The meeting was convened by video conference at 9:06 a.m.
Hon. Elizabeth Meyer, Vice Chairman
Hon. Toni Griffin
Hon. Alex Krieger
Hon. James McCrery
Hon. Justin Shubow
Hon. Duncan Stroik
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Frederick J. Lindstrom, Assistant Secretary
Mary Catherine Bogard
(Due to the absence of the Chairman, the Vice Chairman presided at the meeting.)
A. Approval of the minutes of the 21 May meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the May meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with a 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: 16 July, 17 September, and 15 October 2020. He noted that no meeting is scheduled in August, and upcoming meetings of the Commission and the Old Georgetown Board may continue to be held by video conference if necessitated by the public health emergency.
C. Proposed 2021 schedule of meetings and submission deadlines for the Commission and Old Georgetown Board. Mr. Luebke presented the proposed schedule of meetings and submission deadlines for calendar year 2021. The Commission meeting dates would generally be the third Thursday of each month except August and December; the meetings of the Old Georgetown Board would generally be on the first Thursday of each month except August. He noted two exceptions to this pattern: the Commission’s January meeting is scheduled for Friday, 22 January 2021, to avoid conflicting with the presidential inauguration events and scarce hotel availability earlier in the week; and the Commission’s September meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, 15 September 2021, to avoid conflicting with the Yom Kippur holiday on Thursday. He also noted that the filing deadline for the January 2021 meeting of the Old Georgetown Board would be earlier than usual in order to allow for the staff to process the submissions in advance of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. He said that dates could be adjusted in the future if necessary, and he encouraged members of the public to confirm future dates and the format of in-person or video conference meetings.
Mr. McCrery observed that the Commission’s April meeting would coincide with the income tax date of 15 April 2021; Mr. Luebke said this should not be problematic, since the tax date is a filing deadline rather than a conflicting event. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission adopted the proposed schedule.
D. Appointment of Amy Weinstein, FAIA, to the Old Georgetown Board. Mr. Luebke asked the Commission to approve the appointment of Amy Weinstein to the Old Georgetown Board, for a three-year term from September 2020 through July 2023. He summarized Ms. Weinstein’s four-decade architectural career, which includes private practice, teaching, and professional review; her designs for government, institutional, and residential buildings, as well as urban design projects, have been widely published and have won more than sixty awards. She is entering her third decade as a peer reviewer for the U.S. General Services Administration, and she served for seven years on the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, which he said would provide a valuable perspective for the Old Georgetown Board. He noted that Ms. Weinstein is a native Washingtonian; she received two degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was awarded the Paul Cret Medal, and was elected to the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows in 1994. He said that Ms. Weinstein would replace Richard Williams, who has served two terms on the Old Georgetown Board; he emphasized the large number of cases reviewed by the Board’s volunteer members each month.
Vice Chairman Meyer suggested approval of the appointment; she said that the Commission is fortunate to have such an accomplished candidate to take the place of Mr. Williams, and she expressed appreciation to the staff for identifying Ms. Weinstein as a candidate. Upon a second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the appointment of Ms. Weinstein to the Old Georgetown Board; Mr. Stroik abstained, noting that he is not familiar with her work. Mr. Luebke said that Mr. Williams would continue to serve on the Board through the upcoming July meeting, and Ms. Weinstein’s term would begin with the Board’s meeting in early September.
E. Report on the 2020 National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs grant program. Secretary Luebke reported on the federal grants program administered by the Commission to support the operating expenses of Washington, D.C.-based arts organizations. The application and review processes have been completed, and the disbursement of funds is underway this week. A total of 25 organizations will receive grants, including 24 that participated in 2019 and one new recipient, the D.C. Jazz Festival. The appropriated amount for this year’s program is $5 million—up from $2.75 million in recent years—and the average grant is approximately $170,000, or 4.5 percent of each organization’s operating income. He noted that the grants will be especially helpful to the organizations in making up for lost public attendance and ticket sales during the current public health emergency.
F. Confirmation of the recommendations from the subcommittee’s review of six submissions from the U.S. Mint for June 2020. Mr. Luebke reported that six submissions were received this month from the U.S. Mint. At the May 2020 meeting, anticipating the unusually high number of cases to be submitted, the Commission authorized a subcommittee to review these submissions and present a set of recommendations for the Commission’s consideration. The subcommittee convened last Friday, and its report has been distributed to the Commission members; he acknowledged the participation of Chairman Powell, Mr. Krieger, and Mr. McCrery. He noted that the senators and a representative from New Jersey have provided a letter supporting the family’s preferences for a Congressional Gold Medal honoring Larry Doby; the subcommittee’s recommendations are consistent with this letter of support. He listed the submissions from the Mint:
1. CFA 18/JUN/20-7, 2021 Christa McAuliffe Commemorative Silver Dollar. Obverse and reverse designs for a silver one-dollar coin. Final.
2. CFA 18/JUN/20-8, Armed Forces Military Medal honoring the United States Marine Corps. Obverse and reverse designs for a silver medal and bronze duplicates. Final. (Previous: CFA 17/OCT/19-10, U.S. Navy)
3. CFA 18/JUN/20-9, 2021 American Eagle Gold and Silver Coins. Reverse designs for a one-dollar silver coin and 5-, 10-, 25-, and 50-dollar gold coins. Final.
4. CFA 18/JUN/20-10, Congressional Gold Medal honoring Larry Doby. Design for gold medal with bronze duplicates. Final.
5. CFA 18/JUN/20-11, Donald J. Trump Presidential Medal. Design for bronze medal. Final. (Previous: CFA 16/JUN/16-9, Barack Obama)
6. CFA 18/JUN/20-12, Steven T. Mnuchin Secretary of the Treasury Medal. Design for a bronze medal. Final.
Mr. Krieger commented that the subcommittee’s report generally reflects the consensus of the discussion, often supporting the preferences of the recipient, family members, or related organizations. He noted that one design had more than thirty options to consider, and he recommended that the Mint not include such a large number in future submissions. Mr. Luebke added that the designs are also reviewed by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC), and its preferences are often helpful in focusing the Commission’s discussion on a small number of alternatives; however, the CCAC did not meet in advance of this month’s Commission meeting and its preferences were not available.
Mr. McCrery commented that the quality of the artwork in the submissions could be improved, and he encouraged the Mint to set higher standards for artists and artistry. Vice Chairman Meyer said that this advice is consistent with Mr. Krieger’s request to be more selective in the number of submitted alternatives. Mr. Luebke noted that this issue has arisen repeatedly in the review of Mint submissions. In response, more than a decade ago, the Mint created the Artistic Infusion Program to attract artists from outside the Mint staff; however, the quality apparently remains unsatisfactory to the Commission. Mr. Krieger and Mr. McCrery clarified that the quality appears to be uneven rather than uniformly bad; Ms. Meyer said that this unevenness is in both the artistic technique and the conceptual content of the designs. Mr. Luebke offered to convey these concerns to representatives of the Mint.
Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission adopted the recommendations and comments provided by the subcommittee for the U.S. Mint submissions.
II. Submissions and Reviews
Mr. Luebke introduced the three appendices for Commission action. Drafts of the appendices had been circulated to the Commission members in advance of the meeting.
Appendix I – Government Submissions Consent Calendar: Mr. Lindstrom said that no changes have been made to the draft appendix. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the Government Submissions Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler noted several changes to the draft appendix, which is unusually lengthy this month. One item has been added to the appendix (case number SL 20-117) to note that it has been withdrawn. Three cases are being held open for a future month and have been removed from the appendix (SL 20-118, 20-139, and 20-150). The recommendations for five cases have been revised to be favorable, based on a reduced scope of work or the submission of additional materials (SL 20-138, 20-142, 20-146, 20-148, and 20-156). The recommendations for nine 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, with acknowledgement of the extensive work in developing each of these recommendations. (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 30 projects; all supplemental materials were received prior to sending out the draft appendix, and no changes have been made. Upon a motion by Ms. Meyer with second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission approved the Old Georgetown Act appendix, with acknowledgement of the extensive work in finalizing all of the recommendations in time for the release of the draft appendix.
At this point, the Commission considered items II.B.2, II.C, and II.E. Secretary Luebke said that the Commission had identified these submissions as ones that could be approved without presentations.
B. National Park Service
2. CFA18/JUN/20-2, Lincoln Memorial, West Potomac Park at 23rd Street. Building rehabilitation and modifications for expanded visitor facility in undercroft. Final. (Previous: CFA 20/JUL/17-2) Mr. Luebke said that the project includes interior visitor facilities and modifications to several openings on the exterior walls of the memorial’s base. The submission responds to the Commission’s previous recommendation to provide a small lintel above the widened door openings flanking the memorial’s steps; two options have been submitted for the detailing of these openings, one of which includes the lintel detail. Upon a motion by Mr. Krieger with second by Ms. Meyer, the Commission approved the final design with Option B for a bronze-clad lintel, that would minimize the change to the wall’s existing stonework. Mr. McCrery abstained, noting that he has not studied the project.
C. American Battle Monuments Commission
CFA 18/JUN/20-3, Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands. New visitor center. Final. (Previous: CFA 19/SEP/19-4) Mr. Luebke noted that the submission responds to the Commission’s previous recommendations concerning the visitor center’s interior and the site’s vehicular and pedestrian circulation. Vice Chairman Meyer suggested approving the final design subject to review of material samples by the staff and, upon request, by Commission members; she noted that this review of samples is typical for larger projects. Upon a second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission adopted this action, with Mr. Stroik and Mr. McCrery abstaining.
E. U.S. General Services Administration
CFA 18/JUN/20-5, Department of Homeland Security Headquarters, 2701 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE. New flagpoles and recreation of the historic landscape at the north front of the Center Building. Final. Mr. Luebke said that this project would install three flagpoles and would retain or reconstruct the landscape setting, based on historic documentation. Vice Chairman Meyer recommended approval of this small project; upon a second by Mr. Krieger, the Commission adopted this action.
The Commission returned to the order of the agenda with item II.B.1.
B. National Park Service
1. CFA18/JUN/20-1, Peace Corps Memorial. Louisiana Avenue at C and First Streets, NW. New memorial. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 20/FEB/20-1) Secretary Luebke introduced the revised concept design for a new memorial honoring the Peace Corps, submitted by the National Park Service on behalf of the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation. The project is to be located on Reservation 727, a small triangular park adjacent to the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. He noted that the Commission had approved the initial concept in March 2019 with numerous comments, and in several subsequent reviews the Commission has continued to express concern regarding the project’s conceptual clarity and whether the design would create recognizable symbolic meanings. The Commission has also suggested reconsidering the proposed pergola, perhaps eliminating it entirely or reconceiving it as a shade structure defining the space around the central map plaza and the stone “bench-hands.” He said the design team of sculptor Larry Kirkland and landscape architect Michael Vergason is returning with a revised concept design that retains the overall site plan along with the sculptural concept for the plaza and bench-hands while reshaping the pergola to convey an image of the outstretched wings of a dove in flight. He asked Peter May, associate regional director of lands and planning for the National Capital Area of the National Park Service, to begin the presentation.
Mr. May said the design team has made substantial changes to the design, retaining the original intent but responding to the Commission’s comments. He asked Roger Lewis, an architect and president of the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation, to present the changes to the concept design.
Mr. Lewis emphasized that the foundation members believe this commemorative work will honor the best attributes of the American character, an especially timely goal given the challenges currently faced by the nation and the world. He noted the important relationship of the small triangular site to the Capitol and to the Robert A. Taft Memorial Carillon, and he said that the proximity of the Peace Corps Memorial to the center of the national capital has been an important consideration. He presented views of the site in different seasons and from various directions, indicating the short distance to Union Station on the northeast—especially apparent when the site is approached from the southwest along Louisiana Avenue; he noted that Louisiana Avenue was built in the 1930s and is not a L’Enfant Plan street.
Mr. Lewis said that the focus of the current presentation will be the proposed changes to the pergola. Previously, this element had been envisioned as a large-scale gesture along the rear of the entire site, contrasting with the more intimate scale of the benches and plaza; however, it was clear after the February 2020 review that the form and purpose of the pergola had to be reconsidered. He said the revised form would embrace and emphasize the central interpretive space, which comprises carved granite bench-hands framing an elliptical granite plaza with an inlaid map of the world. He said that the benches and plaza have functional as well as interpretive and symbolic purposes, making the site a public park as well as a commemorative area.
Due to technical difficulties in connecting the sculptor, Larry Kirkland, to the video conference, Mr. Lewis spoke on his behalf using notes prepared by Mr. Kirkland. Mr. Lewis noted the Commission’s previous comment that the initial arcing form of the pergola did not convey a recognizable meaning; to address this, Mr. Kirkland has reconceived this feature to represent the outspread wings of a dove, which is an internationally recognized symbol of peace and also a symbol of the Peace Corps. The pergola’s glass blades, originally intended to represent the leaves of a tree, have been reconceived as feathers in tones of blue, violet, and green; these colors refer to the hues of the land, sea, and sky represented by the world map in the plaza. He said Mr. Kirkland wants to emphasize that the blades would remain essentially the same size and shape as before but would now be set at different angles so that the pergola would appear to hover as a canopy, creating spatial definition by embracing the benches and plaza. The two ends of the pergola would frame a view to the Capitol, emphasizing the visual and symbolic connection with the building that symbolizes American democracy. Mr. Lewis said that the change in form addresses the Commission’s primary concern of the need for the two parts of the composition to work together; he added that the juxtaposition of the two complementary curvilinear forms is a meaningful and beautiful improvement to the design.
Mr. Lewis said the design retains the existing sidewalks of exposed-aggregate concrete; this will establish a visual connection with the other sidewalks in the neighborhood, and the warm tones of the concrete will complement the cooler palette of the glass feathers. The extensive plantings will include new street trees, proposed as gingko trees, and red oaks, extending the park landscape surrounding the Taft Carillon from across Louisiana Avenue. He said the map projection has been chosen with consideration of the Commission’s advice, and it will still depict Asia to the right and the Americas to the left. He presented a sketch of the completed park, emphasized that it will be a destination for contemplation as well as respite; the sun shining through the glass feathers of the pergola will cast shadows and color onto the surfaces below, enlivening the space. He concluded with a nighttime view of the park, describing the proposal to illuminate the pergola with LED lights at night, although he said the lighting would be much more subdued than depicted in the drawing.
Noting that Mr. Vergason had not yet joined the video conference, Vice Chairman Meyer invited questions from the Commission members. Mr. Stroik asked Mr. Lewis to summarize the changes from the previous design. Mr. Lewis responded that the major change is Mr. Kirkland’s reconceptualization of the central pergola; elements that need to be defined further include the inscriptions, lighting, and plant palette. Ms. Meyer said that it would be normal for the Commission to require the design team to return with refinements to the elements of the design prior to final approval.
Mr. Krieger said that the design has been greatly improved. He commended the overlapping of the pergola with the bench and map composition, which he said clarifies the need for these elements in this combination. However, he requested that the design team reconsider the issue of the pergola’s support, currently proposed as four pairs of metal posts; he said the pergola would look strange being supported by four legs when doves have only two. The pergola had been described as “hovering,” but he said that with all these legs it would not appear to hover. He suggested that the pergola be engineered with fewer legs or, if this is not feasible, that the supports form part of a continuous gesture instead of being configured as discrete, paired legs. He added that introducing an analogy between the pergola and a dove may suggest other comparisons that would not support the intended commemorative meaning.
Mr. McCrery expressed support for most of Mr. Krieger’s comments. He said the success of the pergola would depend on the particular image of a flying dove illustrated in the presentation, but the juxtaposition of this image and the pergola will not be part of the constructed memorial and the intended symbolism may be difficult to perceive. He said the new design for the pergola is not much different than before except for the different curve. The glass pieces would still need to be elevated above ground level on supports; supporting a dove in flight with “sticks” undermines the idea of wings, which do not require support but support themselves in defiance of gravity. He said the memorial sponsor may be trying to include this imagery to convey the Peace Corps “brand,” but it would be undermined by having to prop the pergola-dove on stilts. He emphasized that the project still faces the problem that people will decide for themselves what its image suggests, in spite of what the designers might call it, and he questioned whether anyone would recognize it as a dove. He said he finds that the only relationship between the pergola and the benches is that they would occupy the same location; they would still remain two different things, with the result that the design would fundamentally be either an illuminated glass canopy supported by poles, or two benches shaped like arms circling a map of the world.
Ms. Griffin said she agrees with Mr. McCrery’s comments, and also with Mr. Krieger’s observation about the improvement of the relation between the pergola and bench-hands. She supported the idea of designing the pergola using the image of a dove, but she recommended developing a different and more convincing structure. Noting that the Commission had strongly advised against the original proposal to support the glass fins with a fence-like line of metal columns, she said she is not convinced the new version would be successful. She said that she continues to support the image of hands as the primary element of the composition, and she suggested using the night lighting to emphasize the benches instead of the pergola. She observed that the top surfaces of the bench-hands have been represented in two different ways, one of which flattens the arms, losing their anthropomorphic fluidity; she recommended making them rounder to that they will resemble arms embracing the world, an image she called a successful interpretation of the Peace Corps mission.
Mr. Stroik agreed with the comments of the other members. He said that while glass can work well on the front of buildings or as a pavilion, he questions whether the glass feathers would be successful; their impact might actually be minimal, especially when seen from a distance. If it is necessary to have glass feathers, he suggested using different colors than those proposed, commenting that the tinted daylight passing through them would not enhance the ground plane or the people sitting beneath them; he added that the trees alone would provide enough shade.
Mr. Krieger emphasized that, with the exception of the pergola structure, he now supports the project in its revised form. He said that the pergola and the bench-hands will inevitably be made of different materials because they will have different functions, and he does not consider this difference to be an issue. He said he is pleased that the two elements now conceptually reinforce each other, and he could imagine the pleasant experience of sitting under the pergola with the light filtering through the trees and the glass leaves, changing as the sun moves; he said he no longer considers the pergola superfluous, and it is probably necessary to create an intimate space. He reiterated that his only remaining concern is determining a strategy for engineering the pergola without the four large, paired supports. He summarized that the pergola should be engineered to have either fewer supports, or enough supports to create a circle below.
Mr. McCrery said he strongly advises focusing on the benches and plaza while eliminating the pergola, because these elements fight each other. He endorsed Ms. Griffin’s comments on the benches; he said the focus should be on creating a magnificent central ensemble, using landscape to accomplish the function of the pergola.
Ms. Meyer said that in the previous review she had suggested two possible ways to approach revisions to the design: using a grove to define the entire site, or finding a way that the glass blades could create a pergola that relates more directly to the central space. She said that even without a presentation by the landscape architect at today’s meeting, it is instructive that the proposed vegetation has been presented as “greenery” and “landscaping,” both of which are more horticultural than spatial terms. She noted that a grove is a typology in the same way that a building and a memorial are typologies, and a public landscape can be described as having a ceiling and a floor, expressed as a canopy plane and a ground plane. She emphasized that before a final design is presented, the Commission members must be able to understand this site as forming part of an urban design strategy—an urban space that is not simply a bench and a canopy, but a park with a bench and a pergola within it. She said this will require better site plan drawings in which it will be possible to see both the existing conditions and the proposed design, and also to understand the ground plane and the pergola. She noted that the design team has not pursued the solution of using a grove instead of the pergola, and she said she could support either direction for the design.
Ms. Meyer said that if the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation is committed to the pergola, the issue of its structure is important; another important issue is the horizontal line created by the consistent elevation of the lower edge of the glass blades. She observed that bird wings are objects in flight, with a quality of uplift; even if this pergola does not end up reading as a dove, a quality of soaring as well as hovering could be expressed in its structural system. She commented that often structures like this become encumbered by too many things, such as how the two ends of the pergola are meant to suggest opening to or framing the view of the Capitol. She discouraged indulging the apparent assumption that everything in visual proximity to the Capitol has to assert its view of the Capitol dome, adding that this view will probably be obscured by the dense planting around the Olmsted grotto in the Capitol Grounds, and there is no need to be concerned about it. Instead, the pergola should be designed to reinforce the benches and map, a change that may allow the structure to be simplified while allowing more ways of addressing the Commission’s suggestions.
Mr. Lewis responded that it was never intended to have the pergola literally replicate the image of a dove in flight; the reference to wings was just a way to give the pergola a meaning that could not be achieved with the previous design. He added that he agrees with Mr. McCrery about people interpreting form differently from an artist’s intention.
Mr. McCrery offered a motion to request that the next concept submission, if continuing to include the pergola, must also include a second option omitting the pergola and using a grove to organize the space. Ms. Meyer asked if the motion could be modified to approve the current version as a revised concept design with conditions, understanding that the Commission will see it a few more times at the concept level; she said that this is often done with memorial designs because they are such a complex typology. Mr. McCrery said he appreciates the process but believes that the pergola is not successful; he expressed concern that if the Commission approves the current proposal, the subsequent submissions would just include more glass pergolas on posts.
Mr. Krieger emphasized that he does not agree with Mr. McCrery’s conclusion. He said the Commission has already reviewed the concept design several times and is now being disrespectful to the artist. He noted that this memorial’s composition has always consisted of three elements: the landscape, the benches and map, and the pergola; the question has been how to integrate them in the best possible way. He said he would not support eliminating one of these elements, but would agree to approve the revised concept design with the request for further investigation of the best way to relate a pergola to the both the landscape and the benches.
Ms. Griffin said she is satisfied with the composition of the map framed by the hands beneath a pergola, and the Commission has provided very specific comments over the course of multiple reviews regarding the pergola’s composition, location, engineering, and form. However, the design team has done little to adapt the pergola’s structure and engineering since the review process began. She said she believes today’s comments and Mr. McCrery’s proposal are intended to push the design team to address these issues; a requirement to consider eliminating the pergola may be the jolt needed to finally get a response to the Commission’s recommendations for this element. She emphasized that the pergola structure—including the supports and the lighting of the glass—should be redesigned because it is not yet successful, and she is not yet willing to approve it.
Secretary Luebke clarified that if the Commission does not want to take an approval action, a motion is not necessary; if opinion is divided on the whether to keep the pergola, the Commission can ask the design team to return with another revision. He noted that the previous general concept approval remains in effect, with the issue of the pergola design left unresolved. He said that a possible motion could be to accept the idea that the pergola may remain somewhat circular in form, with the request for substantial development of its structural expression.
Mr. McCrery said his motion does not contradict Mr. Krieger’s comments because it allows for further development of the pergola, and such development could respond to Mr. Krieger’s recommendation to work with a structural engineer to make the pergola be more evocative of hovering wings. However, he said his motion also requests exploration of eliminating the pergola and trying to accomplish the commemorative goal by using a canopy formed by a grove of trees.
Vice Chairman Meyer suggested trying to relate the meeting’s comments with Mr. McCrery’s proposal. She said his motion suggests that the Commission members think the pergola could work, but they have not yet seen the structural system and material reality to convince them of this. She said his motion clarifies that repeatedly submitting the same design will not help the project move forward without the development of an alternative to the pergola, particularly when the design team appears unwilling to explore this. She said the design could be very effective if it focused on the image of outstretched hands representing generosity, set within a canopy of trees. She offered a second to Mr. McCrery’s motion, with the comments giving clear instructions on design development but also indicating the Commission’s frustration about being stuck in this limbo.
Mr. Krieger said he would only object if the motion implies that the pergola should be eliminated; he supported the guidance that the design team could continue developing the pergola if an option to eliminate it is also developed. Vice Chairman Meyer described the motion as approving the revised pergola and requesting a further concept submission with the suggested modifications, but also being open to a revised concept design that replaces the glass-and-metal pergola with a canopy of trees if the design team decides that the pergola does not work. Mr. McCrery clarified that his motion is stronger than this summary: the motion asks the design team to redesign the pergola and also to prepare an alternative concept design that replaces the pergola with a canopy of trees. The result would be two design alternatives—one with a pergola, and one without.
Vice Chairman Meyer asked Mr. Luebke about the appropriate protocol, noting that in her experience the Commission has never asked for alternative designs but only for such things as options in the material palettes when a design is further along than concept phase. Mr. Luebke responded that taking an action to approve a concept necessarily defines a scope of elements, including size, character, and relationship of parts; he said it would be unusual for the Commission to approve a design while also requiring the design team to return with a different concept option. He said the Commission could encourage exploration of the design, or could approve the pergola conditional upon its redesign based on the concepts of expressing flight, encouraging consideration of another scheme if the pergola design does not work; but he said that if the Commission wants to push for a different scheme than what is presented, it should not take an action to approve the current submission. Mr. McCrery said his motion does not approve the current revised concept submission; Mr. Luebke said a motion is therefore not necessary because the intent is only to give direction, not take an action. Mr. McCrery withdrew his motion and suggested that the Commission ask the design team to prepare a second option that will not have an illuminated pergola of glass and steel.
Mr. Lewis said that the design team has actually developed a scheme without the pergola, but decided it would not achieve the required effect. However, he said this alternative could be presented to the Commission. Vice Chairman Meyer asked why this alternative has not already been presented, expressing her dismay that the Commission had not seen it or even been told of its existence. She said that the design team’s argument for the pergola would be much more convincing if they had presented this alternative; instead, the design team appears to be obstinately refusing to respond to the Commission’s comments, with the result of slowing down the review process.
Mr. Lewis noted that Mr. Vergason has joined the video conference and is available to answer questions; Vice Chairman Meyer asked him to comment. Mr. Vergason said the design team had believed the Commission’s direction was to revise the pergola concept, and they had assumed it was clear that the pergola would be designed in conjunction with the surrounding tree canopy.
Mr. Krieger proposed a motion to approve the concept for the three major components—a landscape, a composition of benches and map plaza, and some form of pergola—with the suggestion to continue exploring the structure and expression of the pergola, which is the least satisfactory part of the design. He added that nothing would be accomplished by just rejecting something the applicant clearly feels is essential. Ms. Meyer seconded this motion. Ms. Griffin asked what would happen if the motion fails; Mr. Luebke said that if no motion is adopted, the staff would summarize the comments and forward them to the applicant, as was done for the recent reviews of this project.
Mr. McCrery said he had withdrawn his motion in the spirit of the Commission agreeing to send the applicant back to the drawing board, but not to invite a replacement motion for approval. Vice Chairman Meyer asked for a vote on Mr. McCrery’s original motion before proceeding with the motion from Mr. Krieger. She summarized that Mr. McCrery’s motion is critical of the pergola and requests the applicant to return with two concept design alternatives, one with the grove developed as a canopy and one that responds to comments about the pergola. Mr. McCrery said that his motion is especially appropriate upon the Commission learning that the design team has actually prepared an alternative without the pergola. He added that while he respects the need for process in deliberations, part of the process is that applicants undertake in good faith to address the Commission’s recommendations; he said that he has not seen evidence of that today, and he characterized the presentation as unresponsive. Vice Chairman Meyer agreed and said the Commission has commented that the presentation focused on the location and configuration of the pergola but not its specific materials, the shape of its glass blades, or its structure.
Requesting clarification, Ms. Griffin asked if the motion is to take no action and instead send the Commission’s comments to the applicant. Mr. McCrery said this is the intent, and a motion may not be required to achieve this, but upon withdrawing his motion it was replaced by Mr. Krieger’s motion to approve. Mr. McCrery emphasized that he wants to avoid approving the design with the pergola; Mr. Luebke clarified that an approval could only occur with a vote. Noting the numerous concerns that have been raised, Vice Chairman Meyer suggested that no vote should be taken, and the design team should be asked to return soon with two alternatives: a revised concept that is not simply a resubmission of the current design but includes a pergola that has been developed in response to the Commission’s comments; and a second alternative that replaces the pergola with a canopy of trees. Mr. Krieger withdrew his motion and this guidance.
Vice Chairman Meyer explained to the project team that the Commission is trying to work through a complicated set of suggestions and procedures; she emphasized that all memorials, particularly those near the Mall, are important enough to merit scrutiny of every detail. She expressed appreciation for the project team’s consultation with the staff and said she is confident that the design development will be moving in the right direction; Mr. Luebke said that the staff will summarize the comments in a letter. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
2. CFA18/JUN/20-2, Lincoln Memorial, West Potomac Park at 23rd Street. Building rehabilitation and modifications for expanded visitor facility in undercroft. Final. (Previous: CFA 20/JUL/17-2) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
C. American Battle Monuments Commission
CFA 18/JUN/20-3, Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands. New visitor center. Final. (Previous: CFA 19/SEP/19-4) The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
D. Smithsonian Institution
CFA 18/JUN/20-4, Freer Gallery of Art, 1050 Independence Avenue, SW. Courtyard accessibility and landscape improvements. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the concept design for alterations to the courtyard of the Freer Gallery of Art, to be undertaken in conjunction with replacement of the waterproofing of the underground building structure below the courtyard. Both the museum building and courtyard landscape were designed by Charles A. Platt [CFA member 1916–1921], in close collaboration with Charles Lang Freer, the founder of the museum, which opened to the public in 1923. The main courtyard level is several steps below the loggias flanking it on the east and west; the proposal would provide a barrier-free route from the west loggia to the courtyard level by constructing a new sloping walkway in the northwest corner of the courtyard. He said the proposed landscape is intended to partially recapture the spirit of the original design while also using objects from the museum’s collection as inspiration for the plantings; one question for today’s review is to what extent the new design should be influenced by the original Renaissance Revival character of the landscape and building. He asked Ann Trowbridge, associate director for planning at the Smithsonian Institution, to begin the presentation.
Ms. Trowbridge expressed appreciation for the comments provided by the Commission staff during a consultation on the project several weeks ago, and said she anticipates that the project will be completed before the museum’s centennial in 2023. She introduced architect Scott Teixeira of Hartman-Cox Architects and landscape architect Kurt Parker of Rhodeside & Harwell to present the design.
Ms. Meyer said that the Commission members agreed before the start of the meeting that they are strongly supportive of the proposed barrier-free walkway, and the Commission would like the presentation to focus on the proposed landscape design. She said that a particular topic of discussion will be the Smithsonian’s continuing goal of designing museum landscapes that reflect the collections of the museums themselves; she said this conceptual approach raises questions that go beyond simply deciding whether to restore the original landscape design or create something new.
Mr. Teixeira described the Freer Gallery’s location on the Mall, with facades on Independence Avenue, 12th Street, and Jefferson Drive. He said the building’s main floor has several different levels: the monumental entrance lobby on the north and the courtyard are at a lower level than the main circulation and gallery spaces. There are only two barrier-free entrances into the museum, one located at an existing door on Independence Avenue, and another through the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which connects to the Freer below grade. Both of these routes provide convenient connections to the door from the south corridor to the courtyard’s west loggia, which has been selected as the location for the beginning of the new walkway sloping down into the courtyard. He noted that three of the existing connections to the courtyard are stairways with five risers at the east and west loggias and from a door along the south corridor; the fourth connection along the north corridor has only a single step, but this corridor requires interior steps to connect with the rest of the museum’s main level, and altering the interior space to create barrier-free path of travel would be problematic. To accommodate the proposed walkway from the west loggia, the existing western steps would be repositioned slightly eastward, toward the center of the courtyard, allowing for an upper landing for the walkway that would extend north along the edge of the loggia and then turn east along the north edge of the courtyard, ending adjacent to the courtyard’s north entrance door. He presented several before-and-after elevation drawings of the courtyard, noting that the walkway design is intended to introduce only a minimal appearance of change. He then asked Kurt Parker to present the landscape design.
Mr. Parker said that in the absence of original design drawings and planting plans, the primary historical documentation of the landscape design is photographs. The earliest photographs suggest that the original landscape was a subdued and modest mix of low evergreen plantings. Additional photographs from 1925, 1942, and 1974 demonstrate that the landscape has evolved over time; for example, at one point some of the paved panels were removed and replaced with turf to decrease heat gain. In the 1990s, the entire courtyard was removed and replaced to allow for construction of underground museum space below.
Mr. Parker described the current landscape as minimal, composed primarily of pruned trees set against the courtyard facades; other plantings include clipped hedges, with boxwoods surrounding the central fountain. He said these plantings seem fitting for the space, although it is not known if any were a part of the original design. Although the trees do provide some shade, he said that additional shade is needed in the sunny space. He noted that the trees have outgrown the space and are now blocking the arched courtyard windows, detracting from Platt’s original intent to provide views into the garden from the adjacent corridors.
Mr. Parker said that the concept for the new landscape strives to recapture the spirit of Platt’s original design while incorporating the Smithsonian’s desire to establish an interpretive connection between the landscape and the museum collection, which is heavily influenced by horticulture: hydrangea, peony, maple, and many other plants are depicted in hundreds of objects in the collection. He said this approach would create an outdoor exhibit for the museum while also reflecting the scale and character of what is known of Platt’s original design. The proposed plant palette would incorporate some exotic species among native plantings; proposed plants include peony, hydrangea, iris, and other dense or low groundcover that may have existed in Platt’s design. He presented renderings of the proposed landscape incorporating the new walkway, noting that symmetry is an important feature that would be retained. Anchor plantings would be put in the corners of the courtyard, rather than along the facades, to help reestablish views into the garden from the loggias and corridors. Plants would be arranged to create a mosaic pattern of seasonal color, with diverse species placed in specific areas to accommodate the courtyard’s microclimates.
Mr. Teixeira presented renderings depicting several details of the proposed courtyard renovation and the new walkway design. He said that the existing building materials in the courtyard would be replaced in kind, with some of the original fabric reused, such as the pink Milford granite pavers; the west loggia steps would also be salvaged and restored. The new walkway and associated cheek walls would be a sanded or rubbed white-pink Tennessee marble. He described the proposed bronze handrail for the new walkway as diminutive and slender, with a traditional profile similar to other architectural metalwork in the Freer building. He concluded by noting that the courtyard space, about 60 feet square, seems small when experienced firsthand, and the design intends to achieve the goal of barrier-free access with the least possible impact to the historic fabric and architecture.
Vice Chairman Meyer invited comments from the Commission members. Ms. Griffin said she is drawn to the 1974 photograph of the courtyard showing appealing, lush shrubbery, particularly in the corners, and she questioned why the plantings have changed so much over the decades. She observed that many plantings have been removed, and asked why the lush quality of the 1970s plantings is now considered undesirable. More generally, she said that she is trying to understand the overall landscape strategy and why there have been so many different design approaches over the years. Mr. Parker responded that the landscape has continued to evolve since the 1920s, citing the turf panels that were introduced early on, as well as the wisteria on the courtyard walls that was removed due to maintenance issues. The plantings shown in the later photographs appear not to have been pruned, suggesting that they were likely outgrowing the space; he added that these were apparently not the original plantings, which seem to have been replaced over time with varying species. He said the proposed plantings would fit more easily in the courtyard space and would be arranged to promote appropriate growth habits that would require little maintenance. He described the design as a compromise between a more formal appearance and the additional color and texture that would come with the exotic species that are thematically connected to the museum’s collection.
Ms. Trowbridge suggested that Richard Skinner from the Freer could provide additional information; Mr. Skinner said he believes that the lawn panels were installed to make the courtyard cooler in the summer. Ms. Griffin clarified that her comments are about the shrubbery in the courtyard corners, which appears more manicured in the 1974 photograph than in the one from 1942; she asked why trees and flowering plants are now being proposed, rather than what is shown in these photographs. Mr. Skinner said that the evolution of the plantings has generally been a function of the varying teams maintaining the garden, rather than the result of a coherent strategy. When the courtyard was renovated from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, the new planting scheme was intended to be evocative of the original design, but with the addition of trees. He said he believes the current proposal would be sensitive to and evocative of the original landscape of evergreens and accent plantings, with the addition of more seasonal color.
Mr. Stroik observed that vines are seen in the historical photographs, but are not included in the proposal. Mr. Teixeira said that the 1974 plantings could be the original plantings, or possibly replacements of the original plantings; however, when the courtyard was reconstructed in the 1980s–90s, those responsible for the landscape design concept may have inspired the decision to plant trees. He said the current proposal is attempting to return to Charles Platt’s original idea of clusters of shrubs and groundcover, with the addition of a new palette that is connected to the museum’s collection—a larger goal of the Smithsonian Institution. He surmised that the wisteria was planted to help manage the temperature within the northern corridor by shading it from the summer sun, while allowing in sunlight during the winter. When a more sophisticated glazing system was installed, the wisteria no longer served a functional purpose and was likely removed as a result. Mr. Skinner added that the construction of the art storage room beneath the courtyard in the 1980s–90s resulted in a significant reduction in the soil volume available for plantings; the wisteria may have been removed for this reason, and it may also have been damaging the courtyard walls. Ms. Trowbridge confirmed that the soil is currently about one foot deep. Mr. Skinner noted that the courtyard currently lacks plantings in the corners because of the shallow soil; in addition, past irrigation issues and high summer temperatures in 2019 have resulted in a diminishment of the plantings.
Ms. Meyer said that the proposal may offer an interesting solution, but the logic, values, and design process of the concept are not clear; the presented rationale for the past changes to the landscape seems limited to issues of maintenance and the addition of an underground structure. She noted that there are various approaches or tactics for appropriately adapting historic landscapes, similar to those for historic buildings. She also expressed surprise that Charles Platt’s early career as a landscape designer was not discussed in the concept presentation. She cited Platt’s Italian Gardens, published in 1893 after he visited ruins in Italy; she emphasized that his work was influenced not necessarily by Renaissance gardens, but rather by the late-19th-century overgrown garden ruins he observed and wrote about. She suggested a potential conceptual approach that the plant palette for the ground plane should be informed by his writing on these Italian gardens, with the incorporation of more contemporary plantings that address the Smithsonian’s programmatic, interpretive, and sustainability goals. She said that the proposed trees do not make sense in the design in light of Platt’s work, and may not be necessary in a small courtyard that is already well proportioned and enclosed; the one-foot soil depth would also not be conducive for tree growth. She emphasized that the landscape should not be reduced to “landscaping,” which implies issues of horticulture and nurseries rather than of design, and she expressed concern that there is some confusion among members of the design team regarding the direction of the project concept. She encouraged first thinking about the project in light of Platt’s written record on the character of Italian courtyards and gardens, and then interpreting his ideas while considering contemporary plant materials and other issues.
Mr. McCrery said that he agrees with Ms. Meyer’s comments regarding Platt, and that he cannot imagine the architect’s work without considering the full integration of architecture and landscape architecture. He said he is pleased that the design team is committed to maintaining Platt’s original vision. Noting that the size of the plantings would be limited because of the shallow soil, he asked if the soil could be deepened, perhaps at the corners, to allow for larger trees; he also suggested that potted plants could be arranged throughout the courtyard and adjacent loggias. Ms. Trowbridge responded that reinforcing the structure of the underground facility to accommodate additional soil on its roof would alter the project scope and require the relocation of the gallery’s collections, which the Smithsonian would like to avoid. Mr. McCrery therefore questioned why trees are proposed at all; he commented that even as someone who encourages respect for historic architecture, he finds the proposed design to be timid. He added that the design of the new access walkway is acceptable, although it appears a bit wide, and he suggested further discussion of the railing design for the new walkway.
In response to the concern with the amount of planting, Mr. Teixeira noted the increased size of the proposed planted area compared to the existing. The northwest planting beds running in front of the new walkway’s cheek walls would have the minimum width needed to be viable; to retain the courtyard’s sense of symmetry and alignment, the planting beds in the other three quadrants would be slightly wider than the existing beds, resulting in a small reduction in the extent of the central paved area. Ms. Meyer expressed support for increasing the planting surface, which she said reinforces her suggestion to explore a more billowing quality for the plantings, similar to the Smithsonian’s recent proposal for the landscape of the National Air and Space Museum. She said trees are likely not necessary to achieve that level of lushness, and she advised careful study of the layering of the plantings.
Mr. Stroik said he is interested in Platt’s history as both a great architect and landscape architect, and he agreed that connecting the proposed design with Platt’s work on Italian gardens would be beneficial. He expressed support for the design of the proposed walkway, which he characterized as subtle and elegant. However, he expressed concern regarding the proposed railing; he noted that the loggia does not have guardrails, and he asked if the proposed railing could be eliminated from the design. Mr. Teixeira confirmed that there are no railings at the edge of the loggias, which are less than thirty inches above the courtyard—the height at which a railing would be required by safety codes. Mr. Skinner said that railings were added to the stairs leading down to the courtyard in 1990, in compliance with the then-recent passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act; Mr. Teixeira noted that the single handrails in the center of each stairway do not conform to current accessibility regulations, which require two railings. He also confirmed that regulations do not require any railings on the new walkway, since its slope is less than five percent; however, the Freer staff and the Smithsonian’s director of accessibility believe that a handrail would be beneficial for visitors who have varying degrees of ambulatory impairments, especially because demographic information shows that the museum’s visitors are disproportionately older. He noted that no handrail is proposed along the side of the walkway adjacent to the loggia; the handrail would only be located along the edge of the walkway facing the courtyard, screened by the plantings in the linear beds and in a dark material to give it an inconspicuous appearance. He said earlier concepts for the railings had different detailing, with some being more modern, but the proposed design is intended to be as diminutive as possible and related to the architectural character of the courtyard’s original metalwork.
Ms. Trowbridge noted that the Smithsonian often exceeds the minimum code requirements for accessibility projects to accommodate the numerous visitors to Smithsonian facilities that benefit from the assistance provided by handrails. Mr. Stroik said he agrees that exceeding code requirements is sensible, but the railing element stands out as asymmetrical in the courtyard. He said the design would benefit from omitting the railing, citing a well-designed ramp at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building that does not have a railing.
Mr. McCrery said that the proposed railing design appears overly generic, and the courtyard setting provides an opportunity for a more sculptural treatment. He suggested that the railing design could follow an approach similar to the landscape by incorporating Asian motifs, especially since the railing design would appear only in the courtyard. Citing the objects in the collection shown in the presentation, he suggested that a bamboo or lotus motif sculpted in bronze could be used for the vertical stanchions or for the handrail itself. Ms. Meyer summarized that the comments on the railings raise two points: that ideally the railing would be excluded from the design if not for the Smithsonian’s accessibility goals, and that if the railing is retained, it should be unobtrusive without being generic. Mr. McCrery agreed that if the railing is retained then it should be of a superior design.
Ms. Meyer suggested a motion to approve the concept design with the comments provided, which include the suggestions that the plant palette be developed as a contemporary interpretation of Charles Platt’s work on garden design while meeting the Smithsonian’s horticultural and interpretive goals; and that the railing design be less generic and more customized to this particular museum, while staying almost invisible in the space. She added that the project team should consult with the staff on these issues before submitting a final design. Secretary Luebke summarized that the Commission members are endorsing the general scope of the project while requesting the clarification of the landscape character and the refinement of the railing design. He added that the staff would like to work with the designers on refinements of the stair and landing details to minimize the walkway’s imposition on the courtyard. Upon a second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission adopted this action.
Following the vote, Mr. McCrery asked if Ms. Meyer wishes to provide additional comments in light of her opening remarks about the Smithsonian’s long-term effort to interpret its museums’ collections using the associated landscapes. Ms. Meyer said that over the last several years she has observed a nervousness or fear among designers concerning adaptations of or additions to the Smithsonian’s historic landscapes, reflecting a conceptual dichotomy without nuance: either the original designer is seen as unimportant and the landscape is completely changed, or the landscape and its designer are seen as significant and the landscape is restored to its former condition. She requested that in the future the Smithsonian and its consultants be as clear as possible about the intent of the original designer. While acknowledging that not all landscapes and their designers are well documented, she reiterated that Platt wrote an entire book on garden and courtyard design that makes clear his sensibilities. She emphasized that in this case the Commission is not calling for a restoration, but rather recommending the use of contemporary plant materials that would thrive in the changing context of a hotter climate and shallower soil while not compromising Platt’s spatial, geometric, and scalar intent. She noted that wisteria was a very popular plant when the Freer was first constructed, however, the plant is now considered too high-maintenance and destructive to the building facades on which it grows. She said that maintaining the proposed trees would be difficult; she advised allowing the courtyard corners to be visible and instead conceptualizing the vegetation as something that would be experienced between the ground plane of the courtyard and the higher level of the loggias.
E. U.S. General Services Administration
CFA 18/JUN/20-5, Department of Homeland Security Headquarters, 2701 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE. New flagpoles and recreation of the historic landscape at the north front of the Center Building. Final. The Commission acted on the submission earlier in the meeting without a presentation, following agenda item II.A.
F. D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development
CFA 18/JUN/20-6, McMillan Community Center, North Capitol Street and Channing Street, NW. New community and recreation center. Final. (Previous: CFA 15/SEP/16-6) Secretary Luebke introduced the proposed final design for a community center building and park on the southern portion of the decommissioned McMillan Sand Filtration Site, located on the north side of Channing Street between First Street, NW, and North Capitol Street. He said that in the previous review in September 2016, the Commission had strongly supported the adaptive reuse of the site, the innovative stormwater management system, and the preservation of many historic site features that were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. [CFA member, 1910–1918]. The Commission had recommended more careful design of the abutments for a pedestrian bridge spanning the walkway into the site from North Capitol Street, requesting that it be detailed more carefully to create an elegant entrance to the recreation grounds. The initial proposal by PerkinsEastman DC has subsequently been developed by the new design team of Quinn Evans Architects and Rhodeside & Harwell landscape architects, with substantial refinement of the site design. He asked Gilles Stucker, representing the D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Stucker said that the D.C. government’s planning for the McMillan Sand Filtration Site has been underway for more than thirty years and is finally coming to fruition after resolving complex issues of zoning, historic preservation, and legal appeals. The larger redevelopment project will bring affordable housing, health care facilities, and retail space to the neighborhood, as well as the recreational facilities that are included in today’s presentation.
Mr. Stucker said that subsequent to the previous review in 2016, the D.C. government has developed the design, selected a general contractor, and invested in preservation of the historic elements of the site’s sand filtration system. Additionally, the pieces of the dismantled McMillan Fountain, formerly located on an adjacent site, have been transferred from the National Park Service to the D.C. government, and the fountain will be rebuilt as part of this project. To present the design, he introduced Tom Jester of Quinn Evans Architects and landscape architects Elliot Rhodeside and Kevin Fisher of Rhodeside & Harwell.
Mr. Jester said the presentation would address the history of the project, the context, and the design refinements to the community center and park. The sand filtration system was constructed between 1901 and 1919, and the facility is listed as a D.C. landmark and as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. The general design for redevelopment of the entire McMillan Sand Filtration Site was established with the D.C. zoning approval of a Planned Unit Development in 2014; additional approvals for historic preservation and from the Commission of Fine Arts were obtained in the subsequent years.
Mr. Jester presented the site plan for the community center and park that was approved by the Commission in 2016, encompassing approximately the southern third of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site. The key elements, which remain in the current proposal, include a large lawn at the west along First Street; a plaza to the east near North Capitol Street; and, in the central area, a community center building to the northeast, a playground to the west, and the display of a preserved cell of the sand filtration system on the south toward Channing Street. He said that the current proposal addresses the Commission’s comments from 2016, which included the stormwater management system, the use of native species, and refining the pedestrian entrance to the plaza from North Capitol Street. He noted that subsequent to this final design submission, the D.C. government anticipates further review by the Commission or staff of the interpretive and educational elements of the project.
Mr. Jester described the site’s historic elements in greater detail. Some of the sand filter cells will be preserved, and the cell to be displayed to the public is known as Filter Cell 28; the historic spacing of the cells in a grid of approximately fourteen feet is incorporated into the proposed design for the site and building. The lawn to the west is historic; the memorial fountain, designed by Charles A. Platt [CFA member, 1916–1921], would be reconstructed at the southwest corner of the lawn, oriented toward the corner of First and Channing Streets. The street edges are defined by a berm with a pedestrian walk on top, known as Olmsted Walk; these are historic features from Olmsted’s design for the site. The treatment of water was the historic purpose of the site, and water is envisioned as a key component of the proposal, including bioretention areas, runnels, the filter cell on display, and the community center’s indoor swimming pool.
Mr. Rhodeside presented the site plan in greater detail. He said that it is based on the specific historic elements as well as the design principles embodied in the work of Olmsted and Platt, which include repetition, geometry, and an emphasis on landscape and water as unifying elements.
Mr. Rhodeside indicated the proposed cut in the berm along North Capitol Street that would provide a pedestrian entrance into the site; the entrance would lead to a plaza with ramps leading up to the playground and the upper-level entrance to the community center. The larger McMillan Sand Filtration Site is divided by two east-west service passages extending between First and North Capitol Streets; the southernmost of these, known as the South Service Court, defines the northern edge of the current submission and would provide access to the playground and community center. He indicated the areas of design refinement since the 2016 review: design of the setting for the reconstructed fountain; adjustment of the ramps at the street edges of the site, along with an improved design for rehabilitating the perimeter berm; reorganization of the plaza to improve its coherence and emphasize water features; redesign of the bioretention areas to serve as a focal point; and refinement of the cut into the berm at North Capitol Street, developed in recent weeks in consultation with the Commission staff. The pedestrian connections between the plaza and the South Service Court have been improved to provide barrier-free access, and the spray fountain has been moved from the South Service Court to the middle of the plaza to better activate this space and enhance safety. He noted that the South Service Court would be rehabilitated and would include elements of the historic filtration system; this area would be the source of water that would descend to the plaza. On an aerial perspective of the proposal, he indicated the McMillan Reservoir, which remains to the west across First Street.
Mr. Jester presented the design for the community center building, which he said is largely unchanged from the concept submission. The entrance lobby would be at the north end of the upper level, facing the South Service Court; the entrance sequence would bring visitors through an arched masonry portal that historically had provided access to one of the filter cells. The interior layout has been slightly adjusted to provide the adjacencies and sightlines that were requested by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, which will operate the facility. The upper-level community room would open onto a terrace at the west overlooking the playground. At the south end of the upper level, an emergency egress door would provide access to a small pedestrian bridge leading to the roof of Filter Cell 28. The lower level would contain locker rooms, mechanical rooms, and the double-height swimming pool space; it would be at the level of the plaza, with extensive windows between the plaza and the swimming pool, but would not have public exterior access at this level other than emergency egress. He presented plans, elevations, and sections to illustrate the design, including a more detailed section to illustrate the curtainwall window system and metal sunshades. He said that the building is conceived as a jewel box within the park, and the color of the exterior materials would be bone white. A fiber-cement panel system would be used for opaque areas of the facades and for banding at the top of the building above the louvers; the panels would be light gray, relating to the concrete elements that would be added to the site. He noted that this would contrast slightly with the historic concrete elements, which are light brown.
Mr. Rhodeside presented further details of the design for Olmsted Walk. The walk would be flanked by rows of flowering trees, reestablishing Olmsted’s landscape design; instead of using only the hawthorn trees specified by Olmsted, the proposed selection includes a more sustainable hawthorn that can better tolerate climate change, in combination with two other species—crabapples and fringe trees—to provide a mix of plantings, based on research at the National Arboretum. In conjunction with the new location for the memorial fountain, the stone stairs leading up to Olmsted Walk from the corner of First and Channing Streets would be rehabilitated; at the opposite corner, a new set of concrete stairs would be built from North Capitol and Channing Streets to Olmsted Walk. Plantings are designed to frame the steps, and a large tree near the fountain location would be preserved. The new paving of Olmsted Walk would be cast-in-place concrete, scored to match the pattern of pavers in the original Olmsted design. The berms would be restored, and the slope would be planted with shrubs, perennials, and low-maintenance grasses to give a crisp, sculptural effect in keeping with the intent of the original design; the new plantings have been selected with consideration of current climate conditions. The large existing street trees would be protected, and new street trees would be added where needed; the sidewalk paving material has been selected to protect the adjacent street trees. The proposed interruption in the berm along North Capitol Street is now designed as a clean incision with a clear geometry. Contemporary elements would be added along the inside edge of Olmsted Walk, primarily fitness stations, and benches would be provided for enjoying views of the lawn and toward central Washington. Plantings between the trees and benches would serve to form a hedge.
Mr. Rhodeside presented the design for the plaza near North Capitol Street, which he said has been refined to better reflect the themes of water and repetition based on the grid geometry of the filter cells. The central area of the plaza would be organized around two groups of four trees, with each group arranged as a quincunx to form a square; the geometry of the plaza would spread outward from this pattern, encompassing the bioretention areas and the alterations to the berm. These trees would be a rugged variety of American elms, with a spray fountain located at the center of each quincunx. The pedestrian entry from North Capitol Street would be framed by the angled edges of the berm, with Olmsted Walk carried overhead on a pedestrian bridge; the view from the entry would include the tree quincunxes to each side of the east–west entry axis, as well as the corner of the community center further west. At each side of the entry passage, the berm would be retained by a series of concrete walls with a sandblasted finish, stepped to define narrow planting strips. A water runnel originating at the South Service Court would flow down to the plaza, reaching a circular settlement basin that echoes the geometry of the service court’s historic features. The water would then flow into bioretention gardens that partially frame the quincunxes. At the northeast corner of the plaza, the slope up to the South Service Court would be configured to form an amphitheater looking onto a performance area. The connection up to the South Service Court would be provided by a ramp and steps, and the southwest corner of the plaza would open into Filter Cell 28. Circular benches would be placed around each of the quincunx trees, and moveable chairs would also be provided. He indicated the plaza’s spaces that present a range of different characters for seating, gathering, activities, and quiet. He also indicated the lawn space above Filter Cell 28, providing an elevated view across the plaza; a railing would be placed along the edge of this overlook. He said that the spray fountains, runnel, and bioretention gardens would convey the modern use of water, while Filter Cell 28 would show the site’s historic role in water treatment. The selection of trees, including river birches, would relate to the water theme. He concluded with an aerial perspective rendering of the plaza, recreation center, elevated lawn, and the distant view to the McMillan Reservoir and the city skyline.
Mr. Jester presented the proposed treatment of Filter Cell 28, which he said involves many technical challenges. He noted that additional investigation of the cell will be needed, occurring after construction begins, and the proposed final design is therefore subject to revision. He said that two options have been developed for the public display of this cell; both would preserve the cell and provide the public with visual access. He indicated the zig-zag line where the column grid and roof of the filtration structure would be cut away. The first option would place a metal mesh screen at this line, and a bench along the plaza edge would be integrated with this screen alignment. The second option would place the metal mesh further within the remaining structure, by 1.5 column bays; the public would be able to occupy a portion of the cell structure’s floor, which is slightly higher than the plaza level, requiring safety railings and two short ramps. Benches would again be placed along the zig-zag line, adjusted for the ramp locations. With either option, a few exposed concrete columns are intended to remain beyond the edge of the cutaway, located in the plaza near the southern quincunx of trees, as established through the historic preservation review process; however, the condition of these columns has not been fully evaluated, and if the historic columns cannot remain then they would be replaced by new columns of varying heights at the same locations, forming part of an activity and performance area. He noted that the metal mesh is intended to allow visibility and ventilation into the grid of filter cells, while preventing people from entering the area; he said it would resemble the metal mesh screens at the Finnish embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, NW.
Mr. Fisher presented the design of the project’s recreation areas, which include the two-acre flat lawn to the west and a half-acre area on the north side of the site, immediately west of the community center, comprised of a playground and a paved terrace. He noted that the lawn and terrace would be at the same level, approximately fifteen feet above the plaza, while the playground would be set five feet lower than the lawn and terrace. The terrace and all of the connecting ramps would be paved with cast-in-place concrete, matching the plaza paving. The playground would have a resilient play surface that is brightly colored, designed to represent water and sand berms in reference to the site’s history of sand filtration; the varied play areas are inspired by this theme, with the details still being developed with the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. The terrace would have moveable furniture and lighting to accommodate evening as well as daytime use; some seating would be oriented for the view overlooking the playground. Shade sails would be incorporated into the playground design, blocking views where needed. The staggered rows of trees on the terrace would be American lindens; at the edge of the playground, honey locust trees would provide additional shade and visual screening. The connecting ramps would provide the opportunity for interpretive graphics and information on the site’s history.
Mr. Fisher described the proposed treatment of the South Service Court. A single-lane vehicular loop with parallel parking would extend from First Street to the community center entrance; pedestrian access would continue east to North Capitol Street through a series of steps and switchback ramps, but a vehicular connection would not be provided. In the wide median, the historic sand filtration structures, including cylindrical sand towers, would be restored, and they would be protected from vehicles by fixed site furnishings, including bollards. Surface runnels would be integrated into the pedestrian spaces and ramps, collecting surface runoff and conveying it down to the plaza. The historic walls with arched portals would remain along the sides of the service court; one of these portals would be used for access to the community center’s entrance. Plantings along the South Service Court would include small trees at the edges and along the median, influenced by the historic landscape design but using native species; the small size would provide shade while not excessively blocking views of the historic structures. At the east and west ends, larger trees would be provided at the pedestrian gathering areas, including red oaks and Kentucky coffee trees as in Olmsted’s original design.
Mr. Jester concluded the presentation with an aerial perspective of the entire site, and Vice Chairman Meyer invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Ms. Griffin asked for clarification of the connections between the plaza, community center, and playground. Mr. Jester responded that the community center would not be directly accessible from the plaza; the entrance would be at the building’s upper level, reached from the South Service Court. He emphasized that the proposed system of ramps and walkways has been refined to provide convenient connections from the plaza up to the playground and the community center entrance, noting that the programming of the building was established by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. Ms. Meyer asked if the ramps would lead to an additional entrance on the west side of the building; Mr. Jester clarified that the only public entrance point would be on the north. Between the historic portal of the South Service Court wall and the new building entrance, people would have access west toward the playground and access to the plaza, via steps and ramps descending from the South Court. Ms. Griffith asked about seating along the berm edges of the plaza; Mr. Rhodeside said that wood seating would be incorporated into the oversized stepped edges of the amphitheater area at the northeast and southeast corners of the plaza. Ms. Griffin asked for clarification of the areas described as having a bioretention purpose. Mr. Harwell said that this refers to the rectangular areas at the grade of the plaza; these would be connected to each other and to the settling basin with underground pipes. He emphasized that they would serve as garden spaces within the plaza, as well as having a bioretention role. He noted that the previous design had been criticized for having a completely different character in the northern and southern halves of the plaza; the current design uses the bioretention areas to unify the plaza, while also relating it to the theme of water management. He added that the corners along the perimeter berm are intended to be comfortable areas that could be used for informal programming, serving to further unify the plaza, and the water theme extends to the plaza’s relationship to Filter Cell 28.
Mr. Krieger offered several comments before departing the meeting. He described the project as extraordinary, with many fine features, while acknowledging that many details apparently remain to be resolved. He said that he would support moving the project forward, with the hope that it will be built soon. He observed that the large plaza would be a popular place for people to occupy, and the lack of a direct connection between the plaza and the community center is problematic; he said that the design of the community center lends itself to a lower-level entrance, and he expressed hope that creating such an entrance could be achieved. Another concern is the potentially excessive use of concrete, extending to the many low walls and retaining walls in the project. He observed that the drawings show full-grown plantings, but in the initial years the concrete will have a more prominent appearance; he suggested that the design team continue to study whether some of these walls could be lower. He questioned why stepped retaining walls are proposed where the perimeter berm would be interrupted for the entry along North Capitol Street; he suggested that the sloped profile of the berm could just turn perpendicular to form the sides of the entry passage, as in other locations where the berm turns a corner. He noted that this treatment would allow continuation of the groundcover along the berm’s slope, rather than introducing terraced planters. He summarized that none of these concerns would cause him to oppose moving the project forward. He acknowledged the extensive work in designing and presenting the project, which he said would not only benefit local residents but also serve as an important project for the nation.
(At this point, Mr. Krieger departed for the remainder of the meeting.)
Mr. McCrery asked if the limitation to a single entrance for the community center is a requirement of the client; Mr. Jester confirmed that the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation requires that the building can be staffed by one person at the lobby security desk, which needs to have a sightline to the entrance. Mr. McCrery commented that the resulting configuration with an upper-level north entrance is unfortunate because the building is most impressive when its two-story height is seen from the south and east. He said that the presentation conveyed the dramatic character of the design, but the entrance location does not support this. He added that the pedestrian access from the project’s main plaza up to the building entrance is convoluted. Mr. Jester clarified that multiple access routes could be used to reach the South Service Court and the community center, but Mr. McCrery observed that the plaza is particularly important because its approach from North Capitol Street would be defined by a dramatic, welcoming opening in the berm spanned by a pedestrian bridge.
Ms. Griffin agreed that the separation of the community center entrance from the plaza seems counter-intuitive. She also observed that the east and west sides of the building have the most glazing and would seem to be likely places for the building entrance, rather than going through a portal within the historic wall of the South Service Drive in order to proceed further to the entrance. She suggested consideration of rotating the building’s plan by ninety degrees, at least as an exercise to reevaluate the layout. She said that the entry sequence as proposed seems somewhat constrained and is not oriented to the site’s gathering places; she noted that several Commission members have expressed concern with this issue. Mr. Jester acknowledged the issue and offered to work further with D.C. officials on the possibility of changing the lower-level south egress door to a general public entrance. He added that the exposure of the indoor pool to the plaza level is an important feature of the design; Ms. Griffin observed that this relationship could remain if the building’s plan were rotated, and some of the service spaces not requiring windows would then be located along the tall historic wall; she acknowledged that some reconfiguration of the interior spaces may be needed. She added that rotating the plan would allow also for an east-west interior circulation spine that would connect the stairs to the plaza on the east with the playground on the west, linking popular areas better than the proposed north-south spine. Mr. Stucker explained that this building is being categorized as a community center rather than an aquatic center, which would have different programmatic area requirements. He said that the proposed layout has been developed through extensive consideration of the program, safety, security, and community requests, such as the relationship of the building to the playground.
Ms. Meyer offered additional comments on how the design of the community center relates to the concern with safety and security. She observed that the plaza would be largely separated from the nearby streets by the historic berm, and the sense of safety in the plaza would be enhanced by encouraging more people to occupy the plaza, which would be achieved by placing the community center’s entrance at this level. She said that using security and efficient staffing as the justification for the building’s awkward layout may be short-sighted, because having only an upper-level entrance may result in needing additional security people to ensure safety on the plaza. She acknowledged the difficulty of considering an extensive redesign at this late stage in the process, but she said that the problems with the clarity of the building also have an impact on the quality of the adjacent outdoor public space.
Ms. Meyer acknowledged the merits and trade-offs of different design approaches in treating the opening within the berm for the plaza entry. She said that other geometric issues appear to be less carefully considered, such as how the edge of Filter Cell 28 would meet the stepped edge of the plaza, which she described as an important detail that was not presented and may yet to be resolved. Similarly, on the north side, the ramps and community center would meet the historic wall along the South Service Drive, but this important convergence was not described. She added that these areas of new and old elements coming together are as important as the interruption in the berm that has been the focus of extensive design consideration. She agreed with the concern that the entry passage would look uncomfortable, with an excess of concrete walls flanking the entry passage; she suggested consideration of structural soil and geo-engineered fabric to achieve a steep slope, which could be planted with something other than grass, as an alternative to the hard, terraced concrete edges that were presented. She cited the example of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, with an extremely steep berm between the park and a highway; the engineering of this berm has resulted in successful plant growth.
Ms. Meyer expressed appreciation for the alternatives that were presented for the benches around the quincunx trees in the plaza. She said that the circular benches should be selected to avoid constraining the trees as they grow. She acknowledged the tradeoffs between an elegant, open design and the potential for trapping litter beneath the benches. She observed that the heavier-looking bench is illustrated from a low vantage point, and it may not seem as heavy-looking when seen from a standard eye level; she also encouraged exploring other design options for the benches if the presented off-the-shelf products are not suitable.
Ms. Griffin suggested that not all of the benches need to completely encircle a tree, and not all of the trees need to have benches. She also suggested integrating the layout of trees and benches with the bioretention gardens rather than designing the plaza as a series of concentric zones; she said that a more efficient layout would allow for more focus on designing a well-functioning central space instead of a multiplicity of narrow spaces. Ms. Meyer supported these comments, adding that consolidation of the spaces could allow for improved dimensions, healthier growing conditions for the trees, and a continuity of materials for the benches. Ms. Griffin said that the consolidation could also allow for seating that faces the spray fountains. She said the overall organization could be simplified to a central space framed by berms on the north, east, and south, and the community center and Filter Cell 28 on the west; she suggested that the berms and the water features could be more closely related. Ms. Meyer suggested that the trees could actually be placed within the bioretention gardens.
Mr. Rhodeside offered to explore these comments further. He noted that his firm began its involvement in the project six months ago, and the initial concern in studying the previous design was that the plaza would be excessively hot due to the extensive paving; the design revisions have therefore focused on breaking up the paving by introducing more planted areas, with more trees to provide shade. He acknowledged that the resulting design may be too subdivided, and the strength may come from focusing on the central space with the quincunxes and spray fountains. He said that a revision was considered to place the bioretention gardens along the base of the berms, allowing for consolidation of the tree areas, perhaps with short bridges to provide access to the seating along the berm slopes; he offered to revisit this idea. Ms. Meyer supported this further study, and she said that Ms. Griffin’s comments could lead to a design that feels more spacious. She noted that these adjustments wouldn’t necessarily be difficult to implement, and they could greatly improve the quality of the space. She also supported Ms. Griffin’s suggestion to eliminate the circular benches; moveable seating could be provided for the center of the space, in conjunction with the fixed seating along the stepped edges of the berms. Mr. McCrery said that the consolidation of plaza elements could result in a larger total area for bioretention extending along the outer edges of the plaza.
Ms. Meyer expressed support for the proposed use of multiple tree species along Olmsted Walk, but she said that the logic of the illustrated groupings for the different species is not apparent. She noted that they have different branching patterns and bloom at different times of year, and these characteristics should be carefully considered in relation to the other trees and the lower plantings along the berms, rather than the seemingly random sequencing that is proposed. She cited the potential beauty of a pattern or syncopated rhythm in the alternation of tree species compared to the relentlessly repetitive geometry of the sand filtration infrastructure. She also supported the idea of combining lindens and honey locusts in the vicinity of the playground, commenting that their strongly contrasting characteristics would add visual interest. However, she said that linden trees tend to attract bees and may be a poor choice at a playground; she suggested using catalpa, which has a similar leaf pattern but is less attractive to bees. Mr. Rhodeside agreed to study this issue further.
Ms. Griffin questioned the proposal to place exercise equipment along Olmsted Walk, commenting that the narrow path could become obstructed because people tend to gather around the equipment. She suggested careful attention to placing the exercise equipment where it would not lead to obstruction of circulation.
Ms. Griffin suggested a consensus to support the concept for the site design but perhaps not for the community center building. Vice Chairman Meyer clarified that the entire project is submitted as a final design; Mr. Luebke noted that the concept was approved in 2016. Ms. Griffin expressed surprise that the building is being considered as a final design, noting that its architectural character has not been discussed. Mr. McCrery questioned how such a complex project could be considered for final approval after only two reviews. Ms. Griffin agreed that the project presents a lot of issues to be considered, and she noted that a full discussion of the architecture could be problematic with two cases still remaining on today’s agenda.
Vice Chairman Meyer noted that the project has been delayed by issues unrelated to the design process, such as legal challenges. Acknowledging the large scope of the proposal and the importance of the site’s historic resources, she emphasized her enthusiasm for the approach of adapting the century-old urban water infrastructure to a design based on modern conceptualizations of water. She said that the Commission sometimes approves a final design proposal while offering recommendations for further refinement and resolution of details, to be reviewed in a follow-up submission; she suggested that the Commission members consider this response and provide specific comments on the building architecture.
Ms. Griffin said that the location and massing of the community center appear reasonable, and its appearance is satisfactory in the distant views that were presented. But she said that the use of louvers and panels was discussed only briefly in the presentation, and the design character of the building is not sufficiently clear to support its approval as a final design. Mr. McCrery commented that the presentation focused on landscape architecture and site design, not the building architecture. Ms. Griffin noted her own involvement in planning for the McMillan Sand Filtration Site over the past decades; she described it as an extraordinary site and emphasized her desire to move the project forward, expressing regret that the Commission members are not able to meet in Washington and visit the site in conjunction with today’s review. She said that the vast scale of the site is impressive, and it has an exquisite visual character. She expressed willingness to support the site planning and landscape proposal with the comments provided, but said that the architectural proposal has not been sufficiently conveyed. Mr. McCrery offered a motion for the Commission approve the components described by Ms. Griffin, including the location of the building, while withholding approval of the building’s design until it is more fully presented and the issues raised by the Commission have been addressed. Vice Chairman Meyer supported this guidance as appropriate for the submission, and Ms. Griffin seconded Mr. McCrery’s motion.
Mr. Luebke noted the Commission’s numerous comments on refining the site components; Vice Chairman Meyer said that these should be part of the action and should be considered by the design team while avoiding further delay to the project. She agreed with Ms. Griffin that some of the presented building elevations appear to be only schematic, and additional information about the building’s materials should also be submitted. She noted that presentation drawings intended for projection on a large screen may not work well when the review is conducted through the small screens of home computers in the video conference format, and she encouraged a follow-up presentation that shows the building design in greater detail. Ms. Griffin added that the north facade was poorly presented because the perspective rendering includes the historic wall along the South Service Drive, blocking most of the view toward the building; she suggested including a drawing that only ghosts in this wall, allowing the building’s north facade to be more fully illustrated. She said that the building’s context has been conveyed well, but the building itself is only presented in the distant background of several of the perspective views. She encouraged the preparation of more carefully configured perspectives, in conjunction with the elevation and drawings and additional information about the choice of materials and how they are used on the building.
Mr. Jester said that the presentation would normally include a set of material samples for inspection by the Commission members, but this is not possible due to the video conference format of today’s meeting. He also noted that the Commission approved the massing and layout of the building in 2016, and the design team has been moving forward with this approved concept. He offered to provide the additional documentation of the design that the Commission is requesting, but he expressed concern that the design team is being asked to reconsider the building’s concept. Vice Chairman Meyer provided assurance that the Commission continues to support the concept, while reiterating that the architecture has not been developed or presented in sufficient detail. She offered the additional example of the relationship of the building’s south end to the nearby edge of Filter Cell 28; this area is illustrated in a perspective rendering, but the view of the building is presented as a backdrop instead of showing in more detail how its facade relates to the adjacent ramp.
Mr. McCrery said that his motion would be the appropriate response to the submission, and he agreed that the Commission’s comments on the site elements should be included as part of the action; Mr. Luebke agreed that this action would be feasible, noting that this project’s concept approval dates from nearly four years ago. Vice Chairman Meyer summarized the motion to approve the site and landscape proposal as a final design, subject to the comments provided, while requesting a further submission of the building design; the Commission adopted this action.
Ms. Meyer noted that the redevelopment of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site is a large-scale project, and her own involvement with it dates back to the early 1990s; she said that the Commission’s response to the architectural proposal would not cause undue delay or excessive added work for the design team. She emphasized her enthusiasm for the project for this unique site; in addition to supporting the community goals, the Commission’s role includes stewardship of the site’s important resources in the history of urban water infrastructure.
G. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
1. SL 20-153, 280 12th Street, SW. New 11-story hotel building. Concept. (Previous: SL 20-112, April 2020) Secretary Luebke introduced the second submission of a concept design for a hotel building to be located on a vacant lot at 280 12th Street, SW. He said that in April 2020, the Commission had reviewed an initial design for a 13-story hotel on this site; the Commission did not take an action, instead recommending that the building should be conceived as a background structure within the broader monumental setting of the National Mall. The Commission members had recommended changes to the building’s height, form, character, and materials to make it compatible with its context of masonry institutional and government buildings; most importantly, they had advised reducing the height to match the height of adjacent buildings, particularly the Department of Agriculture South Building. They had also requested greater regularity in the plans and in the massing and the use of masonry instead of thin cementitious panels as the exterior material. In response, the applicant has returned with a new concept design that is two stories lower, although he noted that in renderings the new hotel still appears significantly higher than the Agriculture South Building. He said the building footprint still occupies an irregular trapezoid, a shape necessitated by site constraints, including a Metro access drive for maintenance vehicles; the facades have been redesigned to have a slightly more traditional character; the cementitious panels have been replaced with an unspecified type of stone; and the large structural truss system is no longer expressed on the facade. Other exterior elements include gray metal windows and a storefront system. He said the site development includes the relocation of the service drive further south. He asked Aria Mehrabi of Pacific Star Capital, the owner of the development parcel, to begin the presentation
Mr. Mehrabi said the project team has worked with the Commission staff to address the comments from the previous review, focusing on three main points: reducing the building to a height of approximately 110 feet, similar to the height of a corner tower at the Agriculture South Building; treating the hotel as a background building to the Mall; and changes to the facade, including the use of stone and concealment of the truss system. He introduced architect Bahram Kamali of BBGM and landscape architect David Lesiuk of LD7 studio to present the design.
Mr. Lesiuk described the small public park of 4,000 square feet that is now proposed on the north side of the site, replacing the previously proposed driveway and parking spaces that have been relocated; he said that a small park is a needed amenity for this area, which lacks many outdoor gathering places, and a pedestrian walk through the park would establish a connection with the Mall. He said that he has taken inspiration from the work of landscape architect Dan Kiley, using Kiley’s vocabulary of clean lines and a simple materials palette incorporating hardscape, rain gardens, and water features. The hardscape is designed to continue the building’s architecture, using similar masonry materials and extending lines from the facade onto the ground plane; stone benches would be made of the same stone used on the hotel and for the paving. Fountains and a bosque of trees interspersed with patches of turf would occupy much of the ground plane. Vertical elements include a large hedge to help screen the park from the adjacent 12th Street expressway, and a green “living wall” on the south, near the hotel building, to screen the view of the Metro access drive; the wall would also serve as a backdrop to the park as seen from the north along 12th Street, with its plantings treated as a work of art.
Mr. Kamali then described the changes made from the initial concept submission to create an essentially new design. He said the elimination of two stories has significantly reduced the height to make the building more compatible with its surroundings. The material had been changed from cementitious panels to manufactured stone panels, similar to adjacent buildings; the truss system, formerly exposed, would now be hidden behind the south facade. He said that the facades relate to the design vocabulary of neighboring buildings, which include both neoclassical and massive Modernist structures, incorporating such elements as vertical pilasters to demarcate bay divisions. He presented the floorplans, indicating the large hotel lobby on the ground floor, the access shaft opening for the Metro vault at the rear, the meeting rooms and other common spaces on the second floor, and the typical plans for guest rooms on the upper floors.
Ms. Meyer began the discussion by expressing appreciation for the value that the project will provide to the public realm through the creation of the new park. Noting that she had known Dan Kiley and has written about his work, she commented that the park design needs additional refinement. She said that Kiley’s medium had been space-making, more than just paving or trees, and a Modernist landscape based on geometry must ensure the geometries are precise and subtle in order to create a great space. She encouraged the team to clarify the form of the bosque; the trees should be separated from the hedge and spaced evenly on the plaza, perhaps with a clearing around the fountain at the center, to create a shaded space that will be comfortable to occupy in the summer. She said this refinement would also allow the hedge to perform its own specific function of defining the east side of the site along the expressway. She summarized that such changes will result in a small but welcoming pocket park.
Mr. McCrery asked the staff which adjacent buildings were taken as a height datum for the new hotel. Ms. Batcheler responded that the comparison is to the Agriculture South Building; according to the General Services Administration (GSA), which manages the building, its cornice height is 75 feet and the total building height is 100 feet. Secretary Luebke added that the comparison of the proposed hotel and the Agriculture South Building provided in the presentation is not quite accurate. Indicating a penthouse tower on the corner of the Agriculture South Building, Mr. McCrery observed that, in zoning parlance, this would be considered an “appurtenance” and would not contribute to determining the overall height of the building; it should therefore not be used when calculating the height of the hotel. Instead, the comparison height should be established by the height of the cornice line at the midpoint of the Agriculture South Building’s roof.
Mr. McCrery asked for further description of the stone proposed for the facades. Mr. Kamali responded that it would be a limestone of the same color as the stone used on surrounding buildings; these manufactured stone panels would be approximately half or three-quarters of an inch thick. Mr. Luebke noted that the project team is proposing to employ a technology commonly used for providing elevator walls with a stone finish, which involves adhering stone veneer to an aluminum backing; he said there is some question about whether this is an appropriate technique for an exterior material. Mr. McCrery said that both he and Mr. Stroik work with limestone in their own architectural practices, and he questioned whether this exterior application would succeed. Mr. Kamali emphasized that it is suitable for exterior use. Mr. McCrery referred to the numerous large buildings in Washington with inventive exterior stone screen assemblies that have had to be replaced at least once, including the National Air and Space Museum, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum, whose precast concrete panels are failing; he noted that such work incurs a huge expense.
Ms. Griffin said she supports the comments provided by Ms. Meyer and agrees that the redesigned hotel would make a positive contribution to its neighborhood. She said that reducing the height has helped the design considerably, adding that she is pleased with the addition of the small park. She expressed support for making hotel’s height more similar to that of adjacent buildings, a change that will allow it to be situated within the neighborhood’s architectural vocabulary. She emphasized the significance of vistas from the Mall, which will likely not be obstructed by any future construction. However, she said that a hotel building also needs to have an identity; it should not resemble an office building but should be distinguished by its own distinctive personality. She cited the improvement of the proposed south facade, where the treatment of the area screening the truss is more compatible with the standard design vocabulary of the facade but adds an asymmetry that gives it character. She suggested creating a similarly distinctive treatment on the north facade, the side of the building that will be visible on the approach along 12th Street from the Mall; she said that such a treatment might include extending and enlarging the corner rooms, which would offer the best views and could command a higher price. She summarized that varying the standard facade articulation could distinguish the hotel within the neighborhood vernacular. Finally, she observed that some renderings show the overhang of the hotel’s cornice as heavy and oppressive; she suggested further studies of its thickness and articulation.
Mr. McCrery asked if the heating and cooling system would require penetrations of the facade for each individual room system, or whether a central distribution system would be used. Mr. Kamali responded that a central variable refrigerant flow system would supply air to each room; this system was selected because of the building’s height restriction. Mr. McCrery asked what signage is intended; Mr. Kamali said that signs have not yet been designed, but they will be based on the standard for the hotel brand, and will include a sign on the south facade’s canopy and a plaque on the main door.
Mr. Stroik observed that the north and south facades are divided into several double-window bays of almost equal width, plus a narrower bay at the east end of the south facade. He asked if other options had been considered, such as making the bays identical, or treating the narrow bay as a return extending up through the cornice. Alternatively, he said, the large area of glazing in front of the truss structure could be extended, perhaps to encompass the lower floors across the entire south facade to create a more symmetrical design. Mr. Kamali answered that these options have been studied, but the shear wall on the end requires more solidity. The project team examined different proportions for the glazing, such as extending it up another floor, but found these proportions did not look correct with the lower building height. He added that all five double-window bay modules on the south facade are intended to be the same width, and the pilasters can be made to appear identical; only the sixth bay, on the corner, would be different, with a larger room taking advantage of this different condition. Mr. Stroik commented that the most important side of the hotel will be the north facade, which will face the Mall.
Mr. McCrery acknowledged that the height has been reduced from the absolute maximum allowed under zoning as shown in the previous presentation; however, he noted that the Commission had asked that the height be reduced to match the height of the Agriculture South Building. He asked clarification of how that height was evaluated, and why the currently proposed building height apparently splits the difference; Mr. Kamali responded that the project team had thought the height of the initial design had been appropriate for this neighborhood, and does not believe all the buildings in the area have to be the same height. Referring to the Southwest Ecodistrict study from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), prepared in consultation with the Commission of Fine Arts, he said this document had recommended a height of 130 feet for this area. He indicated a context section drawing in the presentation that compares the proposed hotel to nearby buildings of varying heights, and he said this drawing demonstrates that the hotel would fit within these variations.
Ms. Meyer identified the primary design issue as one of hierarchy, with the reality that this hotel building, unlike many other buildings in the Southwest Ecodistrict, would be visible from the Mall. She acknowledged Mr. Kamali’s reference to the NCPC analysis of the larger district, which shows a modulation in height, but she emphasized that most of these buildings would not be so prominent within such important viewsheds.
Mr. McCrery suggested that the long section drawings, along with other studies in the presentation, have been carefully selected to justify the new hotel building at a maximum height. He said the first presentation had been much more accurate and transparent about this issue, and had shown the actual proposed height of the building. He said the perspective view from the Mall was taken from a specific vantage point and depicts a condition that would only briefly be visible to pedestrians approaching the site; the hotel would become increasingly prominent as one gets closer to it. He emphasized that the proposed hotel would not be a background building but would be seen as a freestanding object surrounded by a tremendous amount of space on all four sides; additionally, with the proposed height, it would not fit into its background, notwithstanding the compatibility suggested by one particular perspective view. He said he is not persuaded that the proposed height would result in anything other than a building too tall for its context.
Vice Chairman Meyer summarized the discussion of ways the facades could be refined so that its rhythms and geometries could result in additional personality within the existing vocabulary. She noted the concern about the lack of substantial dimension in the facade stone, and a request to restudy the cornice so that it looks less like it simply sits on top but acts more like a cornice, responding to the rhythm of the bays and articulating the building’s corners. She invited additional comments.
Mr. Stroik indicated the great size of the Agriculture South Building adjacent to the proposed hotel, and he asked if there are some features of this building’s design that could be used on the new hotel to reduce its apparent height. Ms. Batcheler noted that the presented rendering of the Agriculture South Building is only approximate and not entirely accurate; for instance, the landscape foreground in the rendering is actually the paved parking lot of another Department of Agriculture Building located immediately north of the Agriculture South Building. Mr. Stroik suggested that the hotel’s facade could be stepped back near the top; he noted the long tradition in Washington architecture of using mansard roofs on hotels and other buildings to make their facades appear lower while allowing for additional space within the roof, and he suggested considering this approach. Mr. Kamali responded that it would be hard to make this work architecturally because of the very limited footprint; it had been studied with the previous taller design but resulted in rooms that would be too small. He noted that the size of the guest rooms is already at a bare minimum, and a change such as Mr. Stroik is suggesting would require sacrificing some rooms and so would not work economically.
Secretary Luebke suggested there may be ways to ways to incorporate Mr. Stroik’s advice without eliminating rooms, such as through a change in the facade plane, and he suggested a recommendation to consider how to differentiate the top of the building and to minimize the overhang so that the design looks less bulky, perhaps by using a more traditional roof form. He emphasized that the main question before the Commission is to what extent the proposed height does or does not work; he noted that the Shipstead-Luce Act allows the Commission to limit height more strictly than the height allowed by zoning regulations. He observed that most illustrations in the presentation are not accurate in their indication of the precise location of context buildings, and he emphasized that the Commission members should support what they believe is the right decision for the context rather than whether it is acceptable to the applicant. Mr. Mehrabi acknowledged that the context may not be exactly as drawn, while assuring the Commission that the design can be revised to reduce the heaviness of the cornice.
Secretary Luebke reiterated that the foreground buildings in the perspective from the Mall are actually hundreds of feet further in front of the hotel than they appear. Vice Chairman Meyer said that because of the illusion of perspectival rendering, the hotel appears to occupy a very different line or plane than the other buildings; this makes it appear to be only slightly higher than those buildings, but in reality it would be much higher. Mr. McCrery observed that the rendering is a two-dimensional image, and in reality someone would be able to understand that a building further away would actually be taller than a closer, shorter building. Mr. Kamali insisted that all the building heights are correct as shown, and were checked against readings from Google Earth. Ms. Batcheler clarified that although the heights may have been taken from Google Earth, it is not known how reliable those dimensions are, whereas the building heights quoted in this meeting come from the GSA, which manages the Agriculture South Building for the federal government.
Referring to the elevations of the hotel showing floor levels, Mr. McCrery commented that, if the cornice line of the Agriculture South Building is 75 feet above street level, the hotel could have seven floors below a cornice at this height, plus a penthouse above. He described Mr. Stroik’s suggestion that an attic level could be added above this cornice line, topped by a second cornice, as the building steps back; this could allow for additional floors above the seventh, while having a building design with a height and massing appropriate for this site. He said that achieving this result would respect the Commission’s responsibility and guidance.
Ms. Griffin summarized that the Commission has given several recommendations to the project team for ways to reduce the expression of the hotel’s height as seen from the Mall, ranging from the most extreme of lowering the building further to less extreme options for treating the upper floors and penthouse with varied manipulations. She suggested a motion to approve the revised concept design with the condition that these comments be taken into consideration. Secretary Luebke advised that any approval of the concept should include a specific dimension for the building’s height; if the concept is approved without such a number, then any later request by the Commission for a reduction in height would be difficult to sustain. Ms. Griffin said she does not want the motion to suggest that the project team is not moving in the right direction; she noted that the Commission does not know the best architectural and financial strategy to reduce the appearance of height, and she wants to offer the project team the opportunity to reexamine all these alternatives and to return with a design where the height is either literally or perceptually reduced, particularly regarding views from the Mall. Mr. McCrery agreed and suggested that a motion is not necessary. Vice Chairman Meyer asked if this would convey that there is still a lot of work to be done on massing, facades, and the site design to create a coherent concept. Mr. McCrery said this would be the intent, adding that the materials also need more study; while there has been great improvement from the initial design, there is still more to do.
Vice Chairman Meyer noted the apparent consensus that the 75-foot cornice height is an important number, although it does not mean that this building has to be only 75 feet high; rather, 75 feet should be considered an important datum, and the building can step back above that height. Secretary Luebke agreed that 75 feet is not an absolute number, but procedurally it would be best not to approve a concept where the number is left undefined. He said the staff believes there is a lot to work with in the presented design, and there are many ways it can be resolved to achieve a suitable concept design.
Vice Chairman Meyer summarized that no action would be taken, but the Commission’s comments would be sent to the project team along with encouragement that the design is moving in the right direction, and that consultation with the staff will likely result in a successful proposal.
(At this point, Ms. Griffin departed for the remainder of the meeting.)
2. SL 20-151, The Harrison Apartment Building, 704 3rd Street, NW / 333 G Street, NW. Renovate historic building and construct a 12-story hotel addition. Revised concept. (Previous: SL 20-103, April 2020, and SL 20-128, May 2020) Secretary Luebke introduced the revised concept submission for a hotel development that would incorporate a historic apartment building at 704 3rd Street, NW, to the northeast of Judiciary Square. He noted that the previous reviews of this project included options of exterior brick cladding for the new, taller construction that would adjoin the historic building. The initial submission, from January 2020, proposed a combination of off-white and dark gray brick, which the Commission found was too sharply contrasting. The next color option, reviewed in April 2020, proposed a medium-tone brown brick for the entire height of the new facades; the Commission commented that the effect was too monochromatic, requesting a revised submission with more variation in the color. The current submission provides four options for the brick, including the design from April, which remains the preference of the design team. He asked Gene Weissman of Architecture, Inc., to present the exterior options.
Mr. Weissman presented renderings from the Commission’s two previous reviews for reference. In the current proposal, Options 1 and 2 use a single type of brick for the new construction, while Options 3 and 4 would each combine two colors; he said that a monotone building would have an elegant character, notwithstanding the Commission’s guidance to pursue contrasting colors for the lower and upper floors. Option 1 uses a light-colored brick that he described as warm taupe, similar to the color of limestone; he said that this selection is slightly darker than the light-colored brick that was presented in January, and it would relate to the color of some nearby buildings. Option 2 uses a red brick that he said is less brown than the brick that was reviewed in April, following guidance from the staff; this selection would relate more closely to the historic apartment building while still providing a slight contrast. Option 3 uses this red brick for most of the new construction, while the top several floors would have the brown brick that was reviewed in April; he said that the combination has a nice appearance, but the contrast between these two brick colors is not strong and may be hard to discern from the street level. Option 4 again uses red brick for most of the new construction, while the top several floors would have the light-colored brick seen in Option 1; he described this as a pleasing solution with a clean appearance, but he observed that this combination is seen on many other buildings in the immediate neighborhood and elsewhere in Washington.
Mr. Stroik asked how the base of the building would be treated; Mr. Weissman responded that the brick from the floors above would continue down to the sidewalk on the narrow ground-floor piers, except for a special treatment at the hotel’s main entrance along G Street. Mr. Stroik said that additions to historic buildings are sometimes designed with brick of the same color, but differing in texture, size, or the treatment of joints; he asked if this approach has been considered for the new hotel construction, using a red-orange color matching the historic apartment building. Mr. Weissman responded that an early idea was to use brick of a similar color but different in size, but the guidance from the review process was to match the size of the historic brick of the apartment building. He said that differentiating the color from the historic building is intentional; by comparison, the Massachusetts Court apartment complex on the north side of the block uses a brick color that closely resembles the historic facades that are incorporated into the building, which he said has the effect of hiding the historic facades. Ms. Meyer said that she often walks by this building, and she agreed that the historic facades are overwhelmed and lose their identity in the new construction.
Mr. McCrery expressed support for the design team’s conclusion that a single brick color would be preferable; he said that Options 1 and 2 are much more powerful than Options 3 and 4. He observed that the massing of the proposed new construction has been sculpted to create a three-dimensional building, and the overall effect would be diminished by peeling apart the components and assigning different colors to them. He said that in Options 3 and 4, the varied roofline of the bays would be highlighted to give the effect of enormous dentils rising from the building mass, in combination with other design gestures, and the result would not work well as a built form. He suggested consideration of a monochromatic treatment that uses the brick shown for the upper stories in Option 3. Mr. Weissman clarified that this is the brick shown in the monochromatic design seen by the Commission in April; he noted a summary slide that gives the project owner’s ranked preferences among the four currently submitted options, along with the two previously submitted configurations, and he said that the alternative suggested by Mr. McCrery is shown as the second choice in this list.
Ms. Meyer agreed with Mr. McCrery that a monochromatic treatment would be best. She expressed support for the lighter color of Option 1, observing that the color is similar to that of other buildings around the periphery of Judiciary Square, such as the Government Accountability Office to the west along G Street, allowing the National Building Museum (the historic Pension Building) to stand out as a jewel made of red brick in the center of this complex. Mr. McCrery agreed that the color contrast of the context is effective in emphasizing the National Building Museum, and Mr. Luebke noted that the lighter-colored treatment is fairly consistent for the entirety of the building frame around Judiciary Square. He said that the staff supports the lighter color shown in Option 1, although in previous reviews the Commission has encouraged study of darker colors.
Vice Chairman Meyer suggested a consensus to support Option 1, which is also ranked first among the owner’s preferences. Mr. Stroik joined in supporting a monochromatic treatment, rather than using a contrasting color to highlight the step-backs near the top of the building. He observed that the use of a red-tone brick appears to be unsuccessful at the base of the building when seen in the perspective view along 4th Street, within the context of other buildings to the north along the block. Mr. Weissman noted that the challenge along 4th Street is to relate the new hotel to the Massachusetts Court complex of comparable scale at the north end of the block, and also to the immediately adjacent low-rise building of the Fraternal Order of Police, which he noted has a street facade of limestone but a side facade of red brick that is visible along the alley.
Mr. McCrery asked for clarification of whether the facades would include other materials, such as stucco, at the step-backs. Mr. Weissman responded that brick would be the primary facade material for the full height of the building; the exception would be metal panels for the penthouse enclosure, which has been consistent throughout the review process. Mr. Stroik asked about the use of cast stone; Mr. Weissman confirmed that precast concrete would be used for the window sills.
Vice Chairman Meyer offered a motion to approve Option 1; she observed that the material samples displayed by Mr. Luebke and by Mr. Weissman have a similar appearance on the computer screen, which provides some assurance that the color is being conveyed accurately to the Commission. Upon a second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the monochromatic light-colored brick shown in Option 1.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 3:19 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA