The meeting was convened by video conference at 9:01 a.m.
Hon. Justin Shubow, Chairman
Hon. Rodney Mims Cook, Jr., Vice Chairman
Hon. Chas Fagan
Hon. Perry Guillot
Hon. James McCrery
Hon. Steven Spandle
Hon. Duncan Stroik
Thomas E. Luebke, Secretary
Frederick J. Lindstrom, Assistant Secretary
A. Administration of oath of office to Rodney Mims Cook, Jr., Chas Fagan, Perry Guillot, and Steven W. Spandle. Secretary Luebke introduced the four new members who were appointed by President Trump on 12 January 2021 to four-year terms on the Commission, and he administered the oath of office to them. He summarized Mr. Cook’s work as the founder and president of the National Monuments Foundation, which created the Millennium Gate Museum in Atlanta; as designer of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation Gallery of Art in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York; and as an advisor to the commission that is creating a memorial honoring John and John Quincy Adams and their families. Mr. Luebke described Mr. Fagan’s work as a painter and sculptor, with a focus on historic events and political figures; his works range from landscapes and still lifes to portraits, including the official portrait of Barbara Bush, a monumental statue of Lyndon B. Johnson in Houston, a statue of Rev. Billy Graham for Statuary Hall, and several statues of Ronald Reagan for locations that include the U.S. Capitol rotunda. Mr. Luebke summarized Mr. Guillot’s landscape architecture practice based in Southampton, New York, with a wide range of landscape design commissions for private clients and historic properties; recently completed projects include renovation of the Rose Garden and Children’s Garden at the White House, and in 2009 he received the Arthur Ross award from the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. Mr. Luebke said that Mr. Spandle’s architectural practice is based in the New York area, with a focus on classical architecture and the decorative arts; he designed the recently completed tennis pavilion on the grounds of the White House.
Mr. Luebke welcomed the new members to the Commission. He noted that these appointments mark the end of service on the Commission for Earl Powell, Elizabeth Meyer, Toni Griffin, and Alex Krieger, and he expressed appreciation for their expertise and dedication.
B. Election of a new chairman and vice chairman. Secretary Luebke asked the Commission to select members for leadership positions to replace Chairman Powell and Vice Chairman Meyer. Mr. Stroik nominated Mr. Shubow as chairman and Mr. Cook as vice chairman. Upon a second by Mr. McCrery, and with no other nominations proposed, the Commission voted unanimously to make these appointments. Mr. Luebke noted that Mr. Shubow becomes the 11th chairman since the Commission’s establishment in 1910.
Chairman Shubow expressed appreciation for the appointment and acknowledged the accomplishments of the Commission’s previous chairmen. He also noted the attack two weeks earlier on the U.S. Capitol, which has been widely described as the desecration of the nation’s temple of democracy. He said that the reference to a temple has deep roots in U.S. history, with Thomas Jefferson describing the Capitol as the first temple dedicated to the sovereignty of the people. The descriptions demonstrate the importance of design in Washington, and he emphasized the responsibility of the Commission members to continue fostering the design tradition that is a crucial symbol of our democracy.
C. Approval of the minutes of the 19 November meeting. Secretary Luebke reported that the minutes of the November meeting were circulated to the Commission members in advance. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Stroik, the Commission approved the minutes. Mr. Luebke said the minutes will be posted on the Commission’s website.
D. Dates of next meetings. Secretary Luebke presented the dates for upcoming Commission meetings, as previously published: 18 February, 18 March, and 15 April 2021. He noted that the video conference format for public meetings will continue for the foreseeable future; the timing cannot yet be predicted for a return to in-person meetings.
E. Confirmation of the approval of the recommendations for the December 2020 Old Georgetown Act submissions. Secretary Luebke asked the Commission to take a formal vote to confirm the Old Georgetown Board recommendations that were circulated and endorsed in December, when no Commission meeting was held. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery with second by Mr. Stroik, the Commission confirmed its approval.
II. Submissions and Reviews
Secretary 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 reported that no changes have been made to the draft appendix, which has 13 projects. Upon a motion by Mr. Stroik with second by Mr. Spandle, the Commission approved the Government Submissions Consent Calendar.
Appendix II – Shipstead-Luce Act Submissions: Ms. Batcheler said that one project from the draft appendix has been withdrawn at the request of the applicant (case number SL 21-055). Other revisions are minor wording changes and the notation of dates for the receipt of supplemental materials. The recommendations for six projects are subject to further coordination with the applicants, and she requested authorization to finalize these recommendations when the outstanding issues are resolved. Upon a motion by Mr. Stroik with second by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the revised Shipstead-Luce Act Appendix. (See agenda items II.F for an additional Shipstead-Luce Act submission.)
Appendix III – Old Georgetown Act Submissions: Ms. Stevenson reported that the appendix has 17 projects. The only change from the draft appendix is to update the recommendations for two projects to note the receipt of supplemental materials. Upon a motion by Mr. McCrery, the Commission approved the revised Old Georgetown Act Appendix.
B. National Park Service
CFA 21/JAN/21-1, World War II Memorial, West Potomac Park, 17th Street and Independence Avenue, SW. Install plaque with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's D-Day Prayer. Revised concept. (Previous: CFA 15/JUN/17-1) Secretary Luebke introduced the revised concept design for adding the Franklin D. Roosevelt D-Day Prayer Plaque to the World War II Memorial, forwarded by the National Park Service (NPS) in cooperation with the Friends of the National World War II Memorial. He said the Commission had first seen the proposal in November 2016, when it reviewed two alternative design concepts for the plaque as part of a larger proposal to reconfigure and renovate the memorial’s Circle of Remembrance; at that review, the Commission expressed a preference for the second option, which treated the plaque as an extension of the site’s circular geometry, and provided several recommendations for further development. In June 2017, the design team presented two alternative concepts for incorporating the plaque into the Circle of Remembrance; the Commission expressed support for Alternative B but recommended further development of both options. He said that the current submission is a further development of Alternative A, a relatively simple, symmetrical redesign of the circle that echoes the design of the World War II Memorial. As before, most of the circle’s perimeter would be formed by a series of stone benches, bracketed at the entrance points by stone piers flanking the thresholds where two paths enter the circle; between the paths, a pair of similar piers would support the bronze prayer plaque. The paths have been reduced in width, and the existing metal and wood benches would be replaced with a ring of low walls supporting cantilevered stone benches. On the plaque, the text of the prayer would be divided into three blocks in an orthogonal layout, although the title, “A Prayer for the Nation,” would follow the plaque’s curved shape. He said that other changes to the landscape design and lighting would support the effect of a quiet, secluded area. He asked Peter May, deputy director of lands and planning for the National Capital Area of the NPS, to begin the presentation.
Mr. May welcomed the new Commission members and said he looks forward to working with them on many projects, including new memorials, that the NPS will bring to the Commission in coming years. He described the prayer plaque submission as a relatively modest project, noting that in its previous review the Commission spoke favorably of both presented options. He said that the current version is a simplification of the design that is preferred by the project team; he noted that after the design receives final approval, the project could move quickly to implementation because of the successful fundraising by the Friends group. He introduced landscape architects Lisa Delplace and Kara Lanahan of Oehme, van Sweden to present the design.
Ms. Delplace said that the two options approved by the Commission in 2017 for further development included the symmetrical Alternative A, which has been chosen to develop further. She noted the additional research and the expansion of the design team in recent months to refine the design for the plaque and the Circle of Remembrance.
Ms. Lanahan summarized the historical context of the prayer. The D-Day landing of June 6, 1944, on the Normandy beaches was the largest amphibious military assault in history; it was a time of great tension and uncertainty in the U.S., but it was also a time of unprecedented national unity, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a prayer reflecting this sense of shared endeavor. On the evening of D-Day, following a morning press conference informing the country about the invasion, he delivered the prayer over the radio in somber tones; the text of the prayer had also been printed in the day’s newspapers across the country so people could follow along as the president spoke. Roosevelt handwrote an introduction across the top of his copy to explain why he had written the prayer.
Ms. Lanahan said that the design team’s development of Alternative A, the symmetrical option, has focused on two of the Commission’s comments from the previous review: reducing the amount of paving, and refining the layout of the prayer text. She indicated the proposed location of the prayer plaque within the Circle of Remembrance and the siting of the circle at the northwest edge of the World War II Memorial, along its boundary with Constitution Gardens. The plaque would be located along the circle’s perimeter to the southeast, a location that would permit people reading the plaque to lift their eyes and look directly to the central composition of the World War II Memorial. She described the existing circle, with its fieldstone wall and wooden benches, as having a more rustic design language than many other properties on the Mall, and she said that a goal of the project is to redesign the circle so that it is more compatible with the language of the World War II Memorial and a more appropriate location for the prayer.
Ms. Lanahan said the proposed design is inspired by the architectural character of the World War II Memorial; it would be symmetrical, and the materials would be bronze for the plaque and handrails, and granite for the walls, bench seats, piers, and paving. Like the central area of the memorial, the circle would operate at two scales, the monumental and the personal, as seen in the juxtaposition of the overall circle with the detailing of the plaque.
Ms. Lanahan described the proposal and the changes made since the previous presentation. The redesigned Circle of Remembrance would occupy the same footprint as the existing version in order to preserve the trees. The two paths leading to the circle have been narrowed slightly, to a width of eight feet, in order to reduce the amount of paving while remaining wide enough for people walking in opposite directions to pass each other. Paired stone piers would clearly mark the two thresholds where the entrance paths enter the circle while also terminating the new stone wall on one side and supporting the plaque on the other; the piers would refer, at a much smaller scale, to the large columns of the World War II Memorial. She said that the redesign elaborates upon the site’s circular geometry: an outer circle would be formed by a new three-foot-high granite wall with regular breaks between sections, and an inner circle would be comprised of granite seats cantilevered from the wall, which would act as a seatback. The seats would extend across the narrow breaks, and openings in the ring of seats would allow for companion seating for a person in a wheelchair next to someone on a bench. Paving would be laid in circular bands to reinforce the overall circular geometry and to recall the paving pattern of the memorial’s central area.
Ms. Lanahan said the design team has been researching different features of the proposed plaque and its inscription, such as the size and legibility of the text, and the patination of the bronze. The text can be inscribed through either casting or etching; both techniques are legible and durable, and both can produce raised and recessed lettering. The design team is recommending a darker, textured background patina with either incised or raised letters that are patinated in a lighter tone. She presented the four design goals for the layout of the prayer: it should be beautifully composed and accessible to all visitors; it should be readable from one fixed position; it should convey the solemn tone of the president’s reading; and it should allow for a visitor reading the prayer to have an undisturbed experience. She noted that the prayer was never given an official title, and so the team has chosen the descriptive title of “A Prayer for the Nation.” To set it apart from the body of the text, the title would be larger and laid in a curved line following the top edge of the plaque, reinforcing the circular geometry. The body of the text would be set orthogonally, in straight lines across the curved plaque, and divided into three separate columns, a composition that would create a good rhythm for reading. Letters would be three-eighths of an inch high, based on the limitations and requirements of casting as well as on the need for legibility. The lettering would be in a serif font to further enhance legibility, and both upper- and lower-case letters would be used, which would also convey the prayer’s cadence. Roosevelt had capitalized certain words and phrases for emphasis; the prayer would retain these capitalizations, and would also capitalize “Almighty God” at the beginning. Noting that Roosevelt signed the original typewritten copy, she said that a facsimile of his signature would be added at the end to make the prayer feel more personal.
Ms. Lanahan said the design team has been working with NPS specialists in information and accessibility to determine the height at which the plaque should be set. For comfortable reading by a person in a wheelchair, the surface should be angled at 30 to 40 degrees off the horizontal and placed at a height that allows a wheelchair to move beneath the plaque. She added that the piers supporting the plaque would rise above its surface to act as a frame and to allow for concealed lighting.
Ms. Lanahan said the landscape design is still being developed, but certain preliminary decisions have been made. Several fine existing canopy trees that create the design’s structure and provide shade would be retained, and they will help integrate the redesigned circle into the existing landscape. The plant palette would be minimal and in keeping with the palette of the monumental core. New plantings would include evergreen and white-flowering plants where possible to extend the idea of memorialization into the landscape. Existing flowering trees include Chionanthus retusus (Chinese fringe tree); the proposal is to add informal groupings of other flowering trees, such as Amelanchier (serviceberry) or large flowering shrubs to the north and west of the circle, to create visual interest and frame views of the lake in Constitution Gardens. She said that this design would harmonize with the circle’s meditative character and would screen undesirable views, such as of the service drive to the west. A border of hardy evergreen shrubs is proposed near the entrance to the circle to form a backdrop for the prayer plaque.
Ms. Lanahan introduced Scott Guenther of MCLA, an architectural lighting design firm, to present the lighting plan. Mr. Guenther said that the concept for the Circle of Remembrance is based on a study of the existing lighting at the other memorials on the west end of the Mall, including not only the World War II Memorial but also the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. He said that the goal is to create a subtle glow that will identify the circle as a visitor approaches it, while minimizing the circle’s visibility from the main area of the World War II Memorial and from Constitution Gardens, and keeping the plaque barely visible or even invisible to passers-by to enhance the privacy of the reading experience. The lighting would maintain the existing warm tone, with the focus on accenting the plaque and subtly enhancing the intimate character of the circle. Most new lighting would be integrated into other design features, avoiding the addition of new elements; some fixtures might be added to the three existing light poles, which include one near the entrance. Lights would be mounted beneath benches, where they would be concealed from view, and along the entrance paths to subtly emphasize the sense of threshold. For the plaque, he said the proposal is to light its surface by incorporating arrays of adjustable small-point lights within the supporting piers; on-site mockups would be built to ensure the light level across the plaque will be as even as possible, with minimal contrast.
Chairman Shubow thanked the design team for its presentation, and he opened the meeting to questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Stroik observed that the character of the granite circle has been well thought out, and it would recall the main area of the World War II Memorial. He asked for clarification of why this project is needed, and what its architectural relationship is to the rest of the World War II Memorial. He commented that he does not see a direct relationship, and he recommended strengthening this connection as well as the circle’s relationship to the larger landscape of the Mall; he added that the circle may not need to be a closed space.
Ms. Lanahan responded that the authorizing legislation from 2014 directed that the words of Roosevelt’s prayer should be placed on the Mall to display the unity of the United States on D-Day. By locating this text in the Circle of Remembrance, it will add to the story told by the World War II Memorial. She noted that the Circle of Remembrance had been added to the memorial’s design to provide a smaller, more intimate space where visitors can retreat for quiet contemplation. The project to add the prayer plaque is also intended to improve the relationship of the circle to the central area of the memorial by redesigning it with consistent materials so that it will clearly be a complementary, if secondary, space.
Mr. Stroik asked if the future purpose of the circle will be primarily for reading the prayer, or whether it would still serve as a contemplative space that also happens to include the prayer. Holly Rotondi, representing the Friends of the World War II Memorial, responded that the Friends group, founded by members of the American Battle Monuments Commission, has always regarded the circle as an incomplete design, appearing to belong to Constitution Gardens instead of to the World War II Memorial. She noted that during the site selection process for the plaque, both the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission had agreed that locating the prayer in the Circle of Remembrance would provide an opportunity to relate the circle’s design with the rest of the World War II Memorial, clearly establishing it as a place where visitors to the memorial can remember those who served and died in the war. Secretary Luebke clarified that in October 2015 the Commission had approved this site for the prayer plaque, with acknowledgement that there would be issues concerning the addition of this plaque to a space reserved for contemplation but agreeing it could probably be done successfully.
Mr. Cook asked if any signage is proposed in association with the plaque; Ms. Lanahan responded that the NPS plans to locate new interpretive wayside signage along the approach path. Mr. May said that in addition to waysides, the name of the prayer plaque would be included in the list of sites displayed on some of the existing directional pylons located around the Mall.
Mr. Fagan commented that he generally likes the elaboration of the circular geometry in the proposed design, which echoes the design of the World War II Memorial’s main area; other shared features include the separation of the circular wall and benches into segments and the design of the small end piers. He observed that the focus of this redesign is the prayer plaque itself, and he questioned the modest scale of the plaque and its text. He said the original proposal to replicate the appearance of Roosevelt’s actual typewritten text was very strong and would have made for a powerful reading experience. He commented that using a smaller bronze plaque to address accessibility considerations as presented could diminish the experience, because the small lettering would make it unreadable by anyone other than a person standing directly in front of the plaque; he observed that this would result in a crowded condition that is clear even in the rendering, and it would probably require people to wait in line to read the prayer. He said that the design and layout could instead enhance the experience, allowing the words to retain their power and helping people to imagine hearing the words spoken in Roosevelt’s voice. He suggested enlarging the space in front of the plaque and designing the layout so that a person can read the speech while walking along it, pausing at significant points, in order to create a sculptural experience that echoes the slow rhythm of reading. He also suggested that a more vertical layout would improve legibility, and he recommended studying whether the plaque should be widened to create more surface area for the text so it can be read for a longer period by more visitors. He expressed support for the idea of having a sightline between the prayer plaque and the main area of the World War II Memorial.
Ms. Lanahan responded that the substantial size of the proposed plaque may not be conveyed well by the presentation format—its actual length would be seven feet, and the design team has been studying it with full-scale prints. She agreed that the emphasis should be the prayer, and she said that the proposed layout is intended to allow visitors enough space and time to engage with their reading of the plaque. She compared coming to see the plaque with the experience of waiting in line at a museum to see a work of art—the line moves, and at the front, a single person or a group of people looks at the art from a single position. The experience of seeing the plaque would be similar, and she emphasized the advantage that a visitor, especially one in a wheelchair, can read the entire prayer from a single position instead of having to continuously move. She said the size of the prayer is a balance: making it large enough to convey its importance, while providing an intimate experience in reading it. She added that when the text was laid out with one-inch-high letters, the effect was overwhelming and impersonal; a text of this size would require visitors to keep walking along it without taking any pauses to read it.
Ms. Delplace emphasized that accessibility standards have been thoroughly researched, and the key consideration has been whether visitors in a wheelchair would be able to read the text without having to move or twist their body; the proposed seven-foot length for the text will allow this. She said that with a larger-scale layout, reading the plaque would require multiple vantage points, and a visitor would have to move while reading, making the experience less enjoyable.
Chairman Shubow commented that the proposed font looks ordinary and contemporary, comparable to a conventional word-processing font. He encouraged further consideration of a manual typewriter font that would underscore the personal quality of the prayer; he noted that the presentation booklet illustrated the actual typewritten page Roosevelt read from, which conveys the impression that the president had personally typed and signed the prayer. He also questioned the proposal to lay out the text orthogonally against the curve of the plaque; he suggested instead that the text lines be curved to be concentric with the curve of the plaque’s top edge.
Ms. Lanahan responded that the format is still being developed and the final selection of the font has not been made. She said using the typewriter font had been considered, but it was decided that the prayer should be a contemporary interpretation instead of a replication of the historic event. Reiterating the goal that visitors should be able to read the text comfortably without having to turn their heads, she said that a curved or radial layout was found to be less legible that an orthogonal arrangement of the prayer, which includes almost 600 words divided into fourteen stanzas. She said that a radial configuration for text is typically used for a few words at a large scale, as with a title or a poster. When the lengthy prayer text is laid out radially, each line would have a different radius, and the text would not line up vertically, resulting in the letters in successive lines having different vertical alignments; the eye has difficulty following the words in the resulting layout.
Secretary Luebke noted that the staff has similarly recommended a radial layout and does not necessarily agree that the result would be less legible when viewed from a single position; on the contrary, the text may actually be much easier to read than in the proposed orthogonal layout, which runs counter to the panel’s geometry. He suggested that both layouts be mocked up.
Referring to the site plan, Mr. McCrery commented that the circular geometry of the Circle of Remembrance raises the question of what occupies the center. He asked why the proposal is to locate the prayer plaque, which is the purpose of the design, on the perimeter of the circle; an alternative could be to locate it in the center, on a pylon facing toward the main area of the World War II Memorial. Ms. Lanahan responded that several different locations within the circle have been studied, but the center is not the most important location in this particular context, and placing the plaque in the center would obstruct the space. Mr. McCrery noted the understanding from antiquity that the essential geometric form of the circle clearly indicates that the center is its most important point. He said the design elements at the Circle of Remembrance point to its center, but the prayer would be located along the edge while the center would be nothing but empty space. He asked if this edge location would be just one among various perimeter conditions. Ms. Delplace responded that the most important consideration in determining the location of the prayer plaque has been its visual relationship to the Atlantic Arch in the World War II Memorial. Another reason is that the open space will be needed within the circle for people to gather during tours and other events; the deliberate decision is therefore to locate the plaque at the point along the perimeter that gives visitors in front of the plaque a direct view toward the main area of the World War II Memorial.
Mr. McCrery questioned the proposed paving design. He observed that the rendering depicts five different subdivisions of paving, with the outer rings divided into twenty segments and the inner circle divided into what could be read as either one, fifteen, eighteen, or twenty divisions; he asked why the design presents such a visual cacophony. Ms. Lanahan responded that the rendering illustrates a preliminary paving design; she noted that the outer rings are aligned with the breaks in the circle of benches, but she acknowledged that more study is needed of banding, materials, and dimensions. Mr. McCrery said that the paving design will attract close scrutiny by visitors, and it deserves further study so that it provides a rewarding experience; he also observed that the illustrated outer ring only occasionally aligns with the spaces between the benches.
Mr. Shubow questioned the size of the two granite piers that would support the plaque in comparison to the size of the plaque itself; he commented that the piers look too large and strong in relation to the plaque, which does not have a heavy appearance. While acknowledging that the support piers are intended to resemble the design of the piers terminating the new granite circular wall, he nonetheless suggested reducing the size of the two piers supporting the plaque, or replacing them with metal posts. He noted that the previously presented redesign for the Circle of Remembrance featured a longer plaque, and therefore the proportional difference between the plaque and the supporting piers was not as extreme. Ms. Lanahan responded that a thinner, wedge-shaped pier was originally studied, but it did not create a strong sense of threshold at the entrances into the circle or work with the space’s geometry.
Mr. Guillot asked for clarification of the context plan showing the Circle of Remembrance in relation to the main area of the World War II Memorial, asking if the double line shown north of the circle indicates a path; Ms. Lanahan said that this line identifies the location of a future levee. Mr. Guillot noted that this drawing includes landscape features such as the tree canopy that would be retained; observing the substantial size of the tree trunks seen in the presentation’s photographs, he asked if the surrounding landscape predates the memorial. Ms. Lanahan responded that the wider landscape was designed as an integral part of the memorial, adding that the trees have grown quite a lot since the memorial was completed twenty years ago. She clarified that the larger trees are in Constitution Gardens, located north of the memorial; she also indicated a Chinese fringe tree and said several of these have been planted more recently around the circle within the original mixed canopy trees, along with littleleaf linden and some oaks. Mr. Guillot asked about the paving material used in the circle; Ms. Lanahan said it is the original aggregate concrete, with stone in the center. Mr. Guillot observed that the circle appears to be a quiet place, and he asked if the 360-degree view from within the circle provides a strong, contemplative experience. Ms. Lanahan agreed that the circle is quiet, describing it as one of the few well-shaded places to sit on the Mall; she added that the circle offers a beautiful view of the lake in Constitution Gardens, as well as a good view of the main area of the World War II Memorial.
Mr. Guillot observed that before the circle’s fieldstone wall was built, people would have been able to walk freely through the landscape. He suggested consideration of eliminating the perimeter wall and providing a slight separation between the perimeter benches to allow people to approach the Circle of Remembrance from all directions; he said this might make the space more inviting, with a simple division between the areas inside and outside the circle. He added that the large tree trunks could function like the pillars in great cathedrals by creating a space with a strong reverential atmosphere in which to read this prayer. He suggested taking advantage of the magnificent strong tree trunks and adding more such trees to emphasize this sense of enormity, instead of planting lower-scale trees to create a smaller space that would fight against this sense of grandeur.
Ms. Delplace expressed appreciation for these comments. However, she said that most of the larger trees are located on the far side of the levee alignment; they are in Constitution Gardens, an area outside the scope of this project and already being planned for rehabilitation. She said that a park-like setting for this intimate scale already exists within the memorial landscape, and one aim of rehabilitating the Circle of Remembrance is to save as many of the original trees as possible; this is part of the reason that the proposal would continue to locate the circle on its original footprint and existing foundations. She noted that not all the views from the circle are equal; the original intent in planting the existing understory trees was to screen less desirable views while emphasizing views to the memorial and to Constitution Gardens. She said the project’s scope is limited to a smaller area within the seven-acre memorial. Ms. Lanahan added that the area immediately behind the circle is lawn; although people can walk there, it feels like the back of something rather than a place that is designed to be inhabited. She emphasized the importance of the Circle of Remembrance remaining an enclosed space in order to support its purpose as a place for meditation, and for it to remain oriented toward the main area of the World War II Memorial instead of opening it up in other directions.
Mr. McCrery reiterated that the whole purpose of the project is to bring this prayer to America’s attention; the prayer was written and offered to the American people by the president in conjunction with the recognition of D-Day, an exceptionally momentous event. From a design standpoint, he said, the proposed location for the prayer is at the weakest point of the Circle of Remembrance; the plaque should instead be located where it would have the greatest degree of gravitas. He commented that the supporting piers seem to belong more to the idea of forming the circle than of supporting the plaque; they do not support the plaque in an artful or gracious way but simply receive its wedge-shaped profile into their sides. He allowed that the plaque needs to be tilted, but he observed that the empty space above and below it would be a mistake; if the plaque is to form part of the circle’s stone enclosure, its architectural presentation needs to be more substantial to resemble the rest of the perimeter. He requested that the design team prepare a rendered option that places the prayer on a pylon in the center of the circle, with benches defining the perimeter and the area now occupied by the plaque either enclosed or left open. He said he is suggesting this center placement, not only because this is what a circle calls for, but because the proposed configuration would create a serious problem of congestion, as is evident in the rendering. With the plaque placed between the two entrance points, having even a few people standing in front of the plaque would result in a concentration of activity at the very point in the circle that most requires a quiet atmosphere for solitude and prayer.
Mr. McCrery commented that the design of the piers lacks the requisite substance and gravitas for their function, which he noted is to support not just a plaque but a prayer. He emphasized that the plaque must clearly be the most important element of the entire design; however, the presented proposal is almost the exact opposite of this condition. He questioned the design team’s conclusion that reading the text in a curved composition would be more difficult than reading an orthogonal layout; he also questioned other features of the proposed text layout, including the right and left justification, the font, and the lack of a border. He said the proposed design treats the plaque as simply a sheet of bronze with the text placed on it, and it lacks any celebration of the design. He suggested reconsidering the font; while commending the intention to use both incised and raised letters, he suggested choosing one for the text and the other for the title so that the difference between these two parts of the inscription is clear.
Mr. McCrery expressed support for Mr. Fagan’s suggestion to have the prayer writ large, both literally and figuratively. He agreed that the plaque and its text should be large, commenting that a small-scale design for this important prayer from such a significant moment would “chain down” American history. He observed that the Americans with Disabilities Act was intended to encourage people with walkers, canes, or wheelchairs to move; a large memorial that requires visitors to move through it would therefore be a legitimate and appropriate design approach, and this should also be applicable in encouraging visitors to move through the Circle of Remembrance as they read the prayer. He therefore requested development of an option that displays the prayer in a large font, reiterating that the proposed scale for the plaque is not large enough for a public memorial honoring the greatest battle of American history.
Mr. McCrery commented favorably on the design of the circle’s perimeter, but he observed that a circular place of this scale with a hard perimeter could have the effect of focusing sound; this characteristic would encourage people to stand in the center to hear echoes, making the space a novelty.
Mr. Stroik emphasized his support for Mr. McCrery’s comments. He observed that the Circle of Remembrance does not seem connected to the main area of the World War II Memorial; people approaching the circle would also not realize its purpose of highlighting this prayer and providing a contemplative space. In keeping with the precedents of the L’Enfant and McMillan Plans, as well as of the many great memorials on the Mall, he said that the design would be stronger if it had a direct, axial connection to one of the major pylons of the World War II Memorial, either through more direct paths or a sightline or view corridor. He questioned what would draw a visitor to this area if the architecture does not, and he observed that Mr. McCrery’s suggestion to place the plaque in the middle of the circle could signal that this is an important space. Mr. Cook said he had asked about signage for this reason, and he observed that just shifting the axis slightly could create a strong visual connection between the circle and the main area of the memorial. Mr. Stroik suggested that placing the plaque at the center, or even at the other end of the axis on the farther perimeter of the circle, would help attract people. He gave the example of the Jefferson Memorial, where a statue of Jefferson occupies the center and inscriptions from his writings are placed along the perimeter, on the frieze and walls; he called this a brilliant design. He said Dupont Circle provides another example, with the statue fountain at the center and the seating and shade trees along the perimeter, creating a large circular space that people can walk through yet has a central focus. Finally, he said the prayer plaque should be large enough to be read by a group of people at one time, and the plaque should be articulated with a frame or ornamented with symbolic motifs to reinforce its meaning; he noted that the World War II Memorial has many such motifs, such as wreaths and eagles.
Chairman Shubow summarized that the Commission members are requesting further study of the plaque or of some other object to occupy the center of the Circle of Remembrance, noting that this is a different idea than the previously approved concept. Secretary Luebke said that the concept approval had been given for two alternatives showing the plaque in approximately the same location along the circle’s perimeter, with a direct view to the World War II Memorial; he confirmed that moving the plaque to the center is a different idea than what has been presented to the Commission before, although Mr. McCrery disagreed.
Noting the many issues that have been raised with the proposal, Secretary Luebke suggested that the Commission not take an action on the revised concept design. He said that one request is for consideration of an alternative placing the plaque in the middle, and he asked if the members want to vote on this. Mr. McCrery clarified that he wants this idea to be developed and presented as an option. He suggested more generally that the design team develop substantial improvements to the currently submitted design, with one improvement perhaps being the relocation of the plaque to the middle of the circle; he said this would still be a symmetrically organized circular memorial space, and it should establish a stronger connection between the circle and the main area of the World War II Memorial, while also responding to other comments regarding the text.
Secretary Luebke said that a letter would be prepared to summarize the comments, including those about scale, layout, and typography. He summarized that the Commission members are recommending two directions for further study: one alternative to incorporate all the comments for modifying the current proposal, and development of a reconfigured alternative with the plaque elsewhere in the circle, possibly in the center. Chairman Shubow confirmed this summary; he thanked the project team for the presentation of an exciting addition to the World War II Memorial and said the Commission looks forward to the next submission. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
C. D.C. Department of Transportation
CFA 21/JAN/21-2, Connecticut Avenue, NW. New streetscape from Dupont Circle to California Street with a new plaza atop the vehicular underpass south of Q Street. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the concept design for proposed streetscape improvements along Connecticut Avenue, NW, in the blocks north of Dupont Circle. He said the general project goals established by the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) include improving intermodal access for all forms of transit; improving vehicular and pedestrian safety; improving sidewalks, landscape areas, streetlights, signals, and drainage; and creating new protected bicycle lanes. This would result in the improvement of the public space from building line to building line, including new pavers, furnishings, landscape, bioretention planters, permeable paving, and other elements. He said the most prominent element of the proposal is a new street-level pedestrian plaza that would be created atop the vehicular underpass of Connecticut Avenue in the block immediately north of Dupont Circle. This curbless paved space would incorporate the existing at-grade service drives of the avenue and would feature raised planters with shade trees and seating, as well as open space for programming. A large circular opening at the south end of the plaza would be provided for ventilation of the underpass. He asked engineer Mike Gifford, the project manager from the firm RK&K, to present the design.
Mr. Gifford said the scope of the project encompasses a new plaza at the south and the streetscape improvements to the north, which he said are focused on creating a sustainable and aesthetically pleasing pedestrian and vehicular experience. The project also intends to create a safe and effective multimodal access system for pedestrians, bicyclists, buses, and cars through improvements to the sidewalks, tree boxes, drainage, streetlights, and traffic signals, as well as protected bicycle routes that would connect to existing and future lanes. He said the new plaza would create a community space, which would be programmed in collaboration with the Dupont Circle Business Improvement District (BID). The project was presented to the community at the 30 percent design phase, and he noted the support for the protected bicycle lanes, which were presented as one segment of a larger initiative to provide the lanes farther north on the avenue. Regarding the plaza, he noted the community’s request that the design be more innovative, with more seating and plantings; there were also questions about how the large ventilation opening could be an appealing feature of the plaza, rather than a utilitarian intrusion. In addition to the BID, the city has been coordinating with the National Park Service (NPS), the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), Dupont Circle Main Streets, Dupont Circle Underground, and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.
Mr. Gifford presented the proposed streetscape design. Standard DDOT London pavers would replace the existing scored concrete sidewalks, with four-by-four-inch pressed concrete pavers in the furnishing zone to provide a transition between the roadway and sidewalk. He said that permeable paving and bioretention planters would be incorporated into the furnishing zone where feasible; the proposal currently calls for eighteen bioretention planters and fifteen permeable paving areas. The street furnishings, such as the benches and bicycle racks, would be standard DDOT elements; traffic signals and parking meters would be modernized. He noted that since Connecticut Avenue is a major bus corridor, a challenge of the design is providing safe and continuous operations of bus stops and bicycle lanes in the areas where they intersect; several options for these intersections were considered, including putting the bus stops within the roadway and diverting the bicycle lanes around the stops. He said the proposed design would raise the bicycle lanes at the bus stops to sidewalk level, thereby providing ADA-compliant bus loading zones and a clear indication to cyclists that they do not have the right of way; signage indicating appropriate cyclist and pedestrian behavior would also be incorporated into the design. He said the plantings would also be improved: street trees along the avenue would continue to be oaks, and new trees would include swamp white oaks and scarlet oaks. Additional trees such as magnolias and bloodgood London plane trees would be planted on the side streets. Honey locusts are proposed for the planters within the new plaza due to their shade-giving canopies and their likelihood of surviving in the tight growing conditions of the planters.
Mr. Gifford presented the pedestrian and vehicular safety improvements at the north end of the project, indicating the bicycle lanes from Columbia Road connecting to the proposed Connecticut Avenue lanes, as well as new median enclosures and other features to improve the difficult intersection at the Washington Hilton hotel. For the segment one block south, he indicated the existing streetscape, including the asymmetry of the trees and streetlights on each side of the avenue that would be aligned in this project. On the next block south, at Florida Avenue, he noted that three travel lanes would be retained in each direction as required by traffic studies, with the outside lanes designated for off-peak street parking. A three-foot buffer between the outside travel lane and the bicycle lane would provide safety for cyclists and for pedestrians on the sidewalk. He noted that the Florida Avenue intersection is very busy and has several unsafe conditions, such as long pedestrian crossings and a northbound right-turn slip lane; there is also a lack of plantings in this segment of the corridor. The proposal would remove the slip lane, add plantings, add crosswalk bump-outs, and tighten the turning radius for vehicles.
Mr. Gifford said the project segment between R and S Streets would retain the planted median due to the WMATA infrastructure and the uncertain condition of the abandoned streetcar tunnel below. Aside from the comprehensive streetscape improvements as previously noted, two bus stops would be consolidated into one, and some loading zones would be moved to provide better pedestrian access, vehicular flow, and off-peak parking. He indicated the existing conditions of the project segment between Q and R Streets, including the center median and the northern end of the underpass, along with the service drives. Bicycle lanes are proposed on 20th Street, which would be paired on the street’s west side to safely connect with the existing lanes on R Street instead of running along each of the narrow service drives. He indicated the existing NPS reservation at the northwest corner of the Q Street intersection, as well the proposed landscape and streetlights that would bring more symmetry to the streetscape.
Mr. Gifford presented the design for the proposed pedestrian plaza—a curbless public space from building face to building face that would be achieved by decking over the open cut of the roadway underpass and slightly ramping up the service lanes to the level of the sidewalk. The furnishing zone would have new trees and improved public amenities. He said that the design goals for the pedestrian plaza include creating a useable space for both programmed and unprogrammed activity and establishing a connection with Dupont Circle. On the proposed plaza, he indicated the large planters with integrated wood seating surfaces, as well as the open area at the plaza’s center set with café-style seating that could be swapped for vendor tents when a farmers market is held. He said this design is intended to maintain open views from Q Street, down the centerline of the plaza, to Dupont Circle and its central fountain. He presented views of the plaza looking south, indicating the smaller planters that would help define the edge of the service drives; tactile warning surfaces would be used to direct pedestrians to crosswalks located at the middle of the plaza. The roadway would be differentiated from the walkways and plaza with different paving materials: London pavers for the sidewalk and plaza, and scored concrete for the roadway.
Mr. Gifford described the design requirements for the large circular ventilation opening at the south end of the plaza. Because Connecticut Avenue is classified as a major arterial and is part of the national highway system, the perimeter of the opening must have a crash-resistant barrier that meets DDOT and Federal Highway Administration standards. The proposed barrier would have a 24-inch-tall concrete base topped with a 16-inch-tall guardrail; the vertical pickets of the rail would be visually similar to the existing guardrails along the service drives. He noted that people would be able to look over the railing to the vehicles below. He said the curbless design concept is based on several examples, including West Georgia Street in Indianapolis and Bell Street in Seattle, both of which use paving differentiation and vertical elements to delineate the pedestrian and vehicular zones.
Mr. Gifford concluded by noting that the project team is coordinating the proposal with several current and future projects nearby: the new canopy installation at the north entrance to the Dupont Circle Metrorail station at Q Street; the new protected bicycle lanes on 20th and 21st Streets; and NPS’s rehabilitation of Dupont Circle.
Chairman Shubow thanked the project team for its presentation and invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Stroik expressed appreciation for the careful approach to the project, which he said would bring exciting improvements to Connecticut Avenue. He said that this is one of his favorite streets in Washington, as well as the Dupont Circle neighborhood and the circle itself, although he acknowledged that Pierre L’Enfant’s street plan for the city has created many complex intersections. He asked if any of the drawings for the proposed plaza include a depiction of the entirety of Dupont Circle, immediately south of the project boundary. Mr. Gifford said that unfortunately all the presented images exclude the circle; Wayne Wilson, the project manager at DDOT, added that what was presented is the limits of the project. Mr. Stroik acknowledged that the project does not seek to redesign Dupont Circle, but he commented that including it in the drawings would help the Commission provide more comprehensive feedback on the new plaza; he emphasized that the circle and its context of buildings, streets, sidewalks, and intersections are crucial to understanding the area. Mr. Wilson noted that several of the project’s stakeholders, particularly the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, have emphasized that maintaining a visual connection to the circle is important, and he said that documentation incorporating the circle can be provided.
Mr. McCrery asked if the bioretention facilities would provide sufficient soil volume for the selected trees to achieve a tall canopy; Mr. Gifford confirmed that the oak trees planted in the bioretention facilities would have structural soil, allowing them to grow and match the height of the existing street trees. Mr. McCrery requested that the project team consider alternative designs for the bicycle lanes. He said that as a long-time D.C. resident, he appreciates DDOT’s recent experimentation in designing roadway features; however, the purple, red, and green colors used for delineating special lanes and zones within the roadway are garish, ugly, and unnatural colors that are not civic in character, even if they may succeed in drawing people’s attention. He suggested finding a better way to make safety beautiful than simply applying paint on asphalt with rollers. Mr. Wilson acknowledged that the color of the lane markings is still a work in progress for the public as well as for DDOT, which has been discussing best practices for indicating potential conflicts within the right-of-way using materials that are visible but not visually intrusive; the paint’s durability is also being studied.
Mr. McCrery questioned the proposed oval shape proposed for the planters on the plaza. He also suggested extending the line of street trees across the crosswalks at the middle of the plaza to make this a cooler and more pleasant space, rather than the proposed interruption of the lines of trees in this area, and he questioned the use of precast boulders along the edge of the roadway in this segment. Mr. Gifford responded that several planter shapes were considered, with ovals ultimately selected because the oblong shape would create an inviting space with sufficient room alongside for pedestrian passage while also providing extra soil volume for trees. He said trees are not proposed at the crosswalk in order to keep the space open and draw pedestrians to the crossing; however, trees could be considered for those locations. He said that the precast concrete boulders are intended to be traffic deterrents; they therefore need to be consistent, solid, and formed so that they can be anchored to the pavement to prevent their movement if impacted by a vehicle. Mr. McCrery noted that the distinct pavement pattern at the crosswalks would draw pedestrians, and he strongly advised planting trees at this location to create a better space, with the added benefit of helping the District achieve its goal of increased tree canopy coverage. For the boulders, he observed that in the proposed configuration a driver could glance off or weave in between them and end up in the plaza; he said the boulders require much more serious thought to ensure that people within the plaza feel safe from passing vehicles.
Mr. McCrery asked if this design for curbless streets would serve as a prototype for other streetscapes in the city; Mr. Wilson said that the community requested the curbless design, which has also been used near Nationals Park in Southeast D.C. He said that this type of streetscape is not yet the standard for DDOT, but the agency is trying to be more innovative in its designs. The proposed installation on Connecticut Avenue would be the first for an arterial street in Washington, and it will serve as an experiment in a somewhat unique location near many businesses and the popular park to the south. He confirmed for Mr. McCrery that the traffic flow into the service lanes would not be altered by the project, and traffic studies show no impact on vehicular traffic flow around the circle.
Mr. McCrery said that he supports the proposal for trees at the northern end of the plaza, and he suggested also planting trees within the planters at the southern end if the deck structure allows. Mr. Wilson noted that the community requested the area in the middle of the plaza be kept open without trees to accommodate event programming. Mr. McCrery reiterated his criticism of the size and number of concrete boulders and expressed concern that they would be supplemented with unsightly Jersey barriers if there is ever a traffic incident. Mr. Wilson said that bollards were considered but deemed to be visually unappealing; maintenance considerations also favor bollards or boulders, since Jersey barriers have special cleaning requirements.
Chairman Shubow questioned the planters proposed for the plaza, commenting that the “piazza” typology described in the presentation would not typically have plantings. He said that the trees could block views to Dupont Circle and its fountain, while removing the planters would open up more space for the farmers market and other public activities. He said if the planters remain, he is concerned about their oval shape and irregular appearance. He added that he considers the larger Dupont Circle area as having boulevards with street trees, with the circle itself having a beautiful Beaux-Arts design that would not be complemented by the irregular oval planters.
Mr. Spandle agreed with Mr. Shubow’s comments and asked if other shapes and a more symmetrical or formal configuration for the planters were considered. Mr. Gifford said that circular planters arranged in a symmetrical formation were considered; however, public feedback indicated that a more interesting design is favored, as well as the inclusion of trees to make the plaza less stark. Mr. Spandle said the trees are nice and he supports including more of them; however, the planters and precast boulders seem random in their placement, and he asked what is locking in the design. Mr. Wilson said that the placement of the planters must consider the joints of the deck structure, which cannot be impeded; the boulders could be more freely relocated and be more uniform if the configuration is deemed safe. He emphasized that stakeholder input was strongly considered in the design, which seeks to balance safety with an appealing appearance.
Mr. McCrery said that the trees appear to be planted in an orderly arrangement that should be kept, and he requested the addition of trees at the south end of the plaza and at the crosswalks as recommended earlier. He asked for more information on the smaller green ovals shown on the plan drawings. Mr. Gifford said that all the green ovals would be raised planters made of powder-coated steel. Mr. McCrery asked if the larger planters would provide enough soil volume for the selected honey locust trees. Mr. Gifford said that 800 cubic feet of soil would be provided, which would allow the selected trees to thrive; he noted that this conclusion was confirmed by DDOT’s Urban Forestry Division.
Mr. Guillot agreed that this is a sufficient soil volume for honey locusts. He said he supports the playful shape and varying sizes of the planters because they give the character of something natural within the urban streetscape. He suggested that the large ovals be one size and their pattern flipped to create more open space at the center; however, he said he is not opposed to the design as presented, which is relatively common and a good choice given the urban context. He commented that the strong oval forms of the planters as depicted in the plan drawings would be mitigated by the generous plantings hanging over the edges.
Mr. Cook said that the plaza proposal is an extraordinary opportunity and would set a positive precedent, particularly since there are many similar underpass conditions throughout the city, and this location adjoins one of the grandest circles in the city. He suggested crowding the trees at the northern end of the plaza and spacing the remaining trees farther apart, leaving the south end open for framed views to the central fountain in Dupont Circle; he commented that the proposed design seems to ignore this important view. He added that the guardrail structure around the underpass ventilation opening would be whimsical and fun for children to investigate and see the cars below.
Chairman Shubow summarized the Commission’s general support for the concept, noting the request for further study of the planters and trees on the plaza. Secretary Luebke said the Commission could approve the project except for the plaza area, for which it could request further study to be detailed in a future submission. Chairman Shubow suggested that a motion to this effect be made; Mr. McCrery offered a motion to approve the project scope from its northernmost extent south to Q Street, with the request for an additional concept submission that responds to the Commission’s comments for the remainder of the project scope between Q Street and Dupont Circle. Upon a second by Mr. Spandle, the Commission adopted this action.
D. Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority
CFA 21/JAN/21-3, Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority Headquarters Building, 300 7th Street, SW. Installation of two public art works. Final. Secretary Luebke introduced the proposal for two artworks outside the future headquarters building of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). He noted that the final design for the headquarters—an extensive renovation of an existing building near the L’Enfant Plaza Metrorail station—was approved by the Commission in November 2019; the artworks were included in the project scope but had not yet been designed. He said the selected artists, Nancy Hou and Josh de Sousa of the New York design firm Hou de Sousa, were asked by WMATA to create three site-specific works for this facility. Hooray would be located along the 7th Street facade and would be composed of steel plates that resemble the form of coffered cells in a configuration inspired by the L’Enfant Plan, with the colors intended to recall different shades of cherry blossoms seen throughout the city. The shape and plan of the artwork also refer to the rounded triangular geometries of the site and building; from the side, it may even seem to evoke the tapered form of the Washington Monument. The large opening in the lower portion of Hooray would provide a place for interaction and informal photographs. The second artwork, Pebble, would be a triangular bench made of yellow stainless-steel rods, to be located east of the building’s entrance on D Street. The bench references the characteristic street grid of the L'Enfant Plan; its yellow color is a reference to Metrorail’s Yellow Line, which runs below D Street, and to the color of daffodils and cinquefoil blossoms that are common in Washington. He said the artwork to be installed in the building’s lobby, Aura, is not subject to Commission review because of its interior location. He asked Dr. Laurent Odde, the Art in Transit program manager for WMATA, to begin the presentation.
Dr. Odde said the forty-year-old Art in Transit program incorporates public art into Metrorail stations and other facilities in order to enhance the experience of transit riders and the public in general, as well to connect WMATA with the community it serves. He said that in accordance with the program’s guidelines, the selection process for the artworks included review of portfolios and then of design concepts by a panel composed of stakeholders including the building developer, its design team, and representatives of the local cultural community, in this case the Southwest Business Improvement District and the Hirshhorn Museum. More than 130 portfolios were received, and six finalists were selected to submit site-specific designs. The artists and their teams were then interviewed, with the review panel finally selecting Hou de Sousa’s concept as the winning entry. He said the panel felt that this proposal addressed the challenge of connecting the artwork to the building and site, and it also captured the sense of WMATA’s mission, its role in the region, and the unique architecture of its stations. Additionally, the proposal connects the public art pieces with key elements associated with the city’s governmental design legacy, and the pieces would directly engage the public through interactive components. He introduced Ms. Hou and Mr. de Sousa to present the proposal.
Ms. Hou said that the design team is grateful for the opportunity to present these artworks, as well as for the enthusiasm and support of the D.C. community for the three other public artworks her firm has created in the city. She said the historical and physical beauty of Washington is matched only by the vibrancy, creativity, and drive of the people that call the city home, providing an inspiring starting point for producing public artworks. She said the proposal aspires to celebrate D.C. and WMATA, an agency that directly serves the community every day, and the artworks are therefore intended to be functional and engageable. Instead of placing the artwork on pedestals, the design invites the public to make use of the pieces beyond simply enjoying their appearance. She said the proposed artworks are a triptych—unique but also interrelated and responsive to their locations—with several design elements helping to relate the three pieces. As a collection, the three sculptures make reference to the colors that compose WMATA’s Metrorail lines—red, blue, orange, yellow, green, and silver. Mr. de Sousa said that some uniting features of Washington’s rich diversity of architectural styles are ceiling coffers and vaulted spaces, which can be found in the U.S. Capitol rotunda and Union Station, as well as the National Gallery of Art East Building, the Hirshhorn Museum, and Metrorail stations. He said the rounded corners and triangular configuration of the WMATA headquarters building and site also served as inspiration for the artworks.
Mr. de Sousa presented the first piece, Hooray, which would be approximately 16’-5” tall, nearly 9 feet wide, and more than 3 feet deep. It would be composed primarily of diagonal steel fins coated with a zinc-rich primer, a fluoropolymer color coat on top of that, and an anti-graffiti top coat. He said the fluoropolymer is very resistant to color fading and is typically used in industrial applications, such as bridges or surfaces that are painted every few decades. The sculpture’s sloped fins and hollow core are intended to prevent the accumulation of debris and water. He said that the layout of the fins is intended to echo the L'Enfant Plan, which is characterized by an orthogonal grid intersected by avenues radiating from the city’s most important buildings and public spaces; for instance, if overlaid with a map, the horizontal fin above the piece’s central opening would be Constitution Avenue. The fins are also configured to create individual cells that allude to ceiling coffers, particularly those seen in the Metrorail system, while the color palette references the colors of several Metrorail lines and the city’s iconic cherry blossoms. The sculpture’s overall shape is influenced by the rounded triangular geometries of the new WMATA building and its landscape design. When viewed from the side, it is reminiscent of the tall, tapered form of the Washington Monument. He said Hooray invites direct public engagement and tactile interaction by having a seat in an opening in the middle; this seating aperture could serve to frame people posing for photographs—content that reflects the dynamism and diversity of the people of D.C., making this a living sculpture.
Ms. Hou said the second artwork, Pebble, is a site-specific, low-lying sculpture intended to serve as a bench. The previously developed site design proposes a tree in this location, so instead of requesting its removal or simply ignoring it, the proposal is to integrate the tree into the artwork; she said it is conceptually similar to a ship in a bottle. The sculpture’s triangular shape in plan recalls the overall site, with the soft geometry alluding to natural features such as river stones. The pattern of woven steel bars is intended to evoke the city’s urban fabric, and the circular space that would accommodate the tree evokes the oculus of a dome, a courtyard, or a rotunda. The sculpture’s yellow color is intended to be a cheerful complement to the cinquefoil blossoms specified to be planted throughout the site, as well as a reference to Metrorail’s Yellow Line. The sculpture would be assembled around the tree on-site and is designed to be more open at the bottom so as not to collect litter. The seating surface would slope down from the rear to the sidewalk to create a comfortable seating level.
Mr. de Sousa presented the lobby artwork, Aura; although this interior sculpture is not subject to the Commission’s review, he said that it completes the intended triptych of artworks. This sculpture—ethereal coffers composed of steel rods and colored cord attached to the ceiling—is intended to have a formal connection to the coffered ceiling vaults seen in Metro stations, and like the other pieces, it draws inspiration from the L’Enfant Plan. The placement of recessed lighting fixtures specified by the building’s architects would serve as nodes in the arrangement of the irregularly shaped coffers. He said that the sculpture’s arcing shape seen in the section view was conceived first by extruding the coffers to be level with the surrounding soffit; they were then carved away to form a vault-like arc, whose shape is intended to welcome people and light into the lobby. The color palette of blue and green references these two Metrorail lines.
Mr. de Sousa said that lighting is a critical component of the project: Aura and Hooray would look like glowing lanterns or beacons at night, bringing colors into the somewhat uniform urban context. He concluded by describing the overall project objective as celebrating the historical foundation of Washington, D.C., as well as its future.
Chairman Shubow thanked the project team for the presentation, and he invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Fagan commended the design team for its blending of shapes while also illustrating themes; he said that the sculptures would be fitting within the context of modern curves, lines, and planes. He described the thrilling experience of learning how the L’Enfant Plan overlays onto Hooray, making him feel as though he is being let in on a secret about the piece’s conceptual basis and creative process; he suggested sharing this secret with the public by highlighting on the front of the sculpture a few of the major arterial streets that are referenced. He also commended the interactive component of the project, which he said would likely be successful while other pieces with this intention are not.
Mr. McCrery said he is captivated by Hooray. He asked if the coffers would collect water and if the selected materials would eventually rust. Mr. de Sousa responded that the sculpture would not collect water, and the proposed fluoropolymer paint is the highest-grade finish available in terms of colorfastness and longevity; unlike a powder-coated finish, which can chip away over time, fluoropolymer is applied wet and can therefore be patched. He added that the piece would likely be assembled and then painted, with areas alternately masked and painted to achieve the proposed color scheme. Mr. McCrery suggested that the sculpture be made larger, and he asked what parameters were used to establish its height. Mr. de Sousa responded that his firm prefers its projects to be as large as possible, since the success of a piece is largely determined by its size and impressiveness; however, practical considerations are evaluated when determining size, such as the amount of steel required. Ms. Hou added that another consideration was the desire to keep the sculpture at the height of the building podium, which serves as a backdrop for the piece. Mr. McCrery said he likes all the proposed artworks, while citing Hooray in particular as magnificent; he said that if its aperture were removed, then it would be a worthy addition to the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum.
Mr. Guillot congratulated the design team on Hooray, commenting that he loves the piece and its reference to cherry blossoms. However, he questioned the nepeta plantings proposed at the base of the sculpture, commenting that this plant would not live up to the sculpture’s beautiful kaleidoscope of shapes and colors and would likely be a “yo-yo of disappointment” over the course of the seasons. He suggested the sculpture instead stand alone, which would allow people to freely view and experience the piece from all sides. Ms. Hou and Mr. de Sousa expressed appreciation for the comment and said that they have been working with the landscape designers on the specific plant palette, but that they are also open to eliminating the plantings. Mr. Guillot reiterated that the sculpture could stand on its own without the plantings, which he characterized as merely parsley on a plate; Mr. Shubow agreed with this advice.
Mr. Guillot commented that Pebble offers a compelling concept in how it addresses and works with the tree, and he asked for its species; Mr. de Sousa clarified that the tree has not yet been planted, and the species is still under consideration. Mr. Guillot acknowledged the conceptual reasoning behind integrating the sculptural bench and the tree, commenting that the pink flowering cherry tree shown in the renderings looks beautiful when set against the yellow bench and appears successfully incorporated into the artistic composition. He remarked positively on its graphic seasonality, and he recommended specifying a flowering tree to fully achieve this complementary quality, although he noted that this color combination would only occur for a short time each year when the tree is flowering.
Mr. Shubow observed that the lines in Hooray are generally diagonal, and the bottom of the seating aperture is rounded; he asked why the top is designed as a flat horizontal line. Mr. de Sousa responded that the design originally had the curve at the top, but unfortunately the aperture would look like a frowning or angry face, which is counter to the concept of this public art. Ms. Hou added that the flat top also corresponds to Constitution Avenue in the conceptual overlay of the Washington street grid. Mr. McCrery said that the aperture seems antithetical to the larger piece, which he said is magnificent and would be better without it, and he reiterated his strong support for the sculpture.
Mr. Stroik said that he is agnostic about taking city plans, distorting them, and making them into sculptures and ceilings, thereby representing the artwork as somehow relating to that city. He commented that this concept, as articulated by the designers who are architects, is comprehensible to the architect members of the Commission, but it would not be as legible to the broader public. He said that the side view admired by Mr. McCrery proves his point: neither the references to the L’Enfant Plan nor the resemblance to the Washington Monument are perceivable without an explanation. He said he is skeptical that the artwork relates to Washington in the ways that were articulated by the design team; it may relate to the city for them, but not necessarily for others. Similarly, the reference to ceiling coffers is fun, but it is not perceivable in the design. He said the Commission should seek to steer people away from using esoteric symbols as the basis for conceptual arguments and should instead encourage designs that are more than just compelling.
Mr. de Sousa said the design team appreciates these comments, and he emphasized that mystery and a sense of discovery are critical to understanding the design; its conceptual basis may not be immediately apparent, but it is there, along with the other connections to the city’s diverse architectural character. He said his firm seeks to layer its projects with multiple meanings and insights and to establish connections to the project’s location. He suggested that the fins in the sculpture that reference the city’s radiating avenues could be highlighted to better convey this aspect of the design concept.
Mr. McCrery said that this is the challenge of conceptual art. He noted that the designers have chosen to explain how they arrived at the presented design, but this design process does not really matter as long as the resulting artwork is successful. He said he agrees with Mr. Stroik that the diagrams that were presented as part of the artworks’ concept do not make much sense when evaluating the artwork itself; for example, the Hooray graphic showing the map overlay with a key indicating the location of major landmarks and streets within the sculpture’s form is only somewhat accurate in representing the actual layout of the city. The location of the Washington Monument—which the sculpture was described as resembling when seen from the side—is not actually depicted on this diagram; the lines on the artwork could even be seen to reference Paris, not Washington. He concluded that this reasoning only serves as a means of explaining the artwork, and if the work suffers as a result of the explanation then he is less interested in the explanation; in this case, he is much more interested in the work.
Mr. Guillot expressed appreciation for the map references in the design, commenting that although it will likely be a struggle and stretch for the majority of viewers and passersby to understand these references, history is filled with gorgeous works of art and architecture that were informed in this way. For example, no one thinks the Sidney Opera House is going to sail away, but that was the idea behind the design. He concluded that Hooray is a beautiful, well-done piece.
Chairman Shubow suggested a motion to approve the submission. Secretary Luebke confirmed that the project was submitted as a final design, and the Commission members could approve the submission with the comments provided. Mr. McCrery offered a motion for approval with the comments provided, with an emphasis on Mr. Guillot’s comments regarding the landscape; upon a second by Mr. Fagan, the Commission adopted this action.
E. D.C. Department of General Services
CFA 21/JAN/21-4, Joy Evans Therapeutic Recreation Center, 3030 G Street, SE. Replacement recreation center building. Concept. Secretary Luebke introduced the concept proposal for replacement of the Joy Evans Therapeutic Recreation Center, submitted by the D.C. Department of General Services on behalf of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. As with the existing facility, the new recreation center would serve residents of all ages, including adaptive programs and facilities for people with disabilities; the new recreation center will become the premier therapeutic recreation center in the region. The existing building and the site amenities were constructed in the 1970s and are due for replacement. He said that the project emphasizes biophilic design principles, and it is intended to meet sustainability commitments, with the goal of a LEED Silver environmental rating. The context for the 7.3-acre site includes a residential neighborhood to the south, providing street access; a freight railroad line and highway to the west; and National Park Service (NPS) land to the north and east, which includes Fort Dupont Park. The proposed 35,000-square-foot building is scaled and modulated to reduce its perceived size in relation to the neighborhood: the major volumes of the recreation center would be separated by glazed recesses that create a rhythm across the facades, and the sloped roofs with low eaves are intended to lessen the perception of the large interior volumes. The roof configuration would be folded to reach the ground at two locations to mark the building’s two entrances. He asked architects Matt Davitt and Bob Widger of DLR Group to present the design.
Mr. Davitt described the context and site. The project is located on NPS land; the adjacent parkland includes Anacostia Park and Fort Dupont Park. Through a longstanding transfer of jurisdiction agreement, a portion of the site is available to the D.C. government for constructing a recreation center building, and the proposed building must be located within this established boundary. On the west is the Anacostia Freeway, which generates noise; a buffer along this edge is therefore desirable. The parkland to the north and east, including a forested edge and a stream, is an asset that can benefit the design by providing a connection to nature; this theme would be developed further through the emphasis on biophilic design strategies. The existing configuration of vehicular circulation and parking in the southern part of the site has the effect of separating the recreation center building from some of the site’s available recreation space. The neighborhood to the south is primarily one- and two-story single-family homes, along with some small apartment buildings. He said that this recreation center’s program emphasizes inclusivity and accessibility, with therapeutic recreation opportunities for people of all ages and all physical and cognitive abilities; the site as well as the building are being designed to contribute to achievement of this goal of therapeutic benefits.
Mr. Widger presented the proposed site design, which is intended to maximize the quality of therapeutic experiences. The proposed building is sited as far north as possible; this allows room on the south for reconfigured vehicular circulation and parking at the front of the building, and it also maximizes the separation of this larger-scale building from the smaller-scale residential neighborhood to the south. The vehicular reconfiguration would allow for better use of the southern part of the site for recreational open space. A separate service drive for the building would be at the west end of the site, providing service access to the lower level, similar to the existing recreation center; he said that this service connection is well screened and entirely separated from the vehicular circulation that would be experienced by the public. A pavilion near the building’s southeast corner would be the focal point for many of the site amenities, including playgrounds for various age groups, a basketball court, and a splash pad. To the east would be a large multi-purpose playing field. On the north side of the site would be several features that are intended to encourage interaction with nature: a labyrinth, a sensory garden, and a community garden. On the northwest edge of the building would be an ellipse-shaped Zen or Japanese-style dry garden that could be viewed from the site and from the building’s interior. He added that all of these amenities would be linked by walking paths, designed to be generously wide and with intermittent resting areas with benches. He indicated an additional east–west path along the north edge of the site plan; this is not part of the current proposal but is shown at the request of NPS as a future link between the NPS parks to the west and east.
Mr. Widger presented the building design, which is intended to break down the large program into modestly scaled components that can more easily be understood by those with cognitive issues. He indicated the main entrance vestibule and lobby at the center; the multipurpose, fitness, wellness, and activity rooms to the east, and the full-size gymnasium to the west. He also indicated the open areas extending north–south across the building to either side of the lobby, intended to provide areas of rest and contemplation as well as views outward to the site activities and to the forested area on the north. Farther west, beyond the gymnasium entrance, the primary corridor would curve southward past the Zen garden to reach the natatorium complex.
Mr. Widger presented the exterior design of the building, which uses a prominent sloped roof form to provide a character and scale that is more residential and less institutional. The typical eave height would be twelve feet, and the roof form would be manipulated in some areas to create interesting forms and break up the mass of the building. The roof would extend down to the ground near the main entrance, serving to mark this location and to give arriving visitors a sense of connection to the upper roof form. A similar treatment toward the west would mark a secondary entrance that leads directly into the natatorium complex. The extensive glazing along the south facade would be interrupted by vertical piers of varying width, intended to evoke the imagery of trees in a forest along this primary circulation corridor, as part of the biophilic and therapeutic design approach. He noted that the deep soffits beneath the overhanging roof would provide solar protection for this glazing, reducing the interior glare and providing a shaded exterior space along the length of the main facade, an additional feature for the comfort of the recreation center’s visitors. On the north elevation, he indicated the extensive use of clerestory windows to provide daylight for the gymnasium, natatorium, and other spaces. He noted that the drawing also indicates extensive areas of louvers, but the design for the mechanical system has been adjusted to allow for most of this area to be glazing.
Mr. Widger concluded with a perspective view from the front of the natatorium looking toward the building’s primary facade and main entrance. He identified the proposed exterior materials: wood veneer panels on the facades; a lighter color of wood veneer for the soffits, to avoid an excessively dark character for the area along the facades; and a standing-seam metal roof. He emphasized the intention to use design techniques that will promote therapy for the users of the building and site.
Chairman Shubow invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. McCrery asked about collecting stormwater from the sloped roof, which he said would be expected to be a major part of the design for such a prominent roof form. Mr. Widger responded that the intended solution, in coordination with the landscape design, is to allow runoff from the roof to reach the ground along most of the roof edge, to be collected in continuous at-grade channels that would be lined with river rocks. Mr. McCrery observed that this would channel rain onto some areas of benches, plants, and sidewalks, as well as onto the approach to the building entrance; Mr. Widger clarified that the entrance would likely be protected by placing rainwater diverters on the roof at this location.
Mr. McCrery observed that biophilic design has become a popular topic recently, following on the past popularity of green and sustainable design; he asked for clarification of the term’s intended meaning. Mr. Widger said that it involves bringing the characteristics of nature into the design, such as natural light and natural materials including wood and stone; he acknowledged that the broader concept of biophilia encompasses many additional aspects. Landscape architect Bruno Carvalho of Carvalho & Good added that sensory experience is an important part of biophilia, and it is particularly important for this project’s site and building design. He said that this project is unique in its emphasis on the emotional experiences of interacting with nature.
Mr. Cook asked whether the vertical piers clad with wood veneer are decorative or serve as part of the structural support for the roof; Mr. Widger responded that some of these piers would enclose columns where needed for the structural system. Mr. McCrery asked if the triangular roof elements extending to the ground would serve a structural purpose; Mr. Widger said that structural columns would be enclosed within the roof forms.
Mr. Stroik asked whether the design process has addressed establishing an identity for the proposed building, perhaps based on its relationship to the neighborhood or parkland, or to other buildings in Washington or elsewhere; he observed that it appears to have a 1970s character that is reminiscent of the existing building that will be demolished. Mr. Widger responded that no specific building served as the inspiration for the proposed design, although he acknowledged that the existing recreation center from the 1970s is reflected in the proposal; he added that the emphasis on the roof form is intended to give the building a more residential character. Mr. Davitt said that the design approach of breaking up the large, horizontal building into smaller modules is intended to relate to the scale of buildings in the residential neighborhood to the south.
Mr. Fagan asked for further information about the proposed wood veneer, observing that it would comprise a significant proportion of the facades. Mr. Widger responded that this would be a composite laminate material containing a layer of actual wood veneer, protective layers above, and many backing layers of paper; the assembly, using a matrix of phenolic resin, is formed into panels or boards using high heat. He said that this product is very resistant to vandalism and requires very little maintenance. Mr. Fagan asked about the demonstrated longevity of this material; Mr. Widger said that it has been in use for twenty years or longer in Europe and more recently in the U.S.
Mr. Spandle asked for clarification of the decision-making process in establishing the proposed roof form. Mr. Widger responded that the relationship of the roof to the gymnasium volume had initially generated the sloped roof shape that was then extended to the rest of the building. The roof is generally lowest along the primary facade on the south, sloping up to the high edge of the roof on the north that allows for north-facing clerestory windows for the interior spaces. The gymnasium requires a 24-foot clear height below the structure, which resulted in a peak height of 40 feet for the sloped roof. The east end of the building would modify this to a hipped roof configuration in order to bring the eave line down to approximately 14 feet. The special roof configuration at the entrances is achieved by establishing a perpendicular ridge line and folding the roof form downward. The adaptation of the roof form to the natatorium complex results in a large southern exposure of windows; he said that horizontal sun-shading devices and the deep roof overhang would provide protection from excessive solar exposure. The area between the natatorium and the gymnasium would have a low, flat roof to provide a sense of separation between these volumes.
Noting the intended emphasis on biophilic design, Mr. Shubow commented that one aspect of this should be the role of detail that is found in nature, resulting in an appearance that becomes richer as the viewer moves closer to something. Curves are also a common feature of natural forms. However, he observed that the proposed design tends to emphasize flat planes and sharp angles, with little attention to detailing or ornament. He asked how this appearance can be reconciled with the goal of a biophilic design approach. Mr. Widger acknowledged that the design’s large planes do not express the biophilic intent; he said that the piers are the strongest and most visible example, sweeping across the length of the facades with varying widths and a twelve-foot height. He also emphasized the importance of the deep roof overhangs in providing a sense of protection and refuge, an important concept for biophilic design. He emphasized that the sloped roof and deep overhangs are intended as a rejection of the more typical institutional design approach for such a building.
Mr. McCrery acknowledged that he is not an expert on therapeutic design and is not closely familiar with the term, but he questioned whether the proposed design for the building and landscape is actually achieving the therapeutic or biophilic goals that have been described. For example, an artificial product is being proposed for the piers that are intended to represent tree trunks; the similarity seems limited to the widths and the vertical orientation. He said that a better biophilic approach would be to use truly natural materials in a sustainable way. A biophilic building design should embrace the landscape and open out onto it, and the landscape itself should also have a more natural character instead of the artificial constructions and parking lot that would be prominently visible in this proposal. He said that while the therapeutic goal might suggest a design that fosters a sense of comfort and confidence for visitors, the proposed design is an intentionally unbalanced architecture, with roof forms that appear to be sliding off the building. The extension of the roof to the ground at the two entrances gives the impression that the roof is not able to sit comfortably on top of the building, but must instead hold itself up by reaching down to the ground; he described the effect as very jarring and disturbing. He disagreed with the claim that these roof extensions serve to mark the entrances; he said that their actual effect is to block the entrances, while other areas of the primary facade have a much more open character that would seem to invite entry. He added that the large roof form would involve handling a large amount of rainwater, and he expressed surprise that the response to this issue is not a key feature of the design concept; he described this omission as a major deficiency.
Mr. McCrery agreed with Mr. Stroik that the proposed building is reminiscent of the existing building from the 1970s; he said that the similarities are extensive, and the intent to demolish the existing building in order to construct such a similar replacement is very odd. He observed that the same concern applies to the site design: the existing pattern of separate recreational features scattered across the site would essentially be repeated in the proposed design. He said that the site design strategy seems merely to be a desire to work through a checklist of required programmatic elements for different activities and age groups. He said that the proposed Zen garden only barely merits the name by using sand and rocks, and he observed that the proposed outdoor labyrinth would be only three-quarters of a circle because it is configured around a corner of the building; a person reaching the center of this labyrinth would be confronted with the building corner that does not even have a door. He expressed frustration with the entire project, and he said that it does not appear to be worthy of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.
Mr. Guillot agreed that the site plan is burdened with too many programmatic requirements, resulting in an overly episodic design. He observed that the site plan lacks a center of gravity, and it therefore conveys merely a sense of checking the boxes for required features. However, he said that the perspective view of the building proposal at the end of the presentation had a surprisingly calming effect in comparison to the other drawings: the simplicity of materials and the spare design aesthetic, even with the complex roof form, seems to provide a welcome counterpoint to the overly complicated site plan. He expressed sympathy for the challenge of designing a coherent landscape while meeting the complicated programmatic requirements; as proposed, he said that individual site features may be enjoyable for visitors, but the overall experience of the site would not be. He observed that the site would include many playgrounds, and in a sense would be a playground in its entirety, while a more desirable goal may be to experience real nature instead of fabricated experiences that lack authenticity. He recalled the excitement in the presentation about relating the building to the surrounding natural world, but he observed that little nature is left on the proposed site plan. He reiterated his support for the building design as simple and unifying, and he particularly cited the design of the roof, entrances, and piers.
Chairman Shubow noted the apparent consensus that the project is not yet ready for concept approval; Mr. McCrery agreed. Secretary Luebke summarized the issues that have been identified by the Commission; these will be consolidated in a letter to the project team. Chairman Shubow noted that the design process apparently did not include consultation with the staff, which could have been useful in identifying some of the issues in advance of today’s review; he encouraged a meeting between the staff and the project team as the design moves forward. The discussion concluded without a formal action.
F. D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—Shipstead-Luce Act
SL 21-056, Cotton Annex, 300 12th Street, SW. 13-story mixed-use apartment building addition and renovations. Concept. (Previous: SL 21-039, 19 November 2020) Secretary Luebke introduced the second concept submission for redevelopment of the Cotton Annex site, including renovation of the historic building and the addition of a new thirteen-story building behind it for residential use. He summarized the previous review from November 2020, when the Commission had expressed strong support for the project and the general approach to the massing and design, with the request for further refinement to mitigate the apparent massiveness including reconsideration of the contrasting colors that may excessively emphasize the upper stories from distant viewpoints. The Commission had also requested further study of the new building’s alignments and setbacks in relation to the historic building, and had suggested revising the entrance plaza at the northwest to be a slightly elevated planting area with a small bosque of trees. He said that the current submission addresses these issues, with substantial design of the northwest part of the project, simplification and reduction of the massing, less contrast in the color palette, and refined detailing of the new facades to relate more closely to the historic building’s composition of a base, shaft, and attic. He noted that the proposed copper-clad penthouse structure for residential amenity space recalls the historic building’s rooftop monitor, and that the refinement of creating a more substantial masonry base results in more visual support for the projecting bays above. He said that the project team has met with the Commission staff several times since the previous review to develop a responsive submission. He asked Drew Turner of Douglas Development, the company that acquired the site from the federal government, to begin the presentation.
Mr. Turner expressed appreciation for the Commission’s review in November 2020, and he said that the recommendations have been incorporated into the project; the design is also being coordinated with the staff of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office. For the benefit of the new Commission members, he provided an overview of the site and context. The historic Cotton Annex building is architecturally beautiful, and the remainder of the site is a surface parking lot that provides an opportunity for new construction that complements the historic building; he noted that Douglas Development has done many projects involving historic preservation and has a strong interest in this type of work. He noted that the site is located a quarter-mile south of the National Mall; between this site and the Mall are federal buildings that are relatively low, while the buildings south of this site are taller, resulting in the proposal’s massing strategy that provides a transition between these areas. He added that recent planning for the vicinity, including studies for Maryland Avenue and the wider Southwest area, has provided a vision of how this site’s redevelopment could contribute to the neighborhood’s future. The resulting program includes approximately 600 apartments, ground-floor retail space, and below-grade parking. The north edge of the project is designed to restore the alignment of the historic C Street right-of-way of the L’Enfant Plan; the street had been reconfigured during the construction of federal buildings in the area. He said that the proposed design also responds to the curving property line on the east side of the site, which follows the alignment of the adjacent 12th Street Expressway. He introduced architect Jack Boarman of BKV Group to present the design.
Mr. Boarman said that the refinements in the current design respond to the Commission’s previous recommendations and the follow-up consultation meetings with the staff, which have helped to clarify the design priorities for the site. He emphasized the importance of the context in shaping the proposal, as well as the site’s historic master plan for a courtyard configuration that was only partially realized with the construction of the Cotton Annex. He indicated the 90-foot height of the historic building; the new building would reach a height of 120 feet along the south and east, while stepping down on the north toward the Mall. He presented views of the historic building, constructed in 1936. Its north and west facades, designed for public view, would be preserved; he described their composition with a two-story base containing punched windows, four stories of vertically grouped windows with metal sashes and spandrels, and a broad horizontal entablature that includes an architrave, frieze, cornice, and an attic band punctured by grilles. The other existing facades have a more utilitarian and industrial character with the expectation that they would be concealed by later phases of construction; these would be augmented by additional windows to support the proposed residential use. He noted that a brick addition containing an egress stairwell to the south, added in 1986, is not historically significant and would be removed.
Mr. Boarman said that the design approach for the new building is to be differentiated from the historic building while being compatible in massing and architectural features, consistent with historic preservation guidelines. The integrity of the historic building would be protected, and the new building would connect to it with glass-enclosed hyphens. The organization of the new building’s facades would be similar to the historic building, with a defined base, a multi-story shaft with a vertical emphasis, a cornice, and an attic story; several additional stories would rise along the eastern and southern parts of the new building. He presented comparisons of the perspective views of the current design and the design from November 2020, indicating the numerous revisions: a simplified color palette; greater continuity of the brick base; removal of the top floor along the north; an improved relationship of the cornice and attic story to the historic building’s entablature; and a reconfigured facade treatment at the northwest and southwest to relate more strongly to the historic building. He noted that the new building’s facade along 12th Street would be aligned with the west facade of the Cotton Annex, which is set twelve feet back from the property line, in keeping with the historic master plan for the site. The new building’s exterior would primarily be brick, similar in color and mix to the brick of the Cotton Annex but slightly differentiated; darker brick would define some volumes of the massing, and the upper floors at the south and east would have metal facades. He described the configuration and revisions for the projecting bays on the south and east facades, as well as for the upper-floor step-backs, emphasizing the improved relationship to the historic building in materials and dimensions.
Mr. Boarman presented views of the revised design for the proposed plaza at the northwest corner of the site, adjacent to the residential entrance; he noted that this public space would be partially defined by the planned hotel building to the north across C Street, recently reviewed by the Commission. He said that the combination of street trees and the plaza’s landscape would help to establish a strongly residential character. The plaza’s edges would include the historic north facade of the Cotton Annex and a four-bay-wide segment of the new building’s facade; he emphasized the simplicity and compatibility of their relationship, separated by the glass hyphen. The four large existing trees at the site of the plaza would remain as major features of the landscape design, supplemented by new trees. The plaza is intended to welcome pedestrians from the adjacent sidewalks along C Street and 12th Street; the planter edges would serve as seat-walls that rise to frame a circular space, which could have special plantings or a sculpture as a central feature. The plaza’s walks would connect to the residential entrance on the east, and an additional walk at the east edge would provide a more direct connection from the C Street sidewalk to the building entrance. He also presented views of the building’s southwest corner, where the retail space could be a corner cafe with outdoor seating; a secondary residential entrance would also be located near this corner. He noted that the building’s south facade along D Street is also facing toward Maryland Avenue, which is envisioned in long-range plans as a strong corridor through the neighborhood.
Mr. Boarman presented more distant perspective views to illustrate the proposal’s relationship to the wider context. He indicated the new building’s visibility from the Mall, although it would be generally consistent with the appearance of the taller buildings to the south; he also noted that the visibility from the Mall would be partially blocked by the planned hotel to the north. He presented a diagram of the L’Enfant Plan streets overlaid on the existing street pattern, indicating how the proposed restoration of the C Street alignment could eventually support restoring its relationship to Reservation 113 several blocks to the east, originally laid out as a prominent open space at the convergence of Maryland and Virginia Avenues. He presented a more detailed diagram of the relatively modest 80-foot width of the historic C Street right-of-way, contrasting with the greater width of nearby streets and avenues. He concluded by presenting a fly-through video animation of the proposed building in its context, illustrating key features of the revised design.
Chairman Shubow invited questions and comments from the Commission members. Mr. Stroik asked for clarification of the height reduction. Mr. Boarman responded that the current design removes one floor at the north end of the new building, along C Street; the proposed height for the taller part of the building to the east and south remains unchanged at 120 feet. Mr. Stroik noted the differing floor alignments between the new and historic buildings, and he asked how internal circulation would be accommodated. Mr. Boarman said that elevators with two sets of doors would provide access to each of the floor levels; although the first floor of the historic building is more than six feet above grade, the new construction would have grade-level lobby space for the entire building.
Mr. McCrery expressed appreciation for the responsiveness to the Commission’s previous comments, and he said that the design is a huge improvement; he described the current design as better architecturally and also likely better as a development project. He asked for clarification of the design for the hyphen facade along the entrance plaza, which was not well illustrated in the presentation; Mr. Boarman indicated the hyphen’s location within the north elevation drawing, while acknowledging that it is grayed out because it would be recessed approximately ten feet from the adjacent facade plane. He clarified that the material would be panels of dark gray brick, placed between the volumes of lighter-colored brick; windows would face north to the entrance plaza and south to the internal courtyard. Mr. McCrery commented that the project’s lighter color palette is an improvement, but the continued use of dark brick in some areas remains problematic. As an additional example, he said that the top floors of the new building appear black in the fly-through animation, conflicting with the principle that a building should generally get lighter toward the top. He recommended using a lighter color, noting that this change might also improve the building’s energy performance; he emphasized that to crown it with a black cap seems to compromise the building’s good design.
Mr. Boarman agreed and clarified that the computer rendering software is not conveying the color accurately; the intent is for the upper floors to have the same pewter color that is seen in the other parts of the building that are slightly darker than the light-colored brick. He indicated the photographs of the proposed materials that are included with elevation drawings in the presentation, providing a better representation of the design intent. Mr. McCrery noted that pewter describes a range of colors, and the “pewter gray” of the metal panels could be lighter and brighter than the illustrated materials; similarly, the “gray brick” could be a lighter tone. He observed that darker color palettes are currently popular, but following this trend would soon make the building look dated, undermining the timeless character that the architecture could otherwise achieve. Mr. Boarman emphasized the goal of contrast between different parts of the facades; Mr. McCrery said that this could still be achieved without such dark colors, and Mr. Boarman agreed that a more subtle approach would have a more timeless character. Mr. McCrery asked about the material for the projecting bays on the east facade; Mr. Boarman confirmed that these would be the lighter brick. Mr. McCrery commented that the design revisions have improved this facade; he especially cited the inclusion of the balconies within the widened bays, and he agreed that the varied rhythm of the bays is successful. He added that this facade would become even better when a less dark color is used for the metal and brick.
Mr. Guillot asked if the lighter brick would extend all the way down to where the building touches the ground. Mr. Boarman responded that this is the currently illustrated design, but this may be revised to use the darker brick for the 20 to 24 inches in order to provide the appearance of a base, and comparable to the seat-wall height at the entrance plaza. Mr. Guillot asked about the material for the seat-walls; Mr. Boarman said that the lowest planter edges would be a granite curb, and the rising seat-walls would be limestone that would be detailed to define individual seats. Mr. Guillot observed that this palette is not the same as the materials for the building. Mr. Boarman clarified that the design intent is for this plaza to be perceived as part of the public realm, not just as a forecourt for people entering the apartment building; the proposed materials for the plaza are therefore selected to give it a unique and special character.
Mr. Cook agreed that the current proposal is responsive to the Commission’s previous comments, and the result is an impressive design ensemble. Mr. Stroik also agreed, while supporting Mr. McCrery’s recommendation that the darker materials be less dark; he encouraged ongoing study of the material selections as the design is developed further. He supported the general design approach of adding to a historic building in a manner that is distinguishable from the original, but he said that the result is not necessarily a good design; he emphasized that architects need to overcome the tendency to make an addition that is sharply different, resulting in an overall appearance of discontinuity rather than unity. He commented that this project is improving in the effort to achieve a sense of unity, and he encouraged this approach; he also acknowledged the focus of Douglas Development on renovating or adding to historic buildings. He supported the removal of the top floor on the north, as well as the revised organization of the south facade to define a four-bay-wide volume that is comparable to the scale of the historic Cotton Annex, which he said would create a subtle sense of good proportions. He described the result as a handsome building that contributes to a handsome city. However, he observed that the large projecting bays appear to be just hanging from the east and south facades, and he recommended further study of how they meet the building; he suggested simple brackets, struts, or articulated bands to better connect the bays to the building, rather than the bare cantilevers that give a discontinuous, collage-like appearance.
Chairman Shubow described the proposal as a handsome building and a much-needed addition to this part of the city; he suggested approval of the concept proposal with the comments provided. Mr. McCrery asked if the project would be submitted again for further review. Secretary Luebke summarized the issues that have been raised and said that these could be addressed as the design is developed; he said that the range of issues is likely more than would be appropriate for delegating further review to the staff, and he said that the final design proposal may be reviewed by the Commission; Mr. McCrery confirmed his request that the Commission have the opportunity to see the project again. Mr. Luebke suggested that an intermediate-stage submission may be helpful in addressing the remaining issues; this could be a revised concept submission, and the Commission might then decide to delegate the final design review to the staff.
Mr. Turner noted that many of the Commission’s concerns involve the material colors, which are not conveyed well through drawings and computer images; the best solution would be to provide physical samples for inspection by the staff and Commission, but this has not been feasible due to the ongoing video conference format and the special security restrictions for downtown Washington in recent days. He said that the gray color could easily be revised as requested. He emphasized his company’s desire to obtain and respond to the Commission’s advice, which he said is valuable for the project; he cited the frequent coordination with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office for many of the company’s projects. He added that a concept approval at today’s meeting would be helpful in allowing additional steps to move forward toward realization of this project, and he offered to return with an interim submission if helpful for the Commission’s review process.
Mr. McCrery offered a motion to approve the concept submission, with the request for an additional submission that responds to the comments provided, prior to preparation of a final design submission. Upon a second by Mr. Stroik, the Commission adopted this action. The Commission members reiterated their appreciation for the design and for the responsiveness to the previous comments.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 3:01 p.m.
Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA