The meeting was convened by video conference at 9:00 a.m.
Hon. Earl A. Powell, Chairman
Hon. Elizabeth Meyer, Vice Chairman
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 said that the meeting is being held as a video conference due to the continuing coronavirus public health emergency, and all of the Commission members and presenters are participating remotely. He noted that the meeting is being watched by approximately seventy people, including those associated with projects on the agenda as well as the general public.
A. Approval of the minutes of the 16 April meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the April meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the minutes.
B. Dates of next meetings. Secretary Luebke presented the regularly scheduled dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 18 June, 16 July, and 17 September 2020. He noted that no meeting is scheduled in August, and upcoming meetings may be held by video conference if necessitated by the public health emergency.
C. Status report on the continued office closure and transition to on-line operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic health emergency. Secretary Luebke reported that the agency is continuing to operate during the closure of the office space, with the staff working off-site and the public meetings of the Commission and the Old Georgetown Board being held by video conference. The staff is also continuing to conduct consultation meetings with applicants, using the video conference format. He said that this transition has been reasonably successful in maintaining normal operations. The public health restrictions may be eased in the coming weeks or months, perhaps with new protocols for allowable gatherings; the effect on the format of future meetings will be announced as the public health policies are established.
D. Anniversary of the establishment of the Commission of Fine Arts, 17 May 1910, and the Shipstead-Luce Act, 16 May 1930. Secretary Luebke acknowledged the Commission's two anniversaries falling in May: the 110th anniversary of the Commission's establishment, and the 90th anniversary of the Shipstead-Luce Act. He recalled the events celebrating the Commission’s centennial ten years ago, leading to the publication of the history of the Commission of Fine Arts, Civic Art, in 2013.
E. Nomination of a subcommittee to review submissions from the U.S. Mint in June 2020. Secretary Luebke noted that the Mint anticipates approximately five submissions for the Commission’s June meeting, necessitated by the production schedule for coin and medal programs authorized by legislation. He said that this caseload may be cumbersome for the Commission to handle during a single meeting, particularly by video conference, and he therefore suggested that the Commission consider having a subcommittee review the Mint submissions in advance of the June meeting. He said that the staff could then prepare a report of the subcommittee’s recommendations and comments, which the Commission could consider for adoption at the June meeting. He suggested that three people could be an appropriate size for the subcommittee; Chairman Powell, Mr. McCrery, and Mr. Krieger volunteered to participate.
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. He noted that despite the limitations of off-site work, a timely response by the Commission is particularly important for the cases submitted under the Shipstead-Luce Act and the Old Georgetown Act due to their statutory time constraints for providing advice to the D.C. Government.
Appendix I – Government Submissions Consent Calendar: Mr. Lindstrom said that the only change to the draft appendix is to the historic preservation referral for the project at the Metro escalators of the Arlington Cemetery station; the referral has been corrected to the Virginia state government, as the project is not located in the District of Columbia. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the revised Government Submissions Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler noted several changes to the draft appendix. One item has been added to the agenda (case number SL 20-115) in order to document its withdrawal; the site has been sold to a new owner, and a new proposal for the site will be presented later on today’s agenda. The recommendations for several cases have been revised: to be held open for a future month (SL 20-124); to clarify the protection of an existing tree during preparatory construction work (SL 20-128); to provide a favorable recommendation in response to a revised design for a sign (SL 20-129); and to clarify the response for a residential fence to recommend against some duplicative side fencing (SL 20-131). She noted that the recommendation for a new house at 1908 Quincy Street, NW, which was presented to the Commission at the concept stage, has been placed on the appendix in accordance with the Commission’s delegated authority (SL 20-126). The recommendations for two projects are subject to further coordination with the applicants; she requested authorization to finalize these recommendations when supplemental materials are received. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act appendix. (See agenda items II.G.1 and II.G.2 for additional Shipstead-Luce Act submissions.)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Ms. Bogard reported that the appendix has 18 projects. One listing has been updated to note the receipt of supplemental drawings (OG 20-170, at 3224 Volta Place, NW). Upon a motion by Mr. Powell, the Commission approved the revised Old Georgetown Act appendix. Secretary Luebke noted that the Old Georgetown Act appendix is typically more resolved when the Commission receives it, due to the comparatively early submission deadline and the intervening review by the Old Georgetown Board; in contrast, the Shipstead-Luce Act appendix has a much tighter schedule, with cases received by the staff two weeks in advance of the Commission meeting. He added that the caseload from the Old Georgetown and Shipstead-Luce Act jurisdictions constitutes the majority of the Commission’s submissions.
At this point, the Commission considered items II.B and II.D. Secretary Luebke said that the Commission had identified these submissions as ones that could be approved without presentations.
B. National Park Service
CFA 21/MAY/20-1, U.S. Park Police Stables H1. West Potomac Park, 2000 Independence Avenue, SW (Ash Wood west of the DC War Memorial). Replacement stable and paddocks. Final. (Previous: CFA 21/MAR/19-3) Mr. Luebke said that the proposed final design is a development of the alternative that was recommended by the Commission at the concept review; the minor adjustments have been primarily to the site design, including the size of the parking area, the configuration of paddocks and the loading dock, and an increased landscape buffer. He said that the palette of exterior materials has been developed. Chairman Powell noted the support of the Commission members for approval of the project, with the exception of the proposed materials; the consensus is to request a mockup of the materials and the selection of a natural material such as redwood or cedar for the exterior siding. Ms. Meyer said that one concern is the specification of the siding as either composite, synthetic, or natural; another concern is that the submission includes two renderings that convey markedly different colors, and the requested mockup is intended to clarify the intended design. Chairman Powell confirmed the Commission’s preference for a natural product that will weather to a gray color rather than a warmer tone; Mr. McCrery emphasized the preference for naturally aging wood rather than a synthetic material. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission approved the final design, subject to these recommendations.
D. American Battle Monuments Commission
CFA 21/MAY/20-3, North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial. Route de Roosevelt, Tunis, Tunisia. Perimeter security barrier. Concept. Mr. Luebke said that the limited scope of this project is perimeter enclosure replacement at this 27-acre cemetery. He noted that the design addresses numerous technical issues such as blast protection, stand-off distance, the location of access roads, and potential archeological sites. Chairman Powell said that the Commission is satisfied with the concept submission; Mr. Luebke suggested that the Commission authorize the staff to place the forthcoming final design on the Government Submissions Consent Calendar, if no significant changes are made to the project. Upon a motion by Mr. Powell with second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission approved the submission with this authorization.
The Commission returned to the order of the agenda with item II.C.
C. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
CFA 21/MAY/20-2, Marriner S. Eccles Building (2051 Constitution Avenue, NW) and Federal Reserve Board–East Building (1951 Constitution Avenue, NW—former Interior South Building). Modernization, alterations, and additions to both buildings. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 16/JAN/20-2) Secretary Luebke introduced the revised concept design for the renovation and expansion of two buildings of the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) located on Constitution Avenue, NW, between 19th and 21st Streets. He said that in January 2020, the Commission had reviewed and approved the general concept design for the massing of the building additions and for the site plan, noting the exceptional quality of the Eccles Building, designed by architect Paul Cret [CFA member, 1940–45]. He said the Commission had emphasized that the prominence of the two existing buildings should remain foremost in the design strategy, with the new additions to be secondary to them, receding in visual prominence and articulation, and with less contrast in their architectural character. The Commission had also commented that the new additions should emphasize their civic function, advising restraint in the design, with limited departures from the symmetrical forms of the existing structures and with consideration of the architectural language of the original buildings in relation to the additions—particularly in the case of the Eccles Building. The Commission also recommended that the architectural language of the addition to the FRB–East Building should be quieter and more unified, and that its ground-level entrances and penthouse should be further developed. Regarding the site plan, Mr. Luebke said the Commission had generally recommended that a sympathetic design is needed for the new security barriers, had recommended against the inclusion of an extensive water feature at the primary entrance to the FRB–East Building, and had generally supported developing the south building yards as monumental settings fronting Constitution Avenue with a recessive treatment of the perimeter security elements. He noted the substantial interagency consultation process that has occurred among the several stakeholders, which include the National Capital Planning Commission and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office. He asked Jeffrey Foltz, the construction program manager with the FRB, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Foltz thanked the Commission on behalf of the FRB for the opportunity to present the most recent revisions, and also thanked the Commission staff for their assistance in refining the proposal. He said that this project is critical to the FRB primarily for two reasons—it will locate the majority of the employees in close proximity, allowing stronger collaboration and communication among the divisions; and it will reduce or eliminate the need for leased space, demonstrating fiscal responsibility on the part of the federal banking system. He introduced Rod Henderer and Tom Jester of Fortus, a joint venture of the architectural firms CallisonRTKL and Quinn Evans Architects, to present the architectural proposal.
Mr. Jester said the presentation will cover the Eccles Building infill additions, including the first presentation of the atrium skylight design, as well as refinements to the penthouse addition; the addition to the FRB–East Building; and changes to the landscape design for both. He noted the complexity of designing additions to two historic buildings in such a significant urban setting. He said the design team has been guided by the Commission’s review in January, along with the established design goals, to ensure that the additions emphasize the civic importance of the Federal Reserve while remaining modest and restrained in their architecture; the additions are intended to create a unified appearance that respects the character-defining features of both historic buildings.
Mr. Jester briefly summarized the history of the buildings. He described the Eccles Building, designed by Paul Cret and completed in 1937, as one of Washington’s most significant civic buildings. Designs prepared by Cret for infill construction to enclose the east and west courtyards of the H-shaped structure were never executed. The existing historic front landscape along Constitution Avenue, including an elevated plaza at the front with formal gardens to either side, has been well maintained but not substantially renovated in fifty years. Similarly, the FRB–East Building, designed by Jules Henri de Sibour and completed in 1933, was also designed to be expanded, by an addition to the north.
Mr. Henderer first presented the addition to the FRB–East Building, for which a greater amount of revision is proposed; he presented a series of watercolor renderings showing the historic building and its addition from different vantage points, comparing images of the previous submission with the proposed revision. The previous concept design has been modified to create a consistent, unified expression, informed by classical proportions but using contemporary materials; the primary expression will be a uniform pattern of alternating pilasters and thirty-foot-high window openings that will wrap around the three facades. He said this calm and monolithic expression of pilaster and glass will create an appropriate civic scale. Other references to the stripped classicism of the older building include consistent cornice and eave lines, and a contemporary cladding material to match the color and tone of the original Georgia marble. The windows would contain daylight-diffusing insulating glazing units; while the window openings in the historic building are recessed, most windows in the addition would project twelve inches from the plane of the facade. He noted that the historic building’s southeast and southwest corners are articulated as pavilions; in keeping with this precedent, the windows of the addition’s end bays would be flush with the facade to emphasize the corners. A recessed area or gap would define the separation between the historic building and the addition; along 20th Street, the proposed new entrance to the FRB–East Building located in this recess has been widened. Horizontal courses of marble panels would define an attic and a cornice level.
Mr. Henderer emphasized that the FRB–East addition would have little visual presence from Constitution Avenue; the view from the south will be of a white marble pavilion set back on a wide lawn. The penthouse has been shifted south and lowered in height by two feet to be less visible from C Street; he noted that in the watercolor the FRB–East Building appears to be higher than the Eccles Building, when in actuality it would be somewhat lower.
Mr. Henderer described the proposed materials for the FRB–East addition. Marble panels would be used for the addition’s base. The pilasters would be made of four-inch-thick insulated glass panels, with a layer of marble laminated within; sandblasting of the exterior glass of the panels would result in a tone similar to that of the marble in the historic building. These panels would admit diffused natural light during the day, and at night the ambient light inside the building would produce a soft glow. The predominant glazing would be low-iron glass, with a frit applied on the east and west facades to reduce solar heat gain; the window surrounds would be stainless steel with a bead finish. The stainless steel spandrels in the addition would closely approximate the color of the historic building’s spandrels, which he noted are cast aluminum although the renderings depict their color as bronze.
Mr. Henderer then presented the revised design for the infill additions at the Eccles Building. He noted that the design goals for the Eccles Building include a more open and transparent expression of the FRB, maintaining the legibility of the original massing, and juxtaposing the solidity of the original architecture with the transparency of the new infill material. He described the historic building’s simple palette of white Georgia marble, glass, and statuary bronze. He said that the infills on the east and west sides, along with construction of skylights, would transform the open courtyards to enclosed atriums. Modifications to the previous design include wider spacing of fins on the exterior faces of the infills to increase transparency, and changing the material proposed for the fins. He said that the glass fins previously proposed would not be able to conceal the connection of the fins to the glass walls, so extruded bronze fins are instead proposed to maintain the simplicity of the existing material palette; these fins would appear as thin as the glass fins at their projecting edges but would flare slightly near the wall surface, providing enough width to conceal the connections. The wider 5’-8” spacing of the fins would match the spacing of the historic windows. He said that these changes will give the infills a more sophisticated and compatible character. He added that the glass be low-iron, and the penthouse will be clad in marble.
Mr. Henderer described the proposal for the atriums in greater detail. The east atrium would become the hub for the three buildings on the FRB campus, and it would also serve as the entrance into the Eccles Building for staff and VIP visitors. The west courtyard would be transformed into a “winter garden” and event space that would also serve as an alternative work space for staff. The center wing of the Eccles Building would be visible within both atriums; its articulation as a pavilion would remain, and a decorative bronze railing would be placed above its fourth-floor cornice line. He noted said that the previous submission had also shown the transformation of the exterior courtyards into atriums, but had not depicted the proposed skylights that would make these spaces functional. The skylights are intended to appear calm, almost ethereal; they are designed to frame the center wing, and the north and south edges would be pushed into the atrium space, minimizing the visual impact of the skylight when viewed from Constitution Avenue on the south. The framing would be in the form of a square grid with large blocks, complementing Cret’s design for the courtyards; the framing would be divided east-west into six equal squares, and the supporting panels on the north and south sides would be inscribed to list the FRB’s twelve regional branch banks. He said these inscriptions would continue the spirit of Cret, who had the twelve names engraved in stone around the monumental staircase within the Eccles Building.
Mr. Henderer said the enclosure and drainage of the skylights present a technical challenge. The simplest technical solution would be to set the skylights within a frame system higher than the adjacent roof; however, this would make the courtyard enclosure visible from Constitution Avenue, which would be unacceptable from a historic preservation standpoint. The skylights are therefore proposed to be lower to reduce their visibility, with a two-percent slope to shed water. He added that the skylights are also detailed to meet security requirements.
In conclusion, Mr. Henderer said that the project would maintain the appearance of both buildings as integral components within a row of large marble pavilions along Constitution Avenue, all housing major institutions and set back from the roadway at the center of terraced green lawns; he said that this row is important to the experience of Constitution Avenue as a major monumental gateway into the city.
Alan Ward of Sasaki Associates presented the revisions to the landscape design for the two sites, focusing on alterations to a few specific areas. The perimeter security at the Eccles Building would be changed to a much simpler system: the existing large bollards would be removed, and new perimeter security barriers would be designed to recede into the landscape. He noted areas along some street frontages that lack street trees because the sidewalk extends to the curb; these will be improved with a uniform treatment comprising eight-feet-wide sidewalks and new street tree plantings. He said that an arborist was retained to examine all trees, including street trees, on both sites. The study found that many trees on the Eccles Building site have been significantly constrained by the continuous foundations of the perimeter security, which has even damaged some trees; the proposed perimeter security is therefore designed to improve planting conditions for trees. Similar constraints have also damaged trees in front of the FRB–East Building along the Constitution Avenue frontage. He noted the locations of heritage elm trees that were planted when the FRB–East Building was constructed in the early 1930s; the proposed perimeter security has been revised to avoid their root zones.
Mr. Ward said that most of the perimeter security would be post-and-rail barriers. Posts would be spaced ten to eleven feet apart along the edge of the plantings adjacent to the sidewalks, which he said will be a much simpler arrangement than the condition currently existing at the Eccles Building. Along the south side of the Eccles Building, the existing retaining walls would serve as a barrier, with new, simpler bollards placed along the center to leave open the key view of the building from Constitution Avenue. A similar approach would be taken at the FRB–East Building, with the exception of the Constitution Avenue frontage, where the post-and-rail barrier would continue because the post foundations would affect fewer tree roots. New plantings are proposed in front of the post-and-rail barrier to at least partially conceal it. He noted that the historic planting condition along the frontage of both sites was a sloped bank planted with ivy, a condition which still exists; the proposed new plantings for the bank would continue the idea of dark vegetation in front of a barrier. He added that the proposed post-and-rail barrier would be similar to one recently installed in front of the Department of Commerce headquarters in the Federal Triangle, but using relatively slender metal posts instead of the large stone posts installed at Commerce.
Mr. Ward presented the proposed bollard design and its three variations: a standard post for an intermediate location; a similar but slightly wider end post; and a post that would be used at pedestrian connections across or along sidewalks. All posts would be finished in a dark bronze color to blend in with the dark vegetation, and each would be scored with simple horizontal lines to suggest the classical tripartite division of base, shaft, and capital. He noted that replacing the bollards around the Eccles Building will allow for a larger soil zone beneath the green areas along the curb to support the growth of large canopy trees.
Mr. Ward discussed the overall plan for barrier-free access. The main entrances to both buildings would be from 20th Street instead of from the south. An accessible route would lead to the Eccles Building entrance in the east infill addition; from there, employees and visitors would be able to enter the FRB–East Building by way of a tunnel beneath 20th Street. The new Eccles Building entrance would have a broad approach with several steps and landings flanked by ramps and planting areas, set within the existing marble curbs and site walls. Accessible paths would be built extending into the formal lawns and gardens symmetrically placed in front of each building, incorporating slight adjustments to the existing historic landscape of the Eccles Building and as part of the new landscape design in front of the FRB–East Building; these garden spaces will occasionally be open to the public. He said this new arrangement was inspired by Cret’s design for the south landscape, which has a monumental center approach with sloping walks and more intimately scaled courtyard garden spaces to the sides. A new mid-block crosswalk across 20th Street would create an exterior connection between the two buildings and help bring increased activity to the public realm; a proposal to make this a raised crosswalk has been discussed with the D.C. Department of Transportation. He noted that an emergency exit from the Eccles Building to 21st Street has been adjusted to reduce and confine the impact of new accessible ramps to an area contained within the old lines of the historic landscape.
Mr. Ward described the proposed planting plans at the south side of the Eccles Building. The masses of overgrown yews would be removed because the original landscape plan called for low plantings near the building’s foundation that would not obscure the view. The existing magnolias were not part of the original plan; the proposal is to limb them up to create open views of the building where it meets the ground plane.
Mr. Ward then presented the changes to the proposed garden spaces on the south side of the FRB–East Building. He noted that four different designs were developed for this landscape in the 1930s; none were fully implemented although some features were installed later, and one design included a water feature. The current proposal includes a water feature at each side; these are envisioned as something other than simple reflecting pools, which are common in this part of the city. The water feature concept will be developed to provide visual interest, especially when illuminated in the evening, and they would be set within a garden space that would be accessible from the sidewalk via a sloping walk; the garden design would include trees arranged in a formal bosque, similar to those in the historic designs.
Mr. Ward said that two trees had flanked the original south facade entrance to the FRB–East Building. The proposed new 20th Street entrance to the FRB–East Building would be set at a lower elevation than the sidewalk, and the entrance could be reached from several directions: via a straight run of steps from 20th Street, passing through the planter along the sidewalk; down a walkway with steps leading from the C Street sidewalk on the north; and by way of an accessible route from the sidewalk at the south. At the northwest corner of the site, a narrow, sunken outdoor terrace would be constructed below the sidewalk level to provide an outdoor seating area for employees. The retaining wall along the outside edge of this terrace would incorporate a series of fountains to animate the space and provide sound to enliven the terrace and the adjacent public space of the sidewalk above; the water feature would be visible from within the new glass-enclosed entrance lobby. He said the fountains would be developed to be somewhat simpler than the version presented, which includes stepped planters. The part of the terrace parallel to C Street would be relatively narrow, with a wider seating area on the west side, where shade would be provided by the building’s overhang. The new mid-block crosswalk would align with the wall at the entrance to the sunken terrace, which would be a good location for signage.
Mr. Krieger posed several questions concerning the character of the sunken terrace. He asked if it would be open to the public or only to people who have passed through security, and whether any physical barrier would prevent people from entering this area. Mr. Ward responded that the terrace would be reserved for employees, which is why it would be somewhat hidden from view; he added that security would be present on the site at all times. He said that public use of the terrace is an operational issue for the FRB and its security office to determine. Mr. Henderer noted that the design has been reviewed with the FRB’s law enforcement unit, and a patrol officer will greet everyone arriving at the building. He noted that the FRB had requested the terrace to encourage employees to work and have lunch outside, but has expressed concern about opening it to the public. Mr. Krieger emphasized that because the space will appear accessible from the public sidewalk, it would seem odd and unwelcoming if public access is not allowed.
Addressing the proposal as a whole, Mr. Krieger expressed support for many of the changes that have been made in response to the Commission’s prior comments. He said that making the facades of the FRB–East Building addition more harmonious with those of the historic building is undoubtedly the correct approach, and he said he respects the attempt to create a similar vertical modularization pattern on the facades. However, he observed that the design for the addition may have been overly simplified and is now somewhat plain. He said the existing building derives increased visual interest through the use of a smaller level of detail, which is not apparent in the proposed design for the addition. Noting the tall proportions of the pilasters, he suggested adding additional small elements to break up the continuity of the windows, particularly by adding horizontal mullions to the addition’s facades to increase the visual interest and establish a stronger relationship with the proportional system of the existing building. He said that the design team has otherwise made the right moves in developing a continuous facade treatment. Mr. Henderer responded that the design is intended to express contemporary advances in building technology and materials, such as the ability to manufacture glass in enormous single sheets, but he agreed to study additional refinements. Mr. Krieger acknowledged the desire to express modern materials, but he reiterated that the design needs more subtlety, which might also include the further development of details for butt joints and the fritting of the glass panels; he observed that the renderings are not clear about where a frit would be used. He said in conclusion that the proposed design of the addition to the FRB–East Building is somewhat elegant but slightly too plain and would benefit from further articulation.
Indicating photographs of the model for the FRB–East Building, Mr. McCrery said he does not agree that the proposed addition is responsive to the Commission’s previous comments. He said the Commission in January had asked for an addition that would result in a harmonious whole and would not result in the appearance of a building in two distinct parts. He said the Commission had asked for modesty, restraint, and subtle contrast between new and old; he emphasized that the revised proposal is neither quieter nor more unified, and it does not try to achieve complementarity between the two parts of the building. He added that the Commission had also commented on the inappropriateness of glassy architecture along the Mall, but the current proposal is clearly a redesign of the previous glass-envelope design. He also observed that the penthouse has been shifted further south on the addition, closer to the Mall, although its size and footprint have been reduced. He summarized that he does not see anything in the presentation of the FRB–East Building demonstrating an honest effort at designing a comprehensive whole; rather, he said that the addition and the historic building are sharply contrasting.
Ms. Meyer commented that there will always be differences of opinion on aesthetic matters, and this is not a new issue. She referred to the long history of classical architecture and the many different ways architects have thought about classicism in relation to fundamental issues, such as geometry, proportion, and mathematics; she emphasized that there are ways to think about the architectures of different times as being complementary because of similarities in their treatment of such issues. She said that she finds the design to be persuasive in showing the care taken to study the space and geometry of both buildings, and to translate these qualities into new additions with modern materials that will support the conditions required for a modern office building, such as the provision of daylight. She commended the design team for its careful development of the revised concept design, and she expressed support for the decisions that have been made—for example, considering the difference between the effects and function of glass versus bronze fins, and concluding that the change to bronze would create a better aesthetic connection to the original building while also solving technical issues.
Ms. Meyer commented that the proposed redesign of the courtyards in the Eccles Building to serve as public spaces is very successful. She expressed appreciation for the reference to the twelve regional banks through the incorporation of their names, which she said will provide meaning in addition to function. She also supported the proposal to add street trees where they are lacking.
Ms. Meyer expressed support for the landscape design but questioned several components. Referring to the section drawing through the mature elm tree at the south end of the FRB–East Building site, she said that the proposed replacement of the existing retaining wall with a post-and-rail barrier and shrubs seems counterintuitive. Notwithstanding the great effort intended to avoid the elm’s root zone in order to protect the tree, she observed that removal of the wall would itself result in disturbance for the elm, and the shrubs would compete with the tree for water and nutrients. Noting that the post-and-rail barrier is being carefully designed, she said that disguising it is not necessary; the barrier should instead be left visible, without the addition of a shrub planting that would increase the amount of disturbance.
Ms. Meyer agreed with Mr. Krieger that the small sunken terrace proposed for the northwest corner of the FRB–East Building would likely attract people other than employees to enter it from public space, and would possibly require the installation of many security interventions to keep them out. She said these interventions should either be considered as part of the design process, or the space should be designed to be less visible and thus less attractive to the public. She also encouraged the design team to simplify the design of the water wall, observing that the proposed planting appears fussy and would require a high level of care; in particular, she said that the small step planters would interfere with the appearance of an elegant and simple water feature. In response, Mr. Ward offered to consider eliminating the proposed shrub layer; he said he would consult with the arborist on the problems it would pose to the tree roots. He added that the design for the water wall has already been simplified from what was presented: the stepped planters are being eliminated, and the wall would be treated as a simple plane with vines growing on it.
Mr. Krieger agreed with Ms. Meyer about eliminating the shrub planting adjacent to the security barrier in front of the FRB–East Building. He observed that the sunken terrace on the north would present the jarring juxtaposition of a wonderfully enticing private place along the edge of a public sidewalk, and keeping people from entering it would require posting a security officer, which he said would be a distinctly unfriendly appearance. Mr. Ward reiterated that the design team was asked to create an attractive outdoor seating area for FRB employees, and he asked Mr. Foltz to respond to the questions concerning public access to the terrace. Mr. Foltz said that the FRB is trying to make this corner look more inviting since enlivening public space is a general goal for Washington’s urban design; it is not the desire of the FRB to create an unwelcoming appearance, and he said the issue can be discussed with the law enforcement office. He compared the proposal to the attractive but chained-off existing gardens on the south lawn of the Eccles Building, noting that not many people now try to enter this area.
Mr. Shubow commented that the infill additions proposed for the Eccles Building have been improved since the previous submission. However, he said that the exterior fins would create too much of a contrast with the smooth, less articulated facades of the historic building. He expressed support for the comments of Mr. McCrery and endorsed his concern that the proposed addition for the FRB–East Building would result in the discordant appearance of two different but attached buildings. Mr. Shubow emphasized that this contrast would be especially noticeable at night, when the addition would appear as a large, brightly glowing glass box joined to a much more modest building. He expressed concern that the night lighting would be especially noticeable from the Mall, noting that this would be inconsistent with the Mall’s historic character. He requested that the next submission include a nighttime image of the FRB–East Building and its addition; Mr. Powell agreed that night lighting is a challenging issue for this area.
Mr. Shubow questioned the design team’s explanation that the fritted glass would create symmetry at the northeast and northwest corners of the FRB–East Building addition. He observed that the frit is proposed only for the east and west sides and not for the north; the result would therefore not be a symmetrical treatment where two sides meet, diminishing the clarity of the corners.
Mr. Shubow noted that Ms. Meyer had referred to the FRB–East Building addition as an office building, and he expressed concern with this characterization, emphasizing that this is a civic building housing an important institution; the architecture of the addition should reflect this, rather than resemble a mere office building. Ms. Meyer clarified that she had not said the FRB–East Building addition should look like an office building, but rather she had been discussing the quality of the interior experience for its employees; she said that these are two entirely different issues.
Mr. Krieger expressed strong support for the proposed improvements to the Eccles Building. He commended the sensitivity and skill brought to the design for the courtyard skylights, observing that the enclosure of the courtyards will make these spaces much more usable. He said this proposed transformation proves it is not necessary to mimic the historic 1930s building, and the enclosure will result in a much better environment. Regarding the exterior fins on the infill additions, he said the wider spacing and use of bronze will be an aesthetic improvement, and the change in material will also help reduce solar gain. He recommended extending some other horizontal devices from the original building to lend proportion; for example, he said that the suggestion of an attic story above the vertical expression of the lower floors would improve the relationship of the infill to the original building. He commented that the additions to the Eccles Building are compatible because the design team made the effort to use a contemporary language in a compatible way, such as through proportional systems, as recommended by the Commission. He strongly emphasized his belief that this is a generally accepted approach as well as an architect’s creative right, adding that he could think of almost no other realm of human endeavor, from science to literature to art, where a person is expected to do something exactly as it was done many decades in the past. He said the design team should be complimented for the choice of materials and the design of the interior spaces, which will reflect the contemporary era while respecting characteristics of the historic architecture. He said this is an appropriate way to both honor and enhance the public realm.
Mr. McCrery observed that the use of such materials as steel, bronze, glass, stone, and concrete is not necessarily contemporary, as they have all been in use for decades or centuries. He said that what is implicitly claimed is not the contemporaneity of the materials themselves but of their use—and the result of the claimed contemporary use of these non-contemporary materials is a design that is neither complementary to the historic building nor responsive to the Commission’s guidance at the January review. He acknowledged that there is good modern architecture, and he said that for the most part he admires the vast improvements made to the earlier concept design for the Eccles Building. However, he said that the proposal for the FRB–East Building would be a strongly contrasting addition whose goal is to employ ancient materials in a contemporary language, even though the Commission had requested a design that would be a comprehensive whole; he emphasized that the presented design does not achieve that result.
Mr. Stroik observed that many of Washington’s numerous civic buildings have additions, citing the example of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, located several blocks from the FRB, which has an excellent addition by architect Charles Platt. He said that this addition used the same material and incorporated design elements taken from the original structure in a distinctive yet subordinate way that creates a successful contrast through its simpler, more modest design. He also offered the example of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art and the challenge faced by I.M. Pei in creating an addition to the original classical National Gallery building, which he called one of the finest buildings in the city. He said Pei was able to design a successful modern addition here, in part through the use of the same material but primarily because the two buildings are physically separated.
Mr. Stroik emphasized that the addition to the FRB–East Building cannot be separated from the historic structure, so it calls for an approach similar to that taken at the Corcoran Gallery. He observed that the proposed additions to both FRB buildings are interesting designs that reflect a lot of hard work, and he agreed with Ms. Meyer that it is laudable for the addition for the FRB–East Building to refer to the proportions of the existing structure. However, he said that attempting to differentiate an addition to such an important building is an unfortunate approach; if the historic buildings were themselves bad designs it would not matter, but he emphasized that they are both excellent, prominent buildings, made of fine and durable materials, and their additions should be simpler, more modest, and less obviously new. He said that the additions to both buildings appear to be separate buildings rather than additions, and unfortunately they also have the appearance of speculative office buildings.
Ms. Meyer emphasized that what the Commission had agreed on at the January meeting should not be misconstrued. She said that nothing in the minutes of that meeting says the additions should replicate the existing buildings; instead, the Commission members had discussed compatibility and making the additions more unified, while agreeing they should be secondary to the existing structures. She acknowledged the difference of opinion about how this has been realized, but she said she does not think the design team has ignored the Commission’s advice; instead, the advice was open to the interpretation of the architects, and she emphasized that a variety of voices in the design field is a good thing. She said that her own belief, based on her academic background in architectural history as well as in landscape architecture, is that the design team has responded to the Commission’s comments in a creative and legitimate way. Mr. Krieger agreed with Ms. Meyer’s statement.
Mr. McCrery observed that only Ms. Meyer has used the word “replicate,” and no Commission member has asked for an exact replica or extension of either building. He noted that the January presentation had included the original architects’ drawings for expansions to both buildings, and he observed that these have not been proposed as design solutions. In response to Ms. Meyer’s comments, he said he would like to reiterate his earlier comments; Mr. Stroik said that he concurs with the comments of Mr. McCrery and Mr. Shubow. Chairman Powell said he believes the architects have been substantially responsive, and most of the revisions are excellent, although he commented that the addition to the FRB–East Building needs further refinement for greater compatibility.
Secretary Luebke noted that the January discussion had proceeded in both these directions, which is reflected in the public record. He said that in the previous review, Ms. Griffin had expanded the discussion to ask for a general approval of the massing for both additions, leaving open the question of articulation because of this lack of consensus; the motion had been carefully worded, such as requesting more consideration of creating a comprehensive civic character—terms which are subject to interpretation. Summarizing the current discussion, he said the Commission members are apparently divided in their opinion as to whether the revised concept design for these additions is responsive to their previous comments. He noted that with only six members present, there may not be a clear outcome due to a potential tie vote. He suggested considering the project scope in three parts: treatment of the landscape, particularly concerning the northwestern area at the entrance to the FRB–East Building addition; the additions to the Eccles Building; and the addition to the FRB–East Building, which has raised many questions about the compatibility of its architectural character and materials.
Chairman Powell agreed with this format and asked for motions on these three components. Mr. Krieger offered a motion to approve the landscape design, with consideration of the comments provided about the sunken terrace and the security barrier; upon a second by Ms. Meyer, this motion was adopted without opposition. Mr. Krieger then offered a motion to approve the concept for the additions to the Eccles Building, with recommendations for further consideration of the fins. Mr. McCrery suggested that the Commission also specify that the height and footprint of the penthouse should not be further enlarged, and Chairman Powell agreed that this should be part of the motion; the Commission adopted this motion without opposition. Noting the lack of consensus for the FRB–East Building, Chairman Powell recommended not taking an action on this part of the proposal, instead forwarding the Commission’s comments to the design team with a request for a revised concept design.
D. American Battle Monuments Commission
CFA 21/MAY/20-3, North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial. Route de Roosevelt, Tunis, Tunisia. Perimeter security barrier. Concept. The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
(At this point, Mr. Krieger departed for the remainder of the meeting.)
E. D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development
CFA 21/MAY/20-4, Parcel 17, St. Elizabeths East Campus, 1201 Alabama Avenue, SE (at 12th Street). New six-story office building with occupiable penthouse. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the concept design for a new office building on the historic St. Elizabeths East Campus. He said that the campus was formerly a federal hospital property, the eastern part of which was transferred to District of Columbia ownership. The project site on Parcel 17, one of the vacant parcels on the East Campus, is located across the street from the former Continuing Treatment facility of St. Elizabeths Hospital, recently renovated as multifamily housing. Parcel 17 has the potential to be developed with three buildings; Building 1, the subject of this proposal, would be on the westernmost part of the parcel, and the project includes an underground parking garage extending beneath Building 1 and the future Building 2. He noted that the 123,000-square-foot building is being developed in accordance with the design guidelines approved as part of the 2012 St. Elizabeths East Master Plan, and the project is a partnership between the D.C. government and private developer Redbrick LMD. He asked James Parks, St. Elizabeths project manager for the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Parks said that the new building is a priority for the D.C. government, and the primary tenant of the building is expected to be the Whitman-Walker Health Clinic, which would provide the community a reason to visit the historic campus during weekdays. He asked Michael Winstanley of Winstanley Architects & Planners to present the design.
Mr. Winstanley described the location of Parcel 17, bounded by Alabama Avenue to the south, 12th Street to the west, and Sycamore Drive to the north. He noted the parcel’s proximity to the Congress Heights Metrorail station on the east; the parcel’s east edge is at the planned continuation of 13th Street, SE, which has not yet been constructed. He said that Parcel 17 is currently planned for two large office structures totaling approximately 250,000 square feet. The proposed Building 1 would be constructed on the western side of the parcel; 12th Street at this edge becomes Oak Street going north, leading to the recently completed Entertainment and Sports Arena, and the proposed office building could therefore be considered a gateway to the arena. After construction of the below-grade parking with this project, the site of Building 2 would have a temporary cap until the full building is constructed; the garage would be accessed by a ramp to the east of Building 2. He noted that only two curb cuts are permitted along the parcel’s Sycamore Drive frontage, and none are permitted on the Alabama Avenue side; service and loading for Building 2 would use the parking garage curb cut. An open space proposed for the area between the two buildings would serve as a park and mid-block pedestrian connection across the parcel.
Mr. Winstanley described the building concept, indicating the terracotta and glass cladding system that would be on three sides of the building; the north side, which would follow the curve of Sycamore Drive, would feature only glass. The main lobby would be located along this curving north side; the predominant use for the ground floor would be retail, ensuring that there are no blank walls along the sidewalk. Outdoor seating for the retail space is also under consideration.
Mr. Winstanley said that the historic buildings on the St. Elizabeth campus have a largely consistent appearance, with red brick facades, terracotta tile roofs, divided light windows with green trim detailing, and tall arched window openings on the projecting wings. He said that the design guidelines in the master plan suggest a color palette of gray, blue-gray, green, and red for new construction on campus, which is intended to be in keeping with colors found on the historic buildings. The master plan also suggests facade compositions that are considered compatible with the historic architecture, including a square grid pattern and two other variations on this grid. He noted that most contemporary office buildings are predominantly glass, and therefore the conceptual approach for the new building is to expand upon the pattern of the campus’s historic windows using a grid of green terracotta panels and glass, giving the building a sense of scale, character, and proportion. He said the soft, beautiful green color was selected because of its use on the historic window details, as well as to differentiate the new building from the historic red brick campus. He indicated on the Alabama Avenue facade that the composition is intended to have a base, middle, and top, with the top stepped back from the avenue due to zoning requirements; the penthouse would house mechanical systems and occupiable space to allow for roof terrace access. Retail frontages along Alabama Avenue are intended help the building establish a strong connection to the street. He presented an image of the building at dusk and said that its contemporary appearance would be tempered by the terracotta panels. Porcelain or metal panels are under consideration as an alternative to terracotta; charcoal-colored coated metal panels and trim are also proposed in recessed areas to highlight the terracotta. Insulated blue-gray vision glass would be specified, in keeping with the master plan’s suggested color palette. The building’s base would be black granite, and a simple metal panel screen would wrap the mechanical penthouse. He asked landscape architect Jeff Lee, principal of Lee and Associates, to present the landscape design.
Mr. Lee said that this section of Alabama Avenue serves as a transition between residential neighborhoods and the St. Elizabeths campus. The building’s ten-foot setback from the property line along Alabama Avenue results in a sidewalk and landscape zone that is more than forty feet wide; this zone is conceptualized as a lush, generous linear green space designed for the neighborhood. There would be a small park mid-block between the parcel’s buildings, intended to tie the site together and serve as a pedestrian connection between Alabama Avenue and Sycamore Drive. He said that a youth center is planned for the ground level adjacent to the proposed park, and the park would be a green space where people from both the new development and the neighborhood can linger. The proposed design also follows low-impact development principles, with foundation plantings that would function as bioswales along the building frontage and within the park to help meet stormwater management requirements. The planting along the building would also soften the area where the building meets the ground, providing a character different from a typical downtown office building. He said that American elm trees are proposed for the Alabama Avenue sidewalk, with the goal of providing a tall canopy; 12th Street has already been planted with swamp white oaks, and Sycamore Street is planted with the ‘Bloodgood’ cultivar of the London planetree. Golden rain trees would be specified for the park, since it leafs out later in the spring season than other deciduous trees; sweetbay magnolias would also provide springtime color. The material palette for the park includes unit pavers similar to London pavers, along with wood benches set atop cast-in-place concrete seat walls to create a soft, warm texture. The sidewalks would be standard D.C. scored concrete. He said that once Building 2 is constructed, catenary lights would be installed at the north end of the park to create the sense of a portal; other lighting in the park would include fixtures to softly illuminate the planted areas.
Chairman Powell invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Ms. Meyer asked for the distance between the two buildings, and whether the mid-block park would be universally accessible. Mr. Lee said that the park would have a slight slope of three percent, but the overall topography of the park is flat; the distance between the buildings would be 60 feet. Ms. Meyer noted that this width is comparable to the successful pedestrianized Main Street of Charlottesville, Virginia, which is 66 feet wide. She observed that the project is set between two residential zones of very different scales, and she expressed appreciation for the inclusion of public spaces such as the mid-block park and the wide Alabama Avenue sidewalk. She recommended that the street trees along this sidewalk be planted as a staggered double row, citing the forty-foot width and southern exposure; she also recommended that these street trees continue across the entrance to the park, observing that the space between the buildings is sufficiently wide to be recognizable as a mid-block crossing. She recommended adding more plantings at the north entrance to the park, and that the proposed overhead lighting could be repositioned to the middle of the park instead of at the north, which would be uncomfortably close to residences across the street. She said she envisions this area having outdoor tables and chairs to provide a place for building tenants, visitors, and the public to gather. She summarized that overall, the design proposes a good balance between stormwater management and spaces for circulation and gathering. Mr. Lee said that he would take the suggestions into consideration, noting that ground-floor retail tenants have not yet been secured.
Mr. McCrery said he agrees with Ms. Meyer’s comments, particularly the suggestion to plant a double row of trees along Alabama Avenue. He expressed support for the green terracotta facade system, characterizing it as handsome. While acknowledging the apparent desire for more transparency on the stepped-back sixth floor, he suggested bringing the terracotta material to this upper level; he said this could be accomplished without replicating the patterning on the lower floors and avoiding a jarring difference between the lower and upper levels. He observed that the hand-drawn study of the facade in the presentation depicts a more substantial architectural framework above the fifth floor, which he said would provide a more successful transition between the lower framed facade and upper glass envelope than the details shown in the computer-generated renderings. He asked why terracotta is not proposed for the curving Sycamore Drive facade; Mr. Winstanley responded that the gridded terracotta facades are intended for the orthogonal elevations, while the glass facade is intended to be a more exciting gesture that responds to the curve of Sycamore Drive. Mr. McCrery suggested bringing the green terracotta grid to the Sycamore Avenue facade to give the building a more dynamic appearance.
Chairman Powell said the comments provided are well-founded, and he asked if the Commission members are ready to take an action on the project. Secretary Luebke noted that the envelope of the building is based on the 2012 master plan. He said that the staff has raised concerns about the detail where the terracotta grid meets the glass facade at the building’s corners, questioning whether this detail is substantial enough to adequately hold the corners visually; bringing the terracotta grid to the Sycamore Drive facade would be one way to help resolve the design.
Mr. Stroik agreed with the staff’s concerns. He said that the use of a traditional material such as terracotta is interesting; however, he questioned the selected green color, which is used only on minor window details on the historic St. Elizabeths buildings. He advised further study of the color, suggesting consideration of a more traditional earthen color or deeper red for the terracotta, which would help the new building relate to the neighborhood and historic red brick campus. Secretary Luebke acknowledged that green is included in the master plan’s suggested color palette, but said that the staff has expressed concern in consultations with the project team regarding the use of a minor trim color from the historic buildings as a primary cladding color on the building’s major volumes. He said the green terracotta may make the large building stand out and appear strange, and the staff supports consideration of alternative colors. Mr. Winstanley said that the green window gridding is intended to have a direct connection to the historic fenestration, and this color is thought to be softer and less visually striking than red; however, he said he does not have an objection to using a more traditional color for the terracotta and providing additional color options for review. Mr. Lee added that the soft green color is intended to lessen the impact of the building’s scale on the single-family houses and townhouses across Alabama Avenue.
Ms. Meyer commented that it is very difficult to accurately judge the proposed material palette on a digital computer screen, noting that the green color appears different on the two screens she is using to review the submission materials—celery green on one, and forest or hunter green on the other. She said it is therefore important that physical material samples be presented to the Commission and staff in future presentations.
Chairman Powell expressed support for the building design, while acknowledging that the color selection still needs to be resolved. He suggested a motion to approve the concept design, subject to the comments provided. Mr. McCrery offered such a motion, with the additional request that the design team work with the staff during the development of the color option studies. Upon a second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission adopted this action.
F. D.C. Department of General Services
Secretary Luebke introduced the two related cases at the site of the Ferebee Hope Elementary School. One project would replace the elementary school with a new high school; the other project would replace the existing recreation center with a new community recreation center building. He asked John Burke of Studio Twenty-Seven Architecture, a firm involved in both projects, to present the proposals. Mr. Burke said that the high school will be operated by KIPP DC, a local public charter school, and the recreation center will be operated separately by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation; the overall site plan, with shared outdoor recreation space, is being presented in conjunction with the high school project.
1. CFA 21/MAY/20-5, Ferebee Hope Elementary School, 700 Yuma Street, SE. New high school building. Concept. Mr. Burke provided an overview of the ten-acre site, located in the Washington Highlands neighborhood of Washington. He described the existing neighborhood as a moderate- to low-density area, and he said that this project is intended to support broader long-term planning to bring more opportunities and amenities to the neighborhood. The existing 185,000-square-foot elementary school was built in 1972 and occupies the southeast area of the site; the building also contains a small health-care component and a recreation facility for the neighborhood. The school has been vacant for the past decade; the proposal is to demolish the building and construct a new high school for approximately 900 students, and also to construct a separate recreation center. He noted that the project would be sequenced to provide for the uninterrupted availability of recreation facilities for the neighborhood, with the new recreation center to be completed before the existing building is demolished. He presented a diagram illustrating the northern and eastern areas of the site that would be managed by the charter school; the remaining area to the southwest would be managed by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. He noted that the site currently includes a small baseball field that is programmed by the Washington Nationals baseball team; the proposal includes a new baseball field, with continued management by the Washington Nationals.
Using an aerial perspective drawing of the site, Mr. Burke indicated the location of the project’s components. A playground for the community would be at the site’s far western corner. Adjacent would be the baseball field; it would not be full size but would be suitable for practice by the high school team and for the Washington Nationals outreach and programming. Continuing along the south edge of the site on Yuma Street would be a basketball court and, toward the center of the Yuma Street frontage, the new community recreation center building that would contain a swimming pool, gymnasium, and multi-purpose rooms to replace those in the existing facility. North of the recreation center would be a football field, also usable for lacrosse and soccer, surrounded by a running track and, at the outer edge, a walking path. The new high school would occupy the northeast area of the site along 8th Street, and the southeast area of the site would be a surface parking lot that would be shared by the high school and the recreation center. He said that siting the high school to front on 8th Street would give it a strong presence in the neighborhood, and the recreation center is sited to give a sense of separation from the school; the two buildings are grouped around the playing field, and the site design allows for convenient shared use of the outdoor space and the parking lot. He said that the two buildings would be used by different groups of people at different times, and the site design is intended to support the uses without conflict.
Mr. Burke described the challenging topography of the site, with a nearly fifty-foot drop from the northeast to the southwest corner. He said that the proposed site design uses terracing to create a sequence of places as well as an overall sense of a campus. He noted that the massive, Brutalist-style existing school is sited to obstruct some of the sightlines from 8th and Yuma Streets; the proposed site design and grading are intended to improve the sightlines and the sense of security on the site. He added that the site plan is also influenced by the planned construction phasing, with the existing building’s recreation center component to remain in operation while the new recreation center and school are being constructed.
Mr. Burke asked Kennon Williams of Kennon Williams Landscape Studio to present the landscape design in more detail. Mr. Williams noted that the design has been progressing since the presentation drawings were submitted. He said that this site is intended to be a centerpiece in the neighborhood; the school and the campus will also be important parts of the students’ lives. The more specific design goals include terracing the site to create outdoor rooms, while not having walled separations; opening up the site to be visually accessible from the neighborhood, making it more safe and inviting; providing an enjoyable and uplifting sensory experience of being in a landscape through the use of plants and materials; designing the site to support the educational program of the school through outdoor learning; and creating a distinct aesthetic that provides an identity for the school, the recreation center, and the neighborhood. He acknowledged that the school also has the need for a more private outdoor space, and therefore an area is provided that can be closed off and used solely for students. Some outdoor spaces would be defined using lines of trees and fences, while also keeping the sightlines open. He said that the site would use native plants and local materials, as well as bold textures and colors that would appeal to the younger children using the site, in addition to the older children using the high school and the recreation facilities. The distinctive use of concrete could provide texture and color; local materials could facilitate learning about the local geology. He emphasized that the broad intent of the site design is to elevate the human spirit and support education, while accommodating the extensive program within a limited area.
Mr. Williams said that the site is organized with a grid, defining and connecting the various program areas with distinct walkways in an orthogonal pattern. Examples include the walkways connecting the parking lot to the school, recreation center, and playing fields. He said that the walkways would have distinct paving patterns to help with wayfinding and to provide visual interest. The colonnade on the west side of the school building would be connected to the walkway system, providing an overlook across the football field that would be graded eight feet lower; bleachers would be designed to fit into the terracing. A long east–west walkway would extend from 8th Street to the baseball field, remaining fairly level and providing access to the top of the football field’s bleachers. North of the colonnade would be a biofiltration area that would also serve as an outdoor learning lab, perhaps displaying native plants. Another biofiltration area would be to the south, between the school and the parking area, with a lawn and a grid of trees; this could serve as an additional outdoor classroom space. An open plaza between the parking area and the recreation center could be used for concession sales during games. Benches and smaller plaza spaces would be located where walkways intersect. The east–west walk would terminate in a ramp leading down to the baseball field, with another walk leading north–south to connect with a staircase providing access from Condon Terrace at the northwest edge of the site. This north–south walk would form part of a circuit walkway around the football field, and a community garden would be located in a triangular space to the north along Condon Terrace.
Mr. Williams presented images of the proposed plants and materials for the site. The design includes large specimen trees surrounding the site, such as red oaks, willow oaks, and maples; trees within the site may include river birch or bald cypress, providing fall color and visual interest. Crape myrtles would also be planted due to their toughness in areas of heavy use. Flowering shrubs and grasses would provide texture; hedges would provide a year-round visual structure and reinforce the geometry of the site design. He said that native plants would be emphasized, with consideration of sustainability, climate attenuation, education, and providing a wildlife habitat. The playground would make use of topography, including mounds of lawn and slopes for sliding; play equipment would be integrated with the topography. More broadly, he said that the site design is intended to connect children with nature, topography, and the landscape as an alternative to indoor learning and the modern-day tendency for children to spend more of their time indoors. He said that the play areas are intended to be fun, using low-cost but interesting materials such as patterned concrete pavers. Warmer colors are envisioned for the paving of the east–west walkways, while the north–south walkways would have the gray and green tones of local stone. Porous pavers would be used extensively as part of the stormwater management strategy for the site. He provided photographs of precedents for the site structures and walls, with an emphasis on simple, modern forms that would relate to the architecture on the site.
Mr. Burke then presented the design of the high school in greater detail. He said the charter school that will be using this building is focused on getting students into college, and the building design is intended to be very stately and dignified in the tradition of academia. The simple, deliberate rhythm of the windows is intended to reflect the character of the quiet residential neighborhood. The four-story volume on the east along 8th Street would primarily contain classrooms; the two-story volume extending to the west would contain an auditorium, gymnasium, and cafeteria that would have windows onto the colonnade facing the football field. The upper two floors would be slightly angled along 8th Street, adding dynamism and highlighting the location of the entrance. He noted that the building would have extensive areas of green roof to support stormwater management. The lobby space would rise up through the building, potentially allowing for students to ascend to a roof deck. The school’s entrance is designed as a strong gesture that extends through the building; the adjacent assembly spaces would likely be shared with the community, and they could be entered from both the lobby on the east and the colonnade on the west. The facade materials would be tan, gray, and white brick, along with a storefront window system and some wood detailing to add a sense of warmth at the entrance and other areas. He emphasized the extensive use of windows along the colonnade, providing a strong connection between this urban school and the site’s green space. He said that the school is designed to provide places for students to sit and gather throughout the extended school day.
Chairman Powell invited comments from the Commission members. Ms. Meyer described the project as very exciting and well-integrated in its conception. She said that the strong landscape program for this school invites comparison with the Thaden School, a charter school recently completed in Bentonville, Arkansas; she encouraged the design team to consider this precedent. She suggested that the next presentation include diagrams to illustrate the ideas that were presented, such as the treatment of topography, the movement systems, and the varied palette of paving materials. She expressed concern about some details of the design, such as the very soft color palette of the school building in comparison to the use of bold colors on the site; she questioned the assumption that younger children are necessarily attracted to bold colors. She suggested more consistency and continuity in the choice of colors, extending through the interiors and the site, and she suggested further consideration of shade and movement around the playing fields. She observed that the school’s west facade seems underdeveloped in many aspects, including the comfort of the west-facing colonnade in the afternoon sun; she suggested careful study of the dimensions of this space, including the depth of overhangs, to provide a space that will be comfortable to occupy at the end of the school day. She also questioned the assumption that native plants would be the best choice, noting that plants that are native to other areas may now be the best choice during our era of changing climate; she suggested more careful and forward-looking consideration of the planting palette in relation to rising temperatures over the coming decades. Mr. Williams agreed, noting that the plants would be selected with consideration of durability and educational value; some non-native, non-invasive plants would be used, such as crape myrtles.
Mr. McCrery described the architecture as very good, and he asked if the same designers worked on another KIPP DC school in the city; Mr. Burke responded that he was not involved in that design but intends to use a similar palette of materials for this project. Mr. McCrery expressed support for the design of the entrance area and the sense of intimacy; he suggested that the color palette stay relatively light as shown in the perspective renderings, instead of the darker tones suggested by the elevation drawings. He said that the baseball diamond might require obtrusively tall fencing where the outfield is truncated along Condon Terrace, and he suggested that the layout might work better with a reduced scale for the infield diamond; Mr. Burke responded that it is already designed with sixty-foot base lines instead of the standard ninety feet, and it will be suitable for the Washington Nationals teaching program.
Mr. Stroik asked if the playing fields would be natural grass or artificial. Mr. Burke responded that artificial turf would be used, to better accommodate year-round use and also to take advantage of the counter-intuitive regulatory provision to exempt artificial turf from the area of disturbed earth when establishing stormwater management requirements. Mr. Stroik observed that the existing school building from 1972, now proposed for demolition, was probably a good design for its time; he asked whether the proposed new school would be an improvement over time or would similarly be torn down in several decades. Mr. Burke responded that the educational programming of the 1970s was not successful, with its reliance on open classrooms and pods. He acknowledged that educational practices are continuing to change, with less emphasis on students sitting silently while a teacher talks at the front of the classroom; nevertheless, he said that smaller classrooms are likely to remain effective as places where students can break into teams and have different areas of engagement around the room. Mr. Stroik asked how the school’s exterior might be perceived over the decades. Mr. Burke responded that the 1972 building has very limited use of windows, due to concern at the time that views outside would distract students; this design approach has proven unsuccessful, and the proposed design emphasizes a simple design with plentiful natural light, which he said should be more adaptable for future needs. He added that the strength of the entrance design should also stand the test of time, expressing hope that the new school would remain for at least fifty years.
Chairman Powell suggested an action on the project. Ms. Meyer offered a motion to approve the concept submission for the school and site, and to encourage the design team to consult further with the staff in considering the comments provided by the Commission members; she added that the next submission should include the palette of materials. Upon a second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission adopted this action.
2. CFA 21/MAY/20-6, Ferebee Hope Elementary School, 3999 8th Street, SE. New community recreation center building. Concept. Mr. Burke said that this building will be part of the portfolio of recreation centers operated by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation throughout the city. The design is intended to convey that the recreation center is not directly related to the school, while sufficient coordination of materials would avoid an overly strong contrast. He presented the site plan, indicating the outdoor areas that will be managed in conjunction with the recreation center: the baseball field, the basketball court, and the playground. The charter school would manage operations of the football field and the parking lot. He presented photographs of the existing recreation center, which includes a swimming pool, gymnasium, and multi-purpose rooms; he noted the building’s very limited use of windows and its heavy concrete structure, giving the character of a parking garage. He said that the existing recreation center, a wing of the existing school building, would be demolished after the new recreation center is completed. He noted that the east end of the new building would include four storefront spaces totaling 4,000 square feet, entered separately from the recreation center and sponsored by the charter school; these would be rented to outside groups, potentially including the Washington Nationals, a track and field organization, and a health clinic. The building would therefore provide a range of amenities for the community. He said that his firm, Studio Twenty-Seven Architecture, is working with Hughes Group Architects in designing the recreation center; he introduced Eliel Alfon of Hughes Group Architects to present the design.
Mr. Alfon said that the building would be organized with the two major programmatic spaces, the indoor swimming pool and the gymnasium, flanking the central area of the lobby and other smaller support and multi-purpose spaces. The flanking volumes would be taller; the central area would be lower, with rooftop mechanical equipment that would be screened by a tall parapet wall above the entrance along Yuma Street. A porch would extend along the gymnasium’s Yuma Street frontage, serving to accentuate the entrance. He noted that both the swimming pool and the gymnasium need to be protected from glare, and primarily translucent clerestory windows would be used; he said that these would have a nice glow at night and would be more inviting than solid walls during the day. The brick facades would relate to the exterior of the new high school to convey the sense of a campus; metal panels would also be used to give the recreation center a unique identity. He said that the building is intended to fit well with the character and scale of the residential neighborhood.
Ms. Meyer observed that the cartway of Yuma Street seems surprisingly narrow in some of the perspective views of the recreation center; she said that this would be a desirable context feature but should be checked for accuracy. She commented that the design has been developed well for the concept stage, allowing for discussion of some detailed concerns. She said that the transitions between the three major bays of the building need further study to resolve the intersections of the volumes, facade planes, and overhangs; she cited the area above the entrance door as somewhat odd. She summarized her overall support for the design, the program, and the role of this building as part of the broader site.
Mr. Stroik asked for clarification of how the recreation center would relate to the new school or be distinct from it. Mr. Alfon said that a unifying feature would be the palette of materials, including brick and, near the entrance, the panels within the porch that would provide a warm tone. The metal panels would be a distinctive feature not used at the school. Mr. McCrery encouraged closer coordination of the palettes for the two buildings, even though they would be the work of different architects, in order to tie together the architecture of the campus in a comparable way to the unifying landscape. Mr. Stroik agreed, commenting that both the high school and the recreation center are, in effect, community buildings that people should be proud of. Mr. Alfon responded that the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation wants the recreation center building to have some sense of its own identity, standing out somewhat but not excessively, and in keeping with the overall sense of the campus. Secretary Luebke said that this issue could be studied further as the design is developed; he noted that the distinctive massing of large volumes in the recreation center would serve to differentiate it from the high school. Mr. McCrery clarified that specific materials, such as wood and stone, could be the same for the two buildings without making them too much alike.
Chairman Powell supported this advice and invited a motion on the project. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the concept design for the recreation center with the comments provided.
G. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
1. SL 20-134, 5906 17th Street, NW. New single-family dwelling. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the concept design for a house to be built on an undeveloped lot adjacent to Rock Creek Park and to an unimproved continuation of Manchester Lane. He noted that a proposal by a different architect for the same lot had been reviewed twice last year by the Commission; however, the proposal was never brought forward for a final review, and the lot was subsequently sold. He asked architect David Jameson to present the current proposal on behalf of the new owner.
Mr. Jameson said that the site is approximately 6,350 square feet and is trapezoidal in shape, sloping downward fifteen feet from 17th Street on the east to Rock Creek Park on the west. The proposed concept is a series of four separate volumes cascading down the hill; gentle ramps would lead from one living space to the next. He said this concept is substantially different from the previous design, as it proposes to keep the scale of the volumes as small as possible. The first volume would rise two stories at the 17th Street frontage; it would contain the foyer, powder room, mud room, garage, and a staircase leading up to three bedrooms and down to the basement level. The second volume would contain a great room and kitchen; between the first two volumes, the connecting walkway would be framed by an outdoor terrace on the south providing views to the park, and a private grilling terrace on the north adjoining the kitchen. The third volume would contain the master bedroom suite. The fourth volume is proposed to be a sanctuary or meditation space of approximately 180 square feet; its connection to the master bedroom would be an exterior walkway. The basement level would extend through the first three volumes, and it would be partially exposed toward the southwest as the terrain slopes down.
Mr. Jameson presented exterior massing sketches of the house, noting that the first volume would be approximately 23 feet tall. He indicated the proposed green roofs, which he said would likely be visible from parts of the neighborhood that are farther uphill. He presented the north elevation, indicating the higher roof and floor level of the volume toward the street compared to those at the rear of the property; he noted that the neighboring house, outlined in the drawing, would block the visibility of much of this elevation. He said that the four volumes are proposed to be clad with black, tar-coated cedar shingles; the fenestration would be a structural silicone-glazed window system with a black aluminum fascia; black aluminum is also proposed for the hyphen structures connecting the larger volumes. He reiterated that the successive volumes would step down toward the park to minimize the project’s scale and stay as close to the ground as possible.
Mr. Jameson said that the site has already been cleared of most trees and other plantings, and the project team is working with the National Park Service to remove several non-native trees planted within the adjacent park by the previous owner; an existing twin oak in the southeastern corner of the property that is in poor condition would also be removed. Groundcover of mazus and fothergilla is proposed for the site, as well as a line of amelanchier trees along the northern edge of the property adjacent to the neighboring house; a single black gum tree is proposed for the site’s southeast corner near the garage, and a small sunken garden is proposed for the entrance area.
Secretary Luebke noted that the neighborhood is generally composed of two-story, single-family residences, with garages facing the street; although the nearby houses appear to be one story when seen from 17th Street, they are two stories at the rear as the lots slope downward toward the park. Mr. Jameson added that a building across the street is three stories. Mr. McCrery asked about the area to the south of the property; Mr. Jameson clarified that this is the undeveloped Manchester Lane right-of-way. Mr. McCrery asked if the sanctuary/meditation structure conforms to the rear yard setback requirement; Mr. Jameson responded that this is considered an accessory structure—which can be up to 20 feet tall and contain 400 square feet—and therefore no rear setback is required. He added that the rear glazed wall of the third volume would be aligned with the rear setback line, and the remainder of the house respects the required eight-foot setbacks to the north, south, and east. Mr. Stroik asked about the size of the project; Mr. Jameson responded that the site is approximately 5,350 square feet, and the proposed main level is approximately 2,300 square feet.
Mr. McCrery asked for more information about the site walls at the front entrance. Mr. Jameson said that these would serve as retaining walls for the five feet of grade change and would demarcate the front edge of the property; they are proposed to be clad in stone. He described the entry proposal, indicating the walkway leading to the front door, as well as the driveway and small parking apron in front of the garage; two steps stitched between fothergilla plantings would lead up from the parking area to the entrance walkway.
Ms. Meyer expressed strong support for the proposal, citing its massing and sophisticated treatment of the site as a substantial improvement over the previous proposal. She noted that during reviews of the previous design, the Commission had cautioned that stormwater runoff along the slope could present a problem, and she encouraged the project team to consider this issue as the current design is developed. Mr. Jameson responded that he is working with landscape architect Gregg Bleam; the driveway would have a two-several percent slope, and a trench drain at the bottom would feed into a stormwater management system. He added that the proposed green roofs would also help in managing stormwater.
Chairman Powell suggested a motion to approve the concept design, and Mr. Jameson requested that review of the final design be delegated to the staff. Mr. McCrery offered a motion for approval with this delegation; Secretary Luebke added that review of the material palette could be incorporated into the delegated review. Upon a second by Mr. Powell, the Commission adopted this action.
(Chairman Powell departed the meeting at this point, and Vice Chairman Meyer presided for the remaining agenda item.)
2. SL 20-133, 4652−4656 Broad Branch Road, NW. Three new single-family dwellings. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the proposal for three houses facing the western side of Rock Creek Park. He noted the Commission’s review in February 2016 of a proposal by a different design team for three houses at this location; the Commission did not take an action on the earlier proposal, expressing concern that the scale and density of the houses would create the appearance of a continuous wall of development along the edge of Rock Creek Park, inconsistent with the woodland context of this area. He noted that no further submission was made for the earlier proposal; a subsequent proposal was discussed with the staff but was not submitted for the Commission’s review. The current design team includes Richard Williams of Richard Williams Architects and Jonathan Fitch of Landscape Architecture Bureau. Mr. Luebke noted Mr. Williams’s six years of service on the Commission’s Old Georgetown Board, concluding in the coming months, and asked him to begin the design presentation.
Mr. Williams described the site: three unimproved lots at the transition between the Forest Hills residential neighborhood to the south and west, and the Broad Branch stream valley to the north and east. Several of the Forest Hills streets end in cul-de-sacs with houses at the top of the valley’s slope; the three lots for this project are toward the bottom of the slope and are more closely associated with Broad Branch Road, which serves as an important connection between the neighborhood and Beach Drive in the middle of Rock Creek Park. He noted that the lots are subject to the tree and slope overlay regulations for the neighborhood. He presented photographs showing the site from Broad Branch Road and from within the densely forested park; he also presented a photograph of Broad Branch, the stream that runs alongside the road, although he said that the stream is not widely visible due to the foliage. He said that Broad Branch Road has the character of a park road, with few houses fronting it in this area; he indicated three houses to the northwest, which Mr. Luebke said were constructed in the 1970s and the 1980s, as well as one that was built several years ago.
Mr. Williams presented additional views of the three lots themselves and of the views from them, including views north across Broad Branch Road into the park, which he said is especially beautiful when the sunlight is on the facing hillside. He indicated the steep slope on much of the three lots, with the westernmost lot having an area that is more level. To the west of the site is a public alley, which will be used to provide vehicular and pedestrian access to the westernmost of the proposed houses; the other two houses would share a driveway from Broad Branch Road. The eastern edge of the site is marked by a nearly continuous stone site wall at the property line. To the south, at the top of the slope, is the rear of a large house that is accessed only from the neighborhood street.
Mr. Fitch provided additional observations concerning the site. While the context is associated with the park more than with the neighborhood, the site itself has a derelict character rather than feeling like part of the park. The topography of the southern part of the site is steep, with a one-to-one slope, and the vegetation on the site is not heavy. He said that a goal of the project is to make the site feel more like part of the park, with a greater sense of the park’s nobility and grace than currently exists.
Mr. Williams presented a plat of the three lots with the regulatory setback lines and the locations of significant trees that are to be preserved. He said that although the site seems open and unencumbered, it is very challenging due to the combination of setbacks, trees, and slopes. Mr. Fitch said that the trees to be protected include heritage trees, which must not be removed; special trees of a slightly smaller size that could only be removed with approval of the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment; and trees in the public space along the road, which must not be removed. He said that each of the trees being protected is diagrammed with its critical root zone, a circular area that must generally be protected; limited incursions for construction may be allowed by the D.C. government, if determined not to endanger the life of the tree.
Mr. Williams presented a typical section through the site and extending across Broad Branch Road to the stream and the opposite slope within the park. He described the strategy of partially cutting the houses into the hillside to provide a sufficient buildable area; the relationship of the three houses to the hillside has been developed to provide small terraces and decks, with a sense of intimacy and privacy as well as southern exposure for sunlight, while terraces on the north would have views of the park but would be exposed to the traffic noise from Broad Branch Road. He said that the proposed houses would not be as tall as the trees, and the general massing of trees would remain the primary characteristic of the valley.
Mr. Williams presented a section sketch that illustrates the design strategy for the three houses: a garage on the lower level, slightly above the grade of Broad Branch Road; a middle level containing the principal living spaces; and an upper level containing most of the bedrooms. Each house would have a variety of exterior spaces, providing views across the valley to the north or tucked against the rising slope to the south. Flat roofs would be used to minimize the impact of the houses on the views and the tree canopy. He said that the character of the exterior materials has been a consideration throughout the design process, and he presented photographs of other houses by his firm to illustrate the materials and colors that are intended, as well as the treatment of decks and the seasonal relationship to the landscape. He said that a likely selection would be rough-sawn western red cedar in a color relating to the bark of nearby trees, with copper flashing and facade panels; windows would be either steel or wood, and dark brick would be used for some of the foundation walls. Cementitious planks would be used for areas of the facade that are in contact with the grade. Other facade details would be copper or bronze, used successfully in his past projects. He said that the precedents also demonstrate the appropriateness of flat roofs and stepped massing within a wooded setting, with minimal disruption of views to the sky and trees; he said that initial studies with pitched roofs seemed less successful in the context of Broad Branch Road.
Mr. Williams presented a site plan illustrating the placement of the three houses. The single curb cut on Broad Branch Road would be twelve feet wide, leading to a shared parking court for the eastern and middle houses with access to their garages and front doors. He said that the houses would need to rely on car access, due to the lack of sidewalks in the vicinity and the long walk to the nearest public transportation. The site plan is therefore designed to accommodate some guest parking within the property; the public alley could accommodate additional guest parking, particularly for the western house. He noted that the impact of the slope on the buildable area is most severe for the eastern lot, and both the eastern and middle houses would be partially tucked into the hill, while the western lot has sufficient level area to allow for a rear yard adjoining the lower level. The siting of the eastern house also responds to the location of a tree that is being retained. He said that each lot is approximately 10,000 square feet, and the footprint of each house would be approximately 2,000 square feet with a total interior area of slightly less than 5,000 square feet; the houses would have a slender configuration with the narrow end toward Broad Branch Road, reducing the apparent mass as seen from the road.
Mr. Fitch presented the proposed landscape design. He said that a considerable amount of planting would be introduced between the houses and toward Broad Branch Road, in order to relate the site to the feeling of the park instead of its current character as a derelict, flat open space along the road. Unit pavers of bluestone with permeable joints would be used for the driveways and parking courts, with cobbles at the edges; storage vaults for stormwater management would be located beneath these areas, allowing for percolation into the ground. The decks and terraces would also have permeable surfaces. Site walls would be used to alleviate the steep existing slopes for improved planting conditions, and stone steps would be set into the grade. He presented photographs of the proposed site materials as installed at other locations, along with photographs of other landscapes to illustrate the intended character of the plantings along Broad Branch Road using native species. He said that the planting palette emphasizes selections that are less likely to be eaten by deer, which are prevalent in the area.
Mr. Williams presented several perspective views of the site from Broad Branch Road, illustrating the proposed houses and the landscape design; he indicated the understory plantings and the setback of the houses. He also presented a view from the opposite slope within the park, although he said few people would experience it because there is no trail in the vicinity. He then presented plans, sections, and perspective renderings of each house. Their programs would be similar: a two-car garage, typical living spaces, and three or four bedrooms plus a lower-level au pair suite. Ceiling heights would be generous to help in the positioning of outdoor spaces within the topography. Canopies and overhangs would project above the front doors and garage doors. The stain color for the wood on the facades may differ for each house to bring some variety to the project, and the window materials would also differentiate the houses; he emphasized that each house would be unique in design, and the intent is a common language for the architecture and landscape but not the sense of a uniform compound.
Mr. Williams said that despite the challenges of the topography, the goal is that the connection of the living spaces to the landscape will be a key feature of the three houses; he described the house plans as compact but having a sense of spaciousness. He noted that decks and site walls would be designed to avoid impacts on tree roots at sensitive locations. Mr. Fitch said that the steep slopes would be landscaped with plants that do not require frequent maintenance, due to the difficulty of having people access the terrain. The plants would be small, such as groundcover and ferns, and the slope might be stabilized with degradable netting to allow time for growth; installing larger plants, including trees with root balls, would not be feasible. He summarized that planting on the steep slopes would be difficult and costly. Mr. Williams noted that on the western side of the site, in the relatively flat area along the public alley, the existing fence would be replaced by a hedge. He concluded with a view of the site from within the park, emphasizing the intent to design a landscape and three modern houses that are harmonious with the woodland setting; he said that the project would improve the currently derelict lot and would be consistent with the Shipstead-Luce Act’s purpose of assuring sensitive design adjacent to the federal parkland.
Vice Chairman Meyer invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. McCrery asked why pitched roofs are not being used; he acknowledged the reasons cited in the presentation but noted that pitched roofs could be advantageous in a very leafy woodland setting. Mr. Williams summarized the advantages of reducing the sense of mass and avoiding obstruction of views to the tree canopy and sky; he added that pitched roofs might limit the flexibility of the window placement, interfering with the carefully designed visual relationship of the interior spaces with the park to the north and the hillside to the south.
Mr. Stroik acknowledged the design intent of the project, and he expressed appreciation for the successful effort to give the houses a sense of separation and privacy as well as to achieve compatibility with the parkland context. He observed that great Modernist houses are typically set apart, and achieving this aesthetic is difficult in a close grouping of three houses; Mr. Williams agreed. Mr. Stroik cited the issues raised in the presentation of giving each house a distinct identity while using similar materials; the resulting designs, although very different, are closely related and are of course by the same architect. He commented that the benefit to the public realm is from the beautiful new plantings, and the houses will be somewhat hidden; he asked if the project could somehow contribute to the public realm through its architecture, in addition to the landscape.
Ms. Meyer said that some of the issues raised by Mr. Stroik may have been addressed in the presentation of precedent houses; she cited Mr. Williams’s discussion of translating the texture, color, and materiality of the landscape into an architectural vocabulary. She said that the architecture’s contribution to the parkland is to serve as a mirror to it, using materials whose tone and texture relate to the forest across the valley. She recalled that the previous submission for this site had treated it simply as cleared land to be used for real estate development. In contrast, today’s proposal reflects an understanding of the scale of these houses in relationship to the landscape that they will be part of; she expressed appreciation for including a section drawing across the valley as evidence of this deeper understanding. She said that the houses would be part of the landscape and would help to construct it, observing that the landscape is not simply the proposed plants.
Mr. Williams acknowledged these observations and said that he has discussed these issues with Mr. Fitch. More specific decisions about the proposed materials will be made as the design is developed, and this will be part of the next submission; mockups will eventually be prepared. He said that this site provides an unusual opportunity to design new houses within the park setting; he observed that the more typical situation along Rock Creek Park, such as at Oregon Avenue, is for the suburban-scaled neighborhood to extend directly to one side of the boundary street, with the park sharply contrasting as a forbidden wilderness on the other side of the street. This project therefore focuses on reducing the impact of the houses, designing them to blend in with the topography and the natural landscape. He emphasized that the computer modelling of the topography has been helpful in shaping the design, as seen in the configuration and scale of the upper two stories of each house. He noted that the D.C. government is considering improvements to Broad Branch Road, but the challenges include the hills, the stream, the trees, and the existing rural character of the road.
Mr. Stroik commented that the design is helped by positioning the garage doors to be somewhat hidden from Broad Branch Road; he acknowledged the difficulty of achieving this on the constrained site. He said that the proposal might appear more hospitable to the public if the houses have doors opening toward Broad Branch Road, perhaps with an entrance walk or else simply a connection between the interior and the front garden space. Mr. Williams indicated the door from the middle house’s lower-level recreation room to the front lawn area; he said that providing a separate entrance to each house’s lower-level au pair suite could be problematic. Mr. Fitch added that the site design deliberately avoids the suburban paradigm of houses with front lawns because this would not be consistent with the character of Rock Creek Park; the proposed lawn areas are generally tucked behind the houses or shielded from Broad Branch Road, and the intent is for the site to be perceived as an extension of the park.
Ms. Meyer commended the proposal, commenting that its merit is especially notable in comparison to the previous proposal for the site. She said that the architect and landscape architect clearly share a design approach, with the buildings serving to construct the topography, and the result is a sense of interweaving between the slope and the buildings; she described this conceptual approach as a powerful way to repair and reimagine the site. She suggested strengthening the design as it is developed by careful consideration of the materials, particularly for the retaining walls and the lower level of each house; depending on the materials, these could be perceived as distinct or interrelated. She said that the conceptual development could also provide a response to Mr. Stroik’s suggestion to add doors facing the road and the park; one viewpoint is that a private house should not have a front door facing the federal park, even though the parcelization of real estate could allow this to happen. She commented that the proposed design appears to be successful in providing the houses with a sense of identity while not appropriating the public parkland.
Ms. Meyer encouraged strengthening the planting strategy of selecting a palette not favored by deer, which she agreed can be voracious eaters of plants. Acknowledging the technical difficulty of planting trees on the steep slope, she suggested planting smaller bare-root trees with the hope that perhaps one-fourth of them would survive; she said this would improve the range of scale in the planting palette and would help to stabilize the slope during construction. Mr. Williams added that the construction process is a concern for this project, and he has been talking with several builders; he said that the construction would be feasible, particularly because all three houses would be built at the same time, which will allow for coordinated staging as well as economies of scale. He acknowledged that the sheeting and shoring would be particularly costly for the eastern lot, where the construction would have to begin, but this expense would be balanced by the lesser construction costs for the other two lots. Tree protection would also have to be factored into the process.
Vice Chairman Meyer suggested a consensus to support the project. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Shubow, the Commission approved the concept submission with the comments provided, noting that the next presentation should include samples of the proposed materials. Vice Chairman Meyer reiterated her appreciation for the design team’s close collaboration and thoughtful understanding of this sensitive site; she said that the careful design work has resulted in a successful proposal for fitting in three large houses that do not appear overly large. She added that Chairman Powell and Mr. Krieger had also expressed support for the project based on the submission drawings, although they were unable to participate in the review.
Secretary Luebke noted the complexity of the project with important design issues to be resolved, and he suggested bringing the project to the Commission for further review during the design development stage. Mr. Williams agreed, and Vice Chairman Meyer supported this guidance; if the development of the project is satisfactory at the next review, then the subsequent action on the final design submission could be placed on an appendix or delegated to the staff.
Vice Chairman Meyer noted that the inspection of material samples, often an important part of the review process, is problematic when the Commission meets by video conference. She suggested that the staff experiment with a method of displaying samples for the Commission, perhaps by having someone hold each sample in front of a video camera during the discussion. Secretary Luebke agreed to address this concern during the period of video conferencing, which may extend for several months.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:19 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA