildings. However, the hotel’s structural engineer discourages the use of very heavy materials on the facade due to the limited structural capacity of the trusses; the proposal is therefore to clad the hotel in high-density fiber cement panels. He noted that the truss system has a complex design, with varied configurations to allow for mechanical ductwork to be placed in the hotel corridors. He presented a section drawing and floor plans showing the arrangement of the interior circulation spaces, including the lobby, meeting areas, and guestrooms. The penthouse would include a small lounge and mechanical spaces; he noted that the occupiable rooftop terrace would have exceptional views of the city.
Mr. Kamali presented the proposed site design. Scored concrete paving would be used for the surrounding sidewalks, with concrete pavers at the entrance to create a sense of arrival. A tall hedge would be planted between the sidewalk and the hotel property along the north and west sides to shield the service area, with trees planted in the sidewalk planting strip. Two large shade trees, as well as shrubs, groundcover, and four parking spaces, are proposed for the service area.
Mr. Mehrabi, the site’s owner, said that the development parcel was purchased approximately one year ago from the U.S. General Services Administration. He reiterated that the site constraints would allow for the construction of only half of the density allowed by zoning, and therefore maximizing the building’s height is particularly important. He said the project team has worked for approximately nine months with WMATA to improve the building’s structural design, resulting in the current proposal; the team is also aware of the need to focus on the aesthetics of the building because of its location, and he said that the design is intended to fit into this context. He noted that his firm has developed mixed-use projects across the country; this hotel is the firm’s first project in Washington, but he noted that he attended college and graduate school here and is intimately familiar with the city.
Mr. Luebke acknowledged that D.C. zoning for this site allows for a 130-foot building, plus a penthouse. However, the Shipstead-Luce Act asks the Commission to consider the federal interest when evaluating projects within this jurisdiction, and the Commission may recommend the reduction of the proposed height of buildings in this area, regardless of local zoning or other regulations.
Mr. Luebke said that the National Capital Planning Commission has prepared computer-generated wireframe views of the project, with the goal of understanding the project’s visibility from a variety of locations. Ms. Batcheler presented the wireframe studies, noting that the context modeling does not include recent buildings, such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the waterfront development of The Wharf, and the depiction of the 12th Street underpass appears irregular; however, she said that the existing buildings shown are accurate, as is the topography. She said that the viewpoint of each image is from 5’-6” above grade, and vertical objects aside from buildings, such as trees, are not included in the modeling. She presented several views of the hotel building from locations throughout the city’s Monumental Core: at the top of the stairs and the lower plaza of the Lincoln Memorial; Constitution Gardens, from where the hotel would be visible, at least when modeled without trees; the Tidal Basin at the southern end of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial; 17th Street at the World War II Memorial; the western end of the Ellipse; the Washington Monument plaza; the west side of 12th Street near the National Museum of American History, where she indicated the hotel’s visibility adjacent to the Smithsonian Castle and Freer Gallery; the intersection of 12th and F Streets; the south steps of the National Museum of Natural History, where she noted the erroneous modeling of the underpass is blocking the first two stories of the building and open loading area, which would all be visible from this vantage point; the south steps of the National Gallery of Art; the east side of the Whitten Building, opposite the Freer Gallery, where she noted again the erroneous depiction of the underpass and the visibility of the first two stories of the building; and from the 10th Street Promenade of L’Enfant Plaza, near the U.S. Postal Service headquarters, where she noted the visibility of the Washington Monument and Cotton Annex, as well as the penthouses of the Agriculture South Building and the Whitten Building. Secretary Luebke said that the proposed hotel building would mostly likely remain fully visible from the Mall well into the future, particularly from 12th Street, because there are no plans to develop the area to the north of the proposed site, where the expressway emerges. He noted that despite appearances in some views, the proposed hotel is considerably higher than the surrounding buildings, which are typically 90’ to 100’.
Vice Chairman Meyer thanked Ms. Batcheler and welcomed questions and comments from the Commission members. Secretary Luebke cited the precedent of a similar Shipstead-Luce area project nearby—the Portals V development—in which the Commission mandated the removal of two floors, and he suggested that the Commission should provide particular guidance on the building volume for the current concept proposal. Ms. Meyer noted the NCPC massing studies have provided a more comprehensive level of documentation of the new hotel building’s impact on the city that was not available during the Portals review. She said that she is interested in the project team’s perspective on the issue of height, in addition to having a productive conversation about massing and the design of the facades.
Mr. Stroik asked if a rendering has been provided that shows the proposed appearance of the hotel building from the Mall. Secretary Luebke returned to a perspective image from the presentation, noting that the hotel would be taller than is suggested in this view—130’ plus penthouse, compared to approximately 90’ for the surrounding buildings. Ms. Griffin suggested discussing the view of the hotel from 12th Street at the north side of the Mall; Ms. Meyer said this image is compelling because the viewpoint provides both a bird’s-eye view of the massing as well as a person’s experience of the building from the Mall.
Mr. McCrery acknowledged the impact on financial considerations that a reduction in building height can create; however, he said that based on the presented views, the height of both the hotel building and its penthouse should conform to the corresponding heights of the Agriculture South Building and its penthouse. Ms. Griffin acknowledged that the site is difficult to develop with a building, but she agreed that the proposed massing and height is unwarranted. She noted that since the site is one of the last developable parcels in the area, and nothing will be built between it and the Mall, the building will be perceived as part of the campus iconography of the Smithsonian, the Mall, and L’Enfant Plaza. She advised development of a design that considers the building as part of these campuses, particularly of how this important context could influence the massing and facade expression. She said that the facade visible from the Mall is very prominent, and great consideration should be given to how it is woven into the surrounding fabric.
Ms. Meyer expressed support for these comments. She observed that the presentation noted the site’s many complications stemming from the underground WMATA structures; however, she said that the surrounding buildings should be considered for their potential positive influence on the new building, citing parameters such as height, building lines, and geometries that could help shape the proposal. She said the only surrounding building that seems to be used as a reference is 370 L’Enfant Promenade, designed by Eisenman/Robertson Architects in the 1980s; but this does not seem like the right language for the facades, particularly since the biggest visual impact will be along 12th Street, looking south from the Mall. Mr. Stroik and Mr. Shubow agreed with these comments regarding the massing and facades of the proposed hotel. Mr. McCrery said he understands the site constraints but finds that the shape of the building is odd, and he asked if its massing could be regularized, in addition to the facade concerns already raised.
Secretary Luebke summarized that the Commission members are requesting restudy of the massing, form, and materials of the proposed building, and he noted that the advice to have the new building match the height of the Agriculture South Building would equate to the removal of approximately four stories. Mr. McCrery clarified that regardless of the number of stories, it is important that the new building’s height—including both the cornice line and the penthouse—should align with the Agriculture South Building across 12th Street.
Mr. McCrery reiterated that the floor plans could be regularized, resulting in a better building form. Mr. Kamali responded that the shape of the building is the result of using the maximum buildable area available on the site that also allows enough depth for guest rooms. Mr. Mehrabi emphasized that the underground WMATA structures and the line set by the future realignment of C Street are responsible for the trapezoidal shape of the building, noting that the substation takes up 85% of the site. He acknowledged that the project team had erroneously thought that the buildable envelope of the parcel was 150,000 square feet, and that the work with WMATA to address structural issues resulted in the 50% reduction of the square footage, as well as the irregular massing of the proposal. He added that this design is what WMATA is willing to accept, even though multiple feasible structural designs were proposed. He said that the development project may not be viable if two stories are removed from the design.
Vice Chairman Meyer expressed appreciation for Mr. Mehrabi’s account of the design process. However, she said that the Commission’s mandate is to protect the federal interest, and after judging the documentation—particularly the NCPC massing studies—she cannot support the proposed massing and height. She reiterated that the Commission members have advised that the height be studied in relation to the adjacent buildings. She emphasized that the proposed hotel building needs to be a background building that forms a part of the wall of structures surrounding the Mall, not a vertical element that is differentiated from its context. She said the building’s appearance needs to be more restrained, and it cannot be a structure as visually expressive as the Smithsonian Castle. She expressed regret that the site constraints are resulting in a smaller building than is desired by the applicant, but she reiterated that the Commission’s role is to protect the federal interest—in this case, the public experience and national significance of the Mall. Mr. Mehrabi suggested the Commission focus on the view of the building looking west from 10th Street, SW, which shows how the building would fit within its context.
Mr. Mehrabi emphasized that the goal of the design is to fit into the iconography of the Smithsonian museum campus, and he asked for feedback on the selected materials. Ms. Griffin responded that she is concerned about the visibility of the facade’s structural trusses from the Mall, suggesting that this would be inappropriate for the setting. She reiterated the advice to study how the context, including the Smithsonian and the mid-century L’Enfant Plaza campuses, could provide positive cues for the concept design. For example, the rhythm and pacing of the hotel’s cladding should be complementary to these campuses. Regarding the massing, she acknowledged that achieving a more regular plan would be difficult given the site constraints. She said the design should be concerned with shaping the volume to make the site feasible for development and to realize value from the parcel; however, the project team should also recognize that this is a unique site because of its location and architectural context, in addition to the constraints posed by active, below-grade infrastructure. She said that since there may be constraints on the height of the building, it may be beneficial to continue discussions with WMATA about how the building’s footprint could be designed.
Mr. Stroik said that this site immediately off the Mall presents a great opportunity to design a hotel, and it would sit among a number of very important and much-visited buildings. He agreed with the other Commission members that this should be a background building that fits within the context of the Smithsonian campus, and that the view down 12th Street from the Mall towards the proposed building is the most important view regarding the nationally significant public realm of the Mall. He said that the building should have the sensibility of a gateway. He observed the variety of colors and materials in the surrounding buildings, most prominently beige and the use of brick, and he suggested consideration of a material and color palette that is in keeping with this context. Mr. Mehrabi said that an exterior with more earth tones had been considered previously and could be revisited. Secretary Luebke noted that cementitious panels are proposed for the rainscreen, and to his knowledge the Commission has never approved this type of material for a building in the Monumental Core; he added that it is usually used in suburban locations, and the Commission should comment now if this material is problematic. Mr. McCrery said that this is an inferior material, notwithstanding concerns about the potential weight of other, more substantial materials. He emphasized that the building is proposed for the Monumental Core of Washington and will be entirely visible from within this important area. He observed that the new building would be part of a context of superb buildings with magnificent, permanent masonry facades, adding that brick would be the least honorific type of material he would suggest, with stone being preferable.
Secretary Luebke summarized that the Commission’s advice includes comments on the building’s compatibility with adjacent buildings, particularly its height and form; that the materials should be commensurate with the quality of the surrounding buildings; that the building will be highly visible from particular locations; that it should read as a background building that is a contributing part of the Monumental Core; and that that there may be opportunities to continue to work with WMATA on the structural design.
Vice Chairman Meyer added that the facade visible from the Mall is particularly important, and that the expression of the structural trusses on this facade should be suppressed. She asked if the Commission members wish to vote on approving the concept design today, or if the extensive comments suggest that the Commission not take an action, instead requesting that the applicant return for further concept-level review. Mr. McCrery and Ms. Griffin expressed support for the Commission not taking an action. Ms. Meyer said that the Commission has provided clear comments to direct the development of the design, and requested that the applicant respond to these comments and return for another concept review; Secretary Luebke said that the staff would summarize these comments in a letter to the applicant. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
Vice Chairman Meyer thanked the staff for its hard work in executing the public online meeting of the Commission; Mr. Stroik and Ms. Griffin joined in expressing their appreciation. Secretary Luebke noted that the online platform worked well and allows for public observation and engagement.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 1:56 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA